Sower What About L.A. Podcast?

In Spring 2020, I taught “Expulsion and the Housing Crisis,” a SUNY Geneseo literature course contemplating narratives flowing into and out of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Students read William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, and Calvin Baker’s Dominion. They watched The Old Man and the Storm, Inside Job, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and they experienced a guest lecture by Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston, who spoke about money laundering.

As we interpreted literature, we engaged key course concepts: credit, bonds, fraud, moral hazard, trust, accountability, performance, effigy, and liquidity. We engaged practical matters from checkbooks to toxins to credit scores.

The course’s final assignment asked students to consider Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower alongside episodes of L.A. Podcast they’d been listening to all semester. 

When COVID-19 scattered us into the digital world, the students persevered in that project, helping each other to build the essays that follow below. 


Although I don’t live in L.A., L.A. Podcast allows me to bring the expulsion in Parable of the Sower closer to home and both past, current, and future circumstances have felt more personal due to these connections. Expulsion is more than the loss of a shelter, but the devastating loss of lives and livelihood mirrors the environment they fall under. An underlying realization that runs through both texts is that there is an experience of new normalcy accompanied by trauma that surrounds the old normal and a solution involving empathy is in our control yet seemingly unreachable.

A correlation that hadn’t occurred to me right away between both the texts, the housing crisis, and the current events are the effects on racial minorities.  There is already a race discrepancy between socio-economic classes, and this leads to a discrepancy in the effects of expulsion as well. In the “I Wanna Lord Your Land,” the hosts talked about this correlation resulting in a higher housing loss and deaths. We saw this in the housing crisis of 2008 and are expecting to see it during the current epidemic.  Although there’s a temporary hold on evictions, it’s not going to go away, and once the pause is over then there will be a spike in evictions and the supports, as unstable and few as there are, may crumble completely.  However, regulations on policies during and after this time of uncertainty are difficult to judge, and even despite the devastation of the housing crisis, there was an act of returning to normal. While hearing the candidate’s campaign speeches in Parable of the Sower, Lauren raises a question that many people wonder today: “…worker protection laws for those employers willing to take on homeless employees and provide them with training and adequate room and board. What’s adequate, I wonder” (27). I find myself also wanting to push for security for those who need housing and those who provide it, but also wondering how any policies would be regulated or enforced to ensure that it would be successful in the long run. Unfortunately pauses on evictions are temporary and the money offered by the government isn’t enough to be self-sufficient. This was discussed in the “I Wanna Lord Your Land” episode as well. Landlords feel left out of government support and when things go back to “normal,” we may see even more housing failures. There was an obscene amount of evictions during the housing crisis yet support ended soon after and things were pushed to return to normalcy as soon as possible. I hope that during these times of uncertainty, however, there will be sufficient support for those who need support not only now but going forward when the situation starts to improve.

During the episode “Hotel It on the Mountain,” the hosts of the L.A. Podcast discussed how this new way of living which was so foreign a few months ago has become the new normal.  Actions such as social distancing and wearing masks in public when leaving the house have become a habit and there is an almost trauma and sense of terror concerning the old normal of going without either of those things. The readers catch glimpses of the old normal through Lauren’s parents in Parable of the Sower and although this natural disaster is relatively recent, Lauren cannot imagine anything except her current reality. In the episode “SoCal Distancing” the hosts brought up a both/and about fear being used as a tool of manipulation. At first listen, I had an initial opposition to fear being used against people, yet I began to think of the positive outcomes. On one hand, I don’t condone fear mongering, but on the other hand, I wonder what would happen if this fear was used as a tool to save lives. Do the intentions behind the actions overrule the action itself? When people’s lives are at stake or the necessities in which they need to survive are threatened, where is the line in enforcing safety? In Parable of the Sower, conditions have become so dire that trust becomes a double-edged sword, and violence against others is normal just to ensure the survival of oneself. However, even a weapon to defend oneself is a luxury many cannot afford, and in terms of the housing crisis, thousands of people were left without any support to survive, some more than others.

Continue reading “Sower What About L.A. Podcast?”

A Brief Guide to the Many Traps of Octavia Butler’s Fiction

The students of ENGL 431/Octavia Butler and Social Ties have requested that I post their collaborative statement that they conceptualized and crafted independently of the instructor. Click here for a version with live links.

