Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happens to Be Black


This is what happens when I actually read the materials I stash away in my bags and back pockets. I learn new information, somehow it's right on time, too. To get the full effect, please turn on Cannonball Adderly's "Nippon Soul" album and read on.

B is for Black
A child of the civil rights movement, my mother believed that as black people we would use our natural talents and abilities to rise above adversity. Paradoxically, she also believed that blackness consisted of habits, not nature, and most of those that she associated with it were negative.

P Is for Proud
James Brown's "Say It Loud" was released in 1968. When it came on the radio, I could sing the "Say It Loud" part but I could only whisper, "I'm black and I'm proud." (camille note: hey, every little step will lead you somewhere...)

X is for X
When I was in my twenties, I met a member of the Nation of Islam who told me that since black people took the last names of their masters, we all had slave names. That was why, he explained, Malcolm Little had changed his name to Malcolm X. I considered changing my last name to X for a week or so, but decided that it involved too much paperwork and it would upset my mom.

*This is a quick excerpt from an entire alphabet of information from the essay Untitled by Glenn Ligon. It was a great first-of-the morning read and went well with my unpacking from a recent NYC weekend, the quick read of Richard Mayhew's work, and hanging of Tibetan Prayer Flags.

I'm wearing rainbow toe socks that reach my knees, this I tell myself, is in honor of Pride. But it's really not. It's in honor of the bright colors and my third pair of toe socks, which I hope to retain longer than the predecessors that last a week and two week respectively before being pilfered by friends and loved ones.

I fell in love with yet another dead person last night. Paul Darcy Boles' book 'Story Creating' has left me panting with the effort to keep my lust for his sentence construction in check. I've not yet thrown the book across the room in a fit of pique, so things are looking good, but I can't read it in public. I'm bound to corner some stranger and start reading (or worse, reciting!) passages.

Happy Tuesday!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

There Goes My Hero

Today I flew to new york and took the M60 to 125th street. I've been in a fog of sleeplessness and grief over the death of Michael Jackson. I'm one of those holdouts who just didn't care what happened in his personal life because I loved his music and that was what he gave for public consumption. The rest - the allegations, the public furor, the judgment - well, frankly that wasn't much of my business and I didn't really care. I hated to see someone who was so obviously fragile get dragged through the labrynthine legal system, but there it is. You can't be great forever and that's just life.

I've been grieving. Sometimes I wonder why there seems to be a pall over my day, or my heart just seems less joyful, then I recall I've lost someone dear, whom I admired and loved from my earliest memories. And I am more gentle with myself. It is gratifying to hear his music blaring from streetcorners and to see photos of him populating the windows of shops and street vendor carts. It was most gratifying to see hundreds milling about the Apollo Theater writing their thoughts and peaceful journey messages on the walls surrounding the Apollo. It was the love I think he lived for, but never truly felt he deserved.

New York, the first city of my dreams; it is so wonderful to walk these familiar sidewalks, to reconnect with those who helped form me when I mostly resisted direction and suggestion. On the subway this evening I struck up conversation with William from Georgia, who had a slow southern-boy cadence and beautiful eyes. We talked about turning 30 and opening your eyes and realizing, "I don't have to screw up any more." Well, not the reckless screw ups. I'd wondered what turning 30 would do for me. It damn sure didn't feel any different than 26-29. Then I started to notice the sea change of the people around me. My close friends started forming close romantic relationships, having babies, discarding old philosophies and talking about stability. I began to consider all of those things. Now I carry the label of the one who almost died, but it's almost incidental to the larger questions being mulled over by all who surround me.

I don't have any answers, but life tends to provide those in time. Or time provides those if you keep living. Or both. Both. The trick is to keep living, resisting the urge to just exist or always take the easy way, and occasionally applying your heart to matters where the mind can make a wrong decision to see if it feels right.

Michael's death sucks an artist out of this world. That hurts. It makes those artists who defined and delighted recent generations that much more precious. It makes the act of creation that much more important - creation of life, creation of ideas, creation of change, creation of words on a page...creation.

A quote from the inimitable Toni Morrison: "I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can't teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort."

Comfort. I like that word, especially as it applies to writing, which is just uncomfortable work. Today I wrote about my experience taking a year to write. It was maddening. I would sit down at my typewriter and the blank page would look back at me. I would sometimes be reduced to typing one letter for lines, just to put something on the paper, then I would expand that letter to include a vowel (the single letter was always a consonant) and then a word, then a sentence and I would switch off the part of my brain that lives to critique sentences so I could write a few more.

I produced a lot of pages that way. I also spent a great deal of time seeking solace in the world outside my windows, wandering the streets and striking up odd conversation with strangers on the street or at the market or on the MUNI to buffer the crowded loneliness of voices in my head. I thought the other day about babies and how my body seems ill suited to producing a version of my genetic code. I thought that my babies will have to be words, and deeds, and acts of love to share with the world, these things will have to survive me, they will have to speak for me when I can no longer speak for myself.

I think Michael left us a great, great deal to hear - great acts and great actions that speak on his behalf. When he lived, those actions and words were drowned out by his very act of continuing to draw breath while shrinking from the view of the world. Now that he is gone, the words, the actions, the memory of his life must stand on its own. It has great legs...and it moonwalks.