Oregon Humanities magazine is a triannual publication devoted to exploring important and timely ideas from a variety of perspectives and to stimulating reflection and public conversation. The magazine is distributed for free to more than 12,000 readers in Oregon. Articles and essays from the magazine have been reprinted in several textbooks, the Pushcart Prize anthology, Utne Reader, and Best American Essays, and featured on public radio programs Think Out Loud and This American Life.
Safely and Bravely
Kathleen Holt, editor
This summer, my daughter learned self-defense at a music camp for girls. At the weeklong camp, kids form bands, compose music, write songs, play music, make zines and T-shirts, and revel in girl power, but they also take a workshop on how to physically protect themselves.
“If someone comes up to you and grabs your throat,” my daughter said, pretending to reach for me, “you make your arm really straight and shove your fingers right here.” She gestured to the vulnerable hollow at the base of her neck. She showed me a couple of other techniques, each detailing how to escape from various attacks. Watching her move clumsily from one pretend scenario to the next, I felt my heart break a little bit.
Shortly after he turned four, my son slept in my arms like a heavy newborn baby while a doctor impressed on me that his allergies, which now included some food allergies, could pose a serious threat to his health. My observations, in part, had brought us to this diagnosis, but I doubted both myself and the doctor as I looked down at my son, who appeared perfectly unthreatened in his sleep. After the doctor left the room, a nurse demonstrated the EpiPen I would need to use if my son ever had a life-threatening reaction to nuts. “I know,” she said when she saw tears well up in my eyes while she pretended to jab herself forcefully in the thigh with the syringe. “I hope you never have to do this.” Later I would dutifully read all the information the doctor had given me, while still maintaining the secret belief that none of it was true and that food could not hurt my child.
In the lists upon lists of things my son was advised by the doctor to avoid, one item in particular caught my attention—the seasonal flu shot. Children with egg allergies can react to this particular vaccine, which is grown in eggs. My son had already been vaccinated against the flu, just as he had already eaten many eggs, but I could see the irony in the possibility that a vaccine posed him special danger. Thinking with the logic of a Greek myth, I wondered if my interest in immunity had somehow invited immune dysfunction for him. Maybe I had given him, like poor Icarus, fragile wings.
How I named my band “The Slants” and got into trouble with the government.
A few years ago, my band, the Slants, was invited to perform at the Oregon State Penitentiary. To many, sending an all-Asian American dance rock band into a prison with a significant neo-Nazi population seemed like an invitation for disaster. However, I didn’t question the decision until we actually showed up and were handed bright-orange vests to wear over our clothes. Our singer asked if it would be okay to take them off mid-concert, since our suits and vests could get quite warm.
“Sure,” the guard said, “but if an incident occurs, the orange vests let the sentry towers know who to avoid shooting.” Got it: keep the safety gear on.
We continued through security with significant precautions at every step. There were bars and armed guards everywhere. The clanging of the doors would echo loudly for a while every time one was opened or shut. It was a place designed for containment, not comfort.
Alternatives to police in the Black Freedom Movement
There is a question that haunts every critic of police—namely, the question of crime, and what to do about it.
Since the 1960s, the right wing has made crime a political issue and identified it with poor people and people of color. Because the left has largely refused to make crime an issue, it’s also failed to challenge this characterization. Successive waves of politicians—of both parties, at every level of government—have learned to stoke the public’s fears of rape, murder, drive-bys, carjackings, school shootings, and child abduction, as well as rioting and terrorism, and present themselves as heroes, as saviors, as tough-talking, hard-hitting, no-nonsense, real-life Dirty Harrys who will do whatever it takes to keep you and your family safe. The solutions they offer typically have the appeal of simplicity: more cops, more prisons, longer sentences. The unspoken costs come in the form of fewer rights, limited privacy, greater inequality, and a society ever less tolerant of minor disorder. These political tactics are nothing new, of course, but the scale of their effect—2.2 million inmates in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics—is unprecedented. And unless the left can do better, we have to expect that these same solutions will be the ones offered in the future.
The six of us sat cross-legged in flannel nightgowns around the game board.