ENGL 431 Final

by Sandy Brahaspat, Sabrina Bramwell, Kevin Burke,Gabby Cicio, Elana Evenden, Devin Flaherty, Emma Gears, Denis Hartnett, Jonathan Kalman, Clio Lieberman, Jennifer Liriano, Linda Luder, Brendan Mahoney, Sean McAneny, Catherine McCormick, Steven Minurka, Nolan Parker, McKenna Parzych, Raina Salvatore, Samantha Stern, Emily Sterns, Katelyn Sullivan, Veronica Taglia, Elizabeth Verrastro, Davina Ward, Sarah Werth, Sarah Westbay, and name redacted

Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio: Out in the Open

As Erin Herbst‘s and Brianne Briggmann‘s posts indicate, we along with Ron Herzman are taking the first steps towards a collaborative essay exploring how Toni Morrison’s Jazz recapitulates and revises Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio.

The project is an offshoot of Fall 2016’s Toni Morrison’s Trilogy course where the class concentrated on the relationship between Morrison’s Paradise and Dante’s Paradiso, and we hope to do much of the thinking towards it in public.

There are risks to doing so, of course. For instance, anyone from anywhere can read this, scrape our interpretations, and use them elsewhere without credit or citation. Continue reading “Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio: Out in the Open”

Space to live and credit score

At the request of an anonymous community member, I share this important post.

A heads up to all of you: Beth wasn’t kidding when she said that landlords check your credit score. A friend of mine was looking for rentals in an area with a particularly competitive housing market. It is the norm for landlords to ask for $30 to complete a credit screening. The rental application also asked for a blank check and information not just about debts owed, but also about how much money is currently in one’s checking account and savings account. This is verifiable information because the landlord now possesses the account and routing number from the blank check. Additionally, landlords sometimes ask for links to Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and sometimes, this is explicit in the Craigslist ad.

When this friend finally received an offer, the landlord had not checked any references but only spoke to the friend and checked the friend’s credit score. The landlord said,  “Your credit score is low, but your personality is excellent.”

This friend is unspeakably lucky. This friend now has a place to live and time to improve the credit score and hopefully to obtain a positive reference from this landlord. But, this might not even matter if the next landlord only checks one’s credit score and “personality.” I imagine that not everyone is so lucky. Seriously, check your credit score and keep your utilization rates low.

What harm can innovations like AirBnB do?

I’m Facebook friends with a nun who serves in New Orleans, and it just so happens that today she posted regarding this awareness-and-action campaign about how what AirBnb whole-house rentals can do to neighborhoods, especially historically black neighborhoods targeted for gentrification in Katrina’s wake.

As it’s JazzFest time, many folks should be thinking about this. Here’s a quote:

Ok, so what’s the problem? Who cares if tourists now have more options to chose from when deciding where to stay? Because now, tourists aren’t limited to the Central Business District or French Quarter (where all the hotels are). They’re moving out of tourist-engine downtown and getting AirBnB’s in more traditional neighborhoods (Mid-City, Marigny, Lower Garden District, Bywater) and most notably, historically black neighborhoods (Seventh Ward, Sixth Ward, Central City, and St. Roch). This shift just so happens to be in line with the City’s new tourist marketing strategy [see right]. When mass amounts of tourists come into traditional neighborhoods, they have both negative short and long-term effects.

Here comes the Atlantic (again)

Subtitled “Along parts of the East Coast, the entire system of insuring coastal property is beginning to break down,” this new New York Times article examines how rising sea levels are creating another kind of housing crisis, another kind of liquidity trap. You’ll note how the ghosts we’ve examined in the course (e.g., the Zong massacre) haunt the article’s invocation of insurance and risk. The whole thing is worth a read for many reasons, and not least the emergence of metaphor in the quote below:

This is the hardest reality to discuss, Stiles said, and a reason flood insurance is serving as a kind of advance scout into a more difficult future. “When you go out to the end of the century, some of these neighborhoods don’t exist, so it’s hard to get community engagement,” he said. “Nobody wants to talk beyond where the dragons are on the map, into uncharted territory.”

Two paths to dehumanizing human beings

I was just reading this interview with Matthew Desmond, whose book Evicted just won a Pulitzer. I haven’t read the book yet and am hoping it’s not in the tradition of Alice Goffman’s On the Run.

But given Dominion‘s deep and complicated human characters, this line really jumped out at me:

“There are two ways to dehumanize: the first is to strip people of all virtue, the second is to clear them of all sin.”

Sometimes when I can’t find something, something equally useful pops to the surface

I was trying to find  Mother Jones article from about 10 years ago because it made a claim that when a house (or apartment, or any dwelling) approaches about 2800 square feet (I think), it becomes impossible to clean that place on one’s own. Someone else must be hired to do the cleaning.

But I can’t find the article, but in the meantime, Google yielded this article from a 1908 Ladies’ Home Journal. It’s titled ‘“I Want to Build a House’: An Architect’s Frank Talk with the Man or Woman Who is About to Build.”

Maybe it’s worth a read!