Plough Logo

Shopping Cart

      View Cart

    Subtotal: $

    Checkout
    Plough Podcast logo

    #4 Unplanned Pregnancy and Rap as Escape

    The PloughCast, The Violence of Love, Part 4

    By Peter Mommsen, Susannah Black and Zito Madu

    April 6, 2021
    0 Comments
    0 Comments
    0 Comments
      Submit

    Gracy Olmstead reflects on radical gentleness and finding herself pregnant early in the Covid pandemic; Zito Madu talks about rap, poverty, and Oedipus.

    Listen and subscribe to The PloughCast

    Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio

    About this Episode

    This time last year, Plough contributing editor Gracy Olmstead, unexpectedly, found that she was pregnant. With two toddler daughters and the Covid pandemic picking up steam, what does it take to welcome a child you did not plan for – or even want? What does radical hospitality look like, and how do the demands of carrying a child open our hearts? Pete and Susannah discuss Gracy’s piece exploring a different way of being pro-life, as well as her new book, Uprooted.

    Then they have a conversation with Plough regular contributor Zito Madu about the violence that poverty visits on the marginalized. Zito discusses his piece focusing on rap as a survivor’s art form, focusing on Styles P, whose songs give voice to the difficulty of simple survival in a culture of poverty. The essay discusses the ways in which poverty itself is a kind of violence – and how this violence is both similar and dissimilar to the kind familiar to Greek legendary hero Oedipus as imagined by André Gide.

    • I. Welcoming an Unplanned Baby: Gracy Olmstead’s gentle way of being pro-life (00:39)
    • II. Intermezzo: The Plough social world (20:59)
    • III. Rap and Oedipus: An interview with Zito Madu (25:24)
    • IV. Recommendations (40:20)

    Recommendations

    Zito Madu, The Great Escape

    Styles P, Good Times

    André Gide, The Legend of Oedipus, in Two Legends

    Gracy Olmstead, The Risk of Gentleness

    Philip Britts, Water at the Roots

    Gracy Olmstead, Uprooted

    Lamb belly flap recipe after Achim Beer:

    • 1 deboned lamb belly (aka lamb flap or breast of lamb)
    • 1 sliced onion
    • ¼ cup German-style mustard
    • 1 Tb ground caraway
    • 2 tsp ground allspice
    • 2 tsp dried marjoram
    • 2 lamb kidneys, soaked in salt water, then sliced into 1/8” rounds (optional)
    • Salt and pepper
    • 4 cups dry red wine

    Remove any extra fat and silverskin from lamb belly, and salt and pepper both sides. Rub one side with mustard, caraway, allspice, and marjoram, and arrange sliced onion and kidneys on top. Roll the lamb belly up like a crepe, then secure with roasting string. Melt lard in a Dutch oven or large skillet, then brown meat on all sides. Add wine and a bay leaf, cover, and simmer for 4 hours, adding more wine or stock as necessary, until meat is tender. (Alternatively, finish cooking in a 325-degree oven.) Place meat on a warm platter, remove string, and cut into ½ inch slices. Reduce liquid to 1 ½ cups, strain, and pour over as sauce. Serve with potato dumplings or whatever sides you’re having.

    Transcript

    Susannah: What happens when you’re a pro-life Christian and you unexpectedly find yourself expecting a baby in the middle of a pandemic?

    Peter: We’re also going to be talking with Zito Madu about a piece he wrote for Plough about rap, it’s “The Great Escape” from the violence of poverty, and his survivor’s-remorse music.

    Susannah: I’m Susannah Black, senior editor at Plough.

    Peter: I’m Peter Mommsen, editor of the Plough Quarterly, and this is The PloughCast.

    Susannah: So this is the fourth episode in a six-part series on nonviolence, The Violence of Love, our most recent issue. Make sure you look us up and give us a follow on your podcast platform of choice.

    Peter: And while you’re at it, subscribe to Plough. Go to plough.com/subscribe.

    I. Welcoming an Unplanned Baby: Gracy Olmstead’s gentle way of being pro-life (00:39)

    And now to the conversation. So our first topic Susannah, is one of the pieces that is really unexpected in our new issue by Gracy Olmstead, “The Risk of Gentleness: Welcoming the Baby I Did Not Want.” And she writes that she was shocked to find she was pregnant during the COVID pandemic and then learned how subversive being hospitable to a new baby can be. This piece really got inside my head a bit. She writes how she knew she was expecting last Easter, so Easter 2020, and then I think her baby was born right before Christmas.

