Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday morning queries

I think a symptom of my writer's block for my book is that I'm also having blogging block. So this morning I'm throwing out a series of queries--some things I really honestly have questions about, others that are more open ended/opinion oriented.

Here goes:

1) While I was out in CA I brought along the book Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy, which is *supposedly* non-fiction, although the events and characters (there is a golf instructor called "Shivas Irons" who is a bit hard to take seriously) are sort've wacky and mystical and hard to swallow. It was recommended by several golf friends, but I just couldn't get into it--and I was on an AIRPLANE where I'll basically read anything, including the in-flight magazine, because I hate flying and need to distract myself.

So here's the question: does anyone know of any GOOD golf books/novels/stories--particularly ones that feature either female golfers or golfers of color--and I DON'T MEAN THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. Maybe, just maybe, the book is better than the film. Maybe the mystical man who comes out of the mist is not supposed to be African American--because really, the whole thought that you had a movie about golf set in the South in the inter-war period and a young black man comes out of nowhere to help a white golfer with his swing and NO ONE acts like it's bizarre??? And NO ONE uses a racial epithet? Talk about fairy tales. But really, I'm thinking of teaching an American Studies class on golf--something that really addresses the issues I hold near and dear like race, gender, sexuality, the environment, and the love of the game. I figure teaching a class like this would NOT be preaching to the choir--and I'd love to teach a good golf novel--it doesn't have to have a female golfer or golfer of color--I'll take any good golf novel I can find. But it'd be a nice bonus if there were a fictionalized Lorena Ochoa character out there in a good short story or two.

2) I've been hearing the phrase "off the reservation" a lot lately in political circles. Most frequently I seemed to have heard it in relation to Clinton's presidential run when her husband would make statements not approved by the campaign and talking heads would say that Bill was "off the reservation."

Where does that phrase come from? It seems BIZARRE to me--because if it is obliquely referring to American Indian reservations, then the whole metaphor seems odd and flawed. Or am I misunderstanding this colloquial expression? I think when people employ it they are saying that someone from within a group is making comments or acting in a manner not consistent with the ethos or politics or ideology or philosophy of the group--or just isn't conforming to group norms. But from an American Indian point-of-view does this even make sense? Perhaps the "reservations" in question aren't meant to refer back to Native Americans but what else would it refer to and in an American context, don't you hear that? And isn't the whole phrasing of it as such, then, insensitive, inaccurate, and just plain racist? Because the American government created American Indian reservations as places where various tribes could live after we (US government and American settler/colonizers/immigrants--which means you and me unless you are an indigenous person reading this) displaced them of their land? How did this expression acquire its political connotations?

3) Obama's running mate--who should it be?. OK, this post is really directed more at those who support Barack Obama and/or the Democratic party, although I'd love to hear from anyone else with an opinion on this issue (US citizen or not). And the implied subtext of my question is, who should it be that will give this ticket the best chance of beating John McCain in the general election? And on a somewhat related note, has anyone ever wondered if John McCain was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? I know it's REALLY verboten to talk about that--to in any way question his mental or emotional state post-Viet Nam. But I don't mean this in a critical "he's-not-fit-for-the-White-House" way (although I don't want to see him anywhere NEAR the White House) but in a "Wow-this-guy-needs-help-because-of-his-anger-issues" kind of way. He is on record as calling his wife a c*** as in "shut up you f****** c***" when she jokingly made a jab at him on the Straight Talk express bus during the 2000 primary run (there were reporters on the bus who recorded the incident). If he's willing to insult his wife in this manner in front of reporters, what goes on during their private domestic spats? Can't we get this man some help?
[June 21, 2008: CORRECTION: McCain made these comments back in 1992 NOT 2000--the exact quote can be found in the blog post "Who is John McCain"]

But seriously, back to the VP question--who would you like to see. Senator Clinton? Governor Richardson? Senator Feinstein? Senator Biden? Or my personal favorite: Senator Jim Webb of Virginia--you know, the guy who beat George Allen. George Allen is "Mr. Macaca"--the politician who made that awful gaffe. Webb is a Viet Nam veteran (like McCain), has a son in Iraq, and is so conservative a Democrat that he was a Republican once upon a time. He's also married to a Vietnamese American woman (second marriage) and although more to the right than my own politics are comfortable with, may give Obama the best shot at the White House as his VP.

Seriously, please leave a comment, answer any of these questions or invent your own--would love to hear from you!


