Friday, February 29, 2008

From The Washington Post: Prince Harry To Return Home After Combat

"All my wishes have come true," Harry told reporters in last week's camp interview, wearing a brown military T-shirt and camouflage pants and noting that he had not showered in four days. "It's very nice to be sort of a normal person for once; I think it's about as normal as I'm going to get," said Harry, now addressed with his rank as Cornet Wales. "

This is another legacy of the Bush - okay and Blair - years. It's very sad world, when the only opportunity a future leader has to feel normal is when he is at war.

For those of you who wonder why I even read royal family news, I used to do work for Historic Royal Palaces. And after awhile the monarchy grows on you. (Well, at least HRH Elizabeth does. She's one incredible lady.)

Oh, Silly Hilly, Sometimes Bad Press Is Not Good

Oh, Silly Hilly - can you not see that you look like a woman at last call who has had 8 beers and 13 shots? Can you not see that you are dancing on the bar naked in the hopes of getting laid? No matter how much you jiggle, wiggle and make moon eyes - no one wants you! This kind of behaviour only results in waking up alone with a sour stomach, a throbbing head, and a future of recurring nightmares.

First , it is reported that Clinton minces around the racist statements of Alelfa Callejo - an important Latina attorney, community activist and supporter who said: “{Barack Obama,} simply has a problem that he happens to be black." and "when the blacks had the numbers, they never did anything to support us...” Then, Clinton, in light of her attack on Obama and his response to Minister Farrakhan, modifies her statements. Nice commentary from Raving Black Lunatic here.

Now - rumour has it - that the Clinton campaign has made telephone hints and veiled threats that she will be suing the Texas Democratic Party over their delegate system. (In this instance, rumour is defined as “ news sources with whom I lack enough experience to trust.)

I’m not feeling very polite tonight. Please spend time with a more sane writer who eloquently says the same thing in a much more logical, articulate manner. Below are the highlights of Dan Calbrese and his thoughtful The Hillary Clinton Myth Unravels At Last.

“Yeah. People knew. It was all about her. Everything was. Her entire Senate career. Her misadventures as first lady. Her decision not to kick Bill to the curb after one tryst after another. It was all about her.
She resorts to whining, shrill outrage and the release of unflattering pictures of Barack Obama because she has nothing else. The whole Hillary mythology was empty. She’s not smart. She’s not tough. She’s not capable. She’s not even formidable enough to make it as a second-rate county politician, let alone presidential material.”

Obama's Pittsburgh Office - Real Intent Versus Good Intentions

Tomorrow I’m going to my first Obama training session. Yes, I’m the woman sitting with her son on her lap - on the dinosaur mat - at home school class. The same woman who dances in the dance class; strings beads in the number class and chants the Mandarin alphabet in Chinese class. Me - I am going to leave my son and husband at home alone for three hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Yes, I’m also the woman who can count on one hand how many dinners I’ve had alone in a restaurant with my husband. I’m the same woman who - in 4 1/2 years - hasn’t spent so much as 20 quality hours of 1-on-1 time with her husband. Let us be clear that I am counting quality time as time we are both wide awake. After the child goes to bed at the end of a long day does not count.

I am going to give Obama those three precious hours of “family” time. You heard me right. This is extra “me time” I’m getting. I’ll still get lots of the other “me-time,” after all everyone likes the results of grocery shopping.

I know I’ve made the right choice. I haven’t figured out how to break it to Winston, yet. Little Man seems to think Obama is taking up waaay to much of my emotional energy.

Everyone on the net has videos of their children chanting “Obama! Obama!” Not my little man. Two days ago, he let me listen to NPR. Then, the inevitable report about Obama.

“Obama?!? Obama?!? Uguchshhh!” I hear from the back seat, “Put on Kiss dance party.”

I comply. I’m trying my best not to make one of the few decent role models out there into his personal nemesis. Some choices Mommy makes - unlike attachment parenting, extended breast-feeding, self-weaning, co-sleeping and home schooling - will not be appreciated. Obama is one of the unappreciated choices.

And sometimes, a mother has to make choices in the best interest and for the future of their children. This is Mommy’s job. I must be denounced, reviled and abhorred or I would not be a good Mommy. It will be my job for the rest of his life to make him angry from time to time. But - I need to pick and choose my battles carefully and with great consideration.

But, I wonder. is it worth it? What if Obama doesn’t win? How will my son feel then? It will be a valuable lessons in civics, ethics and reality. But, I knew my decision was solid when I called to sign up. The woman who answered the phone gave me some details and told me where the training would be.

It seems that Barack Obama’s people have placed his Pittsburgh office in an extremely strategic location. It seems they'll be setting up headquarters in what some people are now calling "EastSide."

I had to ask her point blank. “Do you mean the gentrified, recently renamed travesty ‘Eastside’ or “East Liberty proper?” She corrected herself. It seems she has been having problems with people (White?) who don’t want to attend an event in East Liberty. Regardless, this campaign office is in the heart of East Liberty. So, I'm right proud of my candidate. He could have been a wimp and gone to Eastside.

Y'all national and international people can learn more from wonderful filmmaker, Chris Ivey’s “East Of Liberty: A Story Of Good Intentions” trailer below. Even folks from my old neighbourhood in Hackney were excited when he brought the film there. It truly demonstrates what happens when corporate interests side swipe politicians. See more about Chris Ivey here:

Thursday, February 28, 2008


At some point, every parent finds themselves wearing a big honeydew grin; shaking their head; and surprised that their laughter is literally making the windows shake. Today is one of those days. I’m sitting here chuckling and wondering where they get these crazy ideas!

My son chose for himself the ugliest piece of furniture in the known universe. It was not only hideous, it was expensive. He calls it the “pill bug chair.” But, the idea of him being in his room by himself seemed priceless. In my larger schemes, if his room transformed into a lovely, happy place, he would want to sleep there. (It worked. Sort of.) I admit, the chair has provided countless hours of fun.

I’m a feminist and I agree with many researchers that boys and girls are wired differently. That doesn’t make one type of wiring better than the other - it just makes it different. My feminist world view asserts that difference is good. Difference is something we strive to achieve in our lives because it makes us richer. Well, today was surely different.

Most of my son’s friends are girls. They are brave, strong, capable, intelligent girls. But, they don’t tackle my son to hug him. Once the tackle hug is complete, they don’t roll across the floor cuffing and shaking each other (whilst giggling.) And I never have to worry about accidental sword thwacking. (The most I have to worry about is my solid support for my son’s right to wear the occasional princess dress and that the high heeled plastic shoes won’t injure his knees and ankles - thereby eliminating the option of sports. )

Today, I had four boys between the ages of 3 and 8 in my home - alone. When I agreed to look after the children of various friends - I was basing it on my previous experience with 3 girls and 1 boy. I thought I knew how the play date would go. I would get 45 minutes to do something I would serve, clean up and monitor snack for a half hour. Then, I would have another 45 minutes to something more that wanted to do. And then maybe people would want a story and some more directed play. What a lovely break, I was going to have from the regular highly child-focused days I usually have.

No such luck. There were meltdowns. There was aggression. There was inability to negotiate without a U.N. qualified diplomat. Eventually - I made an imaginary circle on the floor for each boy. They each had to sit in the circle. I used call and response to review the rules.

“Do we listen when our friend is talking?”

“Yes!” shout the boys.

Listen to our friends? I ask.

“Listen to our friends!” They yell.

“Do we hit people on the head with the bouncy ball?”

“No!” yells the chorus.

“No ball head smacking!” I sing.

“No ball head smacking!” They sing.

“Do we kick the dog?”

“No!” Scream the boys.

“No kicking the dog!” I sing.

“No kicking the dog.” They answer.