    Susannah: And it was a very cute baby.

    Peter: And so of course we should talk about who Gracy Olmstead is first, because she has a new book out and that’s one reason we’re talking about the article. [The book is called] Uprooted.

    Susannah: Which is Uprooted. And I’ve known Gracy and I’ve not read it yet because I just got it. But I’ve known Gracy for probably, I don’t know, eight years or something like that and she and I [pause] I feel like we were part of the early Front Porch Republic, back when we didn’t really know what to call ourselves other than localists or crunchy conservatives, or weird Christians who liked organic food. It was this very strange batch of people, many of whom were on Twitter, some of whom weren’t, who found each other and became friends and ended up going to a bunch of different conferences together and writing for a lot of the same places and I think Gracy was an intern at the American Conservative Magazine and then has written for various places.

    But she’s been focusing lately, and well her whole life, she’s been focusing on questions of localism, being rooted in places and what it means to allow yourself to experience life as something given rather than as a self-invention. And through that whole process of this intellectual project and life project of hers since I met her, she got married and had two babies and then a third baby and I’ve visited her and her husband outside of D.C. and they’re absolutely fantastic people. She’s also been very entwined in the work of Wendell Berry. So she’s one of Mr. Berry’s young interlocutors, I’d say. And she sees her project as very much complementary to his, I think. But she’s trying to investigate and carve out space for a really countercultural way of life that has elements of Bruderhofiness, that has elements of low technology, that has elements of moderate amounts of self-sufficiency.

    But she’s doing this very much as a slightly suburban mom of three, trying to figure out with her husband how to make a living, but also how to grow a bunch of their own vegetables and how to intentionally cultivate groups of friends that stay together for a decade or so and longer. And she’s just someone who very much walks the walk in a really chill and nondramatic way. And the walk that she walks is just trying to be a Christian and a wife and a mother and a writer and a woman and a good friend in the world.

    Peter: Yeah. Having given the teaser for our article I almost hesitate to say too much more about her article per se, although you may have some things you want to add, Susannah. But she’s all those things you were just saying and yet as a pro-life mom, trying to live in a rooted Wendell Berry-inspired way. When they were expecting their third kid, she, like so many, had to struggle to welcome that one more child. It did remind me of a piece that we published in our last issue by Ross Douthat, “The Case for One More Child,” because that’s exactly what she faced. So after we published that piece, one of my fellow editors here up at the Bruderhof, who is a mom of five herself said her first reaction on reading the title was that she threw the magazine, she actually threw Plough Magazine across the room and said, “Only somebody who’s had a baby themselves has a right to write this article.”

    And then it took a week for her to talk herself around, to read the article and then she absolutely agreed with Ross. And then shortly afterwards we got Gracy’s article in, and she told essentially the story very honestly in a way that you don’t often get from Christian pro-life people who understandably always want to emphasize how wonderful it is to have kids, and how babies are the greatest gift and how we should always welcome them. But there is a struggle, especially in the way that society is set up, in the way our work-lives work and what it means to be a parent and especially a mom, that there are circumstances and certainly a pandemic is one of them, when the thought of having another child can seem overwhelming. I really appreciated the honesty with which she told that story and got through to the other side of it.

    Susannah: It’s not a brutally difficult story in certain ways, she acknowledges that she is – in a lot of ways, it was not that difficult for her to say yes to this unexpected COVID baby. She and her husband both have incomes, they’re stable, but it is this sense of “This is not something that I willed and this is not something that I planned and I was not asked whether this was going to be okay with me.” The piece talks about essentially being hospitable with your body as the first kind of hospitality that we all – like none of us would be here if our mothers hadn’t been hospitable with their bodies and that it’s – she calls it an active passivity, which I thought was a really fascinating way to think about it.

    And it actually, this is a really weird connection, but it reminded me of – you know, Pete, in your lead editorial for this issue, you talked about the connection that Saint Thomas [Aquinas] makes between meekness and magnanimity, and that had been rattling around in my head for a while and I can’t remember when I thought of it, but I realized that the Magnificat in Latin, the first couple of lines are, what would it be? It would be Magnificat anima mea. It’s like she –

    Peter: My soul magnifies the Lord.

