Feed aggregator

Collateral Damage: A Review of Helen Benedict’s Wolf Season

In the Fray - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 08:56

Wolf Season
By Helen Benedict
Bellevue Literary Press. 320 pages.

In her latest novel Wolf Season, Helen Benedict tells the stories of three women in a small town in upstate New York coping with the trauma of war—not just the direct experience of violence and death, but also the collateral damage it inflicts on loved ones. Rin is a rape-scarred Iraq War veteran who has returned to her hometown of Huntsville. Naema is an Iraqi refugee who lost her husband during the conflict and now works in the town as a doctor. Beth is a military wife dealing with an abusive husband and a troubled child.

The book’s eponymous wolves are Rin’s. She keeps three of them, illegally, on ten fenced-in acres of her farm, to fulfill a promise she made to her dead husband. Their presence comforts her, and she feels a connection to the wild animals. When she describes them as creatures “who won’t be tamed, won’t be polluted, won’t be used,” or imagines them patrolling the woods “like souls freed from the dead, their thick-furred bodies bold and wild,” Rin seems to be saying something about herself, too—a war survivor whose greatest suffering came at the hands of her male comrades-at-arms, who raped her.

A Columbia journalism professor and the author of twelve books, including seven novels, Benedict has been writing about sexual assault in the armed services for years. (According to the US Department of Defense, about one in three military women has been sexually assaulted, compared to one in six civilian women.) Previously, Benedict tackled this subject in a work of nonfiction—The Lonely Soldier (2011). For Wolf Season, she spent more than three years conducting research, speaking with scores of female veterans and Iraqi refugees. There were times, she wrote in a recent essay for Powell’s Books, when the people she interviewed “would fall silent, hands shaking, eyes filling with tears, unable or unwilling to speak further.” She came to believe that just writing up their stories would not be enough; only fiction would allow her to get at what had been left unspoken in those conversations.

Wolf Season is the second in a planned trilogy of standalone novels about the Iraq War. The first book was Sand Queen (2014), a gritty narrative of combat on Iraq’s front lines, which Benedict told from the perspectives of an American female soldier and an Iraqi medical student—Naema. In that book, Naema’s brother and father were rounded up by US soldiers because of suspicion they were conspiring against coalition forces. (The vast majority of these sorts of arrests—common during the early years of the war—would turn out to be groundless, the result of grudges by neighbors or other false information.) When we meet her again in Wolf Season, Naema has relocated to Huntsville following the death of her husband, an interpreter for the US army, in a bomb blast. Now a doctor, she works at the town’s veterans clinic while she tries to build a new life for herself and her ten-year-old son Tariq, who was maimed by the same explosion that killed his father.

Author Helen Benedict. Photo by Emma O’Connor

The novel starts with Rin taking her blind nine-year-old daughter Juney to the clinic while a hurricane is descending on the town. When she learns that the doctor—Naema—is Arab, Rin’s post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered: she starts trembling and becomes disoriented, her war memories drowning out her ability to distinguish between past and present.

Beth lives on the other side of that trauma. Her husband Todd, a Marine, has returned home from Afghanistan embittered and volatile. On his first day back, he barks at his wife, “Gimme the fucking keys,” and then tells his son Flanner to “watch TV or whatever the fuck you do with yourself these days.”

Tariq and Flanner are friends and play together by a creek running near Rin’s property. Tariq is mesmerized by the wolves. They indulge his childhood need for magic and myth, and he perceives them as otherworldly creatures—“loyal and wise and beautiful.” At one point, Tariq reads a book that dismisses the animals as “no more than a bundle of instincts.” The boy is distraught. “When he gazes into [the alpha male wolf] Gray’s amber eyes, he sees much more than raw instinct and aggression. He sees a rich and complicated being in there, a being with whom he can speak his secret language, boy to wolf, wolf to boy.” It is a poignant moment in the novel, capturing the alienation and yearning for connection that Tariq—an Iraqi refugee, a disabled child, a fatherless boy—cannot help but feel.

In her essay, Benedict discusses what she describes as a “serious crisis of compassion” among the political leaders now in power and their supporters. When white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, Benedict—who was there—felt that she was witnessing a “colossal failure of imagination” at work. “These white nationalists had clearly never given a moment’s thought to what it is like to be an African American or an immigrant, a Muslim or a Jew, or anyone else they were targeting,” she writes. Like other great art, Wolf Season renders a world that defies such heartlessness, showing us how deeply moved we can be by lives and experiences that bear little resemblance to our own.

