“A Dreamscape of Longing”

Odessa Black Sea

I’m very honored for this very personal review by the writer Kim Liao in The Rumpus.

It was important to note that the invasion of Ukraine happening right now is very real and that people there should be at the center of our thoughts and prayers now. I thanked some people there at the end of Two Big Differences. I’m very concerned for their safety at this time and am trying to remain in contact.

A Novel about Post-Tahrir Egypt

The chapters are in Arabic (represented by English) and English.

Here is my review of Noor Naga’s If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English.

“Is it racist to believe that being sexist makes you more Egyptian?” One effect of these question headings is to suggest a meta-level of narrative discourse relating to the difference between the cultures of Noor and the “boy from Shobrakheit.” In this way, Naga can explore questions about otherer and othered, about potential reversals of the process, about who is the hegemon and who the oppressed, and how that distinction changes based on the situation.


A Resolution on Ukraine

This resolution is anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist. The war and revisionist history that Putin exposes is a consequence of a colonial regard for Ukraine among Russian leaders. Russia is not reacting to NATO expansion. There is a concerted effort to keep Ukraine in a subjugated position and reliant on Russia even culturally. This goal they have already achieved despite the great amount of failure of the Russian military, which was supposed to have easily conquered Ukraine within a week. 

This resolution therefore has to do with practices already undertaken by the Professional Staff Congress. Actually, I was surprised that there was any question about the subjugation of Ukraine by Russia. Yet there are Stalinist ideas, ones that even Putin, who has compared himself to Peter the Great, has let go. By the way, his statement hopefully puts to rest any questions about whether Putin himself considers what he has done to Ukraine imperialism.

While initially I more felt the need to respond to the Stalinist, geopolitical campists in my union, I more realize that I should have better written about the history of Ukraine from before the Soviet era, the difference between Lenin and Stalin with regard to Ukraine, the Ukrainian contribution to the Red Army resistance against Nazism (7 million members of the Red Army were Ukrainian), the relationship between Stepan Bandera and the KGB, how this relationship affected Putin, how Ukraine developed in the 90s and the wake of the Fall of the Soviet Union, and finally the cultural hybridism of Ukraine (until now at least). What I mean by that last parenthesis is that Ukraine is not as monolithic as Putin may present. I think it’s at least arguable that, without such imperial ambitions as Putin’s reactionary regime, literally in power since the 90s Post-Soviet period, Ukraine has become even more diverse a society than Russia, per capita and in a cultural sense. The presence of openly queer people on the front lines fighting for Ukraine is evidence of this phenomenon. So I see Ukraine’s resistance as a necessary act as well as an inspirational one while I see Putin’s Russia’s aggression as something like the paranoia of those who talk about the Great Replacement in our country. Putin fears Ukrainian success because the cultures are (were) so similar.

I wrote this resolution with two colleagues/comrades. When I introduced it to union leadership, I received some minor critique back, some necessary watering down, which I accepted. It received a very cursory introduction in May of 2022, and this oversight created a problem later. That is how I realized that the biggest obstacle here was not the Stalinist members of the union but those who simply don’t want to respond to this issue. Yet the issue continues, and people continue to suffer.

I don’t forget other conflicts, such as the suffering of Yemen. And Palestine has also been a setting of increased conflict during this war. I also recognize that my response to these conflicts may not align with many of my allies in the conflict happening in Ukraine. But there are connections here. Russia’s involvement in Syria was a rehearsal for Ukraine. They have hired fighters from Syria for $3,000/month. The proximity to Yemen means the Syria conflict could indicate Russia’s view of the Yemeni one. And who was the first world leader to visit Putin after the war began? Naftali Bennett. Putin said he “supports the struggle of Israel,” during the 2014 war in Gaza.

Between its almost completely unregistered introduction in the May DA and its real introduction in the June DA, the union’s International Committee informed me of their own resolution. I urged them to make their resolution public on the DA list serv. Then I wrote an amendment in which I made several deletions and insertions. I stated that I would accept the substitute resolution if the following amendment was accepted. The IC did not respond to my proposed amendment. I also intended to give delegates an idea of what would be discussed were the substitute resolution to come up for amendment.

A couple of days before the DA, the union leadership announced that they would motion to table the resolution. Unlike a motion to postpone indefinitely, a motion to table is non-debatable and would go straight to a vote, according to Robert’s Rules.

Based on the complaints on the DA list serv, in which people both had first asked me and others not to discuss Ukraine on the list serv and later had said that there had not been sufficient discussion of the resolution (so it was both not pertinent to the DA list serv while later being not discussed enough, a deep contradiction), I made the guess that the motion to table would be passed by the DA and my resolution would be tabled until somebody brings it up again, the next possible opportunity being the September DA.

However, the motion was to postpone indefinitely and discussion began. During the course of this discussion, the IC was able to motion to present their substitute resolution, which they showed on the screen. There was also a statement that I should have consulted with them since they are a committee of the DA and it was more in their purview than in mine as a delegate. However, I had suggested some speakers and been told that the IC would not meet with my suggested speakers. I had also engaged with some of the members of the IC, members who were making generalizations about the prevalence of Nazism in Ukraine as well as other Putin talking points. It’s difficult to take seriously anybody who is still taking Putin at his word at this point. For me it’s like somebody taking Trump at his word.