    Susannah: My soul magnifies the Lord. And that Magnificat anima, that is magnanimity. Obviously it’s not magnanimity the way that Aristotle would have described it, but it is the kind of meek magnanimity that you called Marian magnanimity, which I really feel like Gracy exhibits. It’s a kind of great solidness of hospitality and of making room for other people not on your own terms, and not according to what they can do for you, but according to the greatness of what you can do for them and the space that you can make for them. Her piece is really moving to me.

    Peter: You know what you’re saying about Aquinas’s point, that meekness and magnanimity are two sides of the same virtue almost, reminds me that there’s a theme in Anabaptist thought, going back to the very beginning, but actually extending behind them to the medieval mystics, to Meister Eckhart and what the Anabaptists called Gelassenheit. It is this active passivity that you just mentioned, a letting go, and it’s a huge thing in Anabaptist thought. That discipleship consists of that active decision to let go, of leaving yourself in the hands of God and it’s in essence that that Gracy’s writing about, ties it directly to the themes of nonviolence that we’re talking about elsewhere. Because really that attitude is the same as “I’m not going to take my life into my own hands. I’m not going to take a situation under my own control.” That, “If my faith is real, I am okay letting go. Choosing to let go, choosing to allow myself to be passive, not vis-à-vis other people, but toward God and to what he has in mind for me.” In this case, a baby who is now born whom she’s loved and is thrilled by. So we don’t want to overdo the negative side.

    It did strike me too and this is maybe changing the subject a bit, that this story gets at a different register of what it means to be pro-life than you see in a lot of the pro-life movement. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on that, Susannah, because it’s a time we’re in a cultural environment where on the one hand they say, according to surveys, that pro-life sense is alive and well, and actually potentially growing in the younger cohorts. On the other hand, it’s not a terrifically pro-life climate in our politics right now. And so what might a pro-life movement that embraces this kind of magnanimity and generosity look like? And I thought that without answering such a huge question, Gracy’s essay – just in the way she talks about it and the honesty with which she approaches it and the kind of vulnerability with which she goes about, it suggests, I think, perhaps a more Christian way of being pro-life, of advocating for the rights of the unborn.

    Susannah: I agree. It’s one of these things where [pause] I’ve been pro-life for longer than I’ve been Christian actually and it was one of the scariest changes other than becoming pro-life in general, which was terrifying. Because I thought, I don’t know, I was going to get rejected by my friends and family, which did not turn out to be the case. But one of the transformations of ways that I’ve gone about being pro-life has been to move from a discussion of the right to life, away from that and away from a rights-based discussion to just like, “What is the good here? Is there a good in the existence of human beings? Is there a good in a human baby however and wherever, whether or not that baby was planned and is that a good that we can do our best to make room for?”

    So it’s very much like if there is the question of legalities, I’m not saying that there’s no room for legal activism in pro-life stuff, but Gracy’s piece is not about legalities. It’s not about whether or not abortion should be legal, it’s about what it means to be a woman who has a body that can carry children, what it means to find yourself pregnant, what it means to find something happening in your life that you did not plan, and what it means to honor that gift even if it’s a really difficult gift to honor.

    I guess one of the things that I am committed to as a pro-life person, is doing my best to, as a woman and as a friend and politically as well, making it easier for women to experience, even unexpected pregnancies as something that they can say yes to, and as something that they can experience as gifts. And making it less a question of needing to fight with your body, to dumb down its fertility or make it less out of control or more organized or less of an intrusion on the plans that you’ve made in the world and just allow it to be the case that our bodies are not always that organized and our families are not all always that organized, but that God wills that life happened and we be fruitful and multiply and that just happens sometimes. And hey, let’s try and make a society where it’s not as difficult to rejoice in that.

    Peter: And a society where, I think it takes us back to a discussion we had some months ago with Ross Douthat, and with others in regard to the article I mentioned, to the point that every child is a planned child. It actually puts a burden on those kids to be planned, they’re a choice, they then very quickly become a lifestyle choice and from there it quickly become a lifestyle accessory whereas the unplannedness of life. I think Michael Sandel talks about welcoming the unbidden. It’s such an important part of just accepting that we’re human beings, that there’s actually so much of life that we can’t plan, that we can’t embrace, that we must embrace even though we didn’t choose it. It’s something that happens to us. That can sound very philosophical but it really does seem to me to hang together really centrally with the questions of violence and nonviolence, because it’s really a question of overall attitude to life and suddenly in those contexts that things like being pro-life or entertaining the thought of being nonviolent make any sense.

