Friday, January 21, 2011

the flow of things

this is the trajectory.

i get out of the house as soon as i can, preferrably before 9am. it's frightfully cold. i zip to 18th street, drop off some goat soup to vito, hit up the container store for these under the counter baskets for my bathroom sink and my kitchen, then go to the apple store on the upper west side to take care of business, which doesn't take as long as i thought it would.

i run all the way back to harlem, to an at-home rehearsal with jon diaz for a solo show idea i'm growing in my winter residency about reparations called the big payback. a part of the reason why jon is so fantastic is because nothing i throw at him is ever out of bounds. i've got beef marinating for stew. as we rehearse, i cook it down while jon polishes off the last of that goat soup, which is shockingly good. he's never had goat before, but he says he'll try anything once. good man, that jon.

by the time i leave the house again, the stew is on a low boil on the back of the stove. over the course of the rest of my day, i will think about it periodically and wonder if i haven't burned down our apartment.

i actually make it to a boxing class -- on time. i push myself hard. my teacher, who is a total eastern european junk yard dog, is suitably pleased. afterwards, i stand under the shower and exfoliate my skin into oblivion. then i sit in the steam room until every ache in my backside disintegrates into nothingness. this is probably the best part of my day. maybe because when things are physical, i can see and feel the progress i make. although it's pretty obvious that i'm way better than i was when i first picked it up, and jon is so encouraging, i don't feel as though i'm making progress on guitar. i'm sure that i am because i'm playing. boxing is different. my body is reacting more and falling into position with less effort -- and my thinking while i fight is less deliberate. there's a flow to things. my stamina is increasing. i can last longer.

no wonder boxing makes me so happy.

i get home by 11pm. my permanent boyfriend had dinner with one of his best pals -- a guy i openly refer to as his girlfriend -- and he's sitting on the couch, having a glass of wine and watching the daily show. the place smells amazing. i tuck myself under his arm, against his chest and suddenly, i'm exhausted. but i can't go to sleep. instead of wine, i opt for coffee. after he goes to bed, i sit up and work on rewrites for an hour or more. clearly, i've got work to do.

...and that's my day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dr. King You (Probably) Don't Know

In order to make Dr. King suitable for mass (white) consumption, the media sanitized him so thoroughly that they've turned him into a magic negro of epic proportions. In a way, because he achieved the near-impossible in his lifetime and is arguably the reigning symbol of the civil rights movement, he is the ultimate magic negro. This is especially disturbing in light of the fact that towards the end of his life, he was considered a radical and a menace to the status quo. How did we get from there to here?

It was probably that one speech that everyone knows, the iconic "I Have A Dream" moment, the one that is the stuff of legend, the one that is played so often, it's become synonymous with who he is and what he believed, that really sealed things shut. Black and white children holding hands, the table of brotherhood, blah, blah, blah. How shocking it must be for some to see clips like the one below. He's a different Dr. King than the one we've been taught to know and love. He is angry, impassioned. Defiant, really. And black. Really really black -- and proud of it. We can see his hurt and despair. And his rage. Kind of makes you wonder what else they're not showing us, doesn't it. (Thank God for!)

Why isn't this Dr. King ever quoted? You can certainly glimpse him in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail when the local clergy asked him to wait before he initiated another civil rights march:

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.' But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: 'Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?'; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading 'white' and 'colored'; when your first name becomes 'nigger,' your middle name becomes 'boy' (however old you are) and your last name becomes 'John,' and your wife and mother are never given the respected title 'Mrs.'; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness'; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Ah, Dr. King -- it's so nice to meet you...

PS: Here's something you should read very carefully: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You Don't See On TV.

The Dr. King Interview You (Probably) Haven't Seen

although i've written about martin luther king, jr. and the holiday that celebrates his life's work before on this blog, i think it would be interesting this time around to hear from the man himself. this is an interview from the mike douglas show -- such an important staple of my childhood! -- from 1967, with singer tony martin in the guest seat.

this little chat fascinates me, for several reasons.

first of all, everyone is so respectful of each other. think about it: the civil rights movement is the absolute hot topic of the decade. there have been riots, violence and various factions in the black community that have arisen to speak out against the status quo. dr. king is a controversial figure, to say the least. and yet, there's no open hostility towards him from mike douglas or mr. martin. no anger, no animosity. all of them are polite towards each other. they actually listen to everything he has to say.

this would never fly on fox news.

secondly, it's clear that dr. king knows how to think critically and deeply and objectively, and that he knows how to talk and listen. these qualities should be the hallmark of a truly educated person -- not a degree or a title or a salary. once upon a time, a liberal arts education very nearly guaranteed you at least that much. for so many in too many schools of higher learning, it's really all about a kind of blind, regurgitative process that has little or nothing to do with critical thought. you rinse whatever it is through your brain and hopefully enough information sticks to get you through midterms and finals. the end.