This went on for over ten minutes. After 45 minutes of play there was a list of over 15 transgressions to address and catalogue. I have to admit, it was fun. I gave secret thanks to my ancestors for developing this highly effective means of communicating a lot of information. I’d get them going on a yes pattern and then switch it up to see if they were listening. Somebody would scream, “yes,” when I said, “do we pull the dog’s tail.” Lots of giggling would ensure. Eventually - everyone was tuned in and appeared to know the rules. They were dismissed. They remembered for fifteen minutes.

They had a great time. There were temper tantrums at pickup time. There was pouting and begging for more minutes. Even though I had to manage every moment - they clearly enjoyed themselves.

But - the whole point of today's blog was to witness one of those crazy kid moments. At one point, I actually got 15 minutes to sit down; have a glass of water; and think for five minutes. The pill bug chair gave me some desperately needed peace.

Here was this strange and alien game which most - not all boys - could come up with. One person would sit in the chair. One person would spin it. And the remaining two would smack the cover with foam swords as it spun around. Then, they’d all switch places. It was the most democratic and orderly moment of the entire play date.

"Rose is a rose is a rose..."

Gertrude Stein, an American who spent most of her life in France had it right.

I came across an interesting Op-Ed piece this morning. For a Black person, there is nothing like living outside of the USA to begin to understand your place in the world. In England, Black History month is October. But, it’s not just for Black Brits, almost every non-White person is included.

Even though I had my own challenges with colour, colourism and cliquish behaviour, I began to see myself as part of a more global community. Not just an American - but a brown person in a world largely controlled by a minority.

And I find myself agreeing with K.A. Dilday - the term African-American really excludes our friends, allies and distant family.

Excerpt Going Back To Black
by K. A. Dilday, a columnist for the online magazine Open Democracy.

It’s hard to understand why black Americans ever tried to use the term African-American to exclude people. The black American community’s social and political power derives from its inclusiveness. Everyone who identifies as black has traditionally been welcomed, no matter their skin color or date of arrival. In Britain, in contrast, dark-skinned people who trace their relatives to particular former colonies can be cliquish. Beyond the fact that blacks make up a smaller share of the population here, this regional identity may be a reason that the British black community isn’t as powerful a social and political force.

On Mr. Obama’s behalf, American blacks have set aside their exclusive label. Polls show that about 80 percent of blacks who have voted in the Democratic primaries have chosen him. And all of the black people in the mountains of Morocco, the poor suburbs of Paris, the little villages in Kenya and the streets of London are cheering Mr. Obama’s victories because they see him as one of their own.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The History At Home | Snapshot 9

Some days, I'm so busy in the trenches with Little Man, that I miss things. On the way home from the day’s activities, my son's favourite radio station was playing his little music groove . The song ended and there was abrupt this interview with some dude who had worked with Myron Cope. Yoi! I nearly pull the car over. Double Yoi! Myron Cope made his transition.

My parent's were big Steelers fans. I was a big Steeler fan. Steeler Sundays meant that my mother would forget to check on me during my mandatory 1:00 until 5:00 academic review.

“Academic review?“ mutters dear reader.

Yes, academic review meant sitting at my desk, every Sunday afternoon. I was not allowed to read books-for-pleasure, listen to music or talk on the telephone. This was the day that I triple checked my homework; reread all of my notes, and reread any and all assigned readings.

I hated Sunday afternoon. She would come poking her nose into my room to make sure I was on task. It was really hard to hide the novel I was reading or the page I was doodling or scribbling poetry...she had a keen sense of hearing. (She had keen senses period. She could name your liquor from across the 12 X 12 kitchen on a Saturday night when you were late and didn’t call.)

So, I deeply and passionate loved the Steelers and Steeler Sunday. Thanks to Myron Cope - and his obnoxious voice - I always had a five minute tip off before she came tiptoeing up the stairs to evaluate my work.

I thank my mother for teaching me what it takes to succeed. I thank my mother for training me to excel academically. I thank my mother for forcing to to practice the discipline necessary to be an artist. I thank Myron Cope for helping me teach myself how to dream.

Blessings on your transition, aurally - offensive man who had enough self-esteem to imagine he could be a media personality. See? Anything can happen if you believe enough in yourself.

See Myron for himself here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The History At Home | Snapshots 4 thru 8

I spend a lot of time talking about voting with my dollars. Thanks to Inkognegro's recent post, I thought I’d ruminate publicly about eating out.

Where we eat has a direct relationship to our politics. Yes, we are sometimes guilty of buying fast food. Sometimes, I justify it by the large numbers of brown people and disabled people I see behind the counter. Most of the time and to be crystal candid - it is just an flagrant example of my American laziness.

When were in London, I never left the house without a backpack of beverages, sandwiches, snacks - in reusable containers - and all of the other necessities for getting through the day with a small person. I dutifully carried these items on my back all day long.

When we moved back to the States, Winston was amazed that we could drive to the chip shoppe, get chips out of a window and then eat our chips while we went somewhere. He couldn’t believe how cool this was! No more searching for a picnic spot. No more dedicated meal times. Instant gratification - what child doesn’t love it?

But, when it comes to dedicated mealtimes. (Not the convenience fast food provides a family who is sometimes dashing from class to activity to playdate to class.) We try to vote with our dollars on behalf of a locally owned, preferably brown-skin friendly (or owned) establishments. These aren’t everywhere - so we find ourselves occasionally stumbling into a chain.

Awhile ago, a nursing mother had a run-in with Applebee's. The lactivist community addressed this issue. I decided to quietly boycott and write a letter. And that was that - until we were out late one evening. My son saw the Apple place which has good chips and wanted to eat there. So, I told him why we can’t do that. (Okay - we practice extended nursing. The boy just weaned himself 3 weeks ago. He’ll turn 5 in April.) Needless to say - for him - Applebee’s restaurant was the baddest of all baddies. He didn’t even nurse in public anymore, but any place which would deny num-num to a baby was evil.

A few months later, we chose t eat at a restaurant near Applebee’s. The hostess cheerfully greets Winston. “Hi cutie! Welcome to XXXX XXX.”

“Thank you,” he states. “We are eating here because the Apple restaurant is a bad place.”

Hostess looks confused.

“The Apple restaurant doesn’t think that families should eat together.”

Hostess looks more confused.

“They don’t let Mommies share num-num with babies. “

Hostess is getting nervous. I smile.

“So I hope you have good chips here.”

“We do!” The relieved hostess chirps. “Here are some crayons. Let’s find your table.”

“Thanks. Okay.”

We sit; have a lovely meal; and tip in a manner which would make my labour activist Grandmother happy. Then, we go. I leave with a warm feeling. He feels safe, supported and entitled to share his opinion. And in some small way tonight, he was able to try on being an activist.

So, how do I place this in the context of Black History month? Well, we always seemed to be the first Black folks in any residential area. In 1980, we integrated a lovely, quiet, retirement in northern Florida called Ponte Vedra and indirectly the Ponte Vedra Golf Club. Even so deep into our shared reality which involves integration cultural amnesia - it caused quite a stir. This was our first “vacation home.”

And there I was pool side at he country club; sipping chardonnay, and reading books - something my female predominantly southern Euro/Am-teen companions found fascinating. For the most part, I tried to ignore them - OMG! - they shaved their pubic hair! But, they would not be ignored. They needed me. They wanted me. Not because they bought all the silly we’re-all-human-beings-crap, but because I knew things! I used words like bohemian and avant garde. I made difference sound both exciting and manageable. I could read Vogue in French. So, I really knew how to dress; what music was truly cool and I didn’t give a damn about any of the available boys. Wasn’t I the most perfect, fantastic, first Black friend any Southern White girl could want?

I never questioned why I could order any drink in the world while my Euro-Am girls couldn’t. No, I’m not being honest. I knew why. The support staff enjoyed the show we provided anytime we were visible at the club. And some secret place in me felt vindicated.