    They’re not standalone ethical principles that you can deduce from other things if you are a Christian and believe certain things, but they really only make sense to you in terms of the heart if your whole attitude to life is ultimately the one that Mary expresses in the Magnificat. Actually before the Magnificat, “Let it be done to me according to your will.” And it’s in that sense that some of the things that we’ve been talking about in these episodes really do hang together in some interesting ways.

    Susannah: I mean, it’s weird, we didn’t have a piece on this but we could have. Maybe we can figure out a way to scare up a piece for it in the nature issue. One of the things that Gracy focuses on in her book and in the rest of her work is what’s essentially biodynamic farming. A version of Wendell Berry farming that basically is an attempt to do the human task, the creation mandate of working with the earth to make it more fruitful rather than a vision of what farming or gardening is, which is like imposing your will on the earth in a big, horny and scientific reductionist way to make it be fertile according to your plans. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to figure out how to talk to lefties about being pro-life just because I am a lefty still in a lot of ways and a lot of my family are and also just because it feels to me like it’s never made a huge amount of sense to me that something like the environmental or conservation movement and something like the pro-life movement are on opposite sides of the political fence.

    Gracy’s whole book, from what I can tell, and a lot of the work that she does has to do with really honoring being nonviolent towards the land and being nonviolent, not in a passive way, not in a way where every human interaction with nature makes nature worse and humans are the disease and we need to just be hands-off or else we’re being violent towards nature. That’s actually very much the opposite of what she thinks. She thinks that there is a role for humans in farming, in gardening, in making the land more fruitful in cultivation. One does that by understanding the kind of selfhood of the place that you’re farming and the integrity of the other creatures that you’re working with and her work actually reminds me not just of Wendell Berry, but also of the Bruderhof farmer poet, Philip Britts, whose book, Water at the Roots, just reminded me of a huge amount of a lot of the things that Gracy writes about. We can probably drop a link to that book in the show notes.

    II. Intermezzo: The Plough social world (20:59)

    Peter: We’ll now move to our customary intermezzo where we trade news from the wider Plough community. Susannah, what’s going on downstate?

    Susannah: Well, okay. So I got the okay from a friend-of-the-pod/Plough-writer-Tara Burton to say this. So I have COVID you all, I don’t have COVID, I think I am now not contagious. They say that I am not contagious anymore and actually today, I’m allowed to go outside. I’ve not yet gone outside, it’s very exciting to me. But my first post-self-isolation outing is going to be Tara and her husband Dhananjay Jagannathan – who’s also written for Plough – their first wedding anniversary which is on Sunday.

    As you can imagine, that means that they had a freaky emergency COVID wedding one year ago on Sunday, which I heard about, which I was one of two witnesses to, and they called me up on Friday, this is a year ago. None of us knew anything. We thought that the apocalypse was going to happen, which it did. But we didn’t know what that would mean. So basically this was in New York when we heard on Friday, that after Sunday at 8:00 p.m., New York was going to shut down and we didn’t know what that meant, but Tara and Dhananjay had been engaged and had been planning to get married in May or June or something and suddenly that seemed like it might not be possible because the world might come to an end or something. So I got the call on Friday, and on Sunday I showed up in Central Park with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. So it was not Prosecco, it was the good stuff.

    And then our friend Alison was there with a cake from Magnolia and all we had was champagne and cake and then we had Tara and Dhananjay and then we had Father Bloom, who’s the Episcopal priest. And he just married them under a tree in Central Park and it was a weird emergency COVID wedding and it was absolutely fantastic. And we spent the rest of the summer, that whole gang of weird Christians just met up under that tree periodically to lounge around outside because it was COVID safe. And now I think we might actually be having the anniversary party under the tree as well.

