As children, we notice many things, but don’t have the tools to interpret them. Children have no choice but to trust their parents or caretakers. They are at the mercy of the adults in their lives.

Florens doesn’t understand why her mother urges Jacob Vaark to take her from Señor D’Ortega. She just knows that it happened. When Sorrow survives a shipwreck, leaving the rest of her family missing or dead, she can piece together what happened, but not how or why it did. When asked how she got to land, Sorrow responds “‘Mermaids. I mean whales.’” She is suffering from such severe amnesia that she has trouble recalling her own name. The woman who finds her comments, “‘such a dismal sight you are. Yet strong’” and becomes the first person to call her Sorrow. Jacob validates this when Sorrow—land sick and confused—pukes on his jacket, calling her “Sorrow, Indeed”. Unaware of her previous circumstances, the woman and Jacob both dub her “Sorrow”, giving no thought to the negative connotations of this word.

Lina believes Sorrow is the embodiment of her given name and outcasts her. Lina cautions Rebekka, “‘some people do evil purposefully. Others can’t control the evil they make’”. She then continues to speculate “‘Your son John Jacob. He died after Sorrow came”’, insinuating that Sorrow is the source of the misery in their lives. Lina doesn’t understand why Sorrow can’t complete a chore correctly and doesn’t find her trustworthy. However, she spends more time entertaining her suspicions than trying to understand why Sorrow is the way she is. Lina only knows that she isn’t particularly reliable, and her name is Sorrow. These two things combined fuel Lina’s suspicions that spread like wildfire.

Lina’s intuition isn’t based on anything credible, yet she allows it to influence her decisions. The narrator explains “for a little while Lina seemed to be persuaded that the boys’ deaths were not Sorrow’s fault, but when the horse broke Patrician’s crown, she changed her mind”. When Sorrow gives birth to her first baby, Lina fears it will bring more misery. Not wanting to take the chance of having another unintentionally evil creature like Sorrow around, Lina drowns it and tells Sorrow it was premature. Sorrow, not having the tools to know otherwise, remains silent, “although Sorrow thought she saw her own newborn yawn”. Sorrow’s newborn is expelled from life on Earth before it has a chance to see it’s mother’s face.

Lina is the person who tells Sorrow she’s pregnant. Earlier in the novel, the narrator explains that Sorrow feels lower abdominal pains and doesn’t know what’s causing them. Sorrow doesn’t seem to be aware she has had sex, or even what sex is. When Lina drowns her newborn, Sorrow’s understanding of the world undergoes a paradigm shift. She no longer relies on Lina for help because she “never forgets the baby breathing water every day, every night, down all the streams of the world”.

Before this turning point, Sorrow allows Lina to have a parental role in her life. Much like a young child who has no other option but to trust their parents, Sorrow looks to Lina for guidance. But Lina is not her parent, nor her ally. Lina is only willing to give this maternal love to Florens. After the damage is done, Sorrow takes this new knowledge and maneuvers the house with indifference.

The infant’s death isn’t the result of one singular event. Rather, it is the result of a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Lina believes Sorrow is the physical manifestation of her given name.

This may have ended differently if Sorrow wasn’t suffering from amnesia after the accident. What if the woman who found her after the shipwreck had decided to call her something else? Perhaps, mystery, mermaid, or even strange. Would Lina have had the same suspicions then? Maybe if Sorrow’s father taught her how to clean and do other tasks that were considered “women’s work”, then Lina wouldn’t have underestimated her maternal instincts.

Everyone who Sorrow relies on for help after the crash set the tragic death of her newborn into motion. In society, those who are most vulnerable often have to put trust in unfamiliar systems. These systems, such as healthcare and housing, are often confusing and difficult to maneuver. They come with terms and conditions that are made to be murky. The most vulnerable people in our society often have to rely on these systems that may limit them in ways that are not immediately obvious.

I receive the Excelsior Scholarship that is available to residents of New York State. Throughout my time in college, I’ve had to navigate my studies differently in order to keep this grant money. This scholarship requires its beneficiaries to stay in New York State for the amount of time they receive the scholarship after completing their degree. Students must also maintain a certain GPA, and take a certain number of credits related to their majors each semester in order to continue receiving aid. If they don’t follow these guidelines, they will have to repay the scholarship money in an interest accruing loan.

When I first agreed to take the scholarship, I wasn’t fully aware of how it would impact my college experience and my time after college. I took the money because I needed it and wasn’t fully aware of how it would shape my time in and after college.

