“Goods” by Matthew Baker, recommended by Hayden’s Ferry Review





Issue No. 155


EDITOR’S NOTE


On one level, Matthew Baker’s “Goods” is a political story denouncing the obsessive consumerism of American culture. The story’s narrator and his brother believe in collective, ephemeral ownership; they walk through stores pretending to own the things they find on the shelves, then leave those things on the floor as they exit. But to focus on this aspect of “Goods” is to risk overlooking what also makes the story so remarkable: the masterful balance between narrative and lyricism in Baker’s pared-down prose.

The music of Baker’s sentences is like a familiar, unnamable tune. Its mystery sticks in your head. “Literary truth,” says Elena Ferrante, “is entirely a matter of wording and is directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence.” Accordingly, Baker’s sentences shine with a blinding wattage. They are startling yet well controlled, a hybrid of adolescent whimsy and general axiom: “My brother and I owned a jar of pencils, but at the orphanage that was meaningless. Ownership is a belief, and without authorities to propagate a belief, a belief disappears.” The clarity of these insights triumphs over the intellectual incongruity of a child concerned with “propagation.” Herein lies the magic of Baker’s stories: they accumulate incongruities that propel rather than hamper the narrative.

And “Goods” never slows down. Years pass in a sentence. Lives end in a clause. The story tends toward the surreal and mythic—in the orphanage, a boy named Henri sits stiff on his cot for weeks; a graveyard beggar predicts the boys’ futures. Alongside these odd events, everyday moments seem equally bizarre. “Goods,” we begin to discover, is not so much surrealist narrative as an honest look at what it means to live in a world as strange as ours. The story does what good writing must: it defamiliarizes, allowing us to fully experience what we normally overlook. Ownership is exposed as guilt-inducing and brief. Money and grades become meaningless when banks and teachers quit asserting their value. In this way, “Goods” is political, anarchic, and also emotionally stirring. It is a story built of the unplanned, a story that unexpectedly swerves, a corrective to consumerism and its literary cousin: the paint-by-numbers stories we all too often read. Hayden’s Ferry Review has been fortunate enough to publish two of Matthew Baker’s stories. We hope that you enjoy this story as much as we do!


Alex McElroy & Allegra Hyde
Editors, Hayden’s Ferry Review



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Goods

by Matthew Baker

Recommended by Hayden’s Ferry Review



When my brother and I were children, our mother would take us to stores. My brother was a small blackhaired bucktoothed child who kept his hands clenched into fists. I was a small whitehaired bucktoothed child who kept his hands tucked into his underarms. We liked scowling. The game would begin when we entered the store. When we entered a store, we would choose things. My brother might choose a baseball. I might choose an umbrella. We would take them from their displays. As our mother led us through the store—loading cartons of eggs into our cart, boxes of tampons, bottles of pills—my brother would carry the baseball and I would carry the umbrella. We weren’t hoping our mother would buy us the baseball and the umbrella. Our mother couldn’t buy us the baseball and the umbrella. We knew that. That was the game. During our time in the store we would carry the baseball and the umbrella, and we would use them, like they were ours.

My brother would sniff the baseball. My brother would spit onto the baseball. My brother would pretend to pitch the baseball through an elderly shopper’s legs.

Meanwhile I would twirl the umbrella over my shoulder.

When we exited the store, we would leave our things there.

My brother and I liked when our mother took us to stores. We liked when our mother took us to stores because my brother and I didn’t own many things. We didn’t own a baseball. We didn’t own an umbrella. But when we were within a store’s walls, we could own a baseball and an umbrella. As customers of a store—as people who had the potential to buy any object within the store’s walls—we were given ownership, temporarily, of any object within that store. We could carry the objects with us wherever we wanted. They were ours.

My brother would kick his sneakers into our cart—clods of dirt scattering across the store’s floor—and yank rubber waders over his jeans and his socks.

I would wear unusual hats meant for the colorblind and the blind.

Once we owned skateboards.

Once we owned backpacks.

