Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rescue

Today feels like the kind of day where energy is just skidding and zinging all over the place. Maybe it's the last day of the month, and there's a scurry to finish all things June. Maybe it's the waxing state of the moon, growing and swelling like a great pearlescent melon. Maybe it's my body's response to that. But I'm feeling this great conflagration of energy moving toward, moving away, stirring up round and around.

Today I am thinking of Lt. Dan Choi, poised to be the 266th member of the U.S. Military to be discharged for his sexual orientation since President Obama took office. I am thinking of the frustration he must feel and the faith he has to summon, having to defend his service to his country and his right to love as his heart dictates. I am not often in the practice of measuring oppression, and so I am uninterested in whether a man who is gay has it better or worse than a black woman. I have never lost a job because of how I love. My personal life has never affected my employment, as far as I know. He may be sweating under his dress uniform today, but I hope he is stayed with righteousness inside his heart.

I am thinking of men and women in the streets of Tehran who want a new government, who want fairness and balance, and their rage at the fact that no one is listening, that their government is brutalizing them. I live in a country that allows me to say whatever I think about its politics. I am that kind of free. My heart aches for these citizens: they need not know democracy, but they do not know freedom.

I am thinking of white men who were victorious in suing the city of New Haven, CT, because they feel they were unfairly passed over for promotion, and the strange charge around this non-starter of an issue. This is not an issue of race preference, it's an issue of employee measurement and what makes a good fireman. Ultimately, if I need to be rescued from my third-floor apartment building, the fireman's strength, stamina or ability to make good decisions in stressful situations is not as important to me as is his ability to score correctly on 80% of multiple choice questions. Yeah, I feel good about that.

And I am thinking of a green-eyed, gray-haired cat.

This morning I popped by a neighbor's home to borrow a ladder: sweetheart and I are painting the apartment, and alas, ceilings too high for our three-foot step stool. After a quick hello and chat, I shouldered the six-foot aluminum ladder and made for my car. One of her kids walked out with me to open the gate, and quick as a flash of gray lightning, their cat zipped out the door, off the porch and into the foliage on the Rogers Park Fruit Market grounds.

Shit.

Lisa, Fiama, Gabriele and I spent about fifteen minutes crouching in bushes, tiptoeing around and calling for this cat, who blended perfectly with the shadows beneath the leaves. I listened to them call to her, "Micha! Micha!" over and over, Lisa directing her son and daughter in a musical urgent Italian. I wondered what she was telling them, and what the cat's name meant, and I felt like a prize heel. I'm the one who needed the ladder, they were buzzing me back out the gate. The cat thought, "Freedom!" and ran for the door. She looked like a house cat, long hair, cozy, moody. Not a cat who hunts birds and rodents and brings them home as rewards; a cat who sleeps with her butt in the sunshine and nudges beside you to watch Sex in the City reruns.

Peeling back evergreen boughs, I found myself eye-to eye with her. She sat poised, looking irritated but not frightened, almost dubious about her situation. "Oh, I found her," I whispered, "there she is."

Fiama crept into her space, grabbed her and scooped her up, Mom cheering and congratulating in a sincere but dry voice, "Brava, bravissima."

I wished them well, apologized for the trouble, tied the ladder in my car and went home.

Some days you just want to dart out of the house, where all the stuff his happening, and curl up into a ball and hide in the shadows. It's nice when someone remembers you, too, and brings you out of that darkness into the light.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fiction--Lost and Found

Found: wedding band in parking spot near intersection of Webster and Clybourn, please call to claim. 709.284.1290.
Lost: The way you could tell she was a Mrs. just by looking at her hand. The worry stone she spun round and around her finger when she was nervous. The noisemaker she idly banged against the sweaty beer bottles she drank from on Sunday afternoons, while sitting in the backyard and watching Jake teach her son how to throw a football. The talisman that had promised “yours forever, Jake”, when forever had really only lasted four and a half years. The downy warmth of burying her nose in the nape of his sleeping neck to smell him: skin and sweat and Pantene. Someone to sort the mail for her: magazines, junk and bills. Someone to praise her misadventures in cooking. Someone to laugh with, to hold her when she cried. Someone to tell her that the chicken pox scar on her ribs that she hated so much was his favorite part of her to kiss. The thing that made her married girlfriends stop looking at her with that annoying mix of curiosity and pity. The thing that made her a we, instead of an I. The thing that allowed her to believe that even though she was neurotic and too talkative, and only a 34A, that there was still a man who wanted her. Her sense of safety, of wonderfully beautiful permanence, all lost as quickly as a small something thrown carelessly, heedlessly, from one’s fingers out a car window. The thing she wishes she had back. Reward available for any information leading to discovery. 313.794.6272.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

