Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

Have a Good Talk with Mira Jacob

Have a Good Talk with Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob is a novelist, memoirist, illustrator, and cultural critic whose graphic memoir GOOD TALK has been described as “exactly the book America needs at this moment.” Annmarie and Mira discuss racism, social justice, and how to encourage our kids to ask difficult questions even when we don’t have all the answers.

Episode Sponsors:

Books Are Magic – Wild Precious Life is brought to you by Books Are Magic, a family-owned independent bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, committed to being a welcoming, friendly, and inclusive space for all people. Books Are Magic believes that books are indeed magic, and that literature is one of the best ways to create empathy, transportation, and transformation. Buy your next forever book or shop online at booksaremagic.net.

Loganberry Books – We’re also brought to you by Loganberry Books, an independently owned and operated bookstore in the historic Larchmere neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, Loganberry features a carefully curated collection of new, used and rare books for both readers and collectors, with an inventory over 100,000 volumes. Find your next great read and shop online at loganberrrybooks.com.



A Few of the Titles Discussed in this Episode:

Good Talk, by Mira Jacob

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, by Mira Jacob

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

All Out of Love, by Air Supply

Follow Mira Jacob:

Facebook: @MiraJacob

Twitter: @MiraJacob

Instagram: @goodtalkthanks

Website: mirajacob.com

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, New York. Home to exciting new releases and beloved classics. Nooks for children and books to read in them. Gumballs filled with poetry. Author panels almost every night of the week. Story times on the weekends. And plenty of magic. Buy your next forever book or shop online at booksormagic.net. And, we're brought to you in part by Loganberry Books, an independently owned and operated bookstore in the historic large mirror neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Loganberry features a carefully curated collection of new, used, and rare books in all genres for both readers and collectors. With an inventory over a 100,000 volumes big. Find your next great read and shop online at loganberrybooks.com.

Annmarie Kelly:
So sometimes I'm nervous to talk to people about race. I was raised as though it was impolite to notice a person's skin color. It was like, mentioning somebody's baldness, or asking a woman if she was pregnant. It just wasn't done. But it turns out that a lot of the stuff we were raised to believe is imperfect and sometimes even dangerous. It turns out that we need to unpack some of our assumptions about one another, that we don't even realize we have. My guest today, Mira Jacob wrote an entire book after her six year old son began asking questions about his own skin color. He is a mixed raised child trying to make sense of our divided world. We should listen to him, and to his mom, and learn, and do better.

Annmarie Kelly:
So, let me tell you a little more about our guest. The marvelous, Mira Jacob is a novelist, memoirist, illustrator, and cultural critic, her graphic memoir, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations was shortlisted for the National Book Critic's Circle Award and named as a best book of the year. It is currently in development as a television series with Film 44. Her novel, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing was also named one of the best books of the year by Kirkus Reviews, the Boston Globe, Goodreads, and more. Mira Jacob's work has appeared pretty much everywhere, from the New York Times, and Electric Literature, to Tin House, and Vogue. She's taught creative writing at The New School. And, was a founding faculty member of the MFA Program at Randolph college. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, documentary filmmaker, Jed Rothstein, and their son. Mira Jacob, welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Mira Jacob:
Thank you for having me.

Annmarie Kelly:
So, I first came to your most recent book, Good Talk, through an online novel writing class I was taking during the pandemic. And, when I opened it, I'm like, "Shit. I've ordered the wrong book. This isn't a graphic novel. It's a memoir. Why are we reading this?" And I was just annoyed at my own self for having ordered the wrong book, but I hadn't. And I opened it, and from page zero, I mean, I found it surprising, and beautiful, and ultimately this amazing series of conversations.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, you and I crossed paths recently in Philadelphia at a conference, which was what jogged my memory to have you come here. So, I'm just so glad that you're here. And I want to let you know my goals for this conversation. They're very simple.

Mira Jacob:
Okay.

Annmarie Kelly:
My goal for the conversation today is I just want every single person in, let's say, America, but also the world, let's be realistic, I want every single person in America to buy your book and read your book. And I just want every high school in America to teach your book.

Mira Jacob:
Great. I love this goal.

Annmarie Kelly:
And I want every book club to read your book. And then of course, every voter to buy and then read your book.

Mira Jacob:
Oh, please.

Annmarie Kelly:
So, that's my goal today. I want to be real and just upfront.

Mira Jacob:
All right. I love this. Thank you for being realistic. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I appreciate that so much.

Annmarie Kelly:
God, because we need your book. And, because we're so ridiculously long overdue about the conversations that you start in here with your son and with your family. And I find this beautiful, and necessary, and such a gift. So thank you for writing it.

Mira Jacob:
Oh, thank you for reading.

Annmarie Kelly:
Absolutely. But before I do any more fan-girling about Good Talk, let me just start with our usual opening question, which is, will you tell us your story?

Mira Jacob:
Yes. Okay. So, what's so funny when you were saying that I was thinking, "Yeah, novel writing class. It makes sense that this would be there." Also, I started by writing a novel. That was my first book that I published, was a novel. And, I think very much in novel terms, in terms of pacing, right? And, what is an arc of a story? And, one of the things I love about novels as opposed to short stories is that you're allowed to go down all these strange alleyways that may or may not get you ultimately where you need to go. And, part of that was also what happened when I was writing this book.

Mira Jacob:
So I should back up and tell you that I was writing for 20 something years before I got any of my creative work published. And I had been writing online, and I'd been writing for publications, and I'd been editing. But, in terms of my short stories or even the novel, whenever I showed it to people, they would tell me one of two things. And it was for the same pieces, which was really wild. They would read it and they'd say, "I love this, but the Indian angle, it's really niche. So, I'm just trying to think of like who your audience is, because I just don't know that we have a big Indian audience. So, I don't know that it's going to really resonate with anyone." And I would say, "Okay."

