Thursday, February 27, 2020

Week Two -- Gettysburg: The Mixtape + The Booklist

While in residency at Gettysburg National Military Park, I've decided to find ways to let the world in on my creative process (indirectly) by coming up with alternative ways to engage the casual observer. I've assembled a playlist on Spotify -- Gettysburg: The Mixtape -- that's basically my soundtrack as I wander through the battlefield and in the town, the museums and both the National Cemetery and the Lincoln Cemetery, where black soldiers and other black citizens are buried.  You'll hear anything from Kool and the Gang and Ennio Morricone to Aaron Copland and Billy Squier. All of it is meant to sonically evoke this dark somber majesty, this strange Southern Gothic sadness that is Gettysburg.

I believe in research and scholarly excavation as a solid foundation when approaching any creative work.  This list is a compilation of a few of the books that are informing my solo show Blackbirding as well as this most recent Black Americana song cycle, inspired by pivotal moments in battle strategy, infamous stories of heroism and cowardice, bizarre monuments -- and of course, the blood-soaked land itself.

Gettysburg: The Booklist
  1. Celia, A Slave: A True Story by Melton A. Mclaurin
  2. African Americans and the Gettysburg Campaign by James M. Paradis
  3. The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg's Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women and African-Americans in the Civil War's Defining Battle by Margaret S.S. Creighton
  4. Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth by Kevin M. Levin
  5. Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odysssey Home by Richard Bell
  6. Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel
  7. Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit Of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
  8. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner
  9. Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Achorn
  10. Maine Roads to Gettysburg: How Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard and 4,000 Men From the Pine Tree State Helped Win the Civil War's Bloodiest Battle by Tom Huntington
  11. "Too Much For Human Endurance": The George Spangler Farm Hospitals and the Battle of Gettysburg by Ronald D. Kirkwood
  12. A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Confederate Field Hospitals at Gettysburg, July 1 - November 20, 1863 by Gregory A. Coco
  13. The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became An American Hero by Timothy Egan
  14. Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture by Karen L. Cox
  15. Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David M. Oshinsky
  16. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

Friday, November 02, 2018

November = NaNoWriMo!

November is NaNoWriMo!

Write a novel in a month.
Yes, that's right -- 50,000 words by November 30th.  That's 1,667 words per day. 
Because the world needs your novel.
Because you've got to get that book off your chest, out of your head and out into the world.
Because you've got something to say -- and deep down you know that someone else needs to hear it.
Because you've always wanted to write a book.
Because why not.

Join me and register here.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Steady on my grind...!

I pressed pause on this blog when my creative life started to run me over
and the world started to fall apart
in small desperate chunks
I didn't think about winding it up again
until I realized this would have been a great place to explain myself
and my process maybe
and definitely document all the fun I've been having
in so many different directions
with so many different people
who are family to me
in some small atomic way.
(You really should have been there.) 

The Spring 2018 TED Residency
The Black Americana album (almost done recording)
The jazz album  (getting mixed and mastered)
Eyal Vilner Big Band
and the epic hang after the gig that feels inevitable with him
because Eyal is just that cool
Finally, a novel idea
Brooklyn Americana Music Festival
New York Hot Jazz Festival
Swimming lessons
Manicures and pedicures
and facials and beauty boxes
and blue eyeshadow
and red lipstick
and exfoliating
and moisturizing
and all kinds of yoga
Doctor visits
My eyebrowist
My accupuncturist
My ever present Fitbit,
clocking 5 - 7 miles a day
just walking around in this beautiful idiotic city.
Getting my body back
Getting my bearings
Cleaning house
Fingerpicking and flatpicking
and being horrible at it
and doing it anyway
because I love it
even though it doesn't love me
Taking lessons with Booski in Hoboken
Gigging with Hill and Sharp
Trying not to kill Caleb

And my grandmama.
And Hamiet.

My uke
My banjo
My parlor guitar
More new songs, coming at me like shrapnel
as ideas implode in my head
at all hours
and I scramble to get myself out of the way
so I can hear it clearly enough
to write it all down
the way it wants to be written down
whatever that is.
Walking down the street singing to myself
over and over and over
under my breath
like a crazy pants
until i can whip out my phone and sing into it
in front of strangers
like a weirdo
and then taking it apart when i get home
catching lightning in a bottle
messing with my A&L to help me out
and when it can't
singing all of it back to myself
until its complete.

