Friday, March 31, 2017

Lorna Landvik on returning to Patty Jane's world


One of my first editors was a woman named Leona Never, who while reading through slush pile submissions back in the ’50s came across a manuscript she insisted her boss not only read, but publish, pronto. It was Peyton Place.

Leona was old-school and managed to rise up in the sexist women-are-secretaries-men-are-bosses era to become a real force in the publishing world. I met her in 1996, when Ballantine was publishing the paperback of Patty Jane’s House of Curl. She had a whispery voice and in the years we worked together, she’d tell me, “You write a different book every time.” I took it as a compliment—I think she meant it as a compliment. While I think I have a certain voice, I never wanted to tell the same story over and over.

By the time I write The End, it usually is. I’ve resolved problems, tied up loose ends, and humbly thanked my characters for coming into my head and letting me tell their story. I feel both a sense of relief (whew—I did it!) and a zip of excitement, because finishing one novel means I can begin another, with a cast of characters (usually two or three) who’ve shown up and are impatiently chewing gum and practicing swings in my mental batter’s box, waiting for their turn to be called up and play.

And yet . . . I am surprised by random whispers I hear from characters in my past books. A song can come on the car radio and it reminds me of Slip; the looming height of a spruce tree can make me think of Fenny; a particularly starry night brings Fletcher to mind.

Throughout the years, characters in Patty Jane’s House of Curl would pop up in my head (and for a while I’d almost expect to see the fictitious beauty salon on the real street I set it on!), but several years ago, the occasional whispers grew into a yammering—that is, the characters yammering “We want more of our story told!”

And so, I dove back into their world to find out what’s what and who’s who and who’s doing what to whom. And why. And where. And how.

It was so fun. I knew fairly quickly the big life-changing event that Nora was going to experience, but I didn’t know I’d go to 1920s Norway to learn more about Ione. New characters appeared, demanding to be woven into the story, some playing big parts, some happy with walk-ons.

Welcome to the Once in a Blue Moon Lodge. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

A launch event is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, in Excelsior, Minnesota (hosted by Excelsior Bay Books). Register here.

Lorna Landvik is the author of eleven novels including the best-selling Patty Jane's House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating BonBons, Oh My StarsBest to Laugh (Minnesota, 2014), and coming in April, Once in a Blue Moon Lodge. She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is also a public speaker, playwright, and actor who gets much pleasure from mixing up margaritas on stage in her one-woman all-improvised show, Party in the Rec Room.

"At long last! Patty Jane and her irresistible band of big-hearted merry-makers return to us. Lorna Landvik’s humor is wrapped around a core of love, common sense, and good cooking. Pull up an easy chair, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy this grand family reunion."
—Faith Sullivan, author of Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse

"Lorna Landvik creates characters and places so warm and real that reading Once in a Blue Moon Lodge feels like coming home (if you're lucky enough to be surrounded by people and places as weird and wonderful as Lorna's—I think I am)."
—Nora McInerny, author of It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)

"There is a charm and warmth to this hopeful tale in which love is the glue that holds people together. Landvik's love for her characters is evident."
—Kirkus Reviews

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"I was going to be one of *those* teachers: the natural and inspiring who wore stylish sport coats, whose classroom was a sacred space of literature, of rebellion, of learning. But nobody told me how hard it was going to be."

Yesterday, the Minneapolis City Pages went live with a front-page feature on Tom Rademacher, a middle-grade English teacher and Minnesota Teacher of the Year who has written a book about the messy, messy, messy business of teaching. Select excerpts from his book, It Won't Be Easy, bring to vivid life moments from his teaching career in which he decides to quit, decides not to quit, questions his decisions, and ultimately engages with kids who challenge him. We've since gotten comments from readers that range from "This is extraordinary" to "An amazing must-read" to "We'd love to have him come talk to our class." It's truly a piece that sticks with readers.

Here is a brief excerpt from the excerpt:

One year, my school went through renovations in the “looks like a nice hotel” range. We were very protective of our pretty new space, and there was no confusion that teachers were to be held personally (and spiritually) responsible for any stains that might develop in the course of housing hundreds of teenage bright ideas.

