Thursday, June 21, 2007

Why I recommend "The Rise of Life on Earth"

by Joyce Carol Oates

this oates book is effing brilliant.

it read like prose so i thought it would be perfect for a hectic week of bouncing in and out of subway trains. anything to distract myself from my daily commute to Where-ever.

i couldn’t have been more right. or wrong.

frightening in it’s intensity, yet so sparsely written and easy to digest that the emotional whollop it packed hit me in the back end of my subconscious long after i’d finished it, this is an ordinary woman’s story through and through. and yet, there was so much more. bits and pieces of it floated back to me in my everyday life, like fuselage washing up on a beach from a plane wreck. i found myself checking to make sure that it wasn’t my plane that went down—because after a certain point, it felt like it.

it may be one stroke of paint across that canvas she’s creating, but it’s broad, it’s heavy and it’s vivid. and i never, repeat NEVER read enough fiction from, about or by women. it’s an endlessly fascinating thing, to feel it echoing in you as you are hearing it leap off the page from someone else.

and no, i’m not going to launch into the storyline. not even the ending, yes, that one, the one that left me staring off into space absentmindedly for the rest of the afternoon. i’m the kind of person that loves to cut to the chase for the most part but i really don’t want to give it away. you should unravel this profoundly disturbing brilliant bit of fiction for yourself.

light summer reading, indeed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happy Juneteenth!

For the uninitiated: today is Juneteenth -- our Independence Day.

Everyone thinks they know when Lincoln freed the slaves but the claptrap they teach you in school isn't entirely true. The Emancipation Proclamation that was signed and issued on September 23, 1862 freed the slaves in Confederate states that weren't under Union control. Everyone else was still enslaved. Lincoln was just trying to break the South and rally Northerners (who had plenty of slaves, by the way) to end the war. As the Union moved forward and conquered the South, more and more slaves were freed. Quite a few states ignored the federal government (it's the Southern way, isn't it?) and kept the ball rolling. Texas was one of them. The slaves on Galveston Island didn't find out that they were free until June 19, 1865.

I can't believe that people are surprised to find out that there were slaves in New York City or their part in the Civil War. Without them, New York City wouldn't be the worldwide financial powerhouse that it is now.

Of course, Juneteenth is an official holiday in Texas. I guess they had to make it official because everyone was taking the day off, anyway. It's celebrated all over the south but when I first came up north, no one had ever heard of it. Yankees are catching on, though: Buffalo boasts the 2nd biggest celebration in the country. And this year in Harlem, there was a parade and a double dutch tournament and everything, even if it did happen last weekend.

I always had fun on Juneteenth in Austin. It was all about blues music outdoors somewhere, crazy-tasty Sam's BBQ and that Big Red soda! If I could wave a magic wand and be anywhere celebrating this year, it would be Ponca City, Oklahoma. Playing horseshoes! A rodeo! Cake raffles! Frito pie!

*sigh* oh, well. back to the yankee corporate salt mines...

but before i go, here's an interesting tidbit from the NY Sun regarding an apology for slavery from New York state. I like it that they mention the exhibit from the New York Historical Society about Slavery and the Civil War. Maybe someone saw it and wised up.


N.Y.'s Apology for Slavery Is Readied for 'Juneteenth'
BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun June 13, 2007

ALBANY — Lawmakers are poised to approve legislation that would make New York the first northern Union state to issue a formal apology for its role in the slave trade.

Following on the heels of other states that have recently apologized or expressed regret over slavery, the Legislature is expected to pass its own apology bill before it breaks for the summer next week — in time to commemorate the June 19, or "Juneteenth," anniversary marking the day in 1865 when federal troops liberated the last slaves in Texas.

Sponsors of the legislation said the Democrat-led Assembly would act first in passing the bill and would be followed by the Republican-led Senate, some of whose members have expressed concern that offering such an apology could give a boost to supporters of slavery reparations.
The Assembly this year introduced a separate bill that would create a commission to study reparations, a measure that has gotten less support and most likely won't pass the chamber this session, lawmakers said.

The apology bill would amend Chapter 137 of the laws of 1817 relating to slavery, statutes that set in motion the eventual emancipation of slaves in New York in 1827, to declare that the "government of the state of New York formally apologizes for its role in sanctioning and perpetuating slavery and its vestiges."

It also "acknowledges that slavery, the transatlantic and the domestic slave trade were appalling tragedies in the history of New York state not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the humanity of the enslaved person."

In February, Virginia lawmakers, who were marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, approved a resolution that expressed "profound regret" for the state's sanctioning of the institution of slavery. Since then, Maryland, North Carolina, and Alabama have passed similar measures accepting blame for their contribution to slavery.

The history of slavery in New York, a story of human rights horrors mingling with triumphs, is less well known than in other states, where slavery was more firmly entrenched. In 2005, the New-York Historical Society helped fill in the gaps of knowledge with its high-profile exhibit "Slavery and the Making of New York."

