Wednesday, January 31, 2007

on the verge

hi mike,

haven't heard from you in a while. january is hard, I know. it's been a hard one this month. reeling from the expense of the holidays - both financially and emotionally. this year, instead of my mind, I lost my health. flu, sinus infection and now, out of nowhere, migraines. but the show I had last night rocked february in mightily, and I woke up to a text message from my baby sister telling me that she loves me dearly. so I'm hopeful for a better month.

I couldn't wait for your next letter, sorry. something's been pressing on me, and its really the reason I wanted to start writing these letters in the first place. I had that sense of being in exile from my own culture the other day, and it spawned an unexpectedly ungracious, maybe even racist response, and I want to come clean.

there's a man in Oakland right now, Marcel Diallo, who's committed to creating an African-American cultural district in West Oakland - to be called the Lower Bottoms District - to preserve the history and heritage of the people and places in an area that is quickly being gentrified by people looking for cheap(ish) property, or warehouses to throw parties in. his vision is amazing, and, even though he's just a dude, not some millionaire, he's found ways of buying a bunch of property, encouraging his friends to do the same, and starting a group called the Blue Dot Collective to support African-American arts in the district.

Marcel's ideas are amazing. I think time and the local economy are on his side right now and that he'll do well. also I genuinely appreciate his mission - I think it's true that West Oakland should be preserved as an Afro-centric district. the history there is incredibly rich - and full of lots of racism: by the mid-forties it was home to the largest black middle class outside of Atlanta; family-run businesses drove the local economy while art and music thrived. at that same time, local (white) officials decided to build a highway, the "Nimitz", which would, and did eventually pave over the entire main street in West Oakland, dispersing the middle class folk, and leaving West Oakland to be devoured by warehouses, other industrial buildings and the slow unraveling of poverty.

far as I'm concerned, understanding the history of black people in this country is one of the most important things that any of us can do. black history is ours (whites') too - despite the fact that it is a significantly less empowering experience for white people to dive into.

okay, you're wondering where my lack of grace comes in. you're waiting for me to say Diallo's ideas are amazing, BUT. but I'm not going to say that. I do think Diallo's ideas are amazing. what happened a few days ago began with a search for more information about Diallo & his Blue Dot Collective. I ended up here.

this blog excited me - it's a multi-author, multi-media, Afro-centric smorgesbord - and then I came upon this article called "On the Verge of Dating White Girls." [enter unexpectedly ungracious, maybe even racist response]: what the fuck? why does dating white girls stand as a metaphor for cultural assimilation? why does this claiming of personal power have to be an act of exclusion? why am I expected drop my stereotypes of him, and yet lay down under his stereotypes of me?

I know the answers to my own questions of course: slavery, that's why. white people did horrible disgusting things to black people - and continue to do them - and that is not easily amended. this is American history. this is what my people (most of whom actually came over late in the 19th century due to the potato famine) have left as their legacy - for which the paleness of my skin is an unmistakable hallmark: such division, such deep division, and pain.

I remember taking a class about apartheid in South Africa at Ithaca and seeing this ad that some white Africaaners had taken out in local papers after it (apartheid) was dismantled. The ad said "Why cry over spilt milk? The past is just that - past" I remember being horrified and insulted by the message of this ad. the insinuation that mass murder = spilt milk. I wonder if my response to the title of this man's column is just the same though? am I frustrated by the "not getting over it" that it intimates?

no, I don't want anyone to get over it. I don't want to forget slavery happened. that's the point though I think. I want to HAVE the discussion. I just don't want it to be about white vs. black. the white/black division was what was used to create the context for such a horrible practice in the first place. keeping this division won't help us heal, or understand, or prevent it from happening again. I want the discussion to be about humanity - the incredible amounts of pain we can adapt to, and the incredible amounts of pain we can adapt to doling out.

maybe I don't really understand what he means by "on the verge of dating white girls".


Thursday, January 11, 2007

a note

dear mike,

that was a letter for you, but I forgot to say somethings:

Dear Mike,
Much love, Anne.

so there it is.

much love,

the way i see it

the audience is unmoving, except for eyes following the path I trace. egoless, judgement-full. their opinions matter, matter more than (don't let it) they matter more than (spin, step, spin, step) mine. their opinions are not filtered like mine through the pain of being human.

the stage is unforgivingly bright - my eyes flooded so I can't see them, but I know, I know they're there. I can smell them their hunger between the slender poles. I'm shifting, dancing, the poles spinning, a forest, a forest spinning. I'm stepping in time with a path that's been named, every step with a beat and no room for mistakes, there are no breaks, no resting pausing or pleasing.

the audience doesn't care for success, they lust after defeat so when my feet slow, or
stumble, then I hear a seat-shifting, sideward-glancing glare of dissappointment and that at the wobbling, but what at the crash?