Mira Jacob:
Or, they would say, "I really love the way that you talk about India here, but it's not quite Indian enough. Our audience, I think, would really appreciate it if you would go into the whole India thing more." And I'm like, "What did that mean?" Which to me just said this basic thing, which is that, there was an ideal Indian in the minds of the editors and the publishing infrastructure. And I was not that ideal Indian. And whenever I was, it was not something that they were down with.

Mira Jacob:
So, part of what happened with this book. So, with my first novel, I wrote it for 10 years and I wrote it between 11 o'clock at night and one in the morning, because I also had a full time job, and a kid, and my dad was dying at a point, and just life. And when that got picked up, it really changed my life, because I went from thinking of myself only in my head as I am a writer and no one else really knew it or talked to me about it, to suddenly having readers and people that were really invested in the book and turning outward facing with my storytelling.

Mira Jacob:
And so, part of what you're seeing in this book, and I discussed this a little bit in this book, is a reckoning with both the inside and the outside person. That question you asked me is such a good one, because how do you tell your story? And especially for me, the question has always been, "How do you tell your story when the minute you tell it, people come up with things like, 'Well, that's not quite Indian.' Or, 'It's too Indian.' Or, 'I don't believe you.' Or, 'Maybe you didn't really consider this thing that I would've said about that.'?" A lot of times the book deals with all sorts of things, it deals with sexuality, it deals with race, it deals with my in-laws, it deals with my parents, and all the people in the world who will tell you who you are.

Mira Jacob:
And a lot of times, as a brand woman, I found that the minute I say, "Well, this is something that happened to me." There's an entire congo line of people that are like, "No, it didn't."

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh.

Mira Jacob:
Or, "Maybe you didn't understand this part of it." Or, "Have you looked at that?" Or, "Is there some other way that you could be feeling about this that would be more pleasing to me?" And so, this book that I wrote, it's called A Memoir in Conversations and it's just a bunch of drawn conversations, which I realize sounds really silly when I say it, but it was the only way that I could just try to put out into the world what it felt like to be in this body, having these conversations, where nobody is very excited to let you be who you are, much less have agency in that body, right? And also, because I find that... I mean, I hope that I hoped that you laughed during the book. I actually find it somewhat hilarious that this is the predicament that I'm in, right? It's very strange. It's very strange to always be in this situation where you're explaining yourself the minute you walk in. And it's also really funny when you're not necessarily that great at explaining yourself, which I think is maybe most of us.

Mira Jacob:
So, this book then is just an attempt to talk about what it is like being the specific human I am, but also what it is like for us, to your point, in America at this moment, when there are so many ways that just being a person like me becomes a political statement. And, what it's like to try to guide both my kid through that and myself through that. And my family, because I'm in an interracial marriage. And my partner's parents became very avid Trump supporters. And, we had been together for 16 years at that point. And, trying to navigate what it means when people who really love you will also really hurt you, and what do you do with that information.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah. So, your book is hilarious and also heartbreaking. It is absolutely both. I'm laughing out loud when you tell your mother, "I think I want to be a writer." And she's like, "Well, then you are going to have to get better at the maths." They're bananas. I recognize my parents are Italian and Irish, but that was shocking for them to marry each other because they come from these... The Italians cry at funerals and the Irish laugh at funerals. So, I'm not Indian, but I recognize so much of the disconnect between what you feel to be your truth, and then what your family feels to be your truth. So, absolutely, it's hilarious. But, you're east Indian and your husband is Jewish and some of the questions your mixed race son... Was he six? How old was he when you were starting?

Mira Jacob:
He was six. Yeah, when I started the book. Or sorry, when the book starts, I should say, he was 6, it was 2014.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, some of the questions he asks in this book are so tender and heartbreaking, and I defy anybody, anyone to read this book and not think long and hard about the damage our adult inability to speak candidly about race and about the things in our country that are broken and fixable and what that's doing to our kids. I think often we think just about, oh, what it's doing to us, but our children are watching. I mean, after the shooting of Michael Brown, your son asks, "Are white people afraid of brown people?"

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, I'm a parent, I've got three kids. My youngest is nine. And, you're never ready for those questions when they come, they're not in any of the parenting books you get, by the way. You're like, "Where do they cover what I say when they ask yes about sex or race? That chapter isn't even in the book."

Annmarie Kelly:
And so, it's usually on a Tuesday morning when you haven't had your coffee yet and, "Are white people afraid of brown people? How do you know which ones are afraid of you?" And like you said, your husband is white. So, "Is daddy afraid of us?" I'm getting goosebumps remembering what it felt like to look at those questions for the first time. And I think, the overwhelming majority, certainly of white folks I know, have never even thought about what the answer to those questions are, but just parents in general, how do you answer those questions? You want to be honest, right?

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
You want to be honest.

Mira Jacob:
Yep.

Annmarie Kelly:
But you don't want to fuck it up.

Mira Jacob:
Oh my gosh, yeah. I mean, yes. I mean, as you can see, I think one of the things, hopefully the book is a testimony too is my complete inability to answer those questions, because what do you say to that? When he said that, when he asked me the first part of those questions, because he'd been asking about Michael Brown. He'd asked how far away Ferguson was. And when he asked, "Are white people afraid of brown people?" He actually asked it on the subway. And it was the end of the day and everyone was quiet and smelled bad, like that kind of subway. And he said it in this sweet little chirp, so it's like, "Are white people afraid of brown people?" And it just went through the whole train and I was like, "Oh."

Annmarie Kelly:
Like the record screech?

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
No one looks at anybody in the subway, but that moment they did.