We’ve all had to put our confidence in government institutions at some point in our lives, whether that be with public education, healthcare or housing. Our elections are a government system that many have confidence in. We trust that our government works for the people, because we the people are the ones who operate it. However, so long as biases and prejudices exist within our society, many demographics of people will always be overlooked. Much similar to how Lina is suspicious of Sorrow because she doesn’t understand Sorrow, bureaucratic workers may bring their own biases to their jobs. What does this mean for those who are most vulnerable? It means that some of them will never be given a full chance at life. As long as ignorant prejudice exists, some of our most vulnerable will find themselves pushed under by the very hand that claims to guide them.

Taking a minute to learn about and understand one another, can put our practices of suspicion and scorn for one another to rest. If we can understand each other, and familiarize ourselves with why we are the way we are, then we can eliminate some of the toxic prejudices that perpetuate systems of oppression.

Glass Houses

How often do we pause to think about the spaces that have formed us? I don’t do it often, but I recently drove past my uncle’s old apartment and had the stark realization that I would never form another memory there again.

The house on Yarrow St. becomes the heart of The Turner House, just as it is the heart of the Turner family. It becomes a liminal space where Francis and Viola are able to feel hope, where Cha-Cha’s haint resides, and where Lelah lives after being evicted. In a literal sense, the house is an asset to the family; in a figurative sense, it is a security blanket—the place where Lelah and Cha-Cha go when they have nowhere else.

The chapters set in the 2000s show us that the house is not in the same condition as it once was. It’s not in the safest neighborhood, it needs work, but that doesn’t diminish the memories and milestones associated with a home. However, when faced with a crisis, this sentimentality often seems to come second to pragmatism and numbers.

The Big Short gives us the numbers, the evidence, the how. It fulfills our immediate, innate craving for information. It makes us into detectives hot on Wall St.’s tail. We blame the subprime industry, Wall St. itself, and anything we can to make sense of the disaster. We scornfully disapprove of AIG, Bear Sterns, Deutsche Bank, and whoever else engaged in predatory lending. We listen to Eisman’s speech, “Why This Time is Different” and think to ourselves, boy, was he right! It satisfies our craving for knowledge, but some things are too subjective to really be known.

It’s not possible to crunch thoughts and feelings down into a science. They are unique to every individual’s experience. However, fiction allows us to explore the realm of the subjective. In the more recent chapters of The Turner House, the family is struggling to decide between keeping the house on Yarrow St. or selling it. Some siblings have strong attachments to the house, but others worry that keeping the house is not worth the monthly payments.

As the chapters move forward, the siblings begin to think that Cha-Cha wants to sell the house. Marlene gives him an ultimatum via text message:

“I’m too upset to pick up the phone. I hear you’re moving forward with the short sale. If you sell that house I will never forgive you. I don’t put down my foot on anything in this family, not ever. But you do this, and you break my heart. Not trying to be dramatic, just how I feel.”

The Turner House, pp. 198.

Marlene’s response to Cha-Cha possibly short selling the house fills in the blanks that hard numbers and evidence can’t fill. A house is far more than brick and mortar, it is a place where memories and feelings are preserved. A house is a freezer for the subjective human experiences that can’t be measured and studied.

Nothing is really free. The Turner family house, a box of memories and legacies passed on through generations, is valued at $4,000 (half the price of my Pontiac vibe.) Yet, after 57 years of owning the house of Yarrow St., the family still owes $40,000. These numbers show us another narrative:

Francis and Viola buy the house when Cha-Cha is seven, in 1951. According to the United States Census of Housing, the unadjusted average value of a house in Michigan was 7,496 in 1950. With adjustments that number looks more like, $45,400. If we were to assume that the house on Yarrow St. costs similar to this average, that would mean that after 57 years, the Turner family had barely paid off 10% of the original cost. This, of course, is not the case once the effects of interest rates and other fees are factored into the equation. Then, another number to consider is the number of Turner children. Each of the thirteen siblings would need to pay roughly $3,100 to keep the house as an asset in the family, which is roughly 75% of the house’s current value.

As someone who can’t even balance a checkbook, I can’t interpret this information in an informed way. However, I can observe the absurdity of the situation. 57 years of payments and 15 different individuals are not sufficient means to keep a house that is currently valued at $4,000. Something is not right about this. Imagine how many other families experience the same dilemma over half a century, and then try to imagine when exactly this bubble started to form.

It is no secret that inflation and bad loans add to the confusion that everyday people like me have. The numbers just don’t make sense to me. How is anyone supposed to buy a house if the amount they owe only seems to increase, while incomes remain stagnant? Something doesn’t add up. Among the dozens of explanations and calculations featured in The Big Short, nothing seems to balance this equation.