CVT said...

"Off the reservation" -

To my knowledge, it's pretty damn offensive: it comes from the reference to what happens to Native Americans who leave the reservation and enter "modern life": alcoholism, gambling, drugs, etc. I think it actually originally came from Native Americans ON the res as an admonishment to those who would leave.

The current usage has hints of that, implying how people of a certain group "lose their way" when they try to go off on their own and basically screw everything up.

So yeah - totally inappropriate and racist, but Americans killed off so many Native Americans that there isn't enough uproar over that kind of speech.

(*incidentally, it's also pretty common for people to talk about meeting about something as having a "little powwow" - which is also pretty insulting and offensive)

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the etymology of "off the reservation" CVT--I had suspected that it *might* be something like this--but I wonder how it got embraced in political circles. Maybe it's because I'm a political junkie, but it *seems* like it is mostly used in this kind of arena.

I'm SURE I've heard it used in other contexts--I know I didn't hear it for the first time in this election season. In fact, I must have absorbed it subconsciously over the years NOT to think that there was some inherent racism implied by this phrase.

And I think theres a lot of things like that out there--that our radars may and may not be tuned to because we're so used to it or we don't think we're "affected" by the statement.

Like Chinese Fire drill. Hate that one.

BTW, I also never liked "powwow."

CVT said...

When I was a kid, my friends and I had a little joke about how all the "weird" things were called "Chinese":

"Chinese" finger-traps, "Chinese" water-torture, "Chinese" fire drill, etc. (we had a lot more, but I can't think of them at the moment)

Unknown said...


First, let me say that I enjoy your blog. I'm a mixed (Korean-German) teacher/writer now living in (very) rural Tennessee. I just returned from the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival in Los Angeles, which was incredible. Kip Fulbeck and Rebecca Walker were there along with countless other writers and filmmakers. If you allow links, here's one:

(By the way, I'm getting to the golf question in a minute).

I mention my attending this conference because the first entry of yours that I read was about returning to the south from California. It was bizarre and fantastic to arrive at LAX to see more Asians than whites. But alas, though I had a fantastic time, I'm glad to be back to the country. But why am I telling you all this. Feel free to edit it!

As for the golf novel, "Train" by Pete Dexter is, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic. I may teach it in my sophomore lit class next semester. The novel follows two protagonists: Lionel Walk (Train), a young black caddy who happens to be a golf prodigy; Miller Packer, a police detective and golfer with a rather dark past. Packer becomes something like a manager for Train as they golf on an underground betting circuit. It's dark, violent, and sexual--not what you'd expect from a golf book! It's set in the early 50s in Los Angeles.

As for a story I love, Ethan Canin's "The Year of Getting to Know Us," is also fantastic. I've taught this in a class. The story was published in his story collection "Emperor of the Air," and was originally published in The Atlantic in the mid-80s.

A novel I've read "about," but that I haven't read is Clint McCown's "The Member Guest." It got a lot of good reviews when it came out. Here's a very brief review of this novel:

On a completely unrelated note (and again, edit away), I met a mixed race poet, Neil Aitken (Taiwanese-Canadian) at the L.A. conference who just won the Philip Levine Prize. He's fantastic. Here's a link to his website:

Thanks again for a timely and refreshing blog.

Jennifer said...

Hi Jason,
Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments. And thanks SO MUCH for the fiction recommendations! You know, someone had mentioned this "dark" novel about 2 golfers who are running some kind of scam in the 1950s. I'll definitely check it out. And it's funny, I've read EMPEROR OF AIR (I LOVE it--I think it's one of the strongest collections of short stories-novellas--probably my favorite is the one about the brother remembering his brother and his "secret" (don't want to give it away for anyone who hasn't read this yet)--I think it was called "Batersag & Slezerlem" but I can't recall the story you mention--I'll need to go back and re-read the entire collection.

I am envious that you went to the Mixed Roots festival (sigh). I'm envious that you were in LA and in Japantown and got to spend time at the Japanese American museum (it's a great site). And I LOVE Kip Fulbeck--he teaches at my alma mater.

Anyway, I hope you continue to stop by and most importantly, that if I do have other questions about book or short story recommendations that you will feel comfortable chiming in with your suggestions. At heart, I'm really a lit geek and could just talk books all day long.

And if you have a book or story of your own you want to plug, write to me off-blog (the email is in my profile).