Mira Jacob:
No, everyone looked at us. Everyone looked at us. And it was really funny because there was this white hipster couple across from us, their whole face was a twin apology of like, "We're so sorry." I was like, "Yeah." And then, there was this man of indeterminate race, where he was squinting at me. And I was like, "I can't tell what you are thinking right now. But it feels pretty judgy. Whatever it is, you're really waiting for the answer." And then, there was the black woman next to me who was like, "Mm-hmm."

Mira Jacob:
And so, of course, what I said to him was, "Sometimes." Which is really not the answer you want to give your kid, by the way. I was air on the side of truth. And, it was really the answer that nobody in the subway was happy about. That's the other thing I will tell you, is that all of those people that were looking at me were just like, "What does that mean?" And I was like, "I don't know. I don't know. You try raising this six year old, who is like having a benevolent alien, that's calling you out on all your ugliest human interactions and saying like, 'What does this mean?' And you're like, 'I don't know, buddy. I don't know. I'm just enured to it. And I'm just trying to get you through this world with me.'?" But really what I was trying to do was find a safe perch for him, because he was a six year old boy who would turn into an eight year old brown boy.

Annmarie Kelly:
We were afraid of that question, right? Because, if we answer it honestly, then we're shocked to discover there's racism in this country. And so, if we say no, then we're lucky that there isn't any racism in this country. And I actually loved your answer of sometimes, because it bought us some time for me to be like, "Yeah, what do you say?" We're circling back, right?

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
We're not going to solve it on the subway today. This is going to be part of a larger conversation. And, we are so afraid when it comes to talking about race in this country, we're afraid to talk about it because then if we talk about it exists, and then we have to own it.

Mira Jacob:
Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
And we have to behave and vote differently.

Mira Jacob:
Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
So let's just pretend it doesn't exist.

Mira Jacob:
Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
But then, that leaves anybody who's ever... I am a white teacher in a high school which is 99.9% students of color.

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, I remember in my early days of teaching, I wanted to just pretend that that didn't exist. We'll just pretend. No one will notice the white lady in the classroom. Or maybe they don't notice that I'm white. And, I remember a mentor being like, "I think they probably know." And, I remember the first year, I'm introducing myself and I just tacked on there, I'm like, "Oh, by the way, I'm also white." And there was a little joking around. But what I had signaled there was race is alive in our classroom. And, we're going to talk about that.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah. Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, it was permission to say, "Yeah, we're going to muddle through some things." And, I always find it funny that folks think that what it means to talk about race is to have all the answers. And that's bullshit. If we had all the answers... What it means to talk about race is, being like, "Yeah, race is alive in this situation. We have not as a country handled it very well forever. And we're going to say that out loud now."

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
And by saying it out loud, it means, we're going to take steps in this country to be better and different. We are going to screw it up. We're going to be in the subway and not have the answers, but by at least saying, "Let's see color."

Mira Jacob:
Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, let's acknowledge that it probably was hard for your parents in 1968 and 1969. Were they in New Mexico? That's what the-

Mira Jacob:
They were. Yeah, they had moved right to New Mexico.

Annmarie Kelly:
... Yeah.

Mira Jacob:
And, they were third Indian family in the state of New Mexico, according to the other two families that have gotten there first. So, real formal consensus there. Anyway, it's so interesting what you're saying, actually, it's making me think of this thing, which is... So my son, two years ago had asked me... We were talking about race and politics. And, he's older now, right? So, I saved the more sophisticated stuff for when he gets older and he asked me one day, "Do you think all white people are racist?" And, very quickly I was like, "Yeah, of course." And I said it very casually. And he looked really upset, because he's half white.

Mira Jacob:
And I said, "Let me explain what I mean by that. I've done a lot of race work with white people." And, we're talking about Americans, I should say as well. And I said, "I've done a lot of race work. And I've talked to a lot of my white colleagues who are really invested in doing this work. And they will absolutely say that. And, it is no great insult for them to say it. 'They will say, of course I am racist. I was born in this way where I was taught not to see color, because it benefited me. And I was born into a system where I was taught to ignore all of the pain around me, because it benefited me. So, of course, that's a thing that I'm working on. And of course, I'm going to be working on it my whole life.' But they say it in a very casual way. And, it's not some horrible shame. It's like, 'Yeah, of course, that's how it happened. And now I'm working with it and I'm figuring it out.'"

Mira Jacob:
And, I said, "So when I say that, I'm not saying it in an insulting way. I think if you are born white in America, you're born into a system that teaches you a real blindness to your own peril. And, unless you're actively working against that every day, it's just really easy to go to sleep. And I would say that about myself as well." And I said, "I wouldn't use the word racist necessarily to apply to me, but I absolutely know that I can as a "model minority," my power can absolutely be co-opted in service of this thing. I can always be used against somebody. And, I think that's something that you and I." Saying this to my son, "Have to think about, is where we fit in and how do we fit in and what are we seeing."

Mira Jacob:
Anyway, so I tell him this whole thing. And he's like, "No. No." And I said, "Okay." And he said, "I think it's really mean. And, I don't like that you said that." And I said, "I hear you. You don't have to believe it. This is just my truth." And at first he tried to convince me, he's like, "Because..." And I was like, "You know what? I respect that you don't feel this way. I do. And, I'm not going to justify it to you. I've done a lot of thinking about this on my own. It's where I'm at, but you don't have to agree with me. It's okay. We're good."

Mira Jacob:
Okay. So that's part one of this. And then, three weeks later, he calls me from the school and he's like, "Mom, all the white kids hate me. All the white kids hate me." And I said, "What?" And he's like, "Because I said the thing about white people are racist and now they're... And they got really mad." And I said, "Oh yeah, sweetheart, you don't just say that. That's not just the thing that you can say..." And he's like, "I was on the playground." I was like, "Yeah, don't say it on the playground." And, I was like, "Well, come home." And I was like, "Come home. We'll talk about it. It's not the big of a deal. Let's talk about what happened."