Flash forward. I’m a young, idealist, nursing mother. Eight years later, the weird Black girl shows up with a babe in arms. The baby is fair. There is no visible husband. Just this doting Euro/Am woman - very butch at that. Baby looks more like the butch. But, I’m the one who needs to nurse the creature. She must be mine. And the way the elders are carrying on, she obviously belongs to them.

I remember the Maitre D’s name. It was Robert - that was “Mister Robert” to me. Even as a full-grown woman with a baby, he remained Mister Robert to me. Elder were matter what their station in life.

Mister Robert was pleased to meet the next generation. But, we had a sticky situation. The baby had to eat. And even though the bathrooms were lovely, he wouldn’t see me there. No, not with all those reminiscing- mammy-lovers eager to see her fair mouth on my Black breast. No, he couldn’t have that. So, he made sure I was given a space in his office. And - without even asking - plenty of water to refuel me and nibbles to make the milk good. He gave me all of this with a grand fatherly tenderness.

Maybe it is because my grandmother refused to ever let us forget that everything we touched had been touched before by someone less fortunate than us. Maybe, it was because we tipped honestly and fairly for a job well-done. Regardless, in some bizarre way, we all took care of each other.

Our family was the support staff’s daily bitch-slap - by just showing up. It makes me remember how much we’ve forgotten. How much we take for granted. This unspoken, tenuous community existed because everyone knew exactly how much it had taken for just one to get there. And all of respected each other.

Flash forward ten years. I remember looking around the club. Mister Robert had retired. There were maybe eight Black servers and support personnel. All of us looked at each other. We haven’t been members now for awhile.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The History At Home | Snapshot 3

metal scrapping brick
announced Aunt Selma.

my mother’s careful
origami face. unfolds.
paper bag long fingers

flattens offenders:
her curled apron lace,
my hair, my brother.

as if glass brick spectacles
see humans inhabiting
their unruly bodies

or shelter spaces.
as if she attended to inspect
my mother’s housekeeping

skills. she desired -
passionate, haphazard
airborne ink from a preteen

and then cocktails
I served, even falling

over my feet,
never spilt a drop.

NOTE: I wanted to pick up on a thread woven during my interview with Christiane D. Leach. I'm returning to Aunt Selma who - according to my Dad - was an articulate hell raiser. All of her online biographies make her out this dry accomplished lady who is only noteworthy for the bust on the dime

As an eager to please child, I struggled to comply to my parent wishes. I squirmed, squealed and writhed through piano practice. In spite of my strong desire to please, I could never overcome the fact that our living room - with its lovely beamed ceilings and expansive fireplace - was the home of evil. A horrible entity who lurked behind me while I was forced to practice the piano.

It was so bad, that if the living room dorrs were open, I would run frantically past the open door and up the stairs. Daily, dutifully, I cringed with curled fingers and my prickling back exposed to the hub of the Evil-Energy. I would play minuet. From the corners of my eyes, dancers from anotherera explored their complex choreography. They terrified me...these happy, satin frocked ghost dancers. Eventually, I would rather pee myself, than sit and practice the piano. Finally, my parents gave up on my musical ability.

Long after my parents gave up hope on me as a musician, they bought a small bronze statue by Aunt Selma. They placed this strong metal woman - arms covering her head, obviously buffeting an inner storm - in the perfect place. They in the haunted living room, overlooking the piano.

But, that statute improved our lives. It kept the living room ghosts at bay. I never had to run through the foyer again. I loved Aunt Selma!

But, I appreciate these memories of her more. Tonight, researching this post, I called my Dad to yell at him. (more like whine at him.) I say, “Hi Dad, I’m calling to scream at you because you never told me Aunt Selma was married to Claude McKay.”

“Well, dear, I never thought it was important,” he said.

“But, Dad, she always wanted to hear my stupid ramblings from my journal and then I had to get out of my mind and do dance classes at the Selma Burke Art Center. She was so awesome!

“Yes, she was an articulate hell-raiser. And I’m glad you had that relationship with her.......Never knew that the two of you interacted that way.”

“But, she was married to Claude MCKay!!!!!”

“So, what” says my Dad. “She loved you. You loved her. Are you defined by who you’ve loved? No! This was a woman, " he continues, “who remembered your grandmother from some uptown Harlem Renaissance party 40 years after she moved to Pittsburgh. There she was at one of your mother’s parties and there was your grandmother....

and Aunt Selma said, “Hello, hell-raiser! Didn’t we meet in up at so-an-so’s party in Harlem in 1920 something?“

and your grandmother said, “Yes! You remember me!?!”

and Aunt Selma says, “I’ve been waiting so many years to have lunch with you!”

CLICK! Here is what the snapshot says to me. Here was a woman who valued sisterhood and comraderie. A woman who remembered her allies even after never seeing them for over 40 years. A woman generous enough to nurture immature talent. These are the things I used to take for granted.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Formidable Christiane D. Leach

It's "Ya'll Should Know About This Person Sunday" during the 32 Days Of Black History. I chose to feature Christiane D. Leach. I've always thought she ought to be a super star. I spend a lot of time agonizing over the fact that she isn't a household name.

But, that's what special about her. She's an artist. She makes art. People respond to it. People are moved by it. It always provokes strangely strong reactions. And regardless of audience or lack thereof, she always gets on the stage and does her thing.

I'm proud to count her among my friends. So - I hit her up with a few question
s. Here they are.

CS - Along the way - what female artists of colour shaped your voice?

CDL - Growing up in the 70' & 80's, there wasn't a representation of female artists of color in the art institutions. Even in Art School, the history books presented two very small chapters on African and Egyptian art, while the bulk of the book focused on European art, art created by white men.

CS - Don't you know it! I guess, here is where our experiences diverge. Like you, growing up, we always had varous and sundry artists traipsing through our house.

I remember one in particular, becuase she was a sweet, kind, old lady who lavished lots of attention on me. She was also quite a character. Aunt Selma drove a whopping big Cadallac, wore industrial thick telescope lens- glasses and always scrapped her car on the side of our house coming up and going down the driveway.

Folks seemed to think she was real important. They were always pointing out that she was the artist who sculpted the picture of Roosevelt on the dime. Dime wasn’t worth a nickel to me- I was more impressed that they named a whole buidling after her and that it was a fun place to take art classes. So, I would have thought there might have been some female visual artists closer to home for you.

CDL - The majority of artists that were traipsing (I like that word) through the house were my father's peers, African American male artists. I imagine if my mother had grown up in America, there would have had been more women artists, African American women artists in our house, perhaps even if we had stayed in Paris, the aborted plan, there would have been more of a presence, but alas that did not happen.

In the black community, visual art didn't play a great role, despite the fact that my father and most of his friends were all visual artists, it
didn't garner the same importance or attention that performing did.
CS - Hmmm, do you think this has anything to do with the idea that performers can (potentially) make a living off of performing, whereas, it is less easy to do so as a visual artist unless you are inside of the Academy?
CDL - Yes, it totally does. When it comes to visual art, people want it for free, but will see no problem spending $ 60 or more for a ticket to see Aretha Franklin. America is a country that values the transformative power of the arts, but doesn't think those same artists should be paid. You should read this.
CS - So, your “voice” was shaped mostly by performers.

CDL - As a child, many of the women who shaped my voice were actresses and singers, such as Cicely Tyson, Chaka Khan, Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, Louise Sorel (Kristy Love), Oum Kalthoum, Flora Purim, Iman, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni and Sarah Vaughan.
CS - The usual list available to young women. Perhaps not Josephine Baker - at least not in my household!

CDL - Then, there was Grace Jones, who I watched on German television crawling half naked across the stage like a beautiful panther. I was twelve. I knew I would never see anything like that on American television. And various Kung Fu movies.
CS - Like Tamara Dobsen as Cleopatra Jones?

CDL - No, actually the Chinese actresses of that time, especially the one who made Jackie Chan’s character swallow a hot coal after she had beaten his ass.