Eventually, the family is caught in a push and pull of sentimentality and pragmatism. The house becomes so burdensome that Cha-Cha and Troy wonder if it is worth keeping. As the narrator words it, “humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time”. I understand this to an extent; the things we own are not what define us. However, it is interesting to compare the situations of our protagonists in The Big Short, to the Turner Family. Yes, The Turner House is a work of fiction, but it is based on real people: the author’s family.

Eisman, Burry, and Vinny play central roles in discovering and exposing the 2008 subprime mortgage industry collapse but are merely spectators compared to the people who are deeply affected. None of them would struggle to pay a $40,000 mortgage, and could probably pay the $3,100 each Turner sibling would owe upfront.

It will always be interesting to observe what those with power and privilege do in the weeks leading up to a crisis. The crash of 2008 revealed the social Darwinism underlying American culture. Now, it is 2020, and we are on the verge of another crisis. As COVID-19 sweeps across the States and the rest of the world, the stock market is doing a familiar dance.

News came out as recently as today, that some members of congress began selling stocks after the COVID-19 briefing on January 24th, and then proceeded to vote against the relief bill. Much like how those who predicted the stock market crash of 2008 were able to line their pockets before the consequences fell onto the most vulnerable.

This is evidence that privilege allows some people to have stronger foundations than others. For the Turners, there is not a clear distinction from one catastrophe to the next. They don’t suddenly owe $40,000 on their house in a matter of weeks. However, these events still impact their lives, and may even force them to sell the house of Yarrow St. Rather than dwelling on one instance, The Turner House alludes to something more systemic. The narrator exposes us to the earliest cracks in the foundation when telling of Francis Sr.’s death as a sharecropper. Then again as they allude to the fail of the auto industry in Detroit, and again as see how insurance companies handle Cha-Cha’s accident, and again, with how Lelah is affected by the rising unemployment rate. When the foundation finally breaks, we must critique the system that built it, rather than the people who are living on it.

As Karl Marx once said, “revolutions are the locomotives of history”. Who knows what this new decade will bring…

The Liquidity of Female Cliches

It’s hard to escape the ubiquitous trope of power-hungry women turning against each other in the pursuit of a man. It haunts English literature across eras and ages; Shakespeare is no exception. He centers his dramatic play, “King Lear”, around the fallacy of women. The daughters of King Lear, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia, become examples of how this fallacy trickles into every character’s life. This play relies on both the trope of the jealous, greedy witch and the pure angelic woman to push the plot along. The caricatures of Goneril and Regan are based on what is referred to in this time as “the natural folly of women”. This concept was a common explanation of the inferiority of women until very recently (and probably still exists today in subtler forms). It claims that women naturally lack virtue, and therefore are dangerous if not kept under the supervision of men. The reader of this era learns that women are not to be trusted with independence or large amounts of power and wealth. Specifically, the men of this era learn to be suspicious of the claims of women and to analyze their motives critically. Cordelia is the good example. She is willing to lose her comfortable way of life seeking virtue and is revered in the end. Her sisters, who sacrifice integrity to inherit Lear’s fortune, are controlled by their ambition. These simplistic portrayals of women become take on a liquidity Shakespeare borrows from to craft the plot of King Lear. Without the assumptions that women are either lacking in virtue, or have divine virtue, and that they cannot exist outside of this binary, the play would not resonate. It also relies on the assumption that women, no matter how powerful, will fight for the attention of a man. Luckily for the success of this play, the patriarchy supports all of these assumptions.

I want to use Regan and Goneril’s dispute over Edmund to address the first trope of powerful women destroying each other for a male’s attention. The sisters resent each other for their mutual attraction to Edmund. Yes, he alone is the reason why the once rich and powerful sisters throw all of their fortunes away. Even with all the wealth in the country, a single woman is still nothing more than an old shrew. However, the sisters do have one thing in common with Edmund, and that is ambition.

Edmund, much like the sisters, tricks his loved ones in his pursuit of power. He sees Regan and Goneril as an opportunity to further his ambition to hold the throne. In more contemporary terms, he plays both of them to get what he wants but knows he eventually has to settle for one. He finds his opportunity as they begin to turn on each other to win his love: “To both these sisters, I have sworn my love, / Each jealous of the other as the stung / Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take? / Both? One? Or neither? Neither can be enjoyed / If both remain alive…”. This gives him a taste of the power he is craving, as he looks forward to deciding which sister will live and which will die. In a way, he is conspiring to expel one sister by killing her and marry the other. He carelessly shows interest in both sisters, underestimating their cunning nature. In one of the moments that Goneril sees him with Regan, she says, “I’d rather lose the battle than that sister / should loosen him and me”. Thus the seeds of resentment begin to grow, and Edmund’s power to decide who will live begins to wane.