Mira Jacob:
So he comes home. And, it turns out that he had said this thing. And, the white kids had immediately surrounded him and threatened to kick his ass. And, 20 of them were yelling at him. Then, we started getting this wall of texts from all of these white kids that are like, "We are going to humiliate you. When you come back, there's a plan. We're going to make sure that everyone knows who you are and how you are." I mean, it went real quick to the scariest place. And, he's in sixth grade and he's terrified.

Mira Jacob:
And, when he came home, I was like, "Yeah. So listen, that's not a thing that you can say. And it's not because it's not true. It's because the other thing that you are taught when you're white in America, is that is the meanest thing that can be said to you, is that. And that anything that you do after someone says that to you is justifiable, because they have said the worst thing to you. And so, that's what happened with those kids out there. And, they're not bad people. The kids that did this, they're not bad. You said something to them that really hurt their feelings. And they got scared and they mobilized. And they used the thing that they have, which is power. And nobody here's a jerk, right? They're not jerks and you're not a jerk."

Mira Jacob:
But, as the texts came in and they were more and more threatening, I was like, "Well, maybe some of these kids are jerks." No. But it was really interesting because the one that I think about a lot was these three young white girls that wrote him and they said, "Listen, we think that maybe somebody in your house is poisoning you. And maybe they've got control of you. And if that's what's happening, just let us know, because then we forgive you."

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow.

Mira Jacob:
And he had been really scared until this point. And then he looked at that and he's like, "Mom, what is this? What is this?" And I was like, "Do you want me to tell you what it is? Or should we just talk about the fact that it makes you feel funny?" And I was like, "We can just say what the thing is that makes you feel funny." He goes, "No, I want to know what this is. What is this?" And I said, "Well, you said something to them that hurt. And it's no secret that I'm your mom. And it's no secret that at least one of your parents is brown. So, what you said to them made them feel unsafe. And so, they are going after one of your parents, because you will feel unsafe. They want you to feel scared and upset the way that they feel scared and upset."

Mira Jacob:
And he said, "They think your mind poisoning me." And I said, "Yeah." And he was like, "Oh my..." And it was funny, because I suddenly just saw him turn. And he was like, "This is ridiculous. This is ridiculous. What are they doing?" And I said, "They're scared." And he's like, "But they don't have to be so mean. They don't have to be like this." And I was like, "No, they don't." Here's what I was going to tell you. One of the things that happened. So, I was feeling really unmoored by this.

Annmarie Kelly:
I think so.

Mira Jacob:
I was scared that... What I was most nervous about was that the first time that my son goes out in the world saying something that I actually did say to him and he said, "Why didn't you tell me not to say this?" I was like, "Because as far as I knew, you didn't believe me in the first place and that's okay. It was fine with me that we disagreed." And he said, "No, but I thought about it later. And I think you might be right." And I was like, "You think I might be?" And he is like, "And this makes me think you're really right." And I was like, "I mean, I don't know." But, I was worried about how the school was going to handle it, because like every other brown and black person in America, I've had typically a bad handling of this with institutions.

Mira Jacob:
But, when the threats started coming and the real violence started coming, I was like, "Okay, I need to tell someone." So, I reached out to his teacher. And I said, "Listen, I need you to know that he said this. And, I also want to take responsibility, this is something that I said. And, we are talking right now about how that's not a thing to say just on a playground. But, he did say it. And, I do believe this. And, if you would like me to explain why, I'm happy to explain why. But I hope that in your discussion of this, we can talk about more than just why the white kids' feelings are hurt." And his teacher wrote back.

Mira Jacob:
And, his teacher is amazing. That year, I'd known very little about her because of COVID. I knew she was black. I knew she was a rule follower. I knew that she was really making sure that he got his stuff together and was very organized. And I really appreciated it. Those were the three things that I knew about her at that point. I also thought, "This is going to be a rough conversation."

Mira Jacob:
And, she wrote back immediately. And she said, "I wonder..." And she said, "I'm so sorry to hear about this. It sounds like it was a really hard moment. This is a great opportunity for us to talk about this. This is a great moment for us to talk about if we're going to call ourselves an anti-racist school." And I was like, "We do. We call ourselves an anti-racist school. That's a thing." She said, "This is a great moment to step up, because you're right, none of these kids are bad. They've just taken it to this place where they think what he was saying is that they're bad people." And she's like, "I do recommend that he not yell that kind of thing out on the playground." I was like, "Yeah, fair enough."

Mira Jacob:
But what they did was they talked about it. They all talked about it, and they sat down, and they had a discussion about what happened. And, the white kids kept saying over and over, because my son said to them, "I wasn't trying to say you were bad. I was saying that we're all born into a system, we include it, and it tells us different things. And, if you're not trying to actively undo the system, then you're probably keeping it in place. That's all I was saying." And they said, "That's not what you said. You said this other thing." And, the teacher finally said to them... So, my son was telling me this later. And the teacher said a bunch of things that were so smart to them, like, "I understand that you're upset." And they said, "If he would've said it differently, we would've done it differently." And, she said, "Well, when was he going to do that? When was he supposed to do that when you were surrounding him?" And that was a good moment, because they were like, "Okay. Fair enough."