I think this is why music is so integral to my creative process as a "vocalist" and a visual artist. I had to pull my influences from the words and sounds that swirled in our home (Coltrane and Celia Cruz) and emanated from the street.

As I grew older there are several things that helped expand my world. That would be the library, my travels to Europe, Interview magazine, CMU Saturday art classes, college, my friendships with African-American male artists, but most importantly, my membership with 'Women of Vision'. In other words, I had to first seek it out first, to find and know that there were other woman of color who were visual artists, and writers; multi-disciplinary, such as myself.

Still the resources were limited and the documentation atrociously and practically non-existent, until the multi-cultural movement. Since then, I've become excited by artists, such as: Allison and Lezlie Saar, Zora Neale Thurston, Kara Walker, Cibo Matta, Bell Hooks, Dr. Maya Angelou, Honey in the Rock, Faith Ringold, Kali, Dr. Velina Hasu Houston, Sonia Sanchez, Frida Kahlo, Laura Esquivel, Joi (the poet & the singer), Cassandra Wilson, Queen Latifah, Sade, Julie Dash, Christina Hoyos, Zap Mamma, Yoko Ono, Nina Simone.
CS - Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is a conversation with our readers or our viewers or our listeners.
CDL - Yes, more local influences in Mary Martin, Carolina Loyola Garcia, Pamela Jennings, Vema, The Lioness, Nami Ogawa, Maritza Mosquera, Vanessa German, Tina Brewer, you.
CS - Thanks. So you are one of the most creative, brilliant women I know.
You refuse to be "boxed up" as an artist or human being. You do the
work that the muse demands regardless of the market's demands. Can
you share some insight about this? And even more specifically - where
did you learn to boldly spit in the face of those tidy classifications and
constricting specializations that our society often demands of people?

CDL - First, thank you for saying that I am brilliant, which I appreciate since so many responses to my work is based on the observer's own fear. When I look in the mirror I don't see a scary, intimidating, angry, voodoo person/artist; I see intensity, passion, power. So, thank you, for a different observation.

CS - It just always surprises me that this is the reaction so many people have to your work. I’m always inspired and uplifted, but, I notice other folks often feel threatened. Maybe it’s the way you don’t apologize for ripping boxes apart even though you know full well that the present inside isn’t as pretty as they’d hoped. And you never seem ready to jump inside a box.
CDL - I don't know what makes me not accept being "boxed up", maybe it's because I'm a triple Aries, or that I grew up in the 70's, but it's is more likely my childhood shaped by my parents.

Being the off spring of an inter-racial love affair, being the child of a German 'immigrant', difficult things, especially for that time. Some of my first important decisions involved identity and choices and when my parents both said "I had the best of both worlds", I believed them and decided, unlike many of my bi-racial friends, not to choose sides. It empowered me with a "You can't tell me who I am, I know who I am, why don't you figure out who the fuck you are and leave me at peace" attitude. It was an equal opportunity attitude, meaning it wasn't just expressed to the usual oppressor (white people), but expressed to anyone who tried to oppress me with their ignorance and fear.

I worked hard on myself, I countered my own ignorance with knowledge and fear with tests, like laying on train tracks and calmly getting up when the train arrived.
CS - Do you think we ought to insert a disclaimer here?
CDL - (WARNING: Don't try to do this, it was my test, come up with your own.)
CS - Good enough.
CDL - My father prepared me for battle. For example, I learned early on that I would be called a 'nigger' and that the meaning did not apply to me, but was example of the perpetrators own ignorance.
But my mother is the one who gave me the freedom she never had, to express myself, to do what I needed to do, to come to peace of mind. I just remembered the other day, how I would take long walks, starting at 10 am and ending at midnight, mind you, on school nights in high school. She never once gave me any stress about it. She'd like for me to come home earlier, but it's what I needed to do, otherwise, I was going to implode/explode with anger.
For her, taking walks to clear one's mind, was a very European thing to do. I think she also knew I could avoid trouble, but, if push came to shove, I could defend myself. I fought a lot during my childhood and most of the fights involved identity and race. I may have been a child, but I was a tough child, I had the tools and wasn't held back or afraid to use them.

The other thing that was truly valued was 'truth', and it took precedent over authority and position. You didn't just get respect, you had to earn it and prove it. We're all "ashes to ashes" in the end, which leads to the other great influencer. Death. Once you work through all the other fears, the last great one that is left, is to cease to exist. It's liberating to make an understanding or peace with; it's truly the only thing you have to lose...take my car, my job, respect, my man, whatever, long as I am still alive I will rise.
CS - Here we are at that deep place. But, I want to get to your creative work. For a long time, I've felt Pittsburgh has a "sound." In the same way Seattle in the 90's had a "sound." I've always named Pittsburgh's sound as "twisty-ethno-classi-funk-a-pop." Bands such as Squonk Opera and Rusted Root have been focused on exporting their brand of "twisty-ethno-classi-funk-a-pop." Soma Mestizo has also, can you speak to the quiet and innovative ways you've been exporting this sound?

CDL - Too many times, it is assumed that because you are still locally based that you haven't done anything, which I think is a gross mistake to make of any Pittsburgh band. With technology, one can connect with anyone and create and send tracks via the web. So, we quietly do these projects, many times for free, to connect with our people outside of Pittsburgh, across the world.

Our first 'exportation' per say, began with a musical partnership that Herman (Soy Sos) and I had with DJ MKL of 3 Generations Walking. It was a way to connect the two projects and build promotion for both projects. It involved remixes of Silversuit and Sunshine, which were then exported to the dance scenes in London, Italy, & Japan (got the royalty check to prove it, hell yeah). This opened up opportunities for festival invites, which unfortunately fell through due to lack of funding.
Our next projects began with a midnight call from Kakonda Dub from Indigenous Records. Through Element Five(Ashwin Tumne, WYEP radio DJ for the Afterhours show) and LAL(great band out of Toronto) we had a mutual friend, Prasad Bidaye who had turned Kakonda onto our website, our sound.

Kakonda explained the righteous path of his record label, Indigenous Resistance Record, wherein they create music about Indigenous reality and rights and freely distribute to the world. We like righteous. He said he had a song written by himself and Greenlandic theatre performer and poet Jessie Kleeman (okay, so right about now, I'm in heaven) a song which is "Lyrically a meeting of indigenous mythology and radical street politics." This song, Eagle Screaming: Red Sky Alight, featured Chuck D, Adrian Sherwood and Asian Dub Foundation. Listen here. He said that it was agreed by the group, that my voice fit the words and would I be willing to do this project. Tying all things together as I do, I said yes, as long as I can record with my musical partner and have him rock out the dub on the vocals. Consequently, Kakonda loved what Soy Sos had done, that he asked him to rock his own remix of the song, which is featured on our INTERIM II record. (Please vote with your dollars here - Interim II and/or
Indigenous Resistance.)

The next project Kakonda brought us hailed from Oceania and involved traditional lyrics and sounds of tattooing, which Soy Sos turned into a dub masterpiece. This time the elders of Oceania, decided that my vocals fit the track and Kakonda sent me the words, which I reshaped into a song. "Enter into the sacred world of sosolakam. Soy Sos used the traditonal instruments of solomon islands played by saevo and tohununo to create an atmospheric dub track."

Each of these projects have given us a sense of who are fans are and many times, they aren't American. What we are doing musically, expands beyond the usual American musical palate, which seems consumed with infinite love + broken hearted songs, oversexed, video honies, money and thuggery-in other words, they don't quite get it. Doesn't seem to be much awareness of the rest of the world. Based on the songs that get radio play, you'd never know we were in a fucked up WAR; we are just partying the world away.

See, here, in the US of A, the opportunities for people of color to make music that isn't R & B, hip hop and rap and so called, "make it" are non-existent. We are making rock music, punk rock music, industrial music, etc...but you'd never know it to feel it. Of course, this is where sites such as Myspace for example, open up the world of music; free us from the mundane.

