Wordsmith Wednesday: Kelly Link’s “The Summer People”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday stems from Kelly Link’s short story “The Summer People,” in her collection Get In Trouble.

It reads:

“When you do for other people (Fran’s daddy said once upon a time when he was drunk, before he got religion) things that they could do for themselves but they pay you to do it instead, you both will get used to it.

Sometimes they don’t even pay you, and that’s charity. At first, charity isn’t comfortable, but it gets so it is. After some while, maybe you start to feel wrong when you ain’t doing it for them, just one more thing, and always one more thing after that. Might be you start to feel as you’re valuable. Because they need you. And the more they need you, the more you need them. Things tip out of balance. You need to remember that, Franny. Sometimes you’re on one side of the equation, and sometimes you’re on the other. You need to know where you are and what you owe. Unless you can balance that out, here is where y’all stay.”

So much of life is transactional. Currency can take form as physical money, or time, or advice given and taken. We often forget that at the base of almost every interaction is an exchange of goods. If we forget this, if we begin to give and give and give, we lose ourselves in the process. Our individuality becomes intertwined with those whom we are looking after.

In “The Summer People,” Link explores the loss of identity and individuality within a family and, particularly, at a young age. Franny is indebted to The Summer People. Her Ma was indebted to them. There is no other life, there is no other option, she must always listen and do what they ask. They gift her with useless, beautiful, unique, outdated objects/toys/knick-knacks, as a thank you for scouring the city for their needs. Though this relationship has tilted to one side, this is all she knows, this connection with The Summer People is what defines her.

It is easy to lose ourselves in our relationships with others, allowing what we do for them to validate us as human beings. Reminding ourselves where we stand in the midst of these transactions helps us to keep a firmer grasp on our individual identity.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Foxing’s “Indica”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the song “Indica” off of Foxing’s album Dealer.

It reads:

“And if so, do I haunt their parents’ dreams?
And in so, am I summarized by sounds of young lungs screams?
Their young ones screams (…)

And if so would I bring their parents peace
And if so, could I give back the sounds of their children’s screams?
Let go of what I’ve seen”

Often when we think of what defines us, we see it as what we surround ourselves with or what we hope people’s perspectives of us are. Our actual physical actions and consequences are peripheral. Though here, within these lyrics, we are faced with the lingering, haunting effects of what we have done. How it feels as though it becomes and defines us. Foxing points to the unanswerable questions we are faced with when we return from war and the constant questioning and enduring reminders of our actions. The immeasurable weight that is on our shoulders and the inconceivable horrors we have committed and attempted, successfully or not, to come to terms with, these are the things that sometimes feel as tough they define us. A past that is out of our control. A past that we can’t shake off. A past that can endure as a summary of our existence.

Though often impossible to move out of the forefront of your mind, these past actions do not have to act as our identity. We are more than that as long as we allow ourselves to be. We can not change what has already happened but can change what we do next.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”

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The words I want to highlight this week are from Mitski‘s song “Your Best American Girl” from the upcoming album, Puberty 2.

The words are:

“Your mother would not approve/
of how my mother raised me/
but I do/
I finally do”

With lyrics consistently somehow both vague and specific, Mitski Miyawaki possesses the often indefinable skill of great (song)writers: the ability to make you feel as if you’re getting a glimpse of their unique worldview, a piece of their perspective, while simultaneously articulating part of your own inner dialogue in language you hadn’t thought to use yet. These seventeen words strung together this way bring up latent feelings about my upbringing, the angst of being looked down upon because of perception of my class, and ultimately accepting in semi/pseudo-adulthood that I agree with many of the values and sensibilities I was raised with. The beauty occurs when my interpretation is morphed by consideration of Mitski’s gender, race, her stated intentions of the song, and the rest of the song’s lyrics, which completely shifts the meaning and can give me insight into her worldview by attempting to use a different lens when looking at these same words. That’s how art can help you empathize, how words can help you learn.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Nirvana’s “Aero Zeppelin”

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Our words this Wednesday come from a song off Nirvana’s first demo that appeared on their 1992 compilation album Incesticide.

The lyrics from “Aero Zeppelin” are:

“All the kids will eat it up/
If it’s packaged properly”

There were a handful of Nirvana lines I considered highlighting this week, but I settled on these because they seem relevant outside my skull. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics/music/interviews /art/writings were essential to the shaping of my identity from about age twelve to fourteen, teaching me to reject racism/sexism/homophobia/heteronormativity/ consumerism in ways that weren’t stilted or self-righteous. He gave me values to align myself with before I had any idea what that meant. He showed me it was OK to try to be an individual in a society that seemed to always be actively trying to limit your individually in its self interest. Maybe I’m just getting old or paranoid (or both), but I’m afraid adolescents are at a loss for contemporary role models that provide that same encouragement to resist the strong desire to shape identity around the things they have and want to have. There’s money and influence in exploiting a consumer’s insecurities, and who is more insecure than kids? It’s way easier to be a good little consumer, attaching one’s own worth and that of others to brands and products, than to create meaning and value for oneself. Don’t get me wrong, we all consume. Sometimes it’s just knowing when to puke.

Thanks for showing me how to stick a finger down my throat, Kurt.

– NR

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