Mira Jacob:
And they said, "Well, it really just hurt our feelings." And she said, "I hear you." This is the part that my son told me about by the way, which he told me and I immediately started crying. I'd been really good until that point, I want to say. But, what happened was he said, "Mom, she said to them, 'It sounds like your feelings were really hurt. Can you tell me about that?' And they said, 'Yeah, it really felt awful. It felt like you made all these assumptions about us, decided who we were, and told us we were bad people, or that we're some way that we're not. And it was really awful.' And she said, 'I hear you. That sounds awful. I want you to take a look around the room at every one of your black and brown friends in this room, because that has happened to them on a daily basis. They deal with that every day. I deal with that every day. And I know I deal with that every day, because I deal with it sometimes from some of you.'"

Mira Jacob:
And I said, "She said that?" And he said, "She said that." And I said, "What did you do?" And he said, "Oh mom, I definitely just started crying."

Annmarie Kelly:
Aw.

Mira Jacob:
And I was like, "Yeah." And I said, "Well, why did you cry?" And he said, "Because she just said it like you would say it's Tuesday. She wasn't mean. She wasn't angry. She didn't say it in a punishing way. She just said, 'Yeah, I know this is how it is. It's okay. Let's talk about it.' She just said it. And then we could just talk about it." And, it was really interesting to watch the whole learning curve on this, but they talked about it. And, I don't think that it was like, ah, and everyone felt great afterwards. I don't think that at all. I just think they had a complicated conversation and they're capable of it, as we all are.

Mira Jacob:
I had so much hope, just even knowing that they tried it, knowing that teacher went out that way, I just thought, "Okay. All right, America, you've been rough for a while now, but this is something. This is some good movement that this teacher did that work, and was backed by her institution." Because I should say, it wasn't just that she was one teacher on her own deciding to do this renegade work, it's that the entire institution knew what was happening and they backed her. And I know this because they called me, and they said, "We understand what happened. Here's our plan."

Annmarie Kelly:
You'd have one group of folks who'd be like, "The moral of that story is, that's why we don't talk about race in schools, because you see what happened there. Everyone got all worked up." So, that's one group of people like, "See, that's why we don't talk about it." And, what I learned from that is like, "Are you kidding me? That's why we have to talk about it." Kids know. Right? Remember being a kid, we knew. We picked up on that vibe in the room. Our parents didn't have to open their mouths and we knew. But for us, our parents were just like, "No, it's fine." So, we grew up in a, "We don't talk about it."

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
And so, now as parents, what we are being asked to do with our next generation... So being asked to do something we didn't experience. So, we're in a real gray area as parents, right? Because we were raised to be quiet. "You didn't see anything. It was fine."

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
And now, what we're doing with our kids, I am absolutely inspired by the work that all three of my kids do in school. Just like you're talking about your son, moving through the paces, this isn't a conversation you solve. It's a conversation you keep having and talking about racist or anti-racist choices. How do you bring Kendi's work into a classroom? Well, you sit down and ask kids, "Hey, when you were called racist, how did you feel?"

Mira Jacob:
Yes.

Annmarie Kelly:
And you unpack it. That's beautiful. Is it messy? Yes. Do people get agitated? Yes. But, it was already messy and agitated before and we were just pretending not to see it. So let's just go ahead and see it. And that's that myth of when you call something what it is, you have this idea that, oh, now it's become more.

Mira Jacob:
Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
No. Actually, when you call something what it is, it becomes less. When I look back at what I taught in my early days of teaching, I taught the books that I was taught to teach, all dead white men. That was racist teaching. I wasn't trying to be racist, but I absolutely was teaching as racist teaching. So now, those are racist choices. I look back and think, because we called it racist teaching, "How can I teach better? How can I make sure more of my students are seen on the page?" And, if you encounter a racist scene in a book, instead of glossing over it, which is what I would've done.

Mira Jacob:
Oh yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
"We're just going to skip. We're not going to read page 222. We're just going to skip to 227 everyone." You just skip it, right? Because then, maybe they didn't see that word. And I just hang out there and be like, "Hey, there's some words on that page that make me have some feelings. Did anybody else have that?" It's beautiful.

Mira Jacob:
Yes. Exactly. Because you're seeing the part of the class that's also supposed to pretend the violence isn't happening to them, right?

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah.

Mira Jacob:
And that's, to me, always the scariest part.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, something else that you talk about in Good Talk is a series of conversations with your son, but then you also fan out to other parts of your extended family, to people you encounter. And, something that struck me, and hit home, and made me uncomfortable, but also made me understand is, when you talk about how your partner Jed's parents, your parents-in-law, voted for Donald Trump in 2016. And, my own in-laws, I don't know, fully three fourths of the in-laws, I feel like I know. Yeah, they mostly voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It became an absolute landmine in our family to figure out how to allow them to grow in relationship with my children, their grandchildren, whom my in-laws love, right?

Annmarie Kelly:
So, how to hold these two truths, right? That my in-laws simultaneously espouse beliefs that I found hateful, homophobic, sexist, racist, all the things, right? Awful. But, my in-laws are loving people. They've loved me and my children. How to hold those to two truths? I think, it's so easy to assume that everyone's all one thing or all another. And, in this book anyway, I saw you really working to hold those two things at the same time. And really, breaking in half sometimes trying to do it.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
What was it like to write those sections?

Mira Jacob:
Well, I think, what the other thing is that you're bringing up is that, I think there is this pervasive myth in America that love is the opposite of racism, right? Or that love is the cure for racism, which is just bullshit. That's a thing that we tell ourselves, so that if we love someone, it means that we don't actually have to consider their humanity or what our choices are doing to their lives, because you love them.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah.

Mira Jacob:
Right? And that was something that I also had to contend with. And it's very painful to contend with that. But it's also, again, it is a thing to unpack, because if not isn't the opposite of racism, right? Then, what is? So, one of the things that happens in an interracial relationship is I think there are two pervasive ideas about interracial relationship in America. One is that, it's going to heal this country. All of our beige babies are going to come and just save America, because it's the melting pot. And everyone's just going to be this other thing, eventually. So why are we even complaining?

