Here is what we know.

Tonight, a football game will be played between two teams in the National Football League. The Baltimore Ravens will face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be televised to millions of fans. Rihanna has agreed to sing the opening song.*

We know that Ray Rice, star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, physically assaulted his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. We know that Rihanna was physically assaulted by Chris Brown. We know that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault on three separate occasions. We know that current Raven Terrell Suggs was accused of physical abuse numerous times by his longtime girlfriend, including punching her in the neck, dragging her alongside a speeding car, and kicking her in the face so hard her nose broke—all of those incidents with their two young children present.

We know that this is too much to bear. Not as women. As humans.

We know that today is the anniversary of a terrible day in our country’s history. We know that everyone grieves differently, that some people prefer to do their grieving publicly, while others prefer to do so privately. We know that our nation’s response to a series of terrible things happening was to become wildly patriotic, and to share those expressions of patriotism as loudly and publicly as possible.

We know that during tonight’s football game, patriotism will be invoked in a mixture of direct and subtle ways. Like any good marketing campaign, it will be pounded into our brains that to love football is to love America. Because not loving America is inherently wrong, we will be shown, not loving football is not only un-American, it’s practically indicative of treason. Count how many times you see the American flag on television tonight, if you watch. If you can stomach it.

We knew months ago that a) Janay Palmer walked into an elevator of her own accord and b) was dragged out unconscious less than a minute later by the only other occupant of that elevator, a man who makes millions of dollars per year using his brute strength and talent to excel at one of the most violent sports on earth. We knew because there was video of their entrance and exit. We knew because Ray Rice admitted to police, to the NFL, to the public, that he’d hit his fiancée.

We know how Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, responded to that video of the couple entering the elevator arguing, followed by footage of Ray Race dragging a woman’s lifeless body out of the elevator. He responded by suspending him from his job for two games. Roger Goodell watched Ray Rice use the toe of his sneakers to shove his woman where he wanted her to go, not caring that her dress was hiked up around her waist and that the lower half of her body was exposed. He watched them walk into the elevator together and then he watched an NFL player drag an unconscious woman out of it, and he gave that man a gentle but loving timeout of two games away from his prestigious job.

We know that pundits and apologists said, “We can’t know what happened in that elevator. Both people said they were at fault. She even said she hit him first.”

We can’t know what happened inside that elevator, they said.

Except that we did know. Long before the second video was released, we did know. We just didn’t want to know.

Read more »

Hateship Loveship

The trailer is out for Hateship Loveship, the movie based on Alice Munro’s story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” The film stars Kristen Wiig, Nick Nolte, Guy Pearce, and others.


Workin’ Woman Blues


Valerie June’s latest album is called Pushin’ Against A Stone (2013). About the title, June said that as a self-taught musician, “I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone. And the jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”

You can find Valerie June’s website here.

Here’s the official music video for the song.

The album is available for streaming on Spotify if you’d like to hear more. I’d suggest buying the album with no hesitation. It’s pretty great.

To Watch Or Not To Watch?

Jason Sommer

January 31, 2014

Dear Jason,

On Sunday, February 2, Super Bowl 48 will take place, between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Some people look forward to the day with nervous excitement, while others think it sounds about as fun as a root canal with no anesthesia. I’m writing because you and others may be interested in some developments to our previous discussions about the NFL.

With the Super Bowl approaching, the public discourse has covered nearly every imaginable topic, from the most relevant to the most ridiculous. We’ve talked about race and class and privilege. We’ve talked about role models. We’ve talked about Skittles. We’ve talked about sexism. We’ve talked about marijuana (dude, like, the Super. Bowl. get it?) We’ve talked about the weather and security for the game and ticket prices and parties. But what we’ve been studiously avoiding is arguably the most important: player safety.

Back in October, you and I wrote open letters to each other regarding the problem of head injuries in the NFL. You wondered if the mountain of evidence demonstrating the NFL’s blatant disregard for player safety would finally be enough to convince us to turn off our televisions, and asserted that you yourself were willing to do so. This week, Steve Almond agreed with you, penning an essay for the New York Times Magazine, titled “Is it Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl?” Read more »

Stranger Danger, Part II

Part I can be found here.

My cubicle is situated near the main door of our office suite, so by default I’m constantly directing traffic, answering questions, looking up information.  One day I heard it open, followed by a man’s voice bellowing, “Hello?” I waited for him to enter, to read one of the signs, to look at the map, to find someone to ask for help. I waited to hear the door close. I tried to keep working. Again I heard: “Hello?”

Irritated, I got up from my desk and walked into the man’s line of vision. My expression was less than friendly.

“I’m looking for a financial counselor,” he said. Not polite or apologetic, just matter-of-fact and expectant, as if I could magically discern what his needs were and solve all of his problems simply because he’d opened a random door and made his presence known.