Feels like I'm carrying cut glass in my mouth
when a song is stuck in me that way.
Any second, the blood will gush
if I don't handle it delicately enough.
And if I don't get all the shards out of me,
it could get stuck in my throat.
I have to get it all out of me.
All the songs
All the poems
All the librettos and plays
All the scripts
All the books
All the pictures
All the movies
All the talks
All the ideas
I want to leave it all here
I don't want to take any of it with me when I go.

In this moment of desolation and abundance
I stride forth like a cold white walker
in a dress that's older than my mum
looking like a Drum magazine pinup
with a head covered with kink
full of ideas
and a mouthful of cut glass
A banjo strapped to my back
A pretty dog at my feet
MPB on my arm
And God, directing my steps

I believe I'll run on and see what the end is going to be.

In the meantime
winter is coming
time to vote
and stay on my grind

Sunday, March 04, 2018

What's in this year's Oscars swag bag?

Ah, the legendary "unofficial" Oscars swag bag.  Now that Joan Rivers is gone and the event seems so predictable, what's in the bag interests me way more than the ceremony itself.  A week before the event, Distinctive Assets sends a swag bag to each nominee -- and yes, the host.  All of its contents are 100% donated by the participating companies in the hopes that the rich and famous will use their products.  (Hmph. I don't get the ROI on this one.)

Apparently, there's a lot of stuff in that bag. When it's value ballooned to well over $230,000 in 2016, they stopped flinging those numbers in the air and made pithy statements like it's the giving of the gift that matters.  Actually, it's the product placement that matters. Because ultimately, the actor is a personal brand that has value as a commodity. Ultimately, it's all a marketing ploy.  Lots of people figure out what product to use because their favorite famous person uses it. Or vacations there. Or whatever. What's ironic is that when you make millions of dollars per picture, you can easily afford to pay for all of it yourself. 

They don't need what's in that bag. I do.

I've always wondered what's inside that swag bag.  No, scratch that. I've always wondered what it would be like to get one.  I love acting, I really do. I have no doubt that someday, I'll work a lot. The thing is, I'm not so sure I want to totally commodify myself. And the work that most on camera actors put in to look the way they do need hardly be stressed.  Read more about that here.

Whatever.  I won't believe that I've truly made it -- whatever "making it" is -- until I get gobs of free stuff.

Here's an interesting tidbit: Sandra Oh is the only actor to ever turn down an Oscars swag bag. (Ha.) And yes, they have to pay taxes on this stuff but that shouldn't be a problem when you're loaded.

Check out this list while I get my unbridled greed in check (and on a Sunday, no less!) and feel free to let me know if I've forgotten anything. But first, the highlights!
  1. Twelve nights in Tanzania for two: Single rooms at the Serengeti Migration Camp (one of the top 10 hotels in the world) start at $695 and go up to $1,178. The 12-night stay includes a journey from Arusha to Zanzibar on private air transportation, all private meals, spa services, hot air balloon safari with champagne breakfast, private safari guide and vehicle, chef-guided cooking lessons, wild game drives and walking safaris, horseback riding, and snorkeling.
  2. Golden Door Spa: A week-long stay at this legendary destination spa in San Diego will set you back $8,850.
  3. Healing Saint: A year's supply of products including a luminosity skin serum and a hair follicle stimulant that claims to prevent further hair loss, valued at $2,316 by Business Insider.
  4. Rogue Maple Syrup: This is perhaps the weirdest inclusion in the swag bag, along with sweat-absorbing underarm pads. This high-end syrup costs over $100 for a package that contains multiple small bottles.
  5. Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu: This Hawaiian resort goes for about $330 for a single night in a villa. The six-night stay in a two bedroom villa with an ocean view features the added amenities of an on-site spa and numerous excursions.
  6. Avaton Luxury Villas Resort: Staying at this Grecian island resort would typically cost about $450 per night.
  7. Blush and Whimsy Magical Color Changing Lipstick: This product sets you back $22, but nominees won’t have to shell a dime.
  8. 23 and Me: A health and ancestry kit goes for $199, while just an ancestry kit costs $99.
  9. Lifetime supply of Oxygenating Foundation and Oxygenating Hydro Matrix: The foundation goes for $66 and the hydro matrix goes for $70.
  10. Epifruit: Nominees get a year’s worth of fruit deliveries.
  11. Proven Cosmetics: This brand uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to create personalized skin care products for consumers, which, in this case, are the world’s best actors.
  12. Reian Williams Fine Art: A commissioned original painting is available for all nominees.
  • a commitment from Jarritos iconic Mexican soda to donate a pallet of soft drinks to a charitable event of the nominee’s choice.
  • personal training sessions with celebrity trainer Alexis Seletzky
  • ALL√ČL DNA-based skincare
  • BANGARANG Positive Cube
  • Chao Pinhole Gum Rejuvenation
  • Charleston & Harlow candles
  • Chocolatines’ edible 16-piece jewelry box
  • Cook Yourself Happy: The Danish Way cookbook
  • Curlee Girlee children’s empowerment book
  • Dandi Patch amazing underarm sweat patches
  • Delicacies Candy & Confections organic & vegan lollipops
  • D.Thomas Clinic Signature DNA Head-to-Toe Treatments
  • Esther Fairfax Lotte Berk Barre Method private group class
  • Face It makeup remover combo kit
  • Halo, Purely For Pets 10,000 bowl donation + snacks
  • Happiest Tee luxury t-shirts
  • Hydroxycut Organic weight loss supplements
  • Inception of Beauty 10-piece makeup brush set
  • Justice For Vets Challenge Coin
  • Kalliope NYC Phobia Relief Expert
  • Liwu Jewellery inspired by ancient Celtic symbols and Chinese calligraphy
  • Look Fabulous Forever Prime Collection
  • Luxura Diamonds limited edition conflict-free diamond necklace
  • My Magic Mud activated charcoal whitening toothpaste
  • M·Y·O Cosmetic Cases
  • MZ Skin Collagen Eye Mask and Golden Eye Treatment
  • "99 Creative Wows – Words of Wisdom for Business Celebrity" Creativity Kit
  • Non-invasive full face skin rejuvenation from Nurse Gigi
  • No. 9 Daily Chemical Exfoliant from Oumere Skin Care
  • A lifetime supply of Oxygenetix Breathable Foundation and Hydro-Matrix
  • Paiva Aloe Gorgeous! luxury cleanser and mask fusion
  • PepperFace, stylish pepper spray 
  • PETA Bath Bomb (for humans)
  • Posh Pretzels gourmet gift box
  • Quincy Herbals SlimMax Detox Tea
  • Quip beautifully simple electric toothbrush
  • Safi Kilima Tanzanite bolo bracelets
  • Southern Wicked Lemonade all-natural lemonade moonshine
  • The Green Garmento Gigantote
  • TOTALEE hair care products
  • Vaya Tyffyns stainless steel lunchboxes
  • Wetsleeve wearable hydration on-the-go
  • Youth Blast revolutionary anti-aging supplement