    Peter: Well, since we’ve been on the theme of babies, coincidentally, what’s happened here in the Fox Hill Bruderhof community was the dedication of a baby, which is always really sweet, but this one was especially nice. It was the other day because both parents had their birthday on the same day. People often ask us as an Anabaptist community, “You only baptize adults, so what happens when a baby comes?” Going back to actually the very beginning of Anabaptism, there have been baby dedications. So they bring the baby in and show it around and the baby usually cries and is very sweet. And then the baby is given over to the elders of the church to pray and then hand it back to the parents to raise in the fear of God, basically. And we usually read from the prayer of Simeon and Anna, and usually it’s time to close after that – the baby needs to get home. So that was a highlight of our week here and just all was wonderful too. As a parent, it always meant a lot to me to know that my child was part of the community, welcomed into the church and I would be accompanied as a parent through all the things that would come, which now that they’re teenagers I definitely count on.

    III. Rap and Oedipus: An interview with Zito Madu (25:24)

    Well, it’s great to welcome Zito Madu, one of my favorite writers and a longtime Plough contributor. I think Zito, you’ve written six pieces for us?

    Zito Madu: I have.

    Peter: Including a piece in our new issue, called “The Great Escape,” and it tells the stories of how rap music is a form of escape and also of survivor’s remorse music. It’s just a beautifully written piece. What I love about each of your essays, Zito, is there’s always a few things from everything that you write for us that sticks in my mind. Afterwards it’s a turn of phrase, an observation or at a juxtaposition I wouldn’t have thought of. And this one, it was how you got from Styles P to Oedipus and André Gide.

    Susannah: That was a classic Zito move. That was great.

    Peter: And the interesting thing was that André Gide legend of Oedipus, I think it’s in a book of his called Two Legends, is really, really hard to find. So my first question is how did you run into the André Gide story?

    Zito Madu: So there’s the book that I’m working on about labyrinths and Minotaurs and things like that, and the Theseus story there is very vital in if you’re talking about the Minotaurs, Theseus is like the counterpart. And so I was just reading everything about the Minotaur and Theseus and everything. The story consistently came up and I looked at... I was searching for the book and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be hard and expensive to . . .” But I have one of my friends who used to be my old mentor, not mentor, but like editor and I was talking to him about it. And next thing you know, he sent me a tracking number, like a week later with a book and so I was very happy about it. But it’s a very short book, both stories. And so I was like, “That’s so much money for fifty pages.” I have it around here somewhere.

    Peter: That’s a lot of money for a minotaur. Zito, let’s back up and could you just walk us through your article? When we were talking first about doing an issue around violence and nonviolence, I believe we were talking about a piece on the violence of poverty, just the way poverty grinds people down in body and spirit, and out of it came this really memorable piece with references to more songs than you could imagine and also some storytelling from your own youth.

    Zito Madu: Yeah. So when we were talking about the violence, I thought structural violence is always where you start, and so violence of poverty, I think, was a really good topic. And so being me being like a very big rap fan and then listening to it, like I grew up in Detroit, inner-city Detroit. And so I’ve just been listening to rap forever, and it was just a very, I guess, direct line for me. Whereas like, in a lot of rap songs, you get almost like this big criticism of poverty and a straight line of how poverty leads to individual violence and where poverty comes from and the effects that it has on a person and has always been interesting to me that rap has a lot of criticism, like a lot of fair criticism. But there’s one specific thing that they keep pointing out. Like, for example, if I wanted to talk about police violence, I could give you a long line of songs where the rappers are talking about police violence.

    But the thing is, for me rap has always just been born out of that, like certain people with a certain background in the United States. And so I just thought that it would be a very interesting thing to draw out that long history of rappers given this basically what is just like a dissertation on structured violence. The song that I use for it, because like Styles P has always been fascinating to me. I think even though I wrote it in an essay that his type of rap feels more literary fiction than the super fantastical. And that’s always the thing that made him a bit dangerous more in the other rappers, because sometimes you can listen to a rapper and you’re just like, “Oh, they’re creating fiction about the certain themes that come in rap.” But with somebody like him, it’s like you have an access to his background, you know these things are true in a way.

    And so when he talks about these things, he’s not creating a fiction. He’s just telling you, he’s more like relaying information even though sometimes they exaggerate things like how many cars they have or how many houses they have. But when they get to things about the violence and the drugs and I think for him a big thing for him was always the people that he also lost just throughout his life. And he has a lot of songs about his little brother and his little cousins and things like that. So the song that I use for it is his most famous song and I thought that there’s a very wonderful contradiction with the song that the chorus of it is very upbeat that it makes us sound like a fun song but if you look at what he’s saying in the song, it’s very, very dark. And the line that I pulled out from it, was him saying that, “If you see things like I see things, I’m going to die in the hood.” It was just like in this very popular radio song.