sarah palin fascinates the world, not because she's brilliant but because she's so far off the mark. any thinking person is genuinely astonished at how daft she is, in part because she doesn't seem to be aware of her own ineptitude. catch phrases and clever quips matter so much more than critical thinking in our egocentric, media drenched soundbite oriented culture. we've got to blast the competition. we've got to tell them off. that scenario is unimaginable here. listening to him talk is like a breath of fresh air.

and that's the other thing. what he's saying is so relevant to what's happening in this country now. ultimately, so much of what he said was true, it's almost a little creepy -- listening to him talk about vietnam, it's almost interchangeable with the wars in iraq and afghanistan.

i'm probably way too idealistic to seriously entertain this question, but this interview makes me wonder: were we as a country on the verge of dismantling -- or at least acknowledging -- white privilige and white entitlement at this time in our history?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

winter = hibernation

hibernation: 1. to spend the winter in close quarters in a dormant condition, as bears and certain other animals. Compare estivate. 2. to withdraw or be in seclusion; retire.

when i got the winter 2011 emerging artist residency from the field some weeks ago, i realized that this was the perfect moment for me to fall into a deep sleep of creativity and let my ideas -- however lousy and half-baked and simple -- wash over the soul of me like a gigantic waterfall, and gush onto the rest of my world. that's the way the creative impetus seems to work -- for me, anyway. it gets all over everything, it affects everything. it changes me, opens me up. no sooner did i begin to doze and dig into the libretto for the alberta hunter project than the rpm challenge reared it's ugly head. i'd wanted to do it for ages. why not now? i couldn't think of a reason, so i signed up. by the time i really settled in, i decided to pull out the script for my one person show about reparations. so right about now, i'm off to the races.

it's trippy, that long walk through the snow and the cold and the quiet that lives in the darkness to the rehearsal space all the way on the west side. everything is still and the trees are frostbitten and i am alone. and i like my aloneness. i'm adjusting to this process, to writing everyday and working out ideas alone in a wide open rehearsal space. i like this chance.

there's all this other stuff going on -- a gig here and there, auditions, and lots to work on for the next album. and yes, there is boxing and all the work i'm doing physically so i can get good at it, which is a whole other situation entirely. an hour of circuit training makes me feel like crawling all the way home, or at least to the steam room. but creative hibernation reigns paramount.

i intend to emerge victorious when spring arrives -- lean and strong and clear-headed, squinting into the sun, defiant and happy. my script in one hand, my album in the other. a pretty hat on my head. new songs in my heart. more ideas, growing.

until then, i am hibernating like the bear my permanent boyfriend says i really am.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

i can see the trees and the forest

i really wanted to come up with some pithy and interesting new year's eve resolutions but somewhere in the wide open calm of the last day of the year, as i made a mad dash for cough medicine and prosecco, i realized that the velocity of living my life on purpose was propelling everything forward with a momentum that was finally beginning to keep pace with the life i've always wanted. the thing is, the life i've always wanted is the life i have and have had for quite some time.

i'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere in there, i woke up and realized that i'm living that life -- action-packed, highly physical, explosively creative, and fun, fun, fun. was it years ago when i had this epiphany? was it last week? was it new year's eve? i'm not sure. there are moments when i have to be reminded in this really deliberate way of how blissfully fortunate i am, that i get to live in new york city with my beautiful permanent boyfriend and make cool art. it's only a moment, like middle school or summers with my great-grandparents. and like all of those moments, it feels like it's going to last forever but it went by in a flash. and in my mind, it's a snapshot of a memory. and then it's gone.

how long will this moment last? and won't the horrible things that will surely come after and intermingle with my joy make all of this sweeter, somehow?

everybody wants to get out of debt and stop smoking and lose weight. but where's the joy? where's the moment when you stop and give thanks to be alive and take in the moment you have before you, in complete gratitude and humility, just because, even though you chain smoke and you love pie? everyone is in the forest and no one can see the trees.

well. i can see the trees. and i have every intention of continuing to wander through the forest and live in the moment and take it all in, all the fun and joy and goodness i can possibly stand, and letting the rest fall to the wayside.

i remember when i did the artist's way and found myself wandering down some sun-drenched avenue on the west side in new york city, eating blackberries and licking the juice from my fingers, singing melodies to myself and stopping every so often to jot down bits and pieces of lyrics that would fall into my head haphazardly. i didn't have a conventional job. i was up to my elbows in debt. my body wasn't where i wanted it to be. but i was so happy, i practically skipped down the street.

what happened? i decided that i was going to be happy. and that was that.

real talk? whatever's going on in your life, there's someone out there that would trade places with you in an instant -- no matter how bad you think things are. i figure i may as well be happy. most of what's eating away at me is nothing that has anything to do with me, anyway -- and even if it did, how is worrying going to solve anything?

maybe those are my resolutions -- to stay happy, to stay grateful, to see the trees as i make my way through the forest.