Once we owned calculators. My brother and I didn’t like calculators—even if our mother could have bought us calculators, we wouldn’t have wanted our mother to buy us calculators. We thought calculators were boring. But we had never owned calculators, so we carried calculators through a store, once—adding things, subtracting things, multiplying things until the calculators’ displays were maxed at nines—because we felt that that was an experience we needed to have. Felt that if we ever were to understand children who owned calculators, we ourselves would have to have owned calculators. Felt that if we ever were to understand anything about our country, first we would have to understand children who owned calculators.

My brother and I owned few things, when we weren’t within a store’s walls. In our neighborhood we were chased by children who owned calculators. The children would tackle us. The children would pin us against dumpsters. The children would use their calculators to tally our imaginary crimes.

Keep reading

Saying “NO” As Black Self-Care

Black people, I’m not going to demand you reblog a thing. Nobody needs to add the condescending “why doesn’t this have more notes!” thing to anything I write. Nobody needs to add the inaccurate “no one ever discusses this!” to my posts that have 25K+ notes and 500K-1M+ page views over years. Ever. I have zero demands on using Black hypervisibility as some sort of clarion call for endless labor regardless of your mental health status or even interest to do so at any particular moment. Your awareness is not contingent upon others’ arrogance to demand performance of “awareness” (even when other fellow Black people demand such a performance). I’ve had enough.

You do not have to trigger yourself into “proving” you are a real “activist” by hyper-consuming Black death via State violence day after day, especially since it is the most violent myth that said perpetual consumption is necessary for “awareness” of what you are already aware of, no less. You can take a break to value Black life. You can value Black life as radical praxis, actually. You do not have to center non-Black people over your own survival to “prove” your “progressiveness” while tolerating their anti-Blackness and erasure as their “praxis.” You are not their microphones. You do not have to tolerate microaggressive/abusive and violent White allies when you feel safer and healthier being away from them. There is no solidarity/allyship where there is anti-Blackness. I know people on Tumblr/Twitter/Earth think Blackness is in a perpetual state of arrears where our labor and our very bodies as representative of labor/products/services are all we are worth and what we perpetually owe them.

I am truly tired of Black bodies, Black labor and Black hypervisibility being viewed as a resource to be excavated and consumed by non-Black people. If you make a blog that is all goddamn selfies and that is every single post, I am here for it. My blog is different. It has 4200+ posts where 1,200+ of them are long form writing or specifically essays and they’re all personal because oppression is not some “abstract” theory I heard about; period. Because the things that interest me as a person–Black women’s music, art, style, culture–is what the hell I want to write about as well. Perhaps 20 of my posts are of my own image. So? That is my choice. A one-person, personal blog, still. Not a resource to be excavated by plagiarists who rabidly search my archives and think they’re going to plagiarize their way to “liberation” (where “liberation” really means “institutional acceptance/status/money via the exploitation of others”) while consuming Blackness and specifically the scholarship of Black women for their sustenance. 

Do you know that the first act of self-care for us as Black people might be recognizing that we deserve to be cared for in the first place? Seen as human? Especially Black women. Because we more than anyone encounter the idea that our only “worth” as people is finite and measured by how much people can use and consume us. And by self-care, I do not mean solely consumption in a capitalistic sense (though that is not non-Black people’s place to critique how you self-care, especially since many of them refuse to examine how anti-Blackness shapes their perception of what is “hyper-consumptive” or “capitalistic,” and how comfortable they are with Black people suffering), but simply realizing that you can say “NO.”

“No, I won’t consume specific images of Black death on a permanent media loop as everyone uses our bodies to further their careers.” Or “no, I won’t co-sign using Black bodies as rhetorical devices to recenter non-Black people.” Or as a Black woman/Black LGBTQIA person, “no, I simply do not want to attend a particular community event this evening about State violence since no one does anything to secure my safety from intraracial street harassment or sexual violence while there.” Or, “no, you cannot use my content to further your career as you slander my actual methods of discourse on social media.” 

“No” is radical self-care. Self-care is not selfish. 