The legislation "may be symbolic, but the reason that New York City is the financial capital of the world is because of its involvement in the slave trade," the bill's sponsor in the Assembly, Keith Wright, a representative of Harlem who is African-American, said.

Slavery existed in New York for more than 200 years. The state both legalized enslavement of Africans and taxed the sale of slaves. The 1817 statute that gradually emancipated slaves also imposed penalties on people who harbored slaves.

Slaves in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colonial town that became New York City, built a major and fort to guard against English colonies, a dock to receive cargo, and roads into the Manhattan island, according to the Historical Society.

"By the 1740s, 20% of New York's inhabitants were slaves and two out of every five households had at least one. Repressive laws were written to control them but the enslaved conspired, rebelled, and ran away relentlessly," according to the Web site of the Historical Society. After the start of the American Revolution, New York City's population of free blacks soared, although slavery remained an important part of the city's economy until it was finally abolished in 1827.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Dale Volker, a Republican who represents a district in Western New York and is white, said it was likely that the Senate would back the measure, despite concerns among some members that the bill is a steppingstone to reparations. "They have to do it," he said. "It's not like we're apologizing for anything that we're doing now. Why does it hurt us" to say slavery is wrong?

Mr. Wright said his slavery apology bill and the bill proposed by one of his colleagues, Hakeem Jeffries, proposing a reparations study should not be considered as a legislative package.

A spokeswoman for Governor Spitzer did not immediately know his position on the apology bill.

Friday, June 15, 2007

now, this is democracy!

everyone else in the world has seen this. why not you? lions attack a baby buffalo with surprising results. my favorite moment? 5:49

makes you wonder what would happen in the world if we stood together like that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

a happy birthday, every day

Once upon a time when i lived deep in the heart of the sovereign state of Texas and sang with an outfit called Ro-Tel and the Hot Tomatoes, we'd do all the balls -- The Zoo Ball, The Governor's Ball, The White Ball, to name a few -- and quite often, private parties for such regional upper crust as the Bass brothers and H. Ross Perot. Oh, the stories I could tell, about the food and the instant just-add-money opulence and the tacky gowns and what the nouveau riche turned into when they got ripped and of course, what was said and done to me, once things really got going. Such swank! Such decadence! Such bad taste!

While playing a country club in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area (boy howdy, we did a lot of parties in that area -- could have been Plano, could have been anywhere), I distinctly recall meeting a lovely society matron (fourth generation oil baroness, to be exact) who turned me on to Chinese herbology, Creme de la Mer, and the joys of fried ice cream inside of one 15 minute conversation. She was what can only be described as a panic and a caution -- the kind of woman that never calls anyone by their actual name and yet everyone genuinely loves her for it. While we chatted, she called me "honeydip" which (for those of you keeping score at home) is a kind of donut. Bizarrely enough, it's what my brother Emmett sometimes called me when we would have our most vicious fights. Nicknames that are food items are actually a very Southern thing to do. A Yankee would never talk like that. At least, not any of the Yankees I've ever met.

So there we were at some art gallery gala dinner soiree function brou-ha-ha, making conversation. And I'm looking around, I'm looking at all the people and I'm taking it all in, you know? I'm thinking things like, when I have money, no one's gonna know it and other stuff too, like when i'm loaded, i'm going to be the healthiest person on the planet. or else why bother if you're just going to keel over from a massive coronary before you really enjoy any of it? yeah. stuff like that. heh.

Suddenly, we were talking to each other. She said my singing was really, really real and then our chat took off from there.

In retrospect, I realize why we had somehow gravitated towards each other. This old lady and I had a lot in common. She didn't smoke. She didn't drink. She excercised, ate sensibly and in her words, "avoided the sun like it was the shadow of Death." Well, heck. So did I. I had to admit -- she was aging well for a blonde. She also saw a doctor and dentist regularly. And she loooooooooooooooved Jesus. (Check, check and check.) She had more money than she'd ever spend so she decided to give it away, judiciously and carefully and intelligently. Philanthropy! What a concept. I liked that, too.

Aside from the other things she told me about, she mentioned something that she did every year that piqued my interest: she celebrated her birthday not just for that particular day but the entire month that she was born. I loved the idea of that -- lavishing goodies on myself, secretly reveling in my own private funtime, whether it was my birthday or not. It seemed to epitomize my idea of luxury: having the expansiveness to be good to yourself spontaneously, for example. Even if that meant something as simple as taking a walk through the park and enjoying the flora and fauna instead of hopping on the crowded subway like everybody else.

Pretty soon, I found myself enjoying my birthday for the entire month of June. I bought myself that book I'd wanted for so long. I took a day trip to the beach by myself. I skipped that slice of pizza for dinner and had wild salmon instead. And then the next thing I knew, a month stretched itself into a year. And every day became my birthday. I woke up, happy and grateful to be alive and actually excited about staying in bed and playing guitar all day or getting out of bed and going to work all day or whatever. I would do little things for myself all the time and when I did, I would think, well -- it is my birthday. and that would be that.

