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Day 20 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


her·i·ot  \ˈher-ē-ət\  :  a feudal duty or tribute due under English law to a lord on the death of a tenant.


Today, we have a word I’ve never heard of. I found the definition a bit unclear so I went to the dictionary’s wise aunt, the encyclopedia. Here’s what Britannica has to say about:

heriot,  in European feudal society, the right of the lord to seize his tenant’s best beast or other chattel on the tenant’s death. The right grew out of the custom under which the lord lent horses and armour to those of his tenants who served him in battle. When a tenant died, the horse and equipment were returned to the lord. When the tenant became responsible for providing his own equipment, the lord claimed the right to heriot. There were various types of heriot. Heriot service was an incident of both free and unfree land tenure, i.e., both unfree, or villein, tenants and free tenants were subject to the feudal lord’s right of heriot. A tenant could make provision for the payment of heriot in his will, but if he died in battle no heriot was required.

Fucked up, right? To break this down: the lord makes his tenant serve him in battle, and because the lord has to loan him armor (because the tenant is poor and cannot afford it) to fight in the lord’s battles, when the tenant dies, the lord can take—from the tenant’s poor and struggling family—either the armor or the most expensive possession they have.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how often some humans decide they are better than other humans—and the manifold ways this has displayed itself over time and continues to display itself. I love this incredibly smart and funny new web series on Youtube called Ask a Slave.  Creator and actress Azie Mira Dungey plays the role of George and Martha Washington’s slave on the show, answering emailed and phone-in questions. Questions like: “What’s your favorite part of the plantation?” and “Why don’t you just go to school in Massachusetts” and “What if you are asleep and Mrs. Washington wants a cup of tea in the middle of the night?” Or there’s: “How did you get to be maid for such a distinguished founding father? Did you read the advertisement in the newspaper?” To this, Dungey’s character Lizzie Mae replies, “Why yes. It said, ‘One housemaid. No pay. Preferably mulatto. Saucy with breeding hips.”  The thing about the questions is that these were real questions asked by real visitors of George Washington’s Mount Vernon where she worked as a living character.

And this came through my newsfeed yesterday: “Parents Complain After Child Forced to Reenact Slavery on a Field Trip.” During a school field trip organized by a group called Nature’s Classroom, a 12-year-old black girl was “called the N-word, chased through the woods, and threatened with physical violence including whipping and cutting her Achilles” as part of a historical reenactment of slavery she was made to participate in.  Apparently, this “enactment” is something the group Nature’s Classroom has done in the past. And previous participants described “being similarly horrified by the experience.” The school did not and has not apologized.

In this country, we pretend we are so high above this kind of thing: one group discriminated against, one to be made better than another. We ignore history. We deny systems of privilege and pretend that everyone gets a fair shake. But the ways in which we value some people’s lives over others is visible everywhere. Yesterday, House Republications pushed through a bill that will cut food stamps by 40 billion dollars. There are 47 billion Americans currently enrolled in SNAP. We act as if hunger is some distant foreign thing, happening far away on another continent. But according to Feeding America, “In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.” That’s one in six Americans. This is something that will only become worse when programs like SNAP are cut.

This week this article and this graph have been circulating; both discuss adjunct college instructors. Current estimates say 70 percent of all instructional faculty at colleges and universities are made up of non-tenure-track full or part-time instructor; a study just found that students learn more from adjuncts than their tenure track professors. In our country, the rhetoric is strong about the importance of education and the goal of sending each child to college. Tuition costs continue to rise, but adjunct pay does not and many adjuncts do not have access to healthcare. As tuition rises, how much (how little) of it is going to the folks who are actually teaching? We say that teaching is the most venerable profession and that we care about education above all else, but we don’t pay our teachers enough to sustain themselves. And how can we truly claim to care about education if we don’t adequately compensate our educators.

These things—and so many more—are our modern feudal system. In this system, those who are wealthy with money and privilege have all the power and those who don’t have wealth have to struggle to get by and become more and more indebted to those in power.


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Day 12 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


glass·man (ˈgläs mən),  n., pl.  —men  1.  a person who makes or sells glass.  2.  a glazier.  [GLASS + MAN]


The glassman lived in a glassy house on a street near a glassy sea. His life was, by design, careful. His whole house covered in carpet. All surfaces smooth, all parts plush. It wasn’t particularly sanitary: pillowtop countertops in the kitchens, bathroom sink basins made of soft clay. But for the glassman, softness was survival. Each morning, he slowly pushed off his covers and inched his legs to the edge of the bed, then he inched his legs over the side, then inched his feet towards his slippers, lying waiting on the floor. I would tell you about how he happened to arrive at the kitchen but, as you might imagine, that would take a very long time. In the kitchen, he went to his custom-made, foam-covered refrigerator to find jello or yogurt or smoothies, nothing that could get caught in his windpipe. His bones had always been brittle. He had always been prone to breaking. The possibility of fracture was a constant reminder in the sounds his body made: his clavicle crunched, his sternum snapped, his humerus hummed. When he found a small fissure, he filled it only way he knew how, and he traced his steps to see how he might have done it. There aren’t cures for glassmen, only tinctures. You could say the glassman lived a very limited life, and you’d be right, but the glassman didn’t know any different.