I can't even tell you how many times people ask me, before I step on stage if I sound like Beyonce or insert pop icon of color. I'm like, "Oh, no, honey, I don't live in boxes and I'm pretty sure you aren't going to like what I'm doing. You need to be brave to catch what the fuck I'm doing." They usually stay, because no one wants to think of themselves as narrow minded (apologies for the manipulation, LOL) and they end up liking what we do, but not knowing why. My nickname, in these cases is OTC (Off The Chain).
See, if you step outside of those carefully constructed categories that the industry perpetuates, which tends to be my habit, you have to be prepared to fight the boxing in and the marginalization. Once again, fighting for the right to an identity that is created, not shoved down one's throat.
CS - I’m on that page. I admire the way you’ve been true to your vision and voice. It’s easy to get sucked into what you perceive the market wants. Ultimately, we all want to eat.
CDL - To be honest, I did get sucked in at some point, especially when it came to performance poetry. I found my voice twisting into angry rants about the black and white community, about being bi-racial, etc…”identity art”. Which a lot of people responded to, but grew to sour on the taste of that. I mean, when I performed for a black audience you had to prove you were down, a real ghetto trooper; prove your blackness. When I performed for a white audience, I felt like a god damn ghetto newscaster, for an audience who only wanted to hear about the black community through poetry. When I started to move towards solutions oriented work, more surreal, the appeal of my poetry, voice, fell on deaf ears. Which is why I don’t do much performance poetry today. Besides, something had to go. LOL
But - I get the feeling you ask yourself, how much do I need and how often do I need it? Given that, what do you consider to be your most meaningful projects?

CDL - I have to say Sun Crumbs, our short lived trans-cultural, multi disciplinary arts non-profit that offered such programs as the Busta-Myth series (The Real McCoy, No dogs, no Blacks, no Irish; Miscegenasian) and the various exhibitions I curated (Womb Journeys, Does Art make people Kill, Beauty of the Male nude). I think we really had a way of pulling in a diverse audience to discuss issues that tend to remain hidden.

CS - Five years and over 50 programs a year isn’t that short. We did more in five years than some organizations get around to in 15. And on less than a dime! Not only did it take both of us away from our own individual artwork, it didn’t put any food on the table either. You’ve been pretty prolific since then.

CDL - My one woman show, Rodeo Ego, which exhibited a decades worth of my surrealist paintings. I couldn't wait for someone to ask, so I just did it myself, because at the time, people only thought of me as an arts administrator.

My long running musical project, Soma Mestizo and our various releases, especially those recordings with Indigenous Resistance records. This has to be the one project where I feel the most free and supported. Soy Sos is my true musical muse. He’s just as risk taking and weird as I am.

Despite the hell it wrought, the production of my play, Saffronia; the miniM music festivals, The POWER exhibit, which I curated with women artists in Pittsburgh and last, but not least and the most recent, my installation at the Mattress Factory.
CS - You almost got away with glossing over your current piece at The Mattress Factory in the exhibition “Gestures: Illustrations of Catastrophe and Remote Times. ” According to the curator, Heather Pesanti, you and seventeen other artists are responding to “a page from a larger collaborative essay, ‘The Domain of the Great Bear,’ written by the artists Robert Smithson and (Pittsburgh-native) Mel Bochner in 1966, describing an apocalyptic landscape in poetic and dramatic prose.’”

Your piece “Executives of Distinction, ASAVAVS reigns here,” has an ambitious statement... which it lives up to. The catalog says the installation is “conceptually based on the notion of an executive boardroom, Leach’s multi-media sculptural installation is aptly sited in the building’s cavernous, unfinished basement. Through its use of organic materials, symbolic Native American and animal forms, and ambient music, the work comments on the toxic effects of unchecked progress on the environment and embodies a poetic interpretation of, in the artist’s words, how we humans are “draining the world dry with our desires.” It’s running until May 11th. So after now what are you working on now?
CDL - I have a few things marinating in my mind, loose ends to tie. But the two most pressing would be the release of the Soma Mestizo single on Strobotic Recording label and the release of my songs on the Lion1 label.

There are a few plays running around in my mind and some canvases that need painting, and a duo exhibit with my co-worker, Ryan Freytag called "codex", but no real 'productions' on the horizon.

My focus presently, will be on more solitary endeavors, with the exception of Soma Mestizo, than collaborative/group productions. While I enjoy the art of producing, I am more interested in making work, where I can have more control on the presentation and outcome.
CS - Can't wait to see.

Johnnie Carr - Into The Ancestor's Arms

On Friday, Johnnie Carr, civil rights activist and friend of Rosa Parks made her transition. After MLK Jr. stepped down, Carr was the president of the Montgomery Improvement Society until her death.

During her lifetime she was one of those people I’ve been trying to take snapshots of lately. Someone so committed that no video game, movie or sale at Macy’s would keep her from the streets if a demonstration for justice was happening or an important legislative initiative was being planned.

I’m going to miss these tireless folks...even if I never knew some of them. And I think I’m learning, that I’ve got to get out there more. (And serve prefab food more often.)

Enjoy your time with your friends, commrades and ancestors, dear elder.

Darwin, Science & Slavery

(Straying off topic here. But, this has something to do with Black history...maybe.)

My son refers to himself as a scientist. We’ve been doing a lot of "science" lately. Our most recent experiment was figuring out whether the heart shaped Hershey’s kisses have more chocolate that the regular ones. (They do. )

I got a lot of funny looks from the husband this morning while Winston and I were doing some science work. (Actually - I was talking about Darwin because the boy chose to eavesdrop on my surfing.) Even though I repeat myself often, this is obviously the first time the husband has heard this lecture.

Prefacing a Darwin explanation, I say, “ Now, remember, scientists are just people who make up stories about how our world works. Then they test these ideas. They make a lot of mistakes until it seems like they can make everybody else believe their idea is right. Then, they tell everyone that their idea is right and why. Then, everyone agrees that this story is part of our consensual reality...until someone proves the original scientist wrong.” My son has it down the fact that Darwin says great grandma was a monkey doesn’t make my 4 year old nervous. After all, Darwin was just a scientist - a person who things up.

Recently, on an email list for Black homeschoolers, a post came through which linked to a video about Darwin. This video portrays Darwin as pro-slavery and the originator racism and the inspiration for nazism. I shall not embed this here.

Recently, I had an opportunity to read about Darwin’s position on slavery, in his own words:

“Those who look tenderly at the slave-owner and with cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; - what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children - those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own - being torn from you and sold like beast to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth!”

I don’t know which is more dangerous - sending children to school to be miseducated or keeping children at home to be miseducated (albeit with a positive afro-centric focus.) Here we are again at the lesser of two evils.

Maybe I’m just strange. I have my child at home because I want him to question everything, including Darwin’s theory of evolution. Over time, I want him to learn to go to the original source; analyse it's content and impact; think critically; compare and contrast the source from spin offs; and use the context of a person's life, cultural and historical context as a measure.

It important to examine people within the context of of their time period. So many historical figures are not the heroes we'd like to believe they are. So many people make the mistake of teaching history as a list of heroes and villains. The heroes brought some small value or lasting relevant change. The villains opposed what we currently think is appropriate thought or behaviour. But - history is the true stories of people - not a fairy tale where good and evil are clear cut and easily recognised. This is why it is important for our children to learn the truth and also to think critically enough to salvage the good from the bad.

Then again, we’re all just monkeys. And I like to dance.

Ain’t it funny Bush has more dance videos than Obama?

Bush dances in Liberia

Obama dances on Ellen Degeneres

Bush dances in Africa and plays drums

Obama goes to Africa and the first thing he does is make a powerful statement ....

Bush does the sword dance in Bahrain

People make video parodies about a man who knows better than to make a fool out of himself in public.