Priya Malhotra has been a journalist for over fifteen years in New York City. She writes about contemporary art for Hong Kong-based Asian Art News magazine and has contributed to numerous other publications, including Newsday, Time Out New York, the Times of India, and the Japan Times. Twitter: @writer_priya | Facebook: priya.malhotra.771

The post Collateral Damage: A Review of Helen Benedict’s Wolf Season appeared first on In The Fray.

Canary in the Coal Mine: A Conversation with First Nations Activist Carol Prior

In the Fray - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 16:46

Carol Prior, a key activist in a grassroots movement to stop the Carmichael mining project in Australia. Photo by Alex Bainbridge, Green Left Weekly.

In Australia, a new mining megaproject threatens to devastate the Great Barrier Reef and the land of First Nations peoples. The planned Carmichael mine, set to be one of the world’s largest, will be located in the northeastern state of Queensland, within the vast Galilee Basin. It will be owned and operated by the Indian conglomerate Adani, which plans to export most of the coal to India by sea, via a soon-to-be-expanded port that sits on the Great Barrier Reef.

There is widespread opposition to the Adani project across Australia, which is already the world’s largest exporter of coal. So far, the outcry has discouraged the country’s four biggest banks from funding the project, and local activists have sought international support to keep the pressure on Adani.

Carol Prior is a key activist in the anti-Carmichael movement. She is an elder of the Juru people, an Australian First Nations community on whose traditional lands the mine’s railway line and coal terminal will be built. The passage of Australia’s 1993 Native Title Act granted First Nations peoples some limited rights over their traditional lands and forced mining companies like Adani to negotiate with them, but those rights, Prior and other activists say, are meager at best—and in recent years the Australian government has further curbed them. In 2017, the federal government amended the law to overturn a Federal Court ruling so that fewer representatives of First Nations communities have to approve deals with corporations for them to move forward. In the case of the Carmichael mine, Adani has already reached an agreement to operate on Juru lands, even though many members of the community remain staunchly opposed to the project.

We spoke to Prior about her experiences as a First Nations activist, her passion for protecting what her people refer to as “Juru country,” and her warning to the world about the environmental and cultural costs of valuing electricity over life. 

Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m 71 years old. My grandparents met and married in Bowen, Queensland, in about 1901. From there they were removed to an Aboriginal mission called Hull River Mission [at Mission Beach, now a popular tourist destination]. Everyone who’d been taken away from their lands was put in the mission—it was set up for this. They were moved again, this time to Palm Island, because a cyclone blew the Hull River Mission away.

First Nations people were under the Aboriginal Protection Act right up until 1976. The Act meant that no one could move [from where they were placed] unless they had a permit. If you got a permit, it would state that you could only move around for one or two days. My father got an exemption to go and work in Ingham, and I was born there.

My fight really began in the early 1990s, with the Native Title claim for Juru country. We were only allowed back on Juru country to visit our sacred places and cultural heritage sites in 1995. But by then it was all private property and locked gates.

Did the Native Title Act mean that you could reclaim your land?

No. When they brought in the Native Title Act, it was another act to keep us chained to slavery. We’ve still got nothing. It’s just token. For example, we won the Native Title claim for Cape Upstart. But it had been made into a national park, and you needed permission from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife [Service] to do anything.

You were originally on the negotiating team with Adani. What happened?

When we received our Native Title, the judge ordered that a [legal body] be set up to represent the Juru people. The board of directors, of which there are eight, have refused to accept the membership of people who really have Juru heritage. This is because it’s people like me, who have Juru heritage, who will fight for our land. You’ve got anthropologists, lawyers, and the state government, who will put people on the [legal bodies] to make sure that things like the Adani project are signed off. To me, it’s divide and conquer.

I was elected to be a spokesperson for my family, but the other seven family representatives voted me off. The reason I got voted off was because I asked, “How many jobs are going to be provided for the [Juru] people?” Apparently, more than 4,000 jobs, including traineeships. That sounded good to me. But then we were told that the hiring would be done by subcontractors. I said, “I don’t like that.” Subcontractors have their own workers. They won’t want to give jobs to us. When subcontractors come in, whatever deal we have made with Adani isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

A Juru-led protest in September on the beach in Bowen, highlighting the threat to the Great Barrier Reef posed by the Carmichael mine. Bowen is close to Abbot Point, the location of Adani’s port. Photo by Alex Bainbridge, Green Left Weekly.