So it was that I reacted strongly to a student bringing (gasp!) and opening (gasp! gasp!) an energy drink (ick, but whatever!) in my class.


He was equal parts entirely unsurprised and furious and humiliated. Had I been seeing straight, I would have recognized that. But in that moment, and with that kid, and on that day, I made it all about me.

My half-yelling at a kid who wanted to punch me or cry or both started with my telling him all the ways that he was wrong. At some point, I’m pretty sure I pointed to a couch and said that it was worth $3,000, and pointed to myself and said, “It’s my job to make sure that couch is this nice next year and five years from now.” Right, because that’s my job.

I said the phrase, “We have a school to run here.” Jesus.

Read the full, fantastic feature here.


Tom Rademacher is author of It Won't Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching, which features a foreword by Dave Eggers. Rademacher is an English teacher in Minneapolis. His writing has appeared in EdPost, MinnPost, and on his blog, Mr. Rad’s Neighborhood, and he speaks about teaching at universities, conferences, and TEDx events. In 2014 he was honored as Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Playing Indian" and the US colonial imagination.


A few months ago, The Intercept published an eye-opening investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated by the famed Navy SEAL Team 6, the elite military unit credited with killing Osama bin Laden. While the report highlights troublesome, often deranged, behavior of individual SEALs acting in accordance with a culture of contempt for Middle Easterners and South and Central Asians, some of the specific SEAL practices reveal disturbing connections between US settler colonization and foreign policy. Those connections have been evident for the duration of US history. We have yet another opportunity to identify and assess them.

The article’s author, Matthew Cole, describes in great detail a troubling culture of playing Indian. SEAL Team 6 is composed of four color-coded units. The Red Unit inevitably uses Indian symbology, with a mascot boasting the age-old visage of an Indian warrior in side profile, simultaneously fierce and stoic.

In its recent exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan, members of the Red Unit played Indian with brutal consequences. Cole reports that in 2006 Red Unit leader Hugh Wyman Howard III ordered custom-made hatchets of the type used in films like The Last of the Mohicans. While the hatchets were billed as morale boosters, they “soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to break doorknobs on raids or kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.”

Calling this sort of performance “playing Indian,” in the tradition of Philip Deloria, is not to implicate Native cultures in violence. Playing Indian refers to simulated imaginaries wherein the performer in some way acts out the exploits of a mythological Indian. Indigenous peoples are doubly erased in this project, though they are simultaneously vested in the public imagination and thus subject to perpetual reproduction of mascotry.

The use of bastardized Indian themes in US military adventurism is an old phenomenon. From referring to enemy territory as “Indian country” to the plethora of weapons and machinery named after tribal nations, the imagery of Natives as both eternal antagonists and mythical warriors has long been central to battlefield conduct and the moral framing of foreign invasion. That the Red Unit of SEAL Team 6 special-ordered kitsch art and then used it to commit war crimes is a form of appropriation, but it is simultaneously a reaffirmation of deeply-held settler narratives in the United States, in which the Native can survive only in caricature and which reifies playacting as an indispensable mode of state violence.

The hatchets also illuminate how the US colonial imagination affects its conduct in the world:

  • Performing these simulated rites of Indigeneity rationalizes a global military presence originating in the landscapes of North America. The hatchets are a branding mechanism normalizing the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan (as in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Standing Rock). Yet they also reinforce the primacy of conquest as an American birthright.
  • In American society, appropriation of Native imagery often positions Indigenous peoples as noble stewards of the environment or as timeless symbols of patience and reconciliation (which confines settler colonialism to the past while absolving its practitioners of cruelty). In military culture, however, that imagery emphasizes warlike qualities, an unsurprising move. Those qualities, though, aren’t paeans to a noble Indian character, but ideations of the optimal American warrior.
  • The imagery suggests that the violence of colonization was in response to the greater brutality of the adversary, that is, a byproduct of the need to subdue the savage Indians. If the American soldier is to emulate the guile and force of the Indian warrior, then we are made to understand that those qualities originate from the Native and not the settler.
  • Playacting as the Indian of settler lore implicitly justifies the brutality fundamental to the work of SEAL Team 6. Red Unit members confer moral responsibility for contemporaneous violence onto stylized antagonists of an unchangeable past.
  • The Indian logo on Red Unit uniforms is tactile while actually existing outside of the world the US endeavors to create through invasions of faraway countries. Or, put more simply, the US allows itself a history by preventing others from deciding a future. The fixed past of US colonization in fact exists in constant transit.