            Act 5 of King Lear is when the mistrust between sisters becomes fatal, they take matters into their own hands. Goneril poisons Regan. However, as Regan is dying, Edmund is exposed as a fraud and killed by Edgar. A soldier who finds the bodies of Regan and Goneril reports to Albany, “your lady sir, your lady. And her sister / By her is poisoned. She confesses it.”. The sisters seal their fate the minute they turn against each other, fulfilling a trope that has encaged women for centuries. Sisters are supposed to have a bond stronger than most. They are family, and traditionally, family comes first. What can get in between family? Apparently a mediocre, selfish man can! I consider it satirical that two formerly close sisters are conspiring to murder each other in the pursuit of a man who they have only known for a short period of time. It is such an extreme version of the “women tearing each other down” trope that it seems absurd to me. Yet, this play relies on the assumption that there are only two roles for women, the evil seductress, or the heavenly angel. In this case, that angel is Cordelia.

            Cordelia, as mentioned earlier, is willing to sacrifice her way of life in the name of virtue. Rather than lie to her father to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, she prefers to be true. She risks her social standing for integrity; this is made clear by Burgundy’s decision not to marry her after she is disowned. But alas, she is saved by France, who tells her, “‘thou art most rich being poor’”. They marry, and Cordelia is elevated in status when she becomes the queen of France. The implication of this is that good comes to those who are true. This, if compared with the fates of her other two sisters, hints at the duality of salvation and damnation. Cordelia dies an honorable death and ascends to the heavens. Regan and Goneril die as a result of their own envy and weakness and are both thrown into the pits of hell. Cordelia is the model woman, and her behavior exposes the evil of her two sisters. This pure woman trope is another that commonly reoccurs in literature and myth. It is arguably one of the most confining roles, yet it is another role that carries the play.

            Cordelia’s tenderness with her father, and willingness to forgive him for banishing her from the kingdom, starkly contrasts the sadistic actions of her sisters. Regan and Goneril become ambitious and power-hungry once they have a taste of their inherited fortune. They lose control of themselves, as the fallacy of women predicts they would. Soon after acquiring their wealth, they exercise power for the first time, by expelling Lear, reminding the reader of when Lear banishes Cordelia and Kent. The sisters are using his former actions against him, but with a higher degree of cruelty.

            Regan and Goneril exercise their power over Lear much like how a cat plays with a mouse before devouring it. The sisters recognize that Lear is not of sound mind as early as his banishment of Cordelia and Kent. They even express concern to each other about the “infirmity of his age”. Yet, they don’t give this a second thought as they toy with his fate. They play mind games by telling Lear that he can have no more than 50 of his men at the house. For Lear, this is devastating because he has always relied on his men. Then, noticing his helplessness, they indulge themselves by questioning if he needs any men at all. This is a crushing life change for Lear, who appears to be emotionally and mentally vulnerable in his old age. When the sisters tire of antagonizing Lear, they send him out into the storm. Their actions can be seen as pure evil. They betray their own father, banishing him after he gives them everything they own, and send them out alone and unprepared into the storm.

As Lear is lamenting this treachery, the fool, who acts as a voice of reason to Lear, exclaims, “‘He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath.’”. In other words, he is implying that Lear had poor judgment for trusting his daughters earlier proclamations of love and allowing himself to be influenced by the false speeches they make to honor him. Thus we have learned to be suspicious of the words of women.

The only survivors of this ordeal, Edgar, Albany, and Kent, are all loyal to men. They show the ability to resist the will of women. Albany is firm with Goneril, keeping her ‘in-line’. As she grieves Edmund’s defeat by Edgar, Albany orders, “shut your mouth, dame.” She attempts to reassert it by proclaiming, “the laws are mine, not thine”, but he does not give credibility to this threat, and orders a soldier to go after and “govern” her. He is able to keep the power naturally given to him, as a man. He refuses to allow Goneril to be his ruin. The two other surviving characters, Kent and Edgar, devote their time to the welfare of men. Kent disguises himself to support Lear after he is expelled, and Edgar disguises himself as a mad beggar to assist Gloucester. The only men who find themselves able to return to their positions in society are those who stand up to women, and help their fellow men. By the end of act 5, power is swapped back into the hands of men.