I told him that our office suite housed a variety of academic departments, none of which were relevant to what he was looking for. I said I wouldn’t be able to help him, that he’d have to find the information another way.

“Well can’t you just call the operator?” he said.

I was becoming more visibly annoyed by the second. I explained that calling the university operator wouldn’t help him at all, because he’d just told me he was looking for something outside the university.

“Look, why don’t I just use your telephone and I’ll call the operator,” he demanded.

I hesitated. He saw my hesitation, and it made him angrier. “Just let me call the operator,” he said, his voice growing louder.  Read more »

Stranger Danger, Part I

Years ago, when I was both younger and leaner, I was browsing a bookstore in Tacoma. A man stared at me. There is a particular gaze of a man who will stare at you and give zero fucks that you know he’s staring, no matter how many indications your facial expression, posture, and body language may give that the attention is unwelcome. This man was one of those. He was maybe 5’7” or so, a little pudgy, and his head was shaved, which made it hard for me to tell exactly how old he was. He began to follow me around the store, speaking only to me and asking various questions. During our interaction, it became apparent that this man was slightly off in a way that I found not exactly threatening but uncomfortable. I used a light, friendly tone of voice; I answered some of his questions with brief, non-personal answers; I moved around the store with him dogging my every step. I felt I could handle him, that I didn’t need to seek the assistance of the lone bookstore employee or risk a confrontation or outburst by asking him to leave me alone. Finally he asked me if I would go on a date with him. I have a boyfriend, I told him firmly. I did not apologize. He became quiet. I told him I was going to look for a specific book, and wished him a good day. I moved to a different area of the store.

A few moments later, the man appeared in front of me again.

“You’re pretty fat,” he said. “Are you pregnant?”


Many readers, particularly women, have had to make thousands of split-second assessments of strangers in their lives. People approach others to ask for directions, to check the time, to find a restroom, and a hundred other legitimate reasons. We’ve all had to ask a stranger for assistance at some point, and if you’re anything like me, you attempt to do so in the most non-threatening way possible. Though I try to be friendly in nearly all encounters, context often determines so much when a stranger approaches: Are you in a public space? Are there others around? Is it daytime or night? How does the person approach you—are they polite, cautious, exuberant, belligerent, gruff? Are you by yourself, with your kids, with your spouse?

We’re constantly asking ourselves: Do I need to be afraid of you, or can you be handled?

Read more »

League of Denial: A Response

Dear Jason,

Thanks for your letter about the problem of head injuries in the NFL. My thoughts on this are still evolving as I read more, but I’ll attempt a coherent response.

As you know, I’ve grown up as a die-hard hockey fan. I grew up surrounded by people who loved the sport of hockey in a way that I rarely encounter with other sports fans. Sometimes I’ll catch a glimmer of it in the old-time baseball fans who delight in tracking stats and love to recount the lore surrounding the truly great players, but it’s still different. Hockey is not just a sport that you pick up or discard at will: it is a culture, a history, an ethos, a guiding philosophy, a religion.

Part of the ethos of hockey, as in many sports, is that the team comes first. Taking a stupid penalty is bad because it hurts the team; being selfish with the puck hurts the team; not sticking up for your linemate if he suffers a cheapshot from an opposing player hurts the team. Those are cultural norms. But another part of the culture, one of the most revered pillars of the temple of hockey, is toughness. Whatever the physical problem is, you play through it– especially during playoffs. Broken wrist? Play through it. Broken ankle? Play through it. 100 mph slapshot to the face? Play through it. A separated shoulder and a broken rib which then punctures your lung? You better believe he played through it.

You can see how this would be a problem.

The NHL has also suffered greatly from player concussions over the years, and many players in the recent past suffered from the lack of knowledge and hard science about concussions. The NHL began mandating baseline neuropsychological testing in 1997, however– many years before the NFL– and the current league culture (for the most part) respects a player like Sidney Crosby’s decision to sit out for as long as it took until he felt 100% with absolutely zero symptoms. That wasn’t always the case– see Eric Lindros, given the mantle of the Next Great One at age 18, whose career was destroyed a decade ago not only by repeated concussions but by the Flyers organization’s response to them. Lindros eventually became an unwilling poster boy for the dangers of concussions, and though his experiences were validated by later scientific studies, at the time, he was crucified for not playing through his multiple concussions. I’m thankful that now, hockey culture has a much, much higher level of knowledge about concussions, concussion symptoms, and how to treat each one individually. Both the league and individual players speak freely about how seriously they take concussions, and the impact on one’s brain that repeated concussions can have. The trickle down effect of this knowledge has permeated junior leagues and children’s leagues as well, so there’s a consistent conversation about player safety. And while the NHL certainly isn’t perfect, they’ve managed to respond to the scientific evidence and help educate players so that concussions aren’t a hazy, illegitimate concept: they are a scientific fact. This is so obviously not the case in the NFL. As you said, “it seems like we’ve got an epidemic of concussive & cumulative sub-concussive hits that are causing some serious fucking damage to players’ brains.” Amen. So what’s to be done? Read more »

Terrain 2013







210 works selected from over 700 submissions.