At first glance, some of these explanations seem incongruous, but they all illuminate a specific colonial logic. The most noteworthy feature of that logic is the permanence it ascribes to the conquest of North America. That conquest is enduring and unchangeable. It is, like the violent protection of democracy, a simple fact of history. At the same time, though, the colonial past cannot be discarded. It undergoes regular permutations that reveal themselves in imperialist policies, so that foreign policy conventions can remain steady in tumultuous conditions. These processes occur concurrently to repression of Native nationhood, a necessary subject of our attention.

Given the importance of the colonial past to the imperial present, we haven’t seen nearly enough analysis of the interplay between colonization and imperialism. Much of the work that does exist around military usage of Indian themes, including Cole’s article, treats it as appropriation rather than a foundational aspect of foreign policy. Just as conquest is the basis of US nationalism, so too is it the currency of American reinvention.

In Inter/Nationalism I draw from a wide range of work in Native and Indigenous Studies to advance a conversation about ongoing settler colonization in North America and its importance in apprehending the political landscapes of the world. Only after the book was published did the United States accomplish what many considered inconceivable with the election as president of a buffoonish celebrity animated by racial and sexual belligerence.

Understood from the perspective of colonialism, however, the emergence of Donald Trump wasn’t an aberration, but an inevitability. Slavery and settlement, atrophy and atrocity, displacement and dispossession. What kind of person oversees these traditions? Absent an engagement with Indigenous political and intellectual traditions, analyses of the US polity, sometimes limited to bickering about the ideals of the Enlightenment, will ultimately miss the point.

And what is the point? That we cannot redeem the United States without reproducing the brutalities of settler colonization. Imperialism is one of the most reliable outcomes of even the most earnest attempts at redemption. It’s crucial before setting out to question state violence inside and beyond the United States to scrub away the Indian decals emblazoned on our brains.


Steven Salaita is author of several books, including Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine; Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom; and Israel's Dead Soul.

"This is a powerful and moving analysis of what it means to decolonize settler societies through an unflinchingly ethical and incisively original notion of inter/nationalism. Steven Salaita is, as always, bold, brilliant, and visionary."
Sunaina Maira, University of California, Davis

"A welcome work of criticism and analysis from a truly transnational scholar of Indigenous politics and literature."
Audra Simpson, Columbia University

"Although often specific in its geographical articulation, settler-colonialism is a global phenomena that requires a truly global response. This is the message powerfully hammered home in Steve Salaita's crucially important Inter/Nationalism. Building on years of research and activism in support of Native American and Palestinian self-determination, Salaita advances a radically transnational view of decolonization grounded in a richly comparative account of Native American/Indigenous solidarity and our mutual struggles for land, freedom, and dignity."
Glen Coulthard, author of Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Health care and the right to be responsible.

Associate professor of sociology at Concordia University

“I really should be taking better care of myself.” Who hasn’t thought that at least once in the past year? (Month? Week?)

In Canada, where I live, government surveys have found in 2014, for example, that 72% of those responding thought there was something they should be doing to live more healthfully – an increase of 13.9% since 2001. Seventy-seven percent planned to do something to improve their health, such as reducing stress, changing their eating habits, or getting more sleep and exercise – another increase (9.5%) from 2001. Still, many of the survey respondents were doing more than just feeling guilty or thinking about living better; 59% of those responding to this 2014 survey had actually done something to improve their lifestyle, up from 54% in 2001. It is clear from these statistics that healthism, an elevated consciousness about health, lifestyle, and related practices of risk and disease prevention, is on the rise.