    That ended up being the line that I connected to the Oedipus story, because in the Oedipus story, Oedipus has [pause] I think one of the best monologues that I’ve ever, for me in the Greek stories, it’s at the end when he finds out all the information. They’re telling him not to dig deeper, not to find this out because it’s going to ruin his life, it’s going to ruin his kingdom, and he was laughing at it because it was such a ridiculous thing for somebody to tell somebody like Oedipus not to do, don’t be yourself, don’t dig deeper. Don’t look out for this knowledge. And so he has this monologue where he talks about how the basically him arriving at the point where he finds all this information and finds the truth about his life was inescapable because the minute that he has the little nugget of knowledge, he’s always going to find out and pull himself into oblivion.

    And so he was talking about how cruel the trap was from the start, because I think that then about the story is that he’s just like a pawn in this entire big story. Like you have this life to set out, this cycle already determined before you’re born and he just has to walk through the cycle. And so he laughs about how much of a trap that it is and he said that when he was younger, he always thought that he was a chief in all these things because of his individual gifts and because of his power and because of his intelligence and how when he was young, he didn’t have anything like material, he left his adoptive father’s home, but he has so much hope in his future because he saw he was rich with all the possibilities of what he could be.

    And so I saw that as such a direct contradiction to something that then as Styles P said, which is it wasn’t that he had possibilities, he was very directly saying because of where he was born, because of the social conditions that he’s born into, he’s going to die here. And he already knows he’s going to die here. And this is how he’s medicating that situation. The whole song is about him smoking, him committing violence, all of these things as like self-medication. And the conclusion is like, because he knows he’s trapped within the cycle and he’s going to die in a cycle. Where Oedipus, before he knew he was trapped in the cycle, he just thought that he had the world of possibilities to himself.

    And so I think I ended up contrasting that at the end where Oedipus finds everything else and he’s condemned et cetera, but he’s not truly condemned because even at the end, he still... his grave is made sacred to the gods. He still has almost a dignity to himself even as a ruined king. And it’s something that someone like Styles P could never have. Oedipus could only fall so low as a king, as somebody who the gods had picked to be in a cycle in the first place, where if you’re somebody who lives in the margins of society, if you’re somebody who is already condemned from society, you don’t get that type of dignity. You just . . .

    Peter: It’s like God’s caring for you and making sure your gravesite is honored.

    Zito Madu: Yeah. You don’t get that. I think the thing about rappers is there are exceptions who remember that they’re exceptions to the rule. So they rap about being exceptional people, but because they’ve lost so many people to the general violence, they just never forget. They know that they’re lucky to escape more than a day. It’s just like a factor of their individual ability that everybody else has failed to achieve. And so someone like Styles P just cannot forget that his brother has died in the same type of situation or that his friends have died in the same type of situation. And so I just always thought that that was an interesting thing to combine.

    Peter: One part that stuck out for me from your piece Zito, I’ll just read it actually, you’re talking about your high school and Northwestern High School was dangerous. “There were fights, shootings, drinking, unsafe sex, police officers constantly circulating outside and inside the school and occasionally actual deaths. There was fun and joy as well, but ever present tension, especially because I knew the kids there. It’s full of people with ambitions and baggage, which limited them. The trap was no more escapable for being clearly visible. Rap music that comes out of this background acts a platform for grief, it’s survivor’s remorse music.” Great line and then you tell the story of a friend of yours who experienced exactly that. Who kind of repeated the same line Styles P said and it actually happened to him?

    Zito Madu: Yeah. I always tell people like going to Northwestern [High School in Detroit] is probably the most defining thing in my life and it really helped me understand so much of how the world works. So before I went to Northwestern, I went to this school called Cass Technical High School, which you have to pass an entrance exam to get to, and it’s like the best school in Detroit and Michigan. So I had the test results, I got in, after a year I got kicked out for fighting naturally and I went to Northwestern and I was trying to tell my dad who was bitterly disappointed, in like it made him angry, that me being at Northwestern was a good thing in a sense that, first of all, I felt much more comfortable with those kids who were having the same issues that I was. But also in a school like Northwestern, you actually get to see what happens to people who are [pause] I guess society has already deemed as not going to be worth saving.