“It’s my turn,” Susan said. She picked a card from one of the stacks in the middle of the board and read it out loud: Assume the fetal position, close your eyes, and rocking back and forth, make appropriate sounds.
She got an easy one.
It was a few months into the start of seventh grade. The week before, Susan had called to invite me to her sleepover. She had lots of plans for the party. She wanted to put on a cabaret where we made up the songs and dances. She thought we could build a stage using books and pillows, and make a curtain in the doorway. She wanted everyone to dress in men’s clothes as costumes.
“Be sure to bring an oxford shirt and a necktie,” she’d said over the phone. “The shirt can be any color but needs to have little buttons on the collar. Okay?”
“Okay,” I’d said.
We’re camped on a bluff, and the early afternoon sun is unrelenting. In this kind of heat, everything looks sort of washed out. My tent shimmers a couple of feet from the chasm, or at least what feels like a chasm, a miniature gorge carved by the stream that empties from the lake. Over by the lake, the forest is too dense to spread out in, plus the bugs, plus the snakes, and the funny thing about old growth is that the trees have taken such a beating over the centuries and are missing so many limbs that they don’t provide the kind of shelter you’d find even in a stand of baby trees. So we’re out in the elements. On the other side of the clearing, Aly and Mollie are playing with the dogs. The others are bushwhacking somewhere above the lake, looking for a nine-hundred-year-old tree.
An open letter to the students of Columbia University’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, with a special note
to my daughters
I read with interest your recent op-ed in the Columbia Spectator arguing, among other things, that Ovid’s Metamorphoses should be assigned with a trigger warning because of the story “The Rape of Proserpina.” As you put it:
Metamorphoses is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.
You clearly struck a nerve, because there’s been a lot written about your letter and what it means for higher education. Some people are supportive and sympathetic to the experiences that might lead a young person to need a trigger warning in the first place, while others cluck-cluck over how thin-skinned and coddled kids are these days. They fret that your parents—and all contemporary parents, which I guess includes me—are so protective and overinvolved that students are unable to withstand even the slightest discomfort or intellectual challenge.
I’m a first-time mom. My baby is still in my belly, so I guess some people would not identify me that way, but I am. And I’m accident-prone.
I lost teeth at Southeast Thirty-Second and Lincoln a few years ago when I did a curb shot over the handlebars of my bike. I nearly broke my ankle running trails in the gorge. I slip in boots when it’s raining, and I’m an LA driver.
I can be both reckless and sloppy. And now I am the temporary house of a dependent and fragile and scary-to-handle-for-the-first-time tiny human.
I was an awful babysitter. The last time I had that job, a baby rolled off the sofa under the coffee table, and I think I was probably paid $12.
On Mother’s Day I fell down a flight of stairs at an estate sale. I tumbled out of control and somehow continually fell on my back to protect my precious cargo. I had to be monitored for twenty-four hours. The hospital provided respite, the illusion of a guarantee of life, of immortality.
Returning home I realized how unprepared I felt—I did not want to be left alone with the job of carrying this little one. But I know that my baby is covered in prayer and amniotic fluid, and—even though I’m a klutz—I realize it will never be safer than it is floating in the space of my inner sanctum. JULIA BARBEE, Portland
We are excited to feature the work of new writers and artists in the pages of Oregon Humanities. The cover of the Summer 2015 issue is by Hye-Ryoung Min, a New York–based photographer whose work was on display earlier this summer at News- pace Center for Photography in southeast Portland.
If you’re an artist and have work that we might consider for the Fall/Winter 2015 issue, on the theme “Move,” we’d love to know about it. Please familiarize yourself with our publication (back issues viewable here), then send us the following by October 12, 2015:
A high-resolution digital image (300 dpi at 8” x 10”; scans or photographs, JPEG or TIFF)
Your name, the title of the work, the type of media, as well as contact information (email and phone number)
Description of the relationship of the image to the theme
Please consider the constraints of a magazine cover (e.g., vertical orientation, nameplate, and cover lines). We are most interested in works by Oregon-based artists.
Call for Posts: Move
For the Fall/Winter 2015 issue, tell us your stories about moving on, moving over, feeling moved, being moved, making a move, or keeping things in motion. Tell us about a time you left or relocated and what you learned about yourself or the world as a result.