vegan banana bread and the future of working-class literature

A few days ago in class we discussed a story that one of my students brought in. It mentioned plasma a few times. I said that I didn’t really know what plasma was exactly, what it did inside of us. I said that when plasma is ever mentioned it only makes me think of money.

How much can you can get for selling it?
$50 the first time. $25 every time after that.


It makes me think of the window factory, where I worked between undergrad and grad.

I was laid off midday. I was in Indiana, living in an old woman’s basement. I went to my neighbor. He would know what to do. He was on his porch, already drinking.

I just got laid off, I said. He held a can of beer out to me.

We chainsmoked. We drank cheap beer on his flimsy porch furniture.

He told me, First thing tomorrow you go down to the unemployment office and fill out all that paperwork shit. Then, first thing day after tomorrow, you go down and stand in line to donate your plasma. Get there early. Line gets long fast. 

This is what I think about when someone says plasma. I think about no money. I think about looking around my place for something to pawn, to sell on craigslist. I think about blood banks, this song by Bon Iver and the monotonous, trance-like youtubevideo: . The camera in the video. The driving. Unending highway. It feels like work to me. Feels like daily life. Never stopping.

“And I said I know it well / That secret that you knew / But don’t know how to tell / It fucks with your honor / And it teases your head / But you know that it’s good, girl /  ‘Cause its running you with red”


imageVegan Banana Bread

1 cup AP flour
3/4 cup WW flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1+ cup mashed bananas (3-4 overripe bananas)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2-3 egg replacer eggs
1/3 cup soymilk

Preheat oven to 325°F
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately
Add mashed bananas last.
Pour into a greased pan. (*I’ve used this recipe in a variety of pans and it holds up.)
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until dark brown.

*Optional add-ins: vegan chocolate chips, walnuts/pecans.

*I don’t deviate from this recipe very much. I’ve thought about trying to make it healthier/less sugar-laden, but just haven’t ever tried it. I’d be interested in hearing if anyone succeeds in successful variations.

*This recipe also freezes easily.



But, this plasma. Is it slippery. Does it feel like anything. Like water. Warm.

They call you a donor. When you “give” it. Not everyone does it out of desperation. A few people I’ve known have worked it into their routine almost like a part-time job, just for a few extra bucks a month. You can only go every 29 days.

Read this article:, and the articles referenced within.

What is the future of working-class literature?
I think about the poetry I write and how I feel like a lot of people (especially people in charge of deciding if something is published) just “don’t get it.” I understand that it may be hard to connect w/because it’s just not their experience. And, from a reader’s perspective, I too understand that a lot of working-class literature does seem to be about hopeless or desperately sad situations/moments. Sort of like a lot of working-class lives. For me, reading about these lives and stories hurts, but they also make me feel like I’m not alone, like someone else understands.

I’ve been thinking about what it is to be from/a writer of the working-class a lot since I came to Pittsburgh. I’ve had many conversations with people in the literary community here who don’t know what “working-class literature” is—they stare blankly until I say “the working poor” which is a term most are familiar with now. I share writings of and about the working-class/poor in every class I teach. Most of the students stare blankly too. And then they get uncomfortable, or say “it’s depressing.”

The future of working-class literature…
Can that daily life be written? That everyday? That sometimes desperation, and what people do within it.
I’ve tried to write it, but I’m still unsure of how to make it really come across. The daily grind of being on a line in a factory. Of absolute and total boredom. Hopelessness. Mindnumbing. Everyday. Who will want to read it? Who cares?

I think people care/want to read about it if the hopeless gets saved, if there’s a happy ending, a way out. And they’ll also read about it when it’s presented like this:, or like the versions we see in our shows and movies where the poor are calculating, are making the most of it—often these depictions are somehow tilted or even glamorized/idealized. Sometimes it feels like we’re told to view the struggle as good, as”grit” building, as usually not at all true to the real life experience or story of a person from the working-class.

Maybe working-class literature can only be about leaving for the unknown journey. Or being chosen as special. Making it. Securing a new life. Can that happen anymore? For anyone? Even in real life? There are so many stories we’re seeing now:

In my little life, I feel it. Still. I feel anxious over uncertainty. The uncertainty of employment, always. Uncertainty of the future. Of being able to afford my rent, my bills, my life. I worry I should’ve stayed put, accepted my place.

When I got laid off from the window factory I thought about what I could do, what I was good at. I wrote 15 poems, took my first unemployment check, and applied to grad school. Somehow, I got in. And to a few places. Had to make a decision. I chose Pittsburgh. It didn’t take me long after arriving here to find out I was different. I didn’t have a good education behind me. I said fuck too much and didn’t know how to be anything but blunt. Rough around the edges. These things have not changed, I just escaped the life that was waiting for me. That sometimes still feels like it’s waiting for me.

Years later, after coming here, and while working a different job, I had a long conversation about work with a customer. He told me his story, how he’d left a profitable construction gig because he was terribly unhappy. I talked to him about my own relationship w/work, my own experiences, how they lead me here, to this life.

Were you running or were you leaping?
This is what he asked.
Two years have passed since this single conversation w/a stranger from another job I hated, in an old version of self, and I still don’t have the answer.
Were you running or were you leaping?

Into what? Into hope? Away from what? Away from the inevitable trap of the working-class? Away from the story already created for me? Have I really escaped, or have I just changed scenery?

This is what I feel to be true for my own life: I often feel wrong, in-between worlds/selves. I feel like a selfish survivor who did not look back, like a roadside attraction, something they’ve never seen before. “They” being those not of the working-class, those who have never worked, those who have never sold their plasma because they had to do something to survive. I feel where I’m from—and what I had to do to get here—acutely, painfully, daily. It feels like anger. Feels like fuck you. Feels like shame.

When my students say things like, did you REALLY work in a factory?
When my colleagues say things like, HOW far in debt are you? / HOW many jobs are you working?

Shame. So, why tell them? Why say any of it in my conversations with them or w/my writing? Mostly, because I refuse to hide it. Because I don’t even know how to hide it. Over the years, I’ve given serious, recurring thought to trying. I don’t even know how I could do that successfully. I would surely fail. I’m obsessed w/it. I can’t keep my mouth shut. I can’t stop the anger. And, of course, there are the telling signs. The ones you can’t escape. The small things. The gesture.

It’s not hard to see a worker bee.

I feel them look at me, thinking, why are you here?
The you could be any of us.


Soon there will be flowers.


Next time: lemon bundt cake and …



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