Annmarie Kelly:
I don't know about that option. Okay, that's option A?

Mira Jacob:
That's one option. The other option is that one or the other person in the interracial relationship doesn't like themselves enough to be with their own kind. And so, both of those things are really rough, right? One is a complete fantasy, an idealistic fantasy. And the other one, it's an incredible amount of shame to throw on someone and a big assumption about whether or not they love themselves based on the color of the person that they marry, it's wild.

Annmarie Kelly:
Is there another choice? I have A and B, is there a choice C? Can I get another-

Mira Jacob:
No, I mean, well, the choice C is probably closer to the truth, which is that... The thing that I think about a lot is this idea that I can both be very in love with my partner who is white and Jewish. And also, we can have all sorts of dynamics in our marriage that reinforce this casual racism. It's true. Right? It's true that it will come into our marriage. There's no place that is safe from it. So, we just have to talk about it. So, even with my partner, it's going to come up and I'm going to not be seen at certain times, and I'm going to have to yell really loud, or I'm going to have to say, "What are you doing?" If that's even going to happen with my partner, then I think I can expect it from every other intimate relationship I'm in. Right?

Mira Jacob:
And so, part of what you saw in that book was me reckoning with the weight of that, was the idea that it's always going to be there. And, I think part of what I was trying to get at was it had already been there. It had already been there. I had just been so trained not to see it out of fear and out of hope. And that fear and hope did not help get us anywhere else that we needed to be during that 2016 election. Those things, it turns out, are not great weapons against-

Annmarie Kelly:
... No. I kept thinking that, "Well, if we just remind them how much they love their grandchildren, they'll vote differently." And you're right, love did not turn out to be a tool to change the way someone votes. Like, "I'll just convince them. Remember your kids and how your middle granddaughter needed surgery and our healthcare was rejected. And the only way that we... If I just remind them. If I can just wake them up." And, you can't. Or at least we couldn't then.

Mira Jacob:
... Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, it made me hate them some days. And then I hated myself for hating them. Because again, they love my kids. And just realizing that love and hate aren't the right words to use when it comes to political activism with your in-laws that probably figuring out, "Okay. I guess, I should back up."

Annmarie Kelly:
What was really hard for me was to know what to say to the kids.

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
I could actually, like... "All right, I'm an adult. I know plenty of adults I know out there who don't vote the way I do."

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
But it was hard to know what to say to my... My daughter's now 17. She'll be able to vote next year.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
What to say to her when she wants to talk about the autonomy of her body.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, her grandmother's disagreeing with that. How to allow her to have some relationship with her grandmother, but also to espouse beliefs that I wholly want her to espouse?

Mira Jacob:
Yeah. What did you say to her?

Annmarie Kelly:
Nothing good. Sometimes on the subway. Yes. Again, the conversations that you have in your own home. I mean, what part of what I talked to her about was the recent rulings are egregious, as you and I both know.

Mira Jacob:
Yep.

Annmarie Kelly:
And, like it or not, as upper middle class voters here in America, you and I are not the uterus having people these are going to affect.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah. Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Because, if you need to have these services, you and I are going to get in a car. We are in a position to make sure that we receive the healthcare that our bodies require.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah. Of course.

Annmarie Kelly:
And I said, "So, what I need you to do is be angry, but I also need you to know on whose behalf you're angry. Because if it's not you that's affected, who is?"

Mira Jacob:
Right.

Annmarie Kelly:
Because, I've lived in the south in this country. I've lived in rural places in this country. And I can tell you what it's like to be a teacher teaching a 14 year old girl who was pregnant and didn't want to have that baby. And didn't know how to tell her grandmother who she was living with, any of that. And so, the solution for her was to have the baby at 14.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
And so, helping my daughter also see, not just to be her own... Who you're angry about? But, look at the folks who are affected and how can we be part of that change we want to see. But as far as the grandparents, hell, I don't know. You just don't talk about it, which is the opposite of what I feel like we've been saying this whole time, but.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah. I mean, it's funny, because I feel like now with my son, he notices things. And, I think though it's really interesting because I think he can talk to them in a way that I can't. He can just engage with them in a different way. And I noticed him doing it. I noticed him ribbing them, or my father-in-laws now died, but I noticed that even before there were just little things that he would do, he was joking like, "Wait, are you guys still not believing in global warming?" And then he'd giggle a little bit. And he'd be like, "Are we still doing that?" And they wouldn't yell at him, because they were like, "Okay buddy, we're not talking about that." And he's like, "Okay, we're not talking about it. But you do don't you know. It's very funny."

Mira Jacob:
He can tease them a little bit more and I think it's okay for him to also know that you can love that you can love these people. And also, you can really dislike some of the things they put into the world and it's a very complicated feeling, that you are capable of that complicated feeling. It doesn't make you less than to hold onto the complication of that feeling, right? There were points in which my family was pretty heartbroken over the decision that my in-laws made. And, by family I mean, my mother, my brother, my cousins, because they were scared. They were like, "Why did you marry into this family? They're not going to protect you."

Mira Jacob:
And I think one of the things that I had to remind myself and them of is, this is one part of what's happening. Also, they're really good parents too. My husband also they're really good grandparents to my grandson. Also, the thing that Trump wants more than anything is for all of us to hate each other and to never see past that. And if this is what my resistance looks like, my resistance looks like imagining a day where we might be able to actually talk about this, or we might actually be able to see each other, or just staying in the room for the possibility of that conversation. Then that's what my resistance looks like. Right? It's not a perfect thing. It's never going to look perfect. And nor am I going to feel particularly righteous about it. It doesn't always feel great to stay in those rooms.

