These Weeks in “Help Me Not Be Such an Ass”: April 8-22


While I certainly ask for help being not such an Ass* on a weekly basis, I am going to begin sharing the compiled ass-istance every two weeks. Herewith, (some of) the help which has come to me since April 8:

Silt, a poem about mean girls.** (thanks Anne)

John Herschend’s short film “Discussion Questions. Oh my god. Just try to be an Ass while watching this.  “Discussion Questions is a text based powerpoint presentation that becomes a cathartic dance party. Commissioned for the 2014 Whitney Biennial, this film will be viewed as part of a screening series with many other films. It purports to be a series of discussion questions for these films. However it slowly drifts off topic and morphs into its own film as the unreliable narrator works through his delusional romantic issues with a coworker at the university where he works.” (Thanks, Erin!)

Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel. I know I said last time that the Verna Myers book was the best. But this is also the best. One thing I especially appreciate is how well he communicates the importance of not devolving into considering oneself separate from other white people who may not yet have read all the anti-racist books yet. Also, he went to Reed! Which I didn’t know when I picked it up (I picked it up because it is the oftenest-recommended book on how white people can work for racial justice).

Gerard and Kelly’s work “Kiss Solo. The 3 minute video is mesmerizing, just at least watch that. (Dancers simultaneously watches and narrate a hetero love scene in a movie, then dance to that narration and I want to watch it on a loop forever). “Physical and aural stuttering abounds as each dancer interprets a broken rendition of an amorous choreography refracted into multiple translations passed from one to another, similar to a game of telephone.” (Thanks, Erin!)

Inner Work, by Robert Johnson. So, we all have dreams…many of us, on occasion, ones that scare the pants off of us or make us wonder if we are finally just too gross and weird to be in civilization. This book is a way to look at dreams–all dreams, not just the nutty ones–in a way that makes sense to and helps me.

Three Miles: From “This American Life” : There’s a program that brings together kids from two schools. One school is public and in the country’s poorest congressional district. The other is private and costs $43,000/year. They are three miles apart. The hope is that kids connect, but some of the public school kids just can’t get over the divide. We hear what happens when you get to see the other side and it looks a lot better. Ok, “This American Life” is not my favorite, which I have many probably very Assy reasons for (a new one is the phrase “the public school kids just can’t get over the divide“), but this was great. What I am saying is whether or not you like someone saying “Act One” is a mysteriously self-congratulatory way, you will like this. (See? So Assy!) (Thanks Shelley, and I think Aurora, and Bob).

Facing South’s report on the White House considering how to not be Such Asses to immigrants. I generally commend to you the Institute for Southern Studies (publisher of Facing South). Co-founded by John Lewis!

13 amazing photos from ATL photographer Kate Parker: Girls are loud, dirty, and messy, and they don’t fucking care if you like it. (Thanks, Shelley!)

Jimmy Carter on leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. Reading this is like a warm bath. A taste: The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. (Thanks, IJ)

The Today Show shows students at WHEELS (where I taught) getting into college. Hooray!!

Colorlines’ Miriam Zoila Perez problematizes Dove’s “Choose Beautiful” campaign…the campaign’s message being “If I decide I’m not beautiful, it’s because of my own personal failing, my own decision to not “choose beautiful”–not the 30 years of messages I’ve received about how I only need to be thinner, less hairy, less dry-skinned, more white, taller and bigger chested.”

That’s it for these weeks. If you have suggestions for not being such an Ass, I’ll always take them.



*What this is about, and credit where it’s due:

Anne Lamott calls “Help me not be such an ass” the “fourth great prayer” (after “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”). I think of this as a gentle, loving exhortation, having to do with awareness rather than character; to be Such as Ass is to act out of insufficient understanding (including of myself) in a situation where that understanding would matter a lot to the people I am acting with or near. So the x-axis is consciousness, rather than morality. This might be micro-scope unawareness (if I don’t know that your mother has no arms and I ask you how many push-ups your mother can do, I’m Such an Ass*) or macro-scope (if I don’t know the history of racial discourse in the U.S. and I characterize a Black woman as “angry,” I am Such an Ass). I think it does rise or sink or whatever to the level of morality if we remain willfully unaware in order to protect our physical and mental comfort, fingers in our ears, singing “The Greatest Love of All.” Anyway…as I wander around, I certainly ask for help not being such an Ass, and help comes, all the time (and I’ll need more, all the time, as we all will until we reach a self-transcendent stage of human development, and by then we won’t be self-righteously blogging probably).

**In what Anne originally shared there was this great “About this Poem” part, but now that link doesn’t work and the one I have is just the poem. So here’s the rest:

About This Poem

“I was thinking about the commercial ports and harbors that have to be dredged so that they can stay commercially viable, and thinking that they resemble the mind, which fills up—as we grow up—both with practical information of no lasting resonance (timing for school closings, doctor’s appointments, when to get your car inspected) and with things you realize—about yourself and about other people—that you can’t say out loud; they’d offend, or make other people feel terrible, or make you look like a hypocrite, or require way more time to explain than other people ever have in an informal setting.

These two kinds of things—practical data and unsayable truths—might gradually fill up the minds of adults, making us like old ports that have to be dredged. Or like new ports, which also have to be dredged: like container ports—like the Port of Elizabeth, New Jersey, which we used to drive past, or the Port of Oakland, which if I recall correctly inspired the AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back.

These ports and their machines decide what comes into the country and what can’t be brought in; and what if the excluded, the never-unloaded, the dredged-away, had a better view of us than we have of ourselves? If you’ve already been excluded, you don’t have to worry about social proprieties, about not telling the truths that will get you kicked out (because you’ve already been kicked out): that’s not a new insight (it’s a variation on the idea I vaguely associate with Hegel—the slave knows the master; the master does not know the slave) but I hope I’ve made it at least a bit new in this poem, which (like most of what I’ve written lately) has one foot in gossip and youth (it’s a poem about mean girls) and another in the peculiar restrictions of adult lives.”
Stephen Burt

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