And there are people out there who don't think a change is all that important. Who are you voting for?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The History At Home | Snapshot 3

It’s supposed to be music night here during the 32 Days Of Black History sponsored by Deesha and Yvette. My daughter is having a hard time right now. I’m still sick. And any music I’m playing is to challenge her get-up-and-go.

But, I keep returning to these snap shots.

I think of:

Dad and Byrd arguing
the vocal purity of Billie versus Bessie;
whether the Steelers have it for the Super bowl;

the importance of making it across
the bridge to protest Kaufmann’s
or bringing it home from the courts.

Field explaining his moniker.
Where those crazy Euro-lines cross

and blur. Byrd was a badass m*tha f*ck* -
the physical embodiment of the precarious
skulk between house and field.

Kunte hiding beneath Ben’s face
the original Jack to any Jill,
bourgeoisie and proud

whilst down, dirty and defiant.
he was trying to subtly, sweetly
smack me upside the head -

with my over zealous video camera;
team of rabid documentarians;
and exuberant amateur historians -

some things are best learned at a kitchen table
with a properly mixed drink in the appropriate container
served by one’s junior officers.

NOTE: A few years back I had a conversation with a friend who was conflicted about expatriating to South Africa. They needed our bright, Black minds. He and his fiancé had bright, Black minds. (Shoot - husband and I even gave South Africa a second glance.) But - my friend went and was horrified by his former “friends” who had moved themselves into the place of the Afrikaners. They were buying up tribal lands; residing in elaborate and secure compounds; had a household staff of 6 or more; swung around in Benz’s or Porches’s. They became what they hated here.

I tried and tried to plead with him that he could make a difference. That just because it was available didn’t mean he had to use it like others around him. He looked at me like I as from outer space. I couldn't begin to understand why.

These were ideas I took this as a given. I grew up believing that Black people worked hard; achieved success; enjoyed it modestly; and accepted sacrifice as a means towards achieving a larger goal. Our family’s purpose in life was to reach out a hand behind us. My assumptions about what it meant to be Black.... and of means.... rocked his world view.

He didn’t go. He couldn’t reconcile what I was saying with reality. He was a rap meets hip-hop generation kid. Suddenly, I understood the danger of the genre. None of these children grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where they could drop by the Judge’s house and Miss Billie would give them a sweet. This was how it was...SugarHill became Daeth Row....then the Judge, Miss Billie and Byrd both left.....because they died.

What would the world be like if we’d been like them?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Because I can't help mentioning Obama

Because my daughter is wonderful and brilliant, I have to pass along this gem she shared with me. I Married a Republican: There, I Said It is a wonderfully written piece about bi-partisan marriage. Some bloggers I've been visiting lately have been discussing Obama's impact. This morning, Ink made me fall over laughing with 99 Reasons. The far right has discovered Field. Raving Black Lunatic has been talking about Mrs Lunatic and the fact that she has drunk on O-Aid which turns out to be an "O'phrodesiac." Maybe this article will show them, in some households things could be worse. And maybe The O Man really is all that!

Please enjoy this excerpt, but the whole article is worth five minutes of your time.

What can I say? Love can sidetrack a person. Still, it did not feel good when I told myself: I love a Republican. It felt, in fact, like I had betrayed someone. Or many people.

Slowly, my close friends and family met Lorne. And slowly, one by one, they took me aside. “Ann,” they would hiss, “he’s a Republican.”

“But he’s pro-choice,” I would say, hanging on to the one political stance he and I actually shared.

“But he’s a Republican,” they would say.

Now back to our regularly schedule 32 Days Of Black History programming.

The History At Home | Snapshots 1 & 2

Snapshots: Over the next few days, I aim to take some snapshots from the house in which I grew up. I want to remember some of the people who walked through my personal Black History book.


will not let me videotape him
in a golf shirt. mischief punches
through his wide irises. i wait for
the immaculately tailored
navy blue wool blazer. enough to strain
a heavyweight champion. if he loses
another pound he will wink

out of existence. privacy.
image. decorum is
precious. Faberge egg,
he is, an antique hidden
in a private collection. history.
no one dares to talk
about in polite company.

as if the FBI still waits for one slip
up to jail a seventy-five year old man.
as if white robes still ache to use
him like a christmas ornament.
as if these stories - quiet under his skin
these aneurysms of right action -

could burst the work
of a lifetime. memories
his youth like black dots
in newsprint. everyone was
organised. nothing wasted. nothing
disposable. not even human lives.

organising marches. orderly, solemn,
slick and grand affairs. “Miz Bud's Black Flower
Arranging Committee made corsages
for the marshals. Agnes BonTemps cooked
chicken. all those pretty brown-skin
church girls served the front guard.” distractions
for police. "Militants." he laughs.
shouts, "See? We got everyone involved!"

he drags a quivering finger across a neck
brittle as old newspaper. witness his
impetuous calculation. frail
thin throat. won't speak
until I stop rolling tape.
"You have to remember, militants

spend too much time thinking
about blowing stuff up." he leans
into confidence, "So, we had them
do that on the other
side of town. kept the police
occupied so the marchers could get
through.” his whisper,
a melancholy vault opens,
“What we forgot to tell you,
young people, when it comes
to justice, everyone is a tool."

Just The Facts - Even Here

hovering wife
one bed.
a chair.
old lawyers.
same age.

at young scholars.
how they analyse
photograph albums,
frayed clippings;
spend paper
on theories

about young men
rebelling in suits,
hats, tight shoes,
and ties at a March

On Washington. How
they’ll never feel
that able voice
silence the full
parched throat and
complaining blistered feet.

old lawyers
groan about 14 year old
girls racing through
their homes. cacophony
that music! the phone!
the beeping computer!
says the one in bed.
the wife glances towards them,
smiles. chats with the nurse.
You will survive this, counsellor.
is the reply from the chair.
One day, the noise will visit and go home.
He would know. His granddaughter
is the same age as the other's daughter.

In a room relieved
of nurse and wife,
the arduous duty of good
cheer is no longer required.
Two lawyers silently
review the case at hand.
Yes, Counsellor?
I want you to be my pall bearer.
Damned right I ‘m going to be.

And then, they rest.

The above poems are about a Pittsburgh civil rights icon, Byrd Brown. He was the son of Homer S. Brown and Wilheminia “Billie” Brown. Homer Brown is often referred to as “the father of firsts” - most notably the first African-American to be Allegheny County Judge. In spite of or because of this, Byrd found a way to both follow in his father’s footsteps and make his own life.

Byrd’s parents Homer S. Brown and Wilheminia “Billie” Brown welcomed my father to Pittsburgh. The same age, both young attorneys had very different personalities. Whereas Byrd was a dashing, flamboyant dresser, my father was quiet and conservative. Byrd enjoyed the bachelor’s life, my father was ready to settle down. And still, they became great friends and comrades.

I remember their honesty with each other, subtle jibes and a kinship only opposites can enjoy. They always referred to each other as “counsellor.” To me this symbolised the incredible depth of their relationship as peers, comrades, professionals and friends.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The History At Home | The End Of An Era

This has been an awesome month. I’m so grateful for Deesha and Yvette starting this blogathon, 32 Days Of Black History. In many more ways than I’’ll ever get to share here, it has been transformative.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice I’ve taken the past few days off. Not because I’ve been sick, but because I’ve had to pause for a moment and grieve. This blogathon began a few days after my Aunt Barbara passed away. In true Springer style, I noticed it, acknowledged it and kept moving forward. In true Christina style - I eventually got to the point where I had to feel it. I didn’t get around to that until Sunday - almost 20 days later.

Dirty laundry aside...(like the fact my mother hasn’t directly informed me of a death since I was fifth grade; never tells me when people’s funerals are; or has specifically asked me not to attend the funerals of people about whom I care deeply - like my grandmother) ... I’m not surprised that I didn’t get around to the feeling part until Sunday. For almost 30 years, I’ve been in the habit of arriving late to grief.