While on the surface this might seem like a positive development – who can argue with trying to be healthy? – healthism also has a tendency to locate responsibility for optimizing one’s well-being squarely on the shoulders of individuals. Or, to put it another way, it has a tendency to let the State off the hook for its part in looking after its citizenry. In fact, what we have been witnessing is a real shift in recent decades toward greater and greater individual “responsibilization,” where we – me, you, Grandma – are increasingly charged with looking after ourselves with less and less help or support from our governments.

As a Canadian, I enjoy the benefits of a socialized health care system, but even so, it is a society within which this imperative of individual responsibility to my fellow Canadians consistently figures in, say, health promotion and popular lifestyle rhetoric. For example, a recent health column in a popular women’s lifestyle magazine declared it possible to “retrain your brain,” claiming that unhealthy habits can be fixed simply by “changing your perspective.” If your bad habit is that you “often put off exercise,” you just need to “choose more positive online influences.” If your bad habit is an inability to “stick to ... healthful eating goals,” then you just need to “predict your feelings about food” before you begin eating. Exhorting individual readers to become entrepreneurial self-managers and take responsibility for the state of their lives, the column goes on to list a series of other personal weaknesses and their quick fixes, all of which boil down to the reader’s good and bad choices and her ability – read: obligation – to conduct herself, her life, more responsibly for the good of all of Canadian society.

And this is where biocitizenship comes in. “Biocitizenship,” a particular mode of living whereby one achieves belonging in society through accepting this kind of individual health responsibility, has emerged in these neoliberal times as a new way of enacting one’s good (and worthy) citizenship. That is, through engaging in normative practices of self-care – making the “right” kinds of lifestyle and medical choices – modern citizenship in the West has become a kind of biological project that depends upon individuals fulfilling their responsibility to the rest of society by accepting and carrying out the responsibility to care for the self. More and more, we find ourselves morally and socially obligated to be proactive about our health risks, whether it be eating right, exercising more, quitting smoking, or screening for genetic disease potential. In this context, responsible citizens engage in self-care, for the good of all. Good (bio)citizens are healthy citizens who do not use up too many health care dollars by having costly health problems they could have prevented if only they’d looked after themselves better. In some instances, would-be biocitizens might even seek legal recourse when they perceive that their right to be responsible has been denied.

As a fairly recent development since Thatcher and Reagan came to power (in 1979 and 1981, respectively), the neoliberal trend toward individual health responsibilization illuminates the need to understand how individual freedom figures in this milieu as a kind of “unfreedom,” by which I mean the capacity, or even the duty to act that, given its regulative moral undertones, is not really very free at all. And as the US stands at the precipice of repealing the Affordable Care Act, never before has this question of individual health responsibilization been more pressing.

On the surface it may seem a moot point in the context of a multi-payer privatized system such as that of the US, but the broader push toward responsibilization plays a key role in contemporary neoliberal governance and is critical for understanding the looming implications of Trump’s plan for American health care. His intentions and politics would appear to represent the end of neoliberalism as we know it, but if his reckless approach to immigration is any indication, it would also appear to be the beginning of something far worse, where for so many who stand to lose their coverage (if they even have any), the possibility of achieving citizenship – biological or otherwise – will prove impossible.


Shelley Z. Reuter is author of Testing Fate: Tay-Sachs Disease and the Right to be Responsible and Narrating Social Order: Agoraphobia and the Politics of Classification. She is associate professor of sociology at Concordia University.

"Testing Fate illustrates how diseases become racialized, how racializing them supports political projects, and how the medical profession has been instrumental in racial formation."
—Dorothy Roberts, author of Fatal Invention

"Shelley Z. Reuter offers a thoughtful, thorough, and sophisticated analysis of themes of modern biocitizenship and belonging refracted through a historical case study of Tay-Sachs disease."
—Jonathan Kahn, Hamline University

"As she tells the fascinating and important story of Tay-Sachs disease, Shelley Reuter skillfully reminds us of the tight links connecting our concepts of disease to visions of belonging and otherness, selfhood and social responsibility."
—Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion