Ejaculate Responsibly

Ejaculate Responsibly by Gabrielle Blair

Genre: nonfiction/ social issues/ abortion

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 135 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this slim book, Blair lays out 28 arguments why abortion is a major men’s issue. She quickly takes readers through the issues and argues why she thinks so. Using examples and logic, she shifts the focus away from moronic arguments like when life begins or legislating women’s bodies and into a discussion that is actually fair and makes sense. 

I think this book ought to be required reading for every human, especially men and anyone who says they are pro-life. Blair herself is a religious (Mormon, I think) mother of six and is open about that but her arguments are not based in religion. She wants to reduce the number of abortions, and doing so makes sense when the blame for unwanted pregnancy is placed with men. Like it or not, 100% of pregnancies, wanted or otherwise, are caused by a man. 

Of course, neither this book nor anything else like it will ever be compulsory because too many men are special little snowflakes who think that the sun rises and sets on them and whom all women want. They will not take responsibility for anything. 

Men who are self-described allies, feminists, or who just love their wives and daughters and other women in their life may agree with everything in this book but I don’t hear many of them touting the benefits of vasectomies or condoms with other men. Conversations like that should not be considered emasculating or a stigma. Women talk plenty about menstruation issues, which tampons they like better and why, or what to do when your nursing baby makes your nipples bleed. I see no reason why men can’t have similar discussions about ways they can take responsibility – actually be a man – about one simple thing. It’s not unmanly to wear a rubber or have a vasectomy. It’s sexy as hell when a man actually cares about a woman and is willing to help keep her safe and respect her, as well as keeping himself safe. So please, be better allies, all you good menz. 

My only real issue with this book, and why I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars, was that it too often seemed to assume unwanted pregnancy comes from consensual sex. There IS a chapter on the uneven power dynamic between men and women, but it is #17 out of 28 arguments and uses the word rape only twice. Nowhere in the book does it discuss sexual abuse/ molestation of a child which also leads to pregnancy. I think this is the book’s only real failing. Yes, I appreciate that there is a discussion of sexual power dynamics at all. No, I do not think it is placed in a high enough priority in the list of arguments and I think there should be more emphasis on rape and coercion mingled throughout the whole book. No, this is not the only reason why unwanted pregnancies occur. Nobody is stupid enough to argue that. But I do think it happens more than anyone wants to admit and so it should have a more prominent place in these arguments. 

As I mentioned above, Blair is very open about her religion and her views on abortion. I am not pro-life because it seems that almost no one who says they are pro-life are really. I think Blair is genuinely pro-life, and is using her desire to prevent more abortions by advocating for logical things that actually prevent pregnancy in the first place. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. I am not pro-life by the standard definition, and I honestly don’t care one way or another about preventing abortions. It’s a woman’s decision, nobody else’s business, and it’s not like we’re running out of humans. So whatever. 

If you want to say you’re genuinely pro-life and want to prevent abortions, too, then you had better also be in favor of universal health care which would help women find out they are pregnant a lot earlier; free birth control pills, IUDs, tubal ligations, condoms, vasectomies, etc; paid parental leave; free or nearly free childcare services; free, universal pre-K and K; tightened and enforced laws requiring men to pay half of all bills related to any child they father, like it or not, including prenatal care, delivery and hospital fees, and abortion if relevant; free school lunches at every grade level; comprehensive sex education at an age-appropriate level at ALL levels of school; and tax the fucking churches and corporations that spend so much time and money into pushing their legislative agendas. You know, just a few of the things that actually place value on human life, health, safety, and happiness. 

If you are not in favor of these things and simply want to regulate women’s bodies, then you are a hypocrite and protecting life or whatever the fuck was never your goal. You only want to control women and children, punish us for having sex, and lack the critical thinking to make any meaningful and effective change. 

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Catch-Up Round: There There and Running with Sherman

There There by Tommy Orange

Genre: contemporary literature/ Indigenous

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 294 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This novel highlights the lives of 12 people and how they intersect at the Big Oakland Powwow. There are people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol, drugs, the murder or suicide of loved ones, and somehow they still manage to keep going. There is an underlying discussion about generational trauma, especially among the Native tribes. There is also vast systemic racism, which impacts people in so many ways, sometimes in ways no one even is aware of. 

This was a short but powerful book. It was a fast read as well, but not an easy one. It is hard to read about the suffering of others and to know how very privileged you are by comparison. 

I always love reading about a culture I’m not that familiar with. Even though I live in the Southwest and there are several different Native American tribes in the area, I don’t know anyone personally who is Native. My exposure to actual Native culture is mostly confined to the occasional powwow I go to and reading books written by Native authors. 

Definitely recommended!

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall

Genre: nonfiction

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Length: 12:13:03

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Christopher McDougall and his wife, Mika, are tired of living in Philly so they buy a place in Amish country and basically now have a hobby farm. One of the neighbors tells McDougall that one of the members of his church needs help and that he’s an animal hoarder. McDougall goes with his friend to the hoarder’s farm and they rescue a little donkey who was severely ill, standing on horrifically overgrown hooves in filthy straw in a tiny stall. McDougall and his friends and family rally to take care of the donkey, who they name Sherman, and eventually he gets better. Then McDougall learns about donkey racing. 

This was not exactly what I thought it would be. I heard about it in an article I read somewhere recently and I thought it was about the Born to Run guy teaching the donkey how to go running with him, like you take your dog running with you. I had visions of a fuzzy donkey trotting alongside McDougall on the road and it is something I would desperately love to see. But no. Apparently there is a whole community of donkey racers who, from what it sounds like, allow their donkeys to drag them up hills and mountains in some kind of hard core trail running crossed with Mountain Man stuff. Much like running a marathon, it doesn’t sound at all fun. 

I thought this book was only OK, partly because I misunderstood the premise of running with Sherman and partly because it kind of dragged in a lot of places. There wasn’t as much about Sherman as I would have liked; instead, there was a lot about the people involved, the training involved, the stories of the people involved, and I just didn’t care that much about them. I stuck through to the end because I did want to see how Sherman did in his big donkey race in Colorado, and parts of it were funny, but overall I thought it was just mediocre.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Genre: nonfiction/science

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Shelly Frasier

Length: 8:00:00 

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Do you ever wonder what happens to the body if its owner has donated it to science? If so, this is the book for you. Author Mary Roach covers the uses of cadavers ranging from medical/surgical practice to body snatching, crash test dummies to a new residence at the Body Farm, and many topics in between. Always respectful but lightening the subject with her typical humor, Roach guides readers through the many relevant roles cadavers have in their post-mortem, well, lives. 

I had read this book years ago for my book club and remember being kind of bored with it. I listened to it this time on audio and I think the problem before was that I skimmed some of the parts that were horrifying to me and I was more focused on that than on the actual topic. This time, I didn’t skim or skip sections and the experience this go round was difficult in places. I am terrified of flying, for example, and so the chapter discussing the ways forensic examiners look at bodies in plane crashes to figure out what happened was really anxiety-making for me. A couple other sections made me lose my appetite. 

This still wasn’t my favorite book by Mary Roach. I haven’t read all of them yet, but of the ones I have read, I think my favorite is Packing for Mars. If a person has never read one of her books, I likely wouldn’t recommend this one as their first. That said, I was a lot more engaged and interested this time. In horror, I laughed out loud a few times. I definitely learned a lot. 

And yes, I still plan to donate my body to science when the time comes.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Genre: nonfiction/nature writing/memoir

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 190 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When the author, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, is suddenly struck by a debilitating illness, she finds herself bedridden. One day, a visiting friend brings her a pot of flowers and a snail. At first, she was like “WTF? A snail?” but then discovers that there are many fascinating things about her weird little companion. Over the course of a year, Bailey observes and learns about her snail, even getting to witness some things not even a lot of snail scientists have seen. 

I never would have expected to get attached to a snail. But I did. I worried that the snail would die throughout the whole book, thinking it would get out and wander off and dry out, or die. I didn’t know they can live for years. Or that they have like a zillion teeth! Or that they really fucking love mushrooms. 

The writing style of this book was interesting. It mirrored the snail’s slow but steady speed while simultaneously making you feel a little bit stuck like the author was trapped in her sickbed. It was never boring but it was definitely a slower-paced book. It was also a very beautifully written book that imbued feeling into every passage with a simple observation about a falling leaf, or a hole eaten into a paper, or a snail’s tentacles waving at something new. 

Favorite lines:

  • Every few days I watered the violets from my drinking glass, and the excess water seeped into the dish beneath. This always woke the snail. It would glide to the rim of the pot and look over, slowly waving its tentacles in apparent delight, before making its way down to the dish for a drink (17-18).
  • Despite its small size, the snail was a fearless and tireless explorer (25).
  • A single portobello was about fifty times larger than my snail, and so my caregiver cut a generous slice and placed it in the terrarium. The snail loved the mushroom. It was so happy to have a familiar food, after weeks of nothing but wilted flowers, that for several days it slept right next to the huge piece of portobello… (29-30).

Humankind: A Hopeful History

HumankindHumankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Website, Twitter)

Genre: nonfiction/ sociology

Setting: n/a

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 462 pp/time

Published by: Little, Brown (2 June 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is hard for me to know how to review this book. I usually have a hard time reviewing nonfiction books anyway – “my favorite fact was…!” – but Humankind in particular is difficult. I am not sure how to put into words my thoughts on it or why it was one of my favorite books of 2020. But it was a book I read exactly when it was the book I needed to read. I found some parts a little too optimistic, but that might also have been my ingrained cynicism and generally dark personality giving me bad advice. I am not by nature a person who is cheerful and bubbly. Gross. 

However, the subtitle of this book is A Hopeful History, and it is a perfectly timely book for 2020, the year of the eternal garbage fire. Bregman’s premise is that humans are NOT, in fact, all terrible, and the point of his book is to show others that he is right and that the Hobbesian view of the world is inaccurate. Hobbes was the dude who said that the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Cheery. Despite almost universal belief to the contrary, Bregman lays out the studies which show that most people are basically decent, would help others in a crisis, don’t have depraved instincts, and so on. He tackles (in)famous examples of humans apparently gone feral and shows how what we thought we knew about them is most likely incorrect. 

Soldiers in wartime, for example, often never fire their guns at all, and when they do, they often shoot too high so as to miss hitting anyone on the other side. Most wartime casualties occur from a distance because of bombs and the like, not because of soldiers killing one another. 

Bregman also looked at a case from 1960s NYC in which a young woman was stabbed to death. Papers reported that her neighbors heard her cry for help but did nothing; the truth was that many of her neighbors came out to help and she died in the arms of a friend. He explains how the incorrect version of events was perpetuated and shows how it happens still in today’s mainstream media. That was a particularly interesting section. 

The discussion in Part 4 on pluralistic ignorance was especially good. Pluralistic ignorance is when individuals personally reject an idea but go along with it publicly because they incorrectly think most other people in their peer group agree with it. It is basically American society in a nutshell. Pluralistic ignorance explains a very great number of problems we seem to have, from adherence to religious faith to Republicanism to antiscience rhetoric. I keep saying if we teach logic and compassion at every level of education, we would be a much healthier society in a multitude of ways. 

Overall, this was exactly the book I needed to read to round out 2020. I will be glad when this awful year is over with, and I hope with the new year will come some better semblance of rationality in society.

Homes: A Refugee Story

Homes A Refugee StoryHomes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr al Rebeeah and Winnie Yeung

Genre: memoir

Setting: mostly Homs, Syria

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 217 pp

Published by: Freehand Books (1 May 2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah was born in Iraq. His family moved to Syria when he was nine in the hopes of escaping the escalating violence in Iraq. Of course, that was right around the time the Syrian civil war was getting started, so Bakr and his family essentially leapt from the frying pan into the fire. 

As he grew up in a country sundered by war, Bakr and his friends found small joys and ways to be happy. Playing soccer or video games were evergreen favorite pastimes, and he loved learning more about his faith and attending services in his nearby mosque. As the violence in their city of Homs grew worse, Bakr learned, along with everyone else, to avoid the soldiers who would randomly stop citizens, never to go anywhere without his documentation proving who he was, and what to do if there was gunfire or a bomb explosion. Eventually, Bakr and his family gain a highly coveted spot in the UNHCR refugee program and were relocated to Canada, where they all had to learn an entirely new way of life.

My summary probably makes this book sound boring AF, but it was definitely not. It was beautifully written, almost poetic in parts, and packed in a ton of detail and information is such a slim book. It also really highlighted a lot of things I think more people, Americans in particular, need to learn about. 

For one thing, it is absolutely horrifying what humans can become accustomed to. When Bakr first arrived in Canada, one of the things he had the hardest time adjusting to was how quiet it was. He said there wasn’t a constant background noise of gunfire, explosions, screaming. When a bomb had gone off near his home, the community ran towards it to try to help because they knew the ambulances would be a long time coming, if they came at all. A couple days afterward, Bakr and his friends came home from playing soccer and saw that the site of the explosion still had a lot of blood and body parts. They sighed and went and got buckets and things to clean it up with, and other neighbors came out to help. I cannot imagine a child (he was only about 10 at the time) seeing something that awful in the first place, let alone having to help clean it up, gather body parts to take to the authorities, or be in any way involved. It is heartbreaking to know that this is the reality for so many people.

Another thing that is important was Bakr’s relationship with Islam. I think there are still far too many people who assume Muslims are terrorists. That is ridiculous; it would be like assuming all Christians are members of the KKK. It was really nice to read how Bakr’s parents raised and taught their children always to love people, even if they were not kind, because that is what they believed Islam is. Bakr loved the peace his faith brought to him. His father taught him that extremists and the soldiers who were fighting and hurting innocent people were not Muslim because they were acting in ways contrary to the teachings of the Quran. I’m atheist so religious devotion of any kind is utterly baffling to me. However, I have tried to educate myself about a variety of religions and it seems that there are crazies on all sides but the vast majority of people are just normal, peaceful folk who wouldn’t hurt anyone and who just want a safe world for their children. I really don’t know what’s so hard to figure out about that. I think everyone who has children must want a safe world for them. 

I definitely recommend this as a fast, easy read dealing with difficult topics.

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (Website, Twitter)

Genre: nonfiction/science

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Sandra Burr

Source: my own collection

Length: 10:27:00

Published by: Brilliance Audio (2 Aug 2010)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Mary Roach talks about Things to Learn So We Can Live on Mars, or Go to Space! I decided to listen to this right now because, in our current election cycle with 4 years of Lobotomized Hitler at the helm, packing up and moving the fuck to Mars holds more than a little appeal to me. But honestly, I think there is really nothing Mary Roach can’t write about and make interesting. And laugh out loud funny. I almost crashed my car listening to this while driving. 

Some of the things NASA thinks to test. And the acronyms. And sucking the joy out of things. And really, I might not have needed to know some of these things but they were written in such an entertaining manner that I really don’t mind knowing about how to poop in space, for example. I mean, I literally learned something new every day while listening to this, so that’s a winner in my book. 

I’ve read several of her books and now I really think Mary Roach needs to write about bees. Or the evolution of body modification/ plastic surgery. Or anything, really. I’m here for anything she wants to write about. You should be, too. If you have never read any of her books, you are missing out!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • The whole chapter on sex in zero-G
  • Hygiene in a space capsule or space station
  • Pretty much anything having to do with air ram

The Witches Are Coming

48589607._sx318_The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (Website, Insta)

Genre: nonfiction/ essays

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Lindy West

Source: my own TBR

Length: 06:27:00 

Published by: Hachette Audio (5 Nov 2019)

Her Grace’s rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

The Witches Are Coming is a collection of essays dealing with various aspects of feminism, mostly, with other topics such as white nationalism and climate change added as well. West is a terrific writer, making her arguments succinctly, pointedly, and with a lot of humor. I had not read any of her work before, nor have I watched Shrill on Hulu. So I don’t know how much of this collection is repetitive from anything she’s written previously, but it was all new to me. 

Well, the topics themselves were not new, and I’m not really sure West added any new points to them that haven’t already been said. But her own take on them was new for me, and I enjoyed her writing voice a great deal. 

She wrote about some things I’ve said for years, among which is we need to stop praising people, especially mediocre white men, for doing things normal adults are supposed to do anyway. You went to work! You do not get a ‘yay for you!’ for that. Adults are supposed to go to work. No, you cannot babysit your own children. Taking care of your own children is called parenting. Babysitting is what you pay the teenager across the street to do. Praising mediocre white men for doing things normal people are supposed to do is partly why we are stuck with Trump in the White House and his troglodyte followers in positions of power they are in no way qualified to hold. 

Also, stop talking about how charming and handsome Ted Bundy was. He murdered women and everyone is still hung up on how nice he was. No he fucking wasn’t! He liked to kill people. Murderers by definition are not nice. If it takes a while to catch them, it’s not because they are so nice or blend in so well with society, it’s because they snowed everyone around them and used their gullibility to get away, literally, with murder. That’s not charming, that is creepy.

Also, abortions are health care and modern day fucked up rape culture needs to stop. 

So yeah, I guess a lot of it is preaching to the choir and all, but I still think most of the essays included are excellent and this is yet another book that should be required reading.

 

 

Outgrowing God

Outgrowing GodOutgrowing God by Richard Dawkins (Website, Twitter, Insta, Facebook)

Genre: nonfiction/atheism/YA?

Setting: n/a

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 294 pp

Published by: Random House (8 Oct 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a terrific, brief book that addresses religion from a scientific perspective, as do all of Dawkins’s books. In it, he lays out many arguments people use for believing in a god (it teaches you morality, you can’t be good without God, etc) and then he goes on to point out the fallacies involved in thinking that. Such is the first part of the book. The second deals more directly with actual science and evidence for how we know what we know. 

I love this logical approach. Even as a child, religion never made sense to me. When I asked questions in Sunday School, I was rarely satisfied with the answers I was given – you just have to have faith (why, though? That’s not good enough), we can’t see God but we can’t see the wind either and so that’s the same thing (honestly, what the actual fuck?). Now, of course, I know a lot more about logic and reasoning than I did as a child, and the kinds of arguments and fallacies that are involved. But not everyone does. Nor would I try to change, say, my granny’s mind about her beliefs. It doesn’t hurt me and it is a comfort to her, so I’m not here for that. But I do think a ton of people need to read this book, and all of Dawkins’s other books, and then move on to writers like Sam Harris, AC Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Dan Barker, and the late, greatly missed Christopher Hitchens. It will be an eye opener for many, in the best way, I promise.

I felt like this book was written for a slightly younger audience. I don’t know if Dawkins did that intentionally but this would be easy for most teens to grasp, as well as adults who are not as scientifically literate as some of his other readers. I appreciate Dawkins’s ability to write science in a way that is easy for a layperson to understand but that doesn’t dumb it down so much it is essentially inaccurate. Some people say he is condescending, but I don’t really think it’s that so much as he is breaking down complex issues and tells his readers if an upcoming section is particularly challenging. He’s just being a typical professor – ok, class, time to take careful notes. I think too that maybe some of the ‘he’s really condescending’ crowd might just feel a little defensive about their beliefs that he is disassembling. Just a thought. 

I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who might still cling to certain beliefs, religious or otherwise, without good evidence to support it.

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Arguing over whether angels are demigods is rather like arguing whether fairies are the same as pixies. 
  • …if I’d been born to Viking parents I’d firmly believe in Odin and Thor. If I’d been born in ancient Greece I’d worship Zeus and Aphrodite. In modern times, if I’d been born in Pakistan or Egypt I’d believe that Jesus was only a prophet, not the Son of God as the Christian priests teach.
  • We can’t prove there are not fairies but that doesn’t mean we think there’s a 50:50 chance fairies exist. 
  • ‘Jesus’ is the Roman form of the Hebrew name Joshua or Yeshua. It was a common name and wandering preachers were common. So it’s not unlikely there was a preacher called Yeshua. There could have been many.
  • We tend to think the United States is an advanced, well-educated country. And so it is in part. Yet it is an astonishing fact that nearly half the people in that great country believe literally in the story of Adam and Eve. 
  • You get the impression from him that God i far more interested in the sins of one species, living on one little planet, than he is in the vast expanding universe he had created. 
  • The whole bit in chapter 11 about patterns and how human brains are evolutionarily hard wired to seek them, and how false positives and false negatives may have started superstitions and religions. 
  • Science regularly upsets common sense. It serves up surprises which can be perplexing or even shocking; and we need a kind of courage to follow reason where it leads, even if where it leads is very surprising indeed. The truth can be more than surprising, it can even be frightening. 
  • Courage isn’t enough. You have to go on and prove your idea right.
  • Isn’t science wonderful? If you think you’ve found a gap in our understanding, which you hope might be filled by God, my advice is: ‘Look back through history and never bet against science.’
  • I think we should take our courage in both hands, grow up and give up on all gods. Don’t you? 

 

#NotYourPrincess

#NotYourPrincess cover#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy (Twitter, Insta) and Mary Beth Leatherdale (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: nonfiction, women’s voices

I read it as a: hardback

Source: library

Length: 109 pp

Published by: Annick Press (12 Sept 2017)

A collection of poetry, essays, art, and songs by Native American women, this slim book contains multitudes. Some of the entries look into the past, into abuses and humiliations the creators or their family endured, and some look forward into a more hopeful future. A nicely eclectic collection.

I like the glimpse into the experiences of American Indian/First Nations women. It is horrifying how badly they have been treated and difficult to read. But I think the best way to learn more and educate myself about things I have no experience with is by reading the experiences of those who have gone through it. It sounds trite to write it out like that, but it is a fundamental part of how I read now; I do not know the experiences of Indigenous women or Black women, and I can’t really understand what it is like to experience the racism or fear or humiliation that so many of them have endured. Reading about it in their own words is the best way to learn.

I liked how varied this compilation was. However, I found the actual format to be off-putting. It is a physically huge book, like a giant magazine or something, and is impossible to stuff into a purse. If I were a student wearing a large backpack everyday, that would be one thing. But the dimensions of this were 9×11.5 inches and it’s just…big. Also, while the individual contributions were all excellent, the book as a whole didn’t feel like it had a proper flow to it to blend and merge from one section to the next very easily. It actually felt somewhat incomplete, as though there were pieces missing from each section as well as from the overall book. It sadly makes me a little hesitant to pick up another book edited by Charleyboy. 

I would give it 3 stars in honor of the women who contributed to it, but the book itself as a whole would probably only get 2. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Patriarchy is quite simply the systematic oppression and regulation of women’s bodies, minds, and spirits. … In Indigenous culture, Indigenous women and girls are sacred, known as life-givers, as independent, as autonomous, as decision-makers. (“Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights”, Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe), p 25)
  • “I rather you be terrified than think,” she warns, “that you can beat the wrath of Mother Nature.” (“Falling,” Natanya Ann Pulley (Navajo), p 36)
  • You are allowed to cry/ You are allowed to scream/ But you are not allowed to give up./ If you ever need a hero/ Become one. (“Dear Past Self”, Isabella Fillspipe (Oglala Lakota), p 98-99)