Well. My Texas time was once upon a time ago. I still don't drink alcohol or smoke anything. I still drink my daily shot of wheatgrass and pour sunblock lotion (with an spf of 30, no less!) all over myself, even on cloudy days. I still go to church every Sunday. Even when I was broke and at my absolute lowest, I was still happy as a lark because my skin was radiant, I was making cool art and I was a size 4. But having a birthday every day has given me a much needed way to spoil myself a little, in the most ordinary moments of my nyc life. Because those ordinary moments, that's life. that's what we live through. Really, when you stop to think about it, that's when we should be happiest. And usually, that's when we're not.

Happiness is a choice, after all. Hm. Maybe all this time I was just choosing to be happy...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Racial slur on sofa label stuns family


April 6, 2007

Doris Moore's 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, spotted this label on covering around a new sofa set.

When the new chocolate-coloured sofa set was delivered to her Brampton home, Doris Moore was stunned to see packing labels describing the shade as "Nigger-brown."

She and husband Douglas purchased a sofa, loveseat and chair in dark brown leather last week from Vanaik Furniture and Mattress store on Dundas St. E.

Moore, 30, who describes herself as an African-American born and raised in New York, said it was her 7-year-old daughter who pointed out the label just after delivery men from the Mississauga furniture store left.

"She's very curious and she started reading the labels," Moore explained. "She said, `Mommy, what is nig ... ger brown?' I went over and just couldn't believe my eyes."

She said yesterday each piece had a similar label affixed to the woven protective covering wrapped around the furniture.

"In this day and age, that's totally unacceptable," Moore said.

Douglas explained the origins of the word to daughter Olivia, telling how it was a bad name that blacks were called during the days of slavery in the United States.

"It was tough, because she really didn't understand," Moore said. "She'd never heard that word before and didn't really understand the concept of it."

Moore, who has a younger son and daughter, said she's heard the word used many times, although it has never been directed in anger at her.

"But it's a very, very bad word that makes you feel degraded, like you're a nobody," she said.
Moore said she called the furniture store the following day and three other times since, and feels discouraged that no one has returned her calls.

When interviewed yesterday by the Star, Romesh Kumar, Vanaik's assistant manager, passed the buck to his supplier, Cosmos Furniture in Scarborough.

"Why should I take the blame?" he said. "I'm a trader, I don't manufacture. I sell from 20 companies, maybe 50 companies. How can I take care of all of them?"

He said that he would check similar stock and make sure other labels were removed.
"That's terrible, that's a racial ... something?" Kumar said. "This is entirely wrong, but it's not my fault. It's my job to sell good product to people."

He said the best he could do is to give Moore the telephone number of his supplier, so she could take it up with him.

The owner of Cosmos Furniture, Paul Kumar, no relation to Romesh, said he was upset to learn packing labels on products he sold carried a racial epithet.

"I import my products from overseas," he said. "I've never noticed anything like that. This is something new to me."

He passed the blame to a Chinese company, but apologized for the labels. He said he would contact the furniture maker in Guangzhou and demand they remove all similar labels.
Moore said she's not sure she wants the sofa set in her home.

"Every time I sit on it, I'll think of that," she said.

Monday, June 04, 2007


dunkin donuts audition today. an audition to understudy celie in the broadway company of "the color purple" tomorrow. absorbing three scenes and two songs for that audition right now, and musicwise all they gave me was sheet music. i didn't have the money or the time to track down a pianist or find it in the performing arts library or locate a musical theater-obsessed friend with the original cast recording, which meant having to cough up twenty bucks for the cd. i should have been annoyed and some part of me was, i suppose. but ultimately, i was too grateful that i could afford to pay for it.

yes, it's true. being able to pay all my bills on time and having health insurance feels wierd. you know what else? having to learn this stuff all at once feels like i've entered a pie-eating contest. just thinking about doing a musical theater audition makes me a little queasy. no small wonder. when i go in, they know me or they've heard of me, so i've got to give them something of a performance and that means i have to know the lines and material i just got the night before, even if they sit there and say it's okay that i don't. i'm exhausted just imagining what i'd have to do, to pull that off. i mean, really. feh.

i remember what it was like when i first came to nyc. getting the audition, finding appropriate sheet music, learning the material, finding something decent to wear -- that was the tip of the iceberg. they wouldn't let me into the union auditions because i was non-union. i had to wait until they'd seen all of the union people on the list and then they'd say, we've seen enough, please leave your headshot in this box, thanks. or they'd say only the first ten people on the non-union list, thanks -- and i'd be number 11. or they'd say dancers who sing only, everyone else -- thanks. there was always that bouncy, overly enthusiastic thanks at the end, which to my ears sounded a whole lot like get out. funny thing, though. i got good at auditioning. i guess i had to, what with all of that going on.

i was working it off broadway and i was writing songs and in and out of bands while i was in and out of auditions like that. my non-union status went on for six years before i landed the first national tour of RENT on a straight-up non-union cattle call. i guess all those non-union wait-all-day-and-get-nothing auditions were preparing me for that one because it was a motherlode.

wow. why didn't i quit?