Mira Jacob:
But for me, for the most part, I've stayed in when I thought I could. And, I've tried to not disparage myself for doing that, because I think it's really easy to turn to yourself and to Twitter yourself basically. Where you hold yourself up to some impossible ideal and ask yourself what kind of a human you are if you're still talking to this person, well, I'm just a human, that's a human, that's humaning. So there's that. Not the best, not the worst. Trying to love, trying to teach my son that it is okay to love. I do think that there is so much hateful rhetoric that it doesn't really change where we are, not in the way that these deeper conversations do.

Annmarie Kelly:
I have this belief that, again, if I just give your book to every vote in America and we all talk about it all the time with our flawed... We're going to get there, we'll get somewhere. I don't know where there is, but that we're going to do the work that we've not been doing, and have the conversations we've not been having, and that our children are going to help lead that way. That we're going to move them to places that we were not necessarily able to get to ourselves.

Mira Jacob:
I mean, you've seen the list of band books growing and growing, right?

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you on there?

Mira Jacob:
No, no, no. I'm just saying, I think that is a testimony to how much books can change a conversation. The list of band books that is growing and growing that talks about all of this stuff, Kendi's book, like so many.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah.

Mira Jacob:
1619, all of these books that talk about this in a very smart, and sound, and knowledgeable way. The idea that they're being banned as a testimony to that idea that, if people knew, if they had an inkling on how to have these talks, or how to unpack them, or how to have real historical understanding of where they've come from. Instead of just saying, "I didn't do any of that. I didn't benefit from any of that." Of course, you did. Of course, you did. Right?

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah.

Mira Jacob:
That, that alone would change a lot. I think that's absolutely true. It does change a lot. I mean, I will tell you, I did get to go to a few high schools and colleges where they've read the book or it's been their book of the year. And, it's really amazing to go and talk to those people. Those smart, smart people with their smart, smart brains that are like, "We got to change everything." And I'm like, "Go. Go forward, you incredibly smart people." It is really wild to both hear from them, I think, simple things. I didn't know I could be brown, and then you just drew it and I could show it to my parents and be like, "See, we exist." Simple things like that too. I felt seen for the first time by a book and that also feels really good.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, absolutely. And am I to understand that you were not a graphic... I've read a Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing and some of your shorter pieces, but I've never seen that you've drawn anything else, so.

Mira Jacob:
No. Yeah, I taught myself how to draw for this book. I mean, I drew in journals and stuff, but I had to really bear down and figure it out for this book.

Annmarie Kelly:
So, you thought to yourself, "I'm going to talk about these really hard things to talk about. And my vehicle is going to be also this really hard thing I've never done"?

Mira Jacob:
Yes. But it was so much easier to learn how to draw than it was to try to imagine writing sentences to explain these exact same things to an audience of people who were never going to want to read them. And if they did read them, would use every single bit of that sense to deny what I was saying.

Annmarie Kelly:
It's masterful. Again, I thought I had ordered the wrong book, and then I opened it up, and I was just enamored. I also listened to the audio play that you guys did. That was great fun.

Mira Jacob:
Oh, yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
So, I was driving, I'm like, "Let me refresh, because I'm talking to her next week. I've read the book. Let me just listen." And, it's the same book, but it's the play version of it, is really great fun. You guys did a tremendous job there.

Mira Jacob:
I'm so glad. I've never listened to it, because I can't stand my own voice, but I love doing the audio books. I love doing it. I did for Sleepwalker's too.

Annmarie Kelly:
For Sleepwalker's, yeah.

Mira Jacob:
I really love doing... The audio book part of publishing is the unexpected joy of my life.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, you're very good at it. So, get over yourself and listen to it, because-

Mira Jacob:
Okay.

Annmarie Kelly:
... It's triumphant. Mira Jacob, I could talk to you all day, but I can't. All right. So, I got to do a wind down.

Mira Jacob:
Okay.

Annmarie Kelly:
It's the closing here.

Mira Jacob:
Yep. Yep.

Annmarie Kelly:
What are you working on next? What can we look forward to down the pipeline?

Mira Jacob:
Okay. Well, I just finished writing a pilot script for a show based on Good Talk. So, we'll see how that goes. Yeah, I'm really excited. And then, the other thing that I'm doing, I'm writing mystery right now, about white passing Indian actress who was murdered.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm excited to hear and learn more about both of those. Yay. All right, we always close a few icebreakers. These are just multiple choice. You just pick one.

Mira Jacob:
Okay.

Annmarie Kelly:
Let's see. Coffee or tea?

Mira Jacob:
Coffee. But, it was tea until I was 40. So, coffee now.

Annmarie Kelly:
It's a line of demarcation. Mountains or beach?

Mira Jacob:
Beach.

Annmarie Kelly:
Early bird or night owl?

Mira Jacob:
Oh God, I don't sleep. So, both.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you a sleepwalker?

Mira Jacob:
I do not sleep very much at all. It's terrible. I sleep five, maybe six hours a night.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, you can call me. Michael Jackson or Air Supply?

Mira Jacob:
Oh my God. You know that from both of my books, didn't you? I mean, I have to go with Air Supply. I have to go with Air Supply.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, that is love. I'm so lost without you.

Mira Jacob:
I'm so lost without you. Yeah, exactly. We're feeling it.

Annmarie Kelly:
I just forgot how much I love Air Supply until I read that book. And I was skimming over and I'm like, "Oh my God, I've got it." It's such a... Oh.

Mira Jacob:
It's such a teenage girl obsession too.

Annmarie Kelly:
I didn't even know what to say. It is, right?

Mira Jacob:
I just love that she's so into them. And it's not even a time where it's cool to be into them. People are like, "Why you in the Air Supply? And, she's really feeling them.