I kept hearing his name on the train last night, on the way to an acupuncture appointment at the Chicago Women's Health Center. It was fragmented: the train was rocking and screeching, various people shouting and talking, and I was trying really hard to concentrate on what Alice Miller was saying about children and their parents. When I finally reached the clinic, I sat down with a striking, fair-skinned painted lady with blunt cut bangs and a silk rose in her ponytail, and a tossed-looking sporty woman with a tan shirt to match her butterscotch hair.
"Excuse me," I said, "do either of you know what happened to Michael Jackson?"
"He died," they answered in stunned, saddened stereo.
I remember I'd just checked into a hotel in London and turned on the TV in the summer of '97 to learn that Jimmy Stewart had died. I was always such a fan of his, with the wholesome look and the plain-spoken way. I thought he was dreamy. Later that summer, I remember sitting up in my bed sobbing like a child as I watched footage of Princess Diana's car wreck. I wasn't that into Di; but it seemed she'd been mowed down in such an artless, violent, tragic way; she'd suffered scrutiny and pain with such grace and poise. To go out like that was heartbreaking.
Michael Jackson was no head of state. But he was the first celebrity crush I ever had. The painted lady in the waiting room said she had his poster above her bed in third grade, and I remember staring at the covers of Off the Wall and Thriller for hours, dreaming of dancing together in great clothes and traveling the world. I loved him. My heart hurt for his tragic, charmed upbringing, the clawing he and his siblings had to do to get out of their past, that may not have been successful. I hated the way my white friends strung him up (quite like strange fruit; after all, despite any skin condition, at the end of the day, he's still a black man) when he was accused of sexual misconduct with children. Now my heart and my ears ache, for the world of music will never be the same.
Michael Jackson was a game changer. My sweetheart and I talked last night about artists and the legacies they leave, the movements that are borne out of their influence, and it is my assertion that everything changed as a result of Michael Jackson. He is on a very short list of artists and musicians who altered the landscape of music in a major way.
My acupuncturist told me yesterday, while burning moxa above my navel, that she was recharging my battery.
"It seems strange that I can still generate such a high level of energy, but still be in such need of a recharge. I wonder, where is it coming from?" I said.
"There's a spirit body of you too. There's a purpose, a reason you're here on the earth, and we're just taking care of your body so that your body can support the person that you're supposed to be here."
I took some great comfort in this. It seems to me Michael Jackson's body could never seem to support who he was destined to me on this planet. It just became too much for his vessel, and it gave out. But we are all fortunate to have witnessed what his spirit did inside his body with the time he had here.
Rest in peace, Michael.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gordon Parks and Me

Two years ago this summer, I'd just begun dating my sweetheart, a writer with a love of the LA Lakers, good scotch and Sade. He also happened to enjoy spending time with me, discussing art, culture and travel, and flirting like mad. Not long after, my job transferred me to Cleveland, Ohio, for six weeks. It was a hard time to be away from home. My roommate and I were moving apart, but I had yet to find a new place to live, and spending the back half of summer out of state left me with only two weeks to find an apartment and get moved in before another year of grad school began. There was a boatload of change taking place in my community of worship. Plus, it meant putting things on hold with my sweetheart, who at the time wasn't my only source of masculine amusement, but was by far my favorite.
But the job dictates, so off to Cleveland I went. I taught reading to a really interesting group of students. We laughed about sports and high school high jinx and LeBron James, and despite my solitude, I did okay. I did some yoga, did some writing, and remembered what it was like to live alone.
I also went to the Cleveland art museum and saw some Gordon Parks.
Photography is such an interesting medium: both static and dynamic, chock-a-block with narrative sometimes. The good photos always make me stop and wonder, and want to run my hand's over the subject's face or limbs, and ask, "what's your story?"
Gordon Parks photographed my people in a way that I'd never seen anyone do before. There's an exhibit of his work at Northwestern University's Block Museum that's closing this weekend. Dig it.

A tease...