    So you have all these kids. At Cass, you have all the exceptional kids. The supersmart ones, the ones who are privileged, the ones whose parents can afford to pay for stuff. At Northwestern you have the normal kids who probably won’t make it, or who are just trying their best within the conditions that they have. And so you just see, for example, you see the kids who drop out of high school not because of anything, just because they can’t afford to keep coming. There’s family situations that make learning impossible for them, or there’s conditions around it. And so it was interesting to see those people, to be one of those kids who the school system looks at and says, “You’re going to have to give up on this kid because he does, he’s not raising your test scores.” And in order to get to start funding for the school you need high test scores.

    Naturally, I had those friends and seeing some of my friends who ended up getting into that type of violence and dying or seeing, not even those people who just die because there’s different types of grief of people going to jail, and being disappeared within the system. And then you have the other instances of just people failing and never reaching the possible heights that somebody at Cass would reach. And so, I think, it informs so much as I like being one of those people that is not exceptional because you really understand how little or not how little care has given some to the ones who aren’t exceptional, but how hard it is to fight out of that condition and so many pressures that are against those types of people.

    Like at Northwest I saw a little bit of everything. Not even that I saw, but I also participated because I was a bad kid back then. But yeah, I always position it as like I saw the real human life in a city like Detroit, because I was amongst those type of people. And then you also see how hard those kids try. And even the violent ones that will explicitly tell you the type of normal things that they would want but seems so, like when I talk about my friend who ends up buying a house in the suburbs, and has a boat and how ridiculous that is if you come from a place like Detroit and you have the medium income like $26,000 and the kids are just super poor and everybody’s like trying their hardest or work in factories. And then you’re just like, “I have a house in the suburbs now and I have a boat.” And it’s just the most ridiculous concept. But yeah, I think Northwestern was just a very great experience in that realm that it just taught me so much about, “Oh, these are the people that you should be with, and these are the people who probably need help the most.”

    IV. Recommendations (40:20)

    Peter: Well on to recommendations. So it’s spring and we have a new issue of our magazine as you’ve no doubt seen, and it has a lamb on it. And so my recommendation has to do with cooking lamb, and it goes back to an old farmer-friend of mine in Eastern Germany, Achim Beer, who first showed me how to butcher lambs, and then taught me this traditional recipe, which I bet you don’t know. So that’s why I wanted to share it with you. You take the complete stomach flap of a sheep and you skin it, and you smear it with mustard and you sprinkle caraway on it and then you take the kidneys and you slice them thinly and scatter them over the top, and you roll the whole up like an enormous crepe, and then you fry it and you pour beer over it, and then you cook it really long and slow, about 12 hours and you eat it. And it’s the best lamb that you can even imagine. And I just can only recommend it to you. I can’t send you a link for the recipe because I’ve never seen this anywhere else, but it’s awesome. So Susannah, do you have recommendations, maybe something lost-sheep related?

    Susannah: This is not at all sheep-related, I am – I’m both stunned and intrigued by the sheep–stomach-crepes situation. But yeah, at some point I would like to try that. My first recommendation is, as we’ve discussed, Gracy Olmstead’s new book, Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind. It’s actually edited by another friend-of-the-pod, Bria Sandford at Sentinel Books. And I have not read the book yet, but I have read a ton of other things that Gracy has written and knowing her, it’s going to be a lyrically written and personal and interesting and deeply faithful, but not at all cheesy reflection on place and family and legacy. So I’m really psyched to read it. You should be too. And . . .

    Peter: I’ve gotten about fifty pages in and everything you said about the book is right.

    Susannah: That’s all for this episode of The PloughCast. Give us a like, give us a rating, give us your review wherever you’re listening to this, or get in touch with us, let us know how we can do this better, give us flattering feedback or negative feedback or whatever, we just want to hear from you.

    Peter: And make sure to check back with us next week.

    Contributed By Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough Quarterly magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

    Learn More
    Contributed By Susanna Black Susannah Black

    Susannah Black is a senior editor of Plough.

    Learn More
    Contributed By Zito Madu Zito Madu

    Zito Madu is a writer living in Detroit, a contributor for GQ, and an avid lover of poetry.

    Learn More
    0 Comments

    Sign up for Plough's weekly newsletter