Do you think the struggle against Adani is also a struggle in solidarity with First Nations people?

Yes. [Adani founder and chairman] Gautam Adani is planning to destroy a tribe of people he knows nothing about. Adani and the Indian people will watch us get wiped out to give them electricity. When I say this, I mean that they’re taking away our very existence, taking away our spiritual connection to our sacred sites and our whole land. I’m damned if I’ll ever stand for that.

The planned railway line is only 30 meters from our rock art at Mount Roundback. The trains will go past, and the coal dust will cover the rock art. It will also go through our ochre ground, which was used to paint those 3,000-year-old paintings, and for our corroborees. Once that railway line is in position, the land will become private, and we won’t be able to cross it to visit our rock art. Our rock art is there for us to learn about our ancestors. It tells us, “This is where you come from, and this is where your spiritual connection is. This is your country.” We are at one with everything around us. We come from Mother Earth. When we die, we know we’re going back to Mother Earth. The Adani project will destroy our sacred sites and everything that is spiritual to us.

How will the Adani project affect the Great Barrier Reef?

Everything in the ocean has a meaning to Juru people. We are saltwater people, and we have a connection to the ocean. I’ve seen coal dust on the beach. When the turtles lay their eggs, the coal dust heats the eggs, and they don’t hatch. You can see the dust on the top of the ocean. The coral reef has so many animals, and the Caley Valley wetlands, which will be affected, are a breeding ground for coral crabs. Black swans also nest there, and it’s a breeding place for fish. Adani is building its [coal port] extension not far from the wetlands. Of course, whatever happens on the land will go out into the ocean. If it kills on land, it will kill in the ocean. It’s a domino effect.

Do you think that people around the world can act in solidarity with the struggle against Adani?

Yes, we need the world to stand up. There is nothing more beautiful, richer, or rarer than the Barrier Reef. If we allow it to be destroyed, all of the creatures will become extinct. The only place people will see them is in a book. People will be saying, “Why didn’t our grandparents stand up to protect them? They should have fought to protect them.” Put your hands up, be counted, help us to protect this place. The reef is not just for Australians—it’s for the world. The animals you find in Australia, you won’t find anywhere else. If we destroy their habitats, we have nothing.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson are part of Shoal Collective, a newly formed cooperative of writers and researchers writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. Twitter: @shoalcollective

The post Canary in the Coal Mine: A Conversation with First Nations Activist Carol Prior appeared first on In The Fray.

Exclusive: Listen to two tracks from Mike Brody album Sell Me A Bridge, out Oct. 27

Punchline Headlines - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 15:08

When NBA star forward Kevin Love left the Timberwolves to join LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, stand-up comedian Mike Brody – like most sports fans in Minnesota – was all sorts of bummed. But Brody turned his pain into comedy and his comedy into nearly three million views on YouTube with “Kevin Love Jersey Burning – Minnesota Nice Style,” a video poking fun at those who think defiling store-bought sportswear is a bold protest while simultaneously having a laugh at his Midwestern roots. It’s hilarious and, actually, kind of sweet.

Three years later Brody’s head is in a different place, not that he’s above light-hearted goofs. But as he prepares for the release of a new stand-up album Sell Me A Bridge (Oct. 27 on Rooftop/Audible) Brody is reveling in the newfound freedom he feels from writing much more personal material. “I think I got to a point in my career where I realized that I wasn’t really being me on stage,” Brody tells Laughspin. “I was down in the dumps and stalling creatively. Plus, my best friend, comedian Bill Young, had died and it sent me into a tailspin. I had a career and I was funny. But I wasn’t sharing anything about me as a person and I made a conscious decision to change that immediately.”

With that in mind, Laughspin is psyched to exclusively premiere two tracks from Sell Me A Bridge, which you can ear-peep below. Also below: A complete track listing plus more from Brody on the making of the album. Enjoy!


Sell Me A Bridge – Complete Track Listing

1. Fat Again
2. Reality Check
3. Grief Porn
4. Sobriety is a Tricky Thing
5. Sell Me a Bridge
6. Adult Child
7. Mike Brody Goes West
8. Moment of Truth
9. A Tale of Two Dachshunds
10. Pet of the Week
11. Look at Me!
12. Tell Everybody!
13. Cat Attack

I recorded this album in mid-August and every joke except one was written since January 2017. I just gave myself a deadline and stuck to it and I ended up writing my favorite material ever, because it’s all me.

