Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Parents, Give Your Kids Books

I was one of those kids, raised in small-town Iowa, baffled by adolescence and most definitely oblivious to affairs outside the United States. Yet I was always surrounded by books.

My mom, a teacher and school counselor, is as much of a bookworm as I am: Filipino American authors, pulpy romances, child psychology texts disguised as children’s books. Her choices were idiosyncratic and a bit haphazard (we didn’t have that much money), but they strike me now as multitudinous and wide-ranging. Her books were a source of endless possibility.

As an adult and someone intimately connected to literature in my life work, I know that access to these books shaped me in unconscious ways.

Outside the house, one memory I have is of visiting the Council Bluffs Public Library with my mother sometime in middle school and picking up The Stranger. Junior high! The language in The Stranger was simple, the plot a real thriller with something sinister that I couldn’t put my thumb on, and I was captivated. I knew nothing of Camus’ existentialism at that age, but I know that my mom’s trips to the library were the foundation for a great love of the very act of reading and of thinking about my life through literature.

Now there’s proof that book owners make smarter kids. Perhaps one of the most obvious theories ever to be given its own research study, the conclusions summed up by Laura Miller in Salon reiterate that more books in a household exponentially increases the chances of smart kids. Books, it seems–more than education or income–are a real predictor of your kid’s intelligence.

If my mom had chosen to invest in an Atari or a Nintendo set instead of books (which I definitely nagged her about), where would I be now?

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Filed under: consumerism, intelligence, literature, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Birds, Dogs, and the Photographs of Alec Soth

Two reasons I’ve been drawn to the photographs of Alec Soth:

1. Iowa

Call me a sentimentalist. When I saw that the photos Soth took for the NYT‘s Continental Picture Show series were based in Iowa–my home state–I was hooked. “Iowa Bird Story” is a video of Soth’s journey to photograph Neva Morris, the oldest woman in the U.S. at 114 years of age, unfolds like a picture book. Short, declarative sentences explain the photographer’s actions. Video and still photos capture Soth’s persistence in discovering the real narrative: How does a 114 year-old woman view her world?

2. Dogs

I’d seen Soth’s work at the MassArt galleries last fall, and also solicited work from the gifted photographer for the magazine that I edit. Soth graciously agreed to provide the cover for our upcoming issue from his series, “Dog Days, Bogota.” I love the clarity and composition of his photographs; in the photo that will become our next cover, Soth captures a Colombian family of mother, father, and toddler–parents standing in an embrace beside their child in a stroller. The image is both familiar (it has all of the elements of middle-class America) and subversive (the couple are dressed in leather jacket, piercings, with coiffed hair).

The dog of his title is a sad, likely wild, dog seated calmly on a forbidding cliff overlooking Bogota. Again, the juxtaposition of the domestic and the urban is what grabs your attention. Who wants to consider a dog without a human home?

Filed under: age, animals, art, photography, , , , , , , , ,

Straight Talk Doesn’t Have to Be a Bore

carsonkressley_largeCarson Kressley, that queen of comedy, has a hilarious how-to video (lots of alliteration in this post) about “How to Talk Straight Talk” on Funny or Die. I was chuckling over my left-over pizza this morning. Click on his photo to watch.

And how about props to legislators in Maine yesterday?

camilla_taylor_200In case you missed it, there was a fantastic interview with Camilla Taylor, the lead attorney (who happens to be straight), in the Iowa lawsuit on behalf of GLBT folks on NPR’s Fresh Air.

An unrelated but thought-provoking video from yesterday’s media is from the women on The View (don’t laugh–I have an unhealthy admiration of this showmaybe it’s my Filipino heritage and its matriarchal society). In this clip, they’re debating whether to teach Darwinism in public schools. A frightening thought that the science of human life would not be taught in public schools.

My favorite part is when Joy Behar says that the absence of Darwinism in schools is “child abuse, in my opinion.”

Filed under: entertainment, gay life, , , , , , , , , ,

Iowa: 3rd in the nation to legalize gay marriage

bt13231747Today, Iowa became the third state in the nation to legalize gay marriage and the first in the nation’s heartland. Hooray!

The state government protection of civil rights in Iowa for all is particularly meaningful for me. I was born in Des Moines, attended public schools in Council Bluffs, and still have family and friends there. Only after I moved to the East Coast did I feel welcome–and safe–enough to come out while an undergrad at Boston University nearly 20 years ago.

I’m in awe and admiration of the good people of Iowa.

Filed under: gay rights, social justice, united states of america, , ,

Des Moines Tries

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Cutting-edge photography at the Des Moines Art Center. Yesterday's visit included seeing recent acquisitions like Wolfgang Tillmans and Chuck Close.

In my other life, I graduated from Drake University with a theater or journalism degree. I interned at the Des Moines Community Playhouse or wrote captions for The Des Moines Register. Made friends here, spent lots of time with siblings here in the Midwest. I lived in a shitty apartment on Ingersoll Avenue near the Alpine Bar and wrote many failed novels (this part is true). I drank in Des Moines.

Reality: Eighteen years ago, I made the decision to move to the East Coast to attend Boston University, never looking back. So it’s always a strange feeling to imagine what my life might have been if I stayed close to home.

I’m writing this post from a hip coffeehouse called Mars Cafe, with Neutral Milk Hotel playing on the loudspeakers and kids with big bolt earrings and tight pants working as baristas behind the counter. Musicians by night? Web designers? In Des Moines, you never know.

I have to admit, I like Des Moines. On my list of must-do’s in this sleepy little city:

1. The Des Moines Art Center.

Never manages to disappoint. And the curators have subversive taste (more for me to enjoy), running to Kara Walker and her no-nonsense cut-outs that challenge notions of male superiority and African American identity, or Wolfgang Tillmans, whose photographs elevate punks and queers to the level of the Mona Lisa and David.

2. The Salvation Army.

I always find the best stuff at The Salvation Army. The main store is located at the base of the capitol building; this year, I found a pair of super-cool camouflage pants for a couple bucks. In past years, I’ve scored a set of highball mugs with  Freemason logos; 50’s-style tins for flour, sugar, and coffee; and a Boy Scouts t-shirt with Des Moines patches sewn onto the sleeves.

3. Smash.

Brought my friend Dan here last year, and he bought three shirts, including one that reads, “Des Moines: Just Outside the Middle of Nowhere.”

4. ZZZ Records.

Witt and I discovered that they moved this year–he thinks because they were priced out of the East Village–but this place is an institution, no matter where the location (as long as they keep their physical location!–don’t let the economy kill the indie record stores, yo).

5. Tasty Tacos.

I don’t know how to truly express my love for their flour tacos. Light, fluffy, deep-fried goodness. Only in Des Moines.

Filed under: iowa, travel, , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2019
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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