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fish Outta Water

My favorite poem by Langston Hughes asserts that his blackness is a part of his white instructor, just as his instructor's whiteness is a part of himself. "That's American," he said. And so it is: the nation is constructed and stitched with multiple races, multiracial people, runs because of its diversity of thought, skill and ability.
But how do you convince a blue blood matron on Central Park West that she has any relevance or connection to a barefoot, sweaty-headed black girl in her backyard playing in the Gulf Coast sunshine? How do you make the Chinese med student who hates the stereotype he has become relate to the Latina who, despite her education and experience, watches colleagues promoted over her? What do you say to someone to make them aware of, care about, someone else?
Someone once told me that white people are to white privilege as fish are to water: completely and utterly unaware of the very thing that sustains their way of life. So how do you hold a fish out of a bowl and show it the water in which it swims?
But white people must know about their own privilege, because they are so scared of people of color, of losing that which they treasure to the darkies, because they do their damnedest to pretend that racism is not an issue, is a thing of the past, without relevance or significance.
Sometimes I think maybe they're right. I wonder, do we people of color, we black folk, make too big a deal out of race? Is all that business really over with? Is America finally post-racial?
And then something happens and I am reminded, No, this is still the broken, odd world I think it is, and race is still a factor.
I recently read an op-ed in the New York times that cited studies of black men and white men trying to get work, and how a black man with a decent background had about the same chance of getting a job as a white man did who was an ex-convict. all this institutionalized thinking. Gone are the days when white folks wore their hate and contempt belligerently across their brows. Even the KKK has gotten a face lift.
Now we who are the other, the different, all we have to fear is the mind who runs the machine.
I'm reading this book by Jedediah Purdy that my father gave me ten years ago, and thinking of James Baldwin and Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. I'm thinking of the assertion that Purdy made, that an intrinsically American idea is that anyone's word or opinion or thought is just as important as anyone else's. I immediately think of the privilege required to make that statement. I think, "Aha! Not so fast. For if you are not a white man, if you are a black man or an Asian man or a Hispanic man, or a woman of any race or culture, then suddenly your word has become less than the same as anyone else's. If you are not a white man, your opinions must be proved as valid, as good as, or can be dismissed without even being heard because you are less than the same as; by virtue of your existence, you're not as important, as good, as worth anything."
I think of the black community's penchant for our-ownness: our own churches, colleges and universities, professional organizations, neighborhoods, coming-out balls, our own teachers and artists, scientists and innovators, our own history. I think of the question I have fielded from so many angry, confused white people: "why do you always have to have your own, why can't we all be one?"
Because there is no room for us in yours.
I think of the immigrant experience that made this country what it was, and the globalization that continues to make this country what it is, and I think there is no room in the majority (white) culture for any of that experience now. White people have been white in America for too long to remember what it was to be Irish or German or Italian in America, and that these communities became white. There is a large bank of truth white people do not need to know, to remember, to believe, in order to thrive in this country. They need not remember their own cultural struggle, much less consider anyone else's, and this ignorance is what permits their privilege.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Late to the Party

Today is my 29th birthday, and it seemed as good a time as any for me to start this blog. For as long as I've known about online journals, I've been pretty against them; I always thought they seemed so self-indulgent. Is there anyone out there who really wants to read about what's rattling around inside my head, what's collecting in piles, sticky with cookie crumbs and smudged fingerprints?
But I've recently begun working on a book project. Every time I acknowledge that in a public place it makes me breathing just a bit more shallow. I've begun working on a book project, and I wanted a sounding board, a place to iron out my thoughts and to throw them to the gallery just to hear how they vibrate in air outside my head. I also wanted a place to hopefully collect people who were interested: interested in reading my book, and interested in participating. I'll say more about what it is as it grows and I begin to know better what it is. For now, let's just say I'm looking for good conversations with old friends and new ones.
But today I am twenty-nine. It's not old, so I won't pretend it is. I've never looked my age before, so I'm not really flipping out about the height and perkiness of my breasts, or imagining that there are wrinkles were there once was onyx-smooth skin.
But there's a bit of an internal reckoning. I've been reading some about the Return of Saturn and thinking about it since I heard about it, not long into year 28. I'm not generally so much into astrology as a property of my life's movements or qualities. But the last several years have definitely felt like a kind of sorting out, learning, questioning and growing. I don't recall as much upheaval, learning to walk, speak, use a toilet or feed myself, but I'm sure it was just as tough.
My sweetheart gave me a great gift and let me talk into his video camera for a short bit, a homespun looking forward-looking back. It forced me to speak some things into being that I hadn't really claimed yet. So, in this, my last year before I turn 30 and begin a new phaze of life, I hope to:
  • gain the upper body strength required for and banish the fear inhibiting headstand and handstand poses
  • work in a purposeful and significant way on the aforementioned book project
  • become regularly and gainfully employed
  • continue in a meaningful way my ever-growing commitment to my sweetheart

There's also a list of things to do before I turn 30, that I've been working oh, so slowly on since 21. But later.