In the past, I really had a hard time talking about sobriety and things like that on stage. Any time I’d start, someone would yell out ‘Quitter!’ or something shitty. I don’t get stage fright anymore, but if an audience doesn’t like a joke about a sandwich, it’s no big deal. If they don’t like your joke about your personal struggle with sobriety that you’ve fought for over a decade, it hurts. It’s YOU.

The album is dark in places and light in others, just like life. It’s incredibly personal, talking about struggles with weight, suicidal thoughts and moments in my life when I felt trapped and depressed with no way out. But at the end of the day I’m an optimist, and I got through it all. And I wanted this album to reflect that life can be dark with twists and turns, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And I dedicated the album to the memory of Bill Young, because the tragedy of his death was the beginning of all this for me.


Julian McCullough headlines fundraising event to ‘stand up’ against mental health stigma (guest post)

Punchline Headlines - Thu, 09/07/2017 - 13:03

Storytelling is a powerful agent for change. Sharing personal stories with others takes bravery, especially when a person is opening up about their own mental health journey. In doing so, they may feel vulnerable or judged. And while those feelings may exist because of the dark shadow stigma casts on mental health, something far more important and impactful is happening; people are learning, relating—empathizing. Stigma is replaced with a message of hope.

The individuals listening may be going through similar issues, and therefore the storytelling is helping others feel like they are not alone. Sharing mental health stories is combatting stigma. These stories of lived-experience are relatable and genuinely felt. They are not forced, staged, or mechanical. They are truths being told based on that person’s life.

Similarly, comedy that resonates with an audience is also storytelling at its finest. Human life as told through the eyes of a comedian has a very unique appeal. Good stand-up comedy wouldn’t exist without comedians willingly stepping outside of their comfort zone to share their personal stories. It can even be therapeutic for the comedians and audience members. The very events a comedian shares on stage may be similar to the experience of an audience member, giving them both an opportunity to laugh and find humor in life’s situations.

On Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8pm, comedian, actor, and writer Julian McCullough will bring you comedic storytelling at its best. He will team up with the Jordan Porco Foundation charity for a night of stand-up comedy to stand up against mental health stigma at the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground. All proceeds — TICKETS HERE — will benefit the mental health promotion and suicide prevention programs of the Jordan Porco Foundation.

“When celebrities like Julian use their influence in support of raising mental health awareness, it makes them key allies for challenging stigma, wherever it may be. With comedy, Julian has found ways to broach tough topics, providing what many cannot—a sense of relief and laughter,” said Marisa Giarnella-Porco, President and CEO of the Jordan Porco Foundation.

Relief from stigma is needed. Research on stigma towards mental illness shows that most people, starting at a young age, hold negative attitudes towards people with mental illness. These attitudes include stereotypes and perceptions that those with mental illness are dangerous to others. According to the World Health Organization, depression alone is the leading cause of disability in the world. One in four American adults is suffering from a mental health disorder this year. But, even though this crisis is so visible in our society, only 25% of those diagnosed with mental illness feel that other people are caring and sympathetic towards individuals with mental illness.1 Stigma can create overwhelming feelings of isolation and shame that cause people with mental health issues to distance themselves from their family and friends, due to fear of being judged.

“I don’t want my daughter to feel alone, to distance herself from the people she loves. My daughter’s mental health is important to me because I don’t want her to simply endure life, I want her to enjoy it. I want her to be able to talk about how she is feeling without fear being judged. I want her to freely share her talents with the world, know how to take care of herself, and how to take care of the people she loves… especially me when I get old,” said Julian.

Sharing our stories helps bring people together, replacing fear with hope. It takes a village to stand up against mental health stigma and change the mental health landscape. Come be part of our village at the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground. Get your tickets, here. Tickets are $80 per person. Doors open at 7:15pm for the 8pm show. 21 and older.

About the Jordan Porco Foundation

The Jordan Porco Foundation’s mission is to prevent suicide, promote mental health, and create a message of hope for young adults. This is accomplished by providing engaging and uplifting peer-run programs on college campuses. Their programs strive to start a conversation about mental health that reduces stigma while encouraging help-seeking and supportive behaviors in order to save young adult lives. Learn more at jordanporcofoundation.org.

Syndicate content
Content © 2009 Emma Kat Richardson All rights reserved worldwide.
Site Development by Brainwrap Web Design.