If he had been a boy not made of glass, maybe he would have grown up playing kick the can and climbing on the jungle gym with the other kids. Maybe he would have fallen and found a thick scrape forming a red grid across his knee. He would have placed his leg over the toilet boil as his mother poured hydrogen peroxide over it. He would have felt the burn. Or he would have played catch, the baseball hitting his arm and forming a large bruise, purple in the center and yellow around the edges until it disappeared completely, the flesh restoring itself, the injury only a memory. He would have had popped blood vessels and sore muscles and cracked lips. He would have had use for Neosporin and lip balm and bandaids. Then, he would have grown up and learned that there are far more damaging kinds of hurt, the ones so visceral you sometimes wish you could feel them in your body, maybe that would be more honest. He would have learned there are hurts that never fully heal.


As it was, the glassman was made of glass. So he only knew what it meant to be breakable. He only knew how to imagine a worst-case scenario and try to protect against it. He could see the glassy sea outside the window but he could not go to it. The glassman knew the risks were too high. The glassman knew what he was made of. The glassman, above all, knew how he could shatter.

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Dutch oven



Day 9 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


Dutch oven,  1.  an iron kettle for baking, with a tight-fitting convex lid, on which live coals can be placed.  2.  a metal container for roasting meats, etc. with an open side placed so that it is toward the fire.  3.  a brick oven whose walls are preheated for cooking.



The casseroles started arriving on Sunday. Large glass baking dishes covered in foil. Aluminum pans. Dutch ovens in every size and color. Usually, scotchtaped to the top was a handwritten note with the same kind of words and the name of the family who left the dish. We took the casseroles off the stoop and lined them up on the countertop. Then we took post-its and labeled them: broccoli and cheese, sweet potato and marshmallow, tuna, baked ziti, lasagna, shepherd’s pie. There were round tins of quiche. There were a few kinds of pie. Someone had started a list on a legal pad with columns drawn down the page: what dish had been brought on what day and by whom, ostensibly to know how long they would keep or for future thank you notes. None of us felt much like eating. It’s funny how the impulse in times like these is to want to make food: as if the void that needs filling is in someone’s stomach. And it’s funny how at this time of others’ great generosity, it is hard to bring yourself to cut a piece of something, put it on a plate, and stick it in the microwave. These meals are gestures made to simplify but they serve as reminders of how much energy it takes just to decide to put food on a fork and stick it in your mouth, of how much time it takes to chew. We kept filling the refrigerator, stacking and organizing and reorganizing, negotiating apple pie and potato salad, until there was no longer any room. We didn’t want to be wasteful so we put a sign on the door that said, “Thank you for your thoughtfulness but there’s no more room in our fridge.” We heard the sounds of people coming by, their footsteps on the front walk, arriving and receding, but none of us could bear to go to the door. Instead, we sat in the living room with the lights off and the T.V. on a program that none of us was watching. We didn’t need to go out. We had all that food already. We knew it was there, just in case any of us ever felt hungry again.


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Hollywood Sign, 1978

Hollywood Sign, 1978


Day 3 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


de·fame  (diˈfām), v.t.  –famed  —faming.  1.  to attack the good name or reputation of, as by uttering or publishing maliciously or falsely anything injurious; slander or libel; calumniate: the newspaper editorial defamed the politician.  2.  Archaic. to disgrace; bring dishonor upon  3.  Archaic. to accuse.  [ME defame(n)  <  L  defam(are), equiv. to De– DE- + famare, deriv. of fama a report, rumor, reputation (see FAME); r. ME diffame(n)  <  OF diffame(r)  <  L  diffamare, equiv. to dif- DIF-  + famare]  —de·fam·er, n. —de·fam·ing·ly, adv.


I don’t pay attention to the negative because I’ve seen this play out
so many times
how many times have we seen this?

     Hayden Panettiere!
     Incredible Ass!
     In Incredible Bikini!

You know now.
You know what’s happened.

     Fergie and Josh Duhamel hire Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan.
     Dancing with the Stars is furious.
     Tom Brokaw is a bully.

Anyone that performs
That’s what you’re looking for.

     Jennifer Lopez.
     No longer the best **s on the block.

You’re wanting to make history.
     Ex-Disney Superstar
     Death Certificate Released
     Gunshot Wound To Head

We said, “You know we’re about to make history right now?”

     Should she do her daughter a solid and tone it down?
     But at what an enormous price?
     The floor is yours!

What’s amazing is, I think, now we’re three days later they’re still
talking about it.


     Lamar is giving Khloe the silent treatment.
     Amanda Bynes is ensconced.
     Kanye West banks millions.
     Disney is none too pleased.

They’re over thinking it.

     Justin Bieber’s Perfectly Chiseled Torso Was Threatened

You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it.

     Snooki in a High-Waisted Bikini, Looks Better Than Taylor Swift?

Like, I didn’t even think about it, ’cause that’s just me.


All plain text taken from TMZ.com
All italics taken from Miley Cyrus’ official statement about her recent VMA performance. (http://jezebel.com/miley-cyrus-speaks-turns-out-youre-all-over-thinkin-1246861692)

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