(step, spin, step, spin) a careful algorithm that keeps porcelin plates spinning on thin forest poles I get slow, I get tired, I lose the beat and then the raucous cacophony of shrieking cracking pottery, the shards explode confettily and that's what the critics concur as my destiny, unspeakingly. ghostly quiet and hidden by the blinding bright wall.

sometimes its true, I even lust for it myself, delight in the hush of expected defeat, and the (step, crash, spin, step, spin, crash, crash) breeze that makes its way to me when the heads start shaking back and forth, and the furrowed brows that disfigure pretty faces, faces, silent audience. this when I am leaning towards enlightenment.

one day I'm going to forget them. fuck them. no really, FUCK them. they might not even actually be there, see? there might not be anyone judging my life. and then I could sit and enjoy the contiguous crashes because if it were not for the perceived spectrum of failure and success why would I care anyway what happened?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Curses! Foiled Again!

Dear Annie,

Your bike is my desktop background here. I think about you now every time I see a motorcycle. I also think that there's a lot to take away from your lessons on building a bike. I see that these things apply in my own life a lot. Highlights include a conversation I had with my father just today about taking a step back and re-approaching your problem after a break or a from different perspective and also that there's a certain amount of "either do it right or don't do it at all" in my own work. But that can also haunt you, when put like that. Certainly, one shouldn't expect life to be friendly to permanence.

I think that it's been my turn lately to have life go flying past me. It seems that each day (today included) has had the following form: Got up for work--wanted to sleep in because I didn't get enough sleep--work was hectic and I was thinking about all the things that I needed to do outside of work so I didn't get enough work done, which will make tomorrow hectic as well. After work, the things that I needed to get done were doubled and I only got half of what I intended done, meaning my to-do list is now 50% longer than it was when I started today. By the time I got home, made dinner, and settled in it was midnight and I found myself exhausted. One of the things that is happening now is my application to graduate school, which is not only taking up a lot of my time and energy, but is also stressing me out so much that I can barely think. This is why I could never apply to graduate school before. Each time I attempt it, I end up in panic attacks. Even if I don't get in, having successfully completed the application is going to be such an achievement for me that I really won't mind deferring my application to the following year because at least I'll know that I can complete an application. The GRE is just too much for me to handle, apparently. I'm glad that this program does not require I take it.

Regarding the two Gen-X curses: I think that it's possible to be afflicted by both simultaneously. I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive. For instance, I too am constantly doing something. I almost never get a moment's rest. Celine makes me take days off from time to time because she thinks that I'm over-stimulating myself. TV? Forget it. I can barely take in a movie--my Netflix just sit there all month unwatched (by me, anyway). I'm so busy I have to do two things at once just to keep up. No wonder I feel burned out. But I still don't know what I want to do.

Maybe it's that I don't know what I want to do.

Either way, it's doing something and me not knowing. Or perhaps, as you said, it's not about doing something, but being something. Or maybe just being.

Did I tell you I built a sandbox?

Well, first a retraction--or rather, a modification--of a previous statement. I think that your point about the curse is a good one, so I wanted to better describe what I'm feeling, rather than just to accept that what I'm feeling is crap, which is neither what you meant to imply nor what I was trying to evoke. Much of the time I think that I'm seeking empathy for these feelings. I want to know that I'm not alone and that others also feel this way. Empathy is not hard to find--especially in the case of a generational malaise--but it's very difficult to sustain. Recently, however, I've come to think that seeking empathy actually only leads to disappointment and more isolation, rather than what I intended to find (the exact opposite). More important to my quest is seeking understanding of the curse.

So, I built a sandbox. I built a sandbox because I wanted a place to play and I often don't let myself do it. It's really difficult to maintain the thought that I built it in order to play in because the thought is so new. Also, I've covered over this idea (probably since I was originally playing in sandboxes) with the idea of needing to produce something. I remember even as early as high school having my friends over and telling that we had to "make something" today--even at that age, I wanted a product. It makes me kind of sick, when I look back on it. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot from doing things that way. I learned how to feed my ambition, I learned how to let an idea grow to its most complex and beautiful form, I learned how to demand of myself things that I wasn't sure that I was able to do. I also learned how to punish myself for things over which I had no control, I learned how to let ideas get out of hand, and I learned how to take what could be a fun thing and turn it into work and drudgery. I learned how not to have fun.

Don't get me wrong; I have a ton of very big ideas for this sandbox. But right now, when people ask me what I'm planning on doing with it, I tell them, "I'm planning on playing in it." My first task with all of this is learning how to play. If I can't play, then I can't have fun. If I'm not having fun, then I can't immediately validate the process of doing anything, since the process, then, has no immediate value. It's very much like Thich Nhat Han's washing-the-dishes anecdote. If my mind is only on the outcome, then I will be miserable.

There's more to this, but it will have to wait for another letter. My sandbox awaits me.