Our family lives a very closed life. From a very early age, I was trained to report only the good information. Bad information - death, illness, any negative emotion or happenstance - was to be lightly brushed over. Look at any tabloid, people revel in the misery of those people they perceive to be hoi-paloi. This never made any sense to me.

Compared to my White counterparts, we were average at best. We had nothing to covet. We had a decent, modest life. For this we were grateful. There was nothing spectacularly distinctive about us. Our house was most likely the smallest one out of all of the other girls in school. But, it was warm and full of interesting people.

It wasn’t until college that I began to understand how warped my perceptions were by attending a small, prestigious girls school at the dawn of integration. And it has only been since the beginning of this blogathon and the privilege meme that I began to understand how much I’ve missed by focusing on external impacts on the construction of my reality, rather than the actual internal reality.

The wake brought clarity I didn’t understand I needed. It also made me sad. Sad that I hadn’t realised how incredible my life has been. Sad that a strange and accomplished group of people that I took for granted is getting old. Sad that I lived inside of a Black history textbook which I hadn’t really bothered to study.

Barbara Gandy Hale wasn’t really my aunt. She was my mother’s closest friend. Best friend doesn’t really describe their relationship. Aunt Barbara was the one human being - other than my father - with whom my mother could be her real self. She was the one other human being on this planet who knew that my mother has moments of concern, confusion or is unable to fix something through sheer force of will or otherwise.

Years ago, I wrote a poem, The Mothers. I’ve been referring to it so frequently, I’m simply posting it below. After Sunday’s retrospective, I notice that the poem has a kind of self-pitying tone. And it’s that kind of wake up for which I’m grateful today. It’s the kind of wake-up, Aunt Barbara was so good at softly chiming.

Barbara Gandy Hale was not a maverick or a ground-breaker or a so-called person of note. This is exactly what makes her so noteworthy. Barbara Hale was fun. She was non-judgemental. She was strong and resilient. She was focused on the mechanics of creating community. She was the comfort which gave the soldiers strength.

In the words of her eldest daughter, “I learned three things from my mother, “How to set a formal table. How to pack a suitcase. And how to wrap a gift.” This is a profound statement.

Those three important lessons don’t sound like a whole lot. But given what we expect from Black women - I think there is a whole lot to be learned here. It is these precise qualities that made Aunt Barbara the person to whom I could go when I wanted an ear...not a solution, plan or course of action. Aunt Barbara was the person to whom I could go when I just wanted to be. She never validated the pity party. And she always stayed just long enough for it to get old and then politely left.

At the wake, an inordinate amount of time was spent on the persona of “good time Barbara.” I felt vaguely uncomfortable until I began to think about it. There is a value to having a good time. We can’t spend every hour of our lives fighting the man; getting beaten down by billy clubs; preventing riots; climbing to the next rung of our professional careers and preparing legal briefs, drafts of legislation or congressional testimonies which will change the world. Could they have done it without the respite someone like Barbara Hale organised and made happen?

No. The front-line workers went and changed the world. But, they came home to a gracious, warm, bountiful welcome. Somebody had to plan the event where they could privately and comfortably blow off. There was somebody who recognised their sacrifice with a celebration. There was somebody who gave them the gift of their attention, time, nourishment and properly served beverage.

Today people come home to tv, the internet, video games or all three simultaneously. We connect - sort of - by email, instant messages and answering machine messages. We sign internet petitions. We write checks. On the weekends, maybe we spend some real time with friends and like-minded activists...maybe not. We certainly don’t have our houses filled with like-minded people who are planning the next sit-in, demonstration or canvassing initiative. And there certainly isn’t someone who makes sure the meatballs are hot and the martinis are stirred.

Her death was the end of an era. It symbolises how much we have forgotten the importance of the real peacemakers. You know, the person with the Sangria recipe strong enough to make the “change-the-law-people” and the “march-in-the-streets-people” laugh, embrace and seek a compromise. The person whose good time was a healing salve for the inevitable burnout that singes any long-time activist.

We all need someone to help us relax, unwind and enjoy the benefits of being human. And in some small way, I like to believe that my own choices - to be home with my children; to throw lovely parties; to work as compelled and shirk as required - means this era of forgiveness, graciousness and tangible relief for thinkers, radicals and artists is still alive. I get my insatiable need to rabble rouse from my mother. But, the core manifestation of who I am now, I just realised came from her.

The History At Home | 17. The Mothers

I. Great Great Grandmother Luisa

Dona Luisa's legs stretched to the tops of mountains.
I heard she could stopper volcanoes. One finger damming
the surging flame, she arranged landscapes to her own liking.
Moved mountains into a personal staircase to the universe
like most women fuss over flower arrangements.

Around her waist, Dona Luisa wore a paper cut sharp machete.
She used it to cut off a man's leg once when she descended
from her mountaintop. Eighty crystal petticoats leapt and flashed
flares of rainbows during her swirling warrior dance.

When Dona Luisa flew to the U.S. from Panama, it took an Act Of Congress.
In the bedroom of my great grandmother's Brooklyn brownstone
Dona Luisa sits straight backed and muted by Spanish
in this new world. Proud and dignified at 95,
she smiles at me with blind eyes.

II. Great Grandmother Carrington

Madame Adina grew the only known replica of Eden.
I heard it went on for acres (immense & defiant fertility,
sonic explosions of life eternally flowering and fruiting )
amidst the chaos, ruin, garbage and concrete of modern Brooklyn.

Madame Adina sang seeds to sprout cradled in her brown sugar palms.
Hummed window pane clear notes around the hearth fire,
while she transformed the abundance at her back door
into the ambrosia of revolution. Fed Ghana and Tanzania
their first freedom songs and sent them home to root.

Endless diets of broiled grapefruit.
When she brought her garden to Pittsburgh
& established a command center in my mother's kitchen,
coconut drop biscuits, succulent tamarind sauces and mango
fantasies dripped from my chin.

III. Grandmother Maida

Sister Maida danced on time zones like a tight rope walker.
I heard she could walk through thin air. Had penetrated
the deepest jungles of Africa, America and India
with the whisper of magic words she alone created
& armed only with the ever-changing moon in her hands.

Sister Maida's thin smooth silver arrows
lodged in the heart of monsters so potently insidious
they could only be called in the low vernacular,
capitalists. Even pierced by her thin gray shafts
they labored on. & three times around the world she spun
as new countries sprang up like flowers in her footprints.

Basking in a warm elegance of color,
the rich tones of equality,
solidarity makes me live her words.

IV. Mother

emerged full grown from her father's head laughing,

her helmet fashionably cocked to one side and armed
with gray calculations designed to unsettle the world.

She forced continents together like siblings. Relaxed
in the ocean of her own generosity. The battleground

of her desk always sticky with the gore
of peace treaties between resource and poverty.

Soft talk, glitter, tinkling, rustles in the morning,
sacrifices of broiled grapefruit to the immortal five
pounds and being told to clean my room.


This is what I remember.
Never being able

to rip the woman from the goddess,
and here I stand. A woman

clothed only in vocabulary.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The History At Home | 16. Fantastic Females

I’ve had a bit more time to read lately. It’s one of the benefits of enforced rest. (Although, it makes me wonder why I always have to get sick in order to slow down. ) I’ve always loved fantasy. Even as I grew more conscious of my identity, I still found myself returning to this genre in spite of our lack of representation. In her book, Touch Magic, Jane Yolen helped me with this quote,
“Stories lean on stories, art on art. Stories lean on stories, cultures on cultures. Thus, for example, in the adaptable Spiderman who helps the poor, the vulnerable, and the helpless we see Prometheus and Robin Hood, though his abilities also echo the African Anansi The Spider. In the rage and strength of The Incredible Hulk we see Atlas and Hercules. Sly, vain, heroic Fonzie is both Loki and Achilles crossed with Lancelot du Lac. The Bionic Woman springs directly from Diana The Huntress and the Amazons, propelled by the electronic revolution and feminist rage. This is mythic archaeology, probing now for then, splitting the present to find the past.”