Annmarie Kelly:
The number of us though, who were into Air Supply and never said it out loud.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
This is probably the first time I'm admitting it.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah, of course.

Annmarie Kelly:
I freaking loved Air Supply.

Mira Jacob:
For sure. Yeah. Let's listen to Air Supply immediately, when this is over. Okay, go on.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm about to.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you loud or quiet?

Mira Jacob:
Oh, I mean, I'm going to say loud. I'm going to say loud. I mean, I'm a writer. So, most of the time I'm quiet. But, I feel like in my own brain, I'm always having conversations with people and they're very loud.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you a risk taker or the person who always knows where the band-aids are?

Mira Jacob:
Risk taker.

Annmarie Kelly:
If you could time travel, would you go back or forward?

Mira Jacob:
Oh my gosh. Okay. So, here's the deal. I think about this all the time. I would go forward, but I would want to go back. But if I go back, I have to have all sorts of emulates and things with me. So that just by the nature of me being brown and a woman, I don't get instantly enslaved or all of the very bad things that happened to brown women in the past. So, I have a secret cave and I have... This is so weird, but I'll tell you this. But in my secret cave, I have all sorts of things, like invisible ink, and fireworks, and things in the time pass that people wouldn't necessarily know. So I could convince them that I'm magic, so that I can live among them as a God. Thank you. Yeah. All right.

Annmarie Kelly:
So the answer as I understand it is to go back with tools and an Air Supply to convince them that you're a God. I love that answer.

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's fantabulous.

Mira Jacob:
And, an iPad that I can plug in somewhere to be like, "Look at the magic box. People show you things." I mean, I just have to be able to convince them that I know things they couldn't possibly. So I can just be cool with my body, and walk around, and see everything I need to see.

Annmarie Kelly:
Fantastic.

Mira Jacob:
Mm-hmm.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh. What's one of your favorite books, or movies, or both?

Mira Jacob:
Oh my God. My partner's latest movie yesterday for the first time.

Annmarie Kelly:
He makes documentary films.

Mira Jacob:
He does. And it's called Rudy! A Documusical.

Annmarie Kelly:
Stop.

Mira Jacob:
It's a new genre that he invented. It is, in fact, a documentary musical about Rudy Giuliani. And, I loved it so much that I kept waking up in the middle of the night laughing about it.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh.

Mira Jacob:
We show each other stuff all the time and we work on stuff all the time, so I had seen bits and pieces of it, but I hadn't seen it all together. And, I was really excited. And I just want to apologize to future me who's going to listen to this part and be like, "You jerk. Why would you even talk about your own stuff?" But I'm just excited that when you live with someone and it's very exciting to see them do something creatively wild and new. And I think, I'm just a buzz and a glow in this moment, future Mira, stop judging, it's okay. It's one moment that you're allowed to be excited about this. Okay.

Annmarie Kelly:
Fantastic. We will be on the lookout for it, because it's apparently not available for viewing except in your living room right now.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah. It's going to be premiering in Tribeca in June, at the Tribeca film festival. And then, hopefully it will be at other places after.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yay! We will be on the lookout.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Okay. Favorite ice cream?

Mira Jacob:
Oh, mint chocolate chip.

Annmarie Kelly:
All right. And then, last one, if we were to take a picture of you really happy, doing something you love, what would we see?

Mira Jacob:
Oh, okay. You would probably see me in New Mexico with my mom being fed all the amazing things my mother makes me to eat when I go home. Yeah, that's where I would be. I would just be stuffing my face at my mom's kitchen counter in New Mexico and trying not to laugh because she's very, very funny and a very good cook.

Annmarie Kelly:
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing made me feel many things, but among the top three was hunger. Why it didn't come with a side of just a small chapati. I'm not asking for all the curry, but why the book doesn't come with just a small sampling? There was no tamarin sauce in mine. Folks today, our guest has been Mira Jacob, she's the author of the recent memoir, Good Talk. Which again, if everyone could just do their homework, buy it, read it, give it to everyone. And also, her novel, Sleepwalker's Guide, which we didn't talk to The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing. We didn't talk about. But is so tender and beautiful. I read them in reverse order, so I read Good Talk first. And then of course, did the thing where I tried to go back and read everything by the person. And it's just lovely. And, you get to spend more time and do a deep dive into a beautiful story. I lived in Seattle, I think, when you lived in Seattle, I don't know why we didn't hang. Okay.

Mira Jacob:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah.

Mira Jacob:
Okay.

Annmarie Kelly:
We'll link to all this on the show notes page guys. Read her books, share her books. And to everyone listening, we're wishing you love and light wherever this day takes you. Be good to yourself. Be good to one another. And, we will see you again soon on this wild and precious journey. Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia. Producer, Sarah Willgrube. And, audio engineer, Ian Douglas. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

Defy Expectations with Kirstin Chen

Wild Precious Life
Annmarie and Kirstin chat about luxury purses, fanny packs, daily yoga practice, and the dangers of the model minority myth....
Listen to Defy Expectations with Kirstin Chen

Travel Through the Pages with Jennifer E. Smith

Wild Precious Life
Annmarie and Jennifer discuss summoning courage, paying attention to small moments of joy, and how to travel the world both in and out of the page...
Listen to Travel Through the Pages with Jennifer E. Smith

Embrace Your Weird with Carrie Harris

Wild Precious Life
Annmarie and Carrie reminisce about high school hijinks and discuss the importance of unleashing the superhero inside of each one of us....
Listen to Embrace Your Weird with Carrie Harris

Translate Love and Compassion with Haleh Liza Gafori

Wild Precious Life
Annmarie and Haleh talk about the timelessness of this 13th century mystic, how Rumi’s work offers “liberating and nourishing perspectives” still ...
Listen to Translate Love and Compassion with Haleh Liza Gafori