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Start The New Year Right -- Register To Vote!

“What one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, without knowing that this is the result of it, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world.” -- James Baldwin

“Apathy gets you the government we have today.” – Gil Sery

When I was a kid, all the Southern black folk around me took their civic responsibilities very seriously.  Election Day was a solemn moment, one fraught with a reckoning to the past and the full understanding that once upon a time, the simple act of casting your ballot in a local election could get you and perhaps your entire family killed, or at least run out of town on a rail. To vote was to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who couldn't -- and I figured if the powers that be were going to work this hard to keep me from doing something, I should do it.  Voting became synonymous with adulthood.  I would couldn't wait to grow up so I could move to New York City, live in Harlem, live the life of an artist (whatever that meant), and vote. 

So far, so good.  

I can't explain why white women voted for Trump in droves, many of them knowing full well that their vote would have elected Hillary -- and yet they showed up for a record-breaking women's march on Washington, DC the next day. 

I suppose I could blame the electoral college. Still and all, I don't know why half the country didn't bother to vote in the last presidential election. I can't tell you why most people don't vote in mid-term elections. I can tell you this: Way too many people genuinely don't care -- and unfortunately, the first sign of bad nutrition is apathy. 

I can also tell you that 2018 midterm elections will be fire. 

If you want to stick your toe in the water, here's some tasty apps. I'm already at the other side of the pool -- eating clean, running and working on a new song cycle.  It's 2018, folks. #GetYourLife!
  1. Click here to get all the information you need so you can register to vote!

    * General election: November 6, 2018
    * State primary: September 11, 2018
    * Federal primary: June 26, 2018
  2. Voter -- Matchmaking for Politics!
    Answer a few simple questions and find out which politicians truly have your best interests at heart, and have a track record to back it up.

    Because advertising is one thing -- but who your favorite politician really is? That's probably something else.
  3. Countable
    An app that makes it easy to pester your Congress member.

    If you'd like to know what your representative is up to in Congress, you can use this handy app to  find out. And then you can use the app to contact them directly, tell them how you want them to vote on legislation and you can see their voting record -- so if they're half-baked, you can vote them out in the next election cycle. 

Friday, November 03, 2017

Don't Miss This Post-Halloween Drag for the Ages!

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, here's an epic drag straight out of Oklahoma that added years to my life. Enjoy!