Anyone who actually values your humanity will respect that you have a right to boundaries and to care for yourself, not just because it makes you more effective at the work you do when you do it (hello; think this would be obvious to the people making demands in the first place), but because you deserve care. Don’t only exist. Live.

Related Posts: “Why Aren’t People Talking About This Anymore?!” - Media Gimmicks and Hypervisibility Or InvisibilityPost-Mortem Media ViolenceBlack Women, Online Space and BoundariesEpistemic Violence, Erasure and The Value Of Black Life

The world says: “You have needs – satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.
—  Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov 
4

Xmas Unwrapped

Short film by Toby Smith who joined the Unknown Fields expedition to follow the journey of Christmas goods manufactured in China and shipped to the UK - video embedded below:

In August  I travelled East with the Unknown Fields Division, to Vietnam, China and beyond. We traced the supply chain of the world’s consumer products across the South China Sea down cargo routes and inland to their production.

Yiwu in China is not only home to the world’s largest wholesale commodity market but also many of the “Just in Time” factories that produce seasonal or trending products.   Christmas consumables are produced in summer ready for wholesale, packaging and shipping to principally western markets.

More Here

6

Consumed | Richard John Seymour | Via

Fascinated by the variety of inflatable toys, decorations, artificial flowers and, everyday objects that fill China’s largest small-commodity wholesale market. photographer Richard John Seymour, shot a series of amazing images documenting Commodity City, a shopper’s paradise, located in the city of Yiwu. The project which is part of a larger series by Seymour titled “Consumed,” was created in collaboration with the Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic design studio that works to show how distant landscapes connect to the rest of the world. “I tried to see as much as I could in the days that I was there, and became very quickly exhausted by the constant sensory overload,” Seymour told CNN. “I spent a total of four days constantly walking around Yiwu and wouldn’t say I got near to seeing all of the stalls.”

At this time there are too many people afraid for their jobs, there are too many people buying cars, TV sets, homes, educations on credit. Credit and the eight hour day are great friends of the Establishment. If you must buy things, pay cash, and only buy things of value – no trinkets, no gimmicks. Everything you own must be able to fit inside one suitcase; then your mind might be free.
—  Charles Bukowski
10

Shut Up And Take My Money: Must-See Design Concepts

These remarkable product designs and concepts are a testament to the power and importance of consumer perception. In addition to being art objects, these clever products make the best use of space and aesthetics to deliver a product that you won’t only be proud to own, you’ll be proud to use it in front of people. Someone buy me that table, BTW.

For designs that aren’t so clever, check out our list of useless products.

>/r/DesignPorn

Whites' "Support" Of Black People's Spaces
  • Ask FM Question:"Do you think White people should make the effort to buy from Black-owned businesses? Part of me believes in small-scale almost reparation-type actions and part of me is worried White people will hold it over our heads (i.e. bought from you now you owe me)."
  • My Reply:"Well yeah. They are going to hold it over your head. A lot of what many White people do is about performance and oneupmanship. They perform the act of buying from 'the other' then oneup their White friends by saying they bought from 'the other' and are a 'real activist' or a 'good person' unlike their White friends. A lot of this has nothing to do with us as Black people and we're just objects in their games. The nature of White supremacy. I've watched this occur for a decade in corporate America jobs. I watched this occur in high school, undergrad and graduate school. I deal with this now based on my blog. I have several times tweeted about Whites who think they own not just my writing but ME, the person, because they donated to my blog, as if they got nothing in the first place, as if they are not properly (as outlined in my Content Use Policy) or majorly improperly (content trolling, plagiarism, labor demands and exploitation) using what content is already there, to then think I owe them something else on top of it. So they donate a few bucks, then announce the donation to other Whites and imply how they're better activists for doing so. Performance. Oneupmanship. So I don't know how to answer this question. Because what happens is then more Whites tack on and suggest that their behavior can be anyway they like and as harmful as they choose as long as they give or spend money. And honestly I am tired of violent 'allyship' even more than typical attacks. At least the latter people are not pretending to care."