103 artists.

10 films.

10 bands.

1 night.

Those numbers are a few of the ways Terrain, the visual arts/cultural extravaganza held in Spokane every October, describes itself. But to really get a sense of this incredible event, you’ll want to show up. You’ll want to meet some of the emerging young artists, experience the interactive art installations, view the incredible amount of talent housed in the region, hear some poems read, watch a film, dance your ass off.

Terrain is entering its 6th year, brought to fruition by the hard work of co-founders Ginger Ewing, Luke Baumgarten, and Patrick Kendrick. All three have full-time jobs, side projects, and their own art to concern themselves with, and yet every single year, they manage to put together an incredible, exciting, well-juried event that incorporates visual art, music, film, literary arts and more.

EWU MFA alumna Aileen Vaux will be reading her poetry during the event, and various other members of the literary arts community will be participating, attending, and marveling at what an amazing arts community Spokane has. Don’t miss it!


Friday, October 4

5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Music City Building, 1011 W. First Avenue, Spokane, WA

“Efforts at writing and reading followed by aboulia”

Photo by Jeffrey Thompson

Photo © Jeffrey Thompson

Charlie Baxter is the only person who could/would actually use the word “aboulia” in a sentence, right?

Check out this brief Q&A at the Daily Beast, in which Baxter talks about sweating out a good story, his daily 5 p.m. glass of wine, and cultivating a “fuck you” attitude.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point you toward this lengthy, in-depth interview with Baxter, conducted by Willow Springs during his 2009 appearance at the Get Lit! Festival in Spokane, WA.


“Fiction requires the heart and the mind and the guts and the genitals, and you have to set them all on fire.”


Character Does Count: A Belated Response

Dear Mr. Get-off-my-lawn Sommer,

Thanks for your letter! While we disagree, I’m happy to play my part and respond. First let me state a few things relevant to the overall discussion. I’m not as passionate about this as you are. I love the game of basketball, but I dislike the NBA in many, many respects (more on that soon). I’m not a Heat fan, and I criticized James as much as anyone for the manner in which he left Cleveland. I rooted against him for a while, riding the national tide of irrational hatred toward a man who could be the most talented player the NBA has ever seen, until I stopped. Know why?

It’s simply more fun not to. It’s more fun to enjoy the ride.

Your stated issue is that you dislike “how James plays the game of basketball.” But I don’t believe that’s actually your problem. Because if all you cared about was how he plays, then you’d enjoy watching him. You’d notice that he never gives cheap fouls; that he always credits his teammates for his success; that he makes everyone around him play better. You’d enjoy seeing how his game has evolved and improved to superhuman levels over the last ten years.

If you cared about what he’s doing on the floor as opposed to how much the masses love to hate him, you’d care that James is the only player in NBA history to average at least 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and shot at least 56% from the field over the course of a whole season. (He also averaged 1.7 steals and shot a career-high 40.3% on three-pointers this season. No big deal, though.) It’s hard to even comprehend those numbers without pausing to think about them, and lest anyone dismiss those as related to his “natural ability,” I’d point out that his numbers have improved steadily in almost every category over the past few seasons. And we’re not even sure if he’s hit his peak yet. I won’t offer more in the way of numbers, because there’s no contesting that he’s an incredible athlete. And yes, he does have an outstanding work ethic (which apparently includes yoga as part of his workouts, after-practice 3 point shooting sessions with Ray Allen, and running back to the hotel after away-game practice rather than taking the bus).

If you were really worried about what kids are seeing from professional athletes and the ensuing downfall of America, then throwing chalk before games would be the least of your worries, considering this is a league where the officials bet on/fixed games, where players have brought guns into the locker room and brawled with fans, where poisonous “teammates” like Dwight Howard secretly lobby their GMs to get their coaches fired, where Charles Barkley threw a man through the plate glass window of a bar and defended it by saying “I am not a role model.” I seem to remember the Bulls’ Dennis Rodman being arrested for domestic violence twice as a player, as well as drunken driving; and just for kicks, I feel like pointing out this guy, who in his first year as an NBA player, gave a 14-year-old & a 15-year-old booze and then had sex with each of them. LeBron is not what you should be protecting the children from; the NBA is.

Read more »

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