             The premises of this play would crumble without the assumption that women are either flawed beyond redemption, angelically divine or nothing without a man. The availability of these tropes become assets to the play. The natural folly of women becomes the underlying reason why power is swapped back into the hands of men. This is a cautionary tale where the women who know their place don’t seek out fortune, and those who do are not to be trusted. In the end, it is apparent that women have that place, and that is not in positions of power. Thus power is restored to men, and women are expelled from visibility once again.

Untangling the Knot in the Silver Thread

Jemisin explains in her afterward, “Where there is pain in this book, it’s real pain; where there is anger, it’s real anger; where there is love, it’s real love”. (416) The same rule applies to my reflection of her novels and the course as a whole.

I’ve always struggled with taking myself seriously as a writer. For the longest time, I refused to re-read my work. I would sit down, write an essay, and then refuse to think about what I wrote because I had a wall up against putting true effort into my writing. I think this was my defense mechanism against criticism. Like Syenite, I was only functioning as a part of myself. I didn’t want to think about any of the issues that defined me, or how I evolved into the person I am. Continue reading “Untangling the Knot in the Silver Thread”

Last Wishes

After ending her trilogy, Jemison tells the reader of her mother’s death, by explaining, “mom had a difficult last few years” (416). This revelation made me think of the distant but protective relationship between Nassun and Essun throughout the book.

The first thing that came to my mind was how, no matter how far away they are from each other, they can still identify one another’s orogeny. They spend the whole duration of The Stone Sky living separate lives. Shortly after Essun wakes from her coma, or what Hoa would call “periods of half waking and half sleeping” (11), she begins to remember locating Nassun while opening the gate. She confides in Tonkee, “‘Nassun. I know where she is” (22), and exclaims, “‘I have to go find her”‘ (23). Continue reading “Last Wishes”

Sylanagistines Taking on the European Burden

“Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky” -N.K. Jemison, The Obelisk Gate.

Just like the Europeans have dominated and controlled most of the eastern and western world, Syl Anagist controlled for a time, most of The Stillness. Continue reading “Sylanagistines Taking on the European Burden”

Jemison’s Trilogy Fights the Problematic Canon of “American Optimism”

America is known for its optimism. American entertainment and stories are generally much more optimistic than European ones. This stereotype is seen in most superhero movies where it is assumed that good will prevail.  However, a much darker, more complicated truths present themselves in real life.

What exactly am I talking about? Jemison knows. Continue reading “Jemison’s Trilogy Fights the Problematic Canon of “American Optimism””

Standardized Revisionism in Practice

Education is something I am very passionate about as someone who has considered being a teacher and student taught in America’s inner city public schools. While reading about Damaya’s training in the Fulcrum, I couldn’t help but think if standardized testing and my own experiences with school.

The clearest similarity between the education system and the fulcrum is standardized testing. Continue reading “Standardized Revisionism in Practice”


After being captured by Antinomy, Alabaster learns how the seasons started. He learns that curious orogenes created a hole that reached into the core of the earth, expelling the moon and causing apocalyptic seasons.

Ultimately, one can summarize that digging the hole was waste of time and energy, much like college! This class has made me realize how much of my education is wasted because of stress about money or the one number that defines my ability to succeed in the future, the dreaded GPA. It costs over 20,000 dollars a year to go to a state school if you are a New York state resident. By the time you finish school, you’re well over 80,000 dollars in debt. Most people, in addition to school debt, have to pay rent, car payments, insurance payments etc. Therefore, the debt gets paid off gradually. Since it’s being paid off gradually—and not immediately—your loans are incurring interest.

The best part is that all of this is that your whole future (and ability to pay off this massive debt) depends on your GPA. I’m going to law school. My whole future depends on how I look on paper. They will look at this number, and make a decision that is crucial to my future. It feels like, the worse my grades are, the bigger the hole is. If I keep them up, minimal damage is done, but if I let them slip, I expel the moon and set off deadly seasons in my life. Continue reading “Waste”

Response to “Freedom in Resistance: Yikka” by Elizabeth Gellman

Reclaiming a word can be a way to rebuild communities that have previously been fractured by the shaky world they live in.  Many of the words that are reclaimed can still be derogatory if used by the wrong people in a bashful or ill intentioned way.

It is fascinating to think of the power that a single word can carry. The influence that words can have on people and their perceptions of the world is astounding yet horrifying. Continue reading “Response to “Freedom in Resistance: Yikka” by Elizabeth Gellman”