This motion was discussed and finally called to question. The vote was a resounding no, the resolution failing to receive more than 22 votes, about a third of the vote against it.

After this vote, the DA returned to the motion to postpone indefinitely, ran out of time, voted, and, of course, as I suspected, the resolution was not voted down but was postponed.

I was thrown by the leadership’s decision (perhaps a mistaken one) to allow discussion of postponement, which opened up a Robert’s Rules possibility for the substitute resolution. I was unsure of whether it would win. I worried that people’s indifference might lead them to simply pass the resolution in order simply to dismiss the whole matter. That the substitute resolution–blaming the entire war on NATO and refusing to even condemn the war itself, a product of the geopolitical campist leftism that can’t seem to see beyond the United States–failed was, in a sense, a victory.

Now the obstacle is, again, the indifference to the situation in Ukraine. One colleague asked me, “How do you plan to do any of the things you’ve mentioned in the resolved?” Her question was not at all said in a curious way. The tone was one of annoyance at the purpose of this resolution. I responded that it would mean something, mean a lot, that a union of tens of thousands of members makes a statement about Ukraine. My response might have further annoyed this colleague, who has supported other resolutions about political situations outside the US but for which Ukraine appeared to have been less significant.

Now I will be leaving CUNY for another job, a better job than adjuncting, so I’ll no longer be a member of this union. And that was my last delegate assembly. This resolution is not forever tabled, at least for the PSC. But I’ll bring it forward in any way I can until it’s no longer necessary to support Ukraine.

Odesa on May 2nd

It has been six years since the fire in Odesa, Ukraine, on May 2nd. On this day in 2014, I was working on what would become Two Big Differences. When I talked to Ukrainians I knew about what happened, I heard conflicting narratives. My late mother-in-law blamed the pro-Ukrainians. My sister-in-law blamed the pro-Russians. I found videos of girls making Molotov cocktails with a smile. I heard a pro-Russian Ukrainian who was inside the building tell about how he was saved by somebody whom he never met but who said, “A person who supports Ukraine saved you.” I don’t think the pro-Russian remained pro-Russian that much longer.

I don’t think there are many who remain pro-Russian at this point. People who lived in Ukraine died in Ukraine that day. Odesa is Ukraine.

Here’s the beginning of Chapter Twenty of Two Big Differences:

“The Second of May, 2014, it was a little cloudy in Odessa. Zina always loved clouds, how their light made visible the ongoing tremble of the world. After she left her papa, Zina wanted only to move. There had always been a need within her to leave the place where she was and return to hear it for the first time.

She boarded one of Odessa’s many microbus routes. She didn’t know which one. She picked randomly and found herself on a marshrutka that took her away from the city center, away from American tourists, further, even from other post-Soviet people touring Odessa, further, into parts of the city where haggling is demanded by people’s budgets. She picked her nose, discreetly. Hope had crested, spritzed her face. Immediately, she knew it was the kind of hope that is a rabid lie, feverish, evaporating along with sweat. All the same, it healed her somewhat, touched her forehead, her chin, lifted it like the fingers of a mother. All the same motherless, maybe she could still love him. Even though she was sitting, she felt as light as the butterfly, throwing herself — since butterflies are feminine in her language — against the window. She flew out of the open sunroof, opened her wings and was free above Odessa. The smell of cotton candy rose from Park Shevchenko. There, not far below her, was that turning devil’s wheel. There was the Opera Theater. The Black Sea was as flat as a pane laid on the floor. For a moment, this butterfly forgot she wasn’t a bird. She kept going, her torso as black as that vastness, which did not swallow her, only lightly kissed her with puckered waves before she herself plunged in.”

Tairovsky Cemetery

Rockets have even hit Tairovsky Cemetery in the Odesa Oblast, the third largest cemetery in Ukraine, where my grandmother-in-law is buried and the mother of my friend. He has been looking after the flowers at their graves. I have been there twice in my life, and I wrote about it in my novel, never thinking that Russians or anybody would have any reason to attack a place where the dead rest.

From Chapter 12 of Two Big Differences :

“Here is some penny tray advice. Get it? Take or leave?” Valinka had no Odessan response. She continued, “Take what you get in life. Everybody gets scammed. They rip off each in their own way.”

As she led Valinka further into the cemetery, the women who had ripped him off began singing in high, nasal voices, more like keens than entertaining song. The singing voices carried the repetition of a melody. The women chanted, cut themselves off, began again. This wail demanded only silence. It was the same way the trees, branches, and leaves demanded silence. It was the same way the stone did. These natural objects, these women, they demanded very little from people. Silence was the least one could do.

The late morning sunlight ushered Zina and Valinka further. The grass and weeds growing out of her dead ancestors — and Valinka’s, as far as he knew — appeared to shrink from the brightness. The air hummed, fated with rain. They moved on foot over the dusty crush toward the sea of graves. The ground sounded
wrong to her. The keening of the women sounded as if it were becoming louder, coming closer. Valinka could not see her face as she plunged forward, sweat pouring down her cheeks. Her sobs could be written off as panting. They passed a grave with a metal picnic table. Valinka stepped over to it and flattened his body across the metal, which clanged underneath him. On his belly, he put his arms out as if he were a parachutist. He must have been trying to impress her, show that he could be as wild and irreverent as she.