Then, I came across the article “The Intercultural Sojourn As The Hero’s Journey” by William B. Hart. For many African-Americans, our experience has been to learn to navigate two cultures. The Hero's Journey, in which the the seeker becomes the master of two worlds reflects our own life process.

Unfortunately, some of my favourite fantasy authors are also cultural pilferers. Neil Gaiman with his Anansi Boys and Charles De Lint with his “first people” like Raven, Jack Daw and The Crow Girls are telling some original and provacetive stories. They do their research. They handle the subject matter respectfully. They have great big wonderful imaginations and appear to have a genuine desire to include all of the human race in the worlds they create. I appreciate that, considering that most fantasy has alabaster elves and porcelian princesses. I’m not complaining too loudly. But, facts is facts and the fact remains that they appropriate our culture, myths and faiths.

It seems as if the publishing world believes that one African-American woman science fiction / fantasy writer every ten to twenty years is plenty. First came Hugo and Nebula award winning Octavia Butler. Some of my favourites include: Patternmaster Series, (Wildseed, Mind Of My Mind, Clay's Ark.) Kindred , and the terrifying Xenogenesis trilogy (Lilith's Brood .)

Probably because it resonates for so many others, this quote is everywhere. "I'm a 48-year-old writer who can remember being a 10-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an 80-year-old writer. I'm also comfortably asocial -- a hermit in the middle of Los Angeles -- a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.” Sounds familiar.

Like Adrienne Kennedy, Butler was a Black woman who dared to work outside of the genres usually assigned to Black writers. Whereas Kennedy is surreal, Butler is frightening realistic. When she became the first writer of science fiction to receive a MacArthur Genus grant, I thought surely things would change. I thought surely the publishing houses would be hunting for authors to keep her company on the shelves of bookstores. Surely, now everyone can why creative genius is often a by-product of the Black female experience.

So, we got one. Nalo Hopkinson. For some reason, I read her second novel, Midnight Robber, first. I was thrilled. I had never experienced anything like it before. All of her characters were Black; they lived on the planet Toussaint; their culture was distinctly Caribbean and is was exquisitely written. The moment I finished the book, I determined to vote with my dollars. I left my house immediately to purchase Brown Girl In the Ring - her debut novel.

I still vote with my dollars for Nalo, and have not been disappointed. Sometimes she doesn’t tell me the tale I want to hear. But, she’s out there weaving our mythology, our history, and our present to our future. And I think the sister needs to get as much attention (checks in the mail and film offers) as she can. She has a keen mind and is unafraid to use it publicly. See this interview.

And I have to say I respect the fact that she works hard to make sure that the world knows that she, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes aren’t the only Black Sci-Fi / fantasy writers out there right now. She could just write her own work and be satisfied with that. To date, she has edited or co-edited three anthologies: Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, Mojo: Conjure Stories, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of both these women, meet Nnendi Okorafor-Mbachu, the author of Zahrah The Windseeker. I have to say I prefer the cover of the first publication.) This is one of those books which feeds my inner 9 to 13 year old child. This debut novel set in an African-inspired world. It address being different, learning self-acceptance and challenging the status quo. It encourages young women to probe beneath the surface and find their own solutions.

Dadalocks are like dreadlocks only they have vines growing in them. Most people in the Ooni Kingdom think people with dadalocks are troublesome rebels or witches. A small minority of people believe that they are destined to be wise. Zahrah was born with the dadalocks. She does her best to be quiet, cooperative, and keep her head down so she won’t get teased by the other children.

Her only friend Dari, is popular, witty, independent thinker. After her first menses, Zahrah discovers that she can float. Enthusisatic about this new ability, Dari insists that they venture into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle to practice. Whilst there, Dari is bitten by a war snae and slips into a coma. The only known cure is to be found deep within the jungle, and off Zahrah goes.

It is am impressive debut. At the same time, I found the writing to be a little forced or predicatble. I read along and say, Ah, here she is crossing the first threshhold. Oh, the next chapter will be the supreme ordeal. None of these are reasons not to read this young adult novel or share it with a pre-teen. Now, I'm off to find her second book The Shadow Seeker.

It is time for these women to be more widely recognized.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Writing Advice Meme | I got tagged!

Tami tagged Deesha for a Writing Advice Meme. So - I did some sifting through my notes from classes I used to teach and here we go. (We're only supposed to give 3 bits of advice - but - I stumbled across a half term review....

Ideas to hold onto about being a writer:
1. Writing is a lot of hard work. It is a discipline which must be practised daily. Even if you are not writing daily, there are many other skills to practice. These include: listening, observing and noticing emotion. All of these skills can be incorporated into written material later.
2. Becoming a writer involves training yourself to shift your way of being from unconscious (or passive) to conscious (or active.) It is critical to train yourself to be aware of the world around you and then commit to document or recall it clearly. A writer is a person who is present in their body, who lives with an awareness of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures around them.
3. Another change from passive to active involves learning to approach the work of other writers differently. Becoming a writer involves being less passive when we consume the work of other writers and becoming active by reading critically.
4. A writer uses their imagination to transform seemingly meaningless things, people or actions into meaningful ideas and stories.
5. A writer is a person who has ideas they need to communicate to others.
6. Writers must develop the discipline to put on a piece of paper exactly what they see in their head.
7. The writer is always present in their work. Regardless of whose story they are telling, the underlying framework for that piece has to be a passion to communicate and idea in a manner that the reader will want to participate.
8. Writer’s must learn to step outside of their comfort zones. Read things you don’t normally read. Do things you don’t normally do. Experience life in new ways so as to gain a greater understanding of the characters and places you wish to create.

ADDENDUM: The best advice I’ve ever recieved was during a workshop with Sonia Sanchez . “If you don’t have the discipline to make your bed everyday, then you don’t have the discipline to be a writer.” When I think about it, she’s right. Making the bed is one very small action which can completely transform a room. You can have clothes all over the floor; dishes on the nightstand; piles of books, newspapers and used tissues - but if the bed is made the room doesn’t look so messy. Writing is like that. Make the bed - everyday. Everyday transform your inner and outer space with one small and seemingly unimportant action.

You'll get much more sage advice here:

Ruth Ellen Kocher

DJ Renegade

Lawrence Gordon Wray

Sunday, February 17, 2008

today i noticed


people who never allowed
themselves to grow skin
find paper cuts trifling and trivial.


so much pain
I can’t even remember

tendons, muscles,
arteries, or my own skin.

and here comes the old guard,
champagne glasses in hand

ready to stand up and testify
to the obligations of being

“drunk walkers”
protecting my rights

to enjoy being
mindlessly out of control

in neighbourhoods where White folks
shiver visions of our Apocalyptic lives...

through their own myopic
vases of wilted Physostegia Virginiana.

Still, now, Aunt Barbara grafts
my plasma and ephemera

to meaty algorithms.
Be joyful, she whispers

to my squishy grape eyes,
Lift your glass. LIVE!!!


my son said:

"the colour yellow makes me want to throw up."
brown people are icky-sticky."

neatly folded paper
shopping bags,

pressed evening primroses,
single malt scotch

honey combs in clear
jars, Chilean chardonnay,

Catopsila Argante Phoebis
dry tender your wings


the books,
the word,

the stories. never swirl
the flesh around love. is


consensual reality.
Forever and now

Babby was Snow White
who else would we have

chosen? light, lovely
happy, we are . Artful

Dodgers and reptiles
cleaning this sacred

ground. churning
exits tunnels

and dreaming.
“I saw Grandmother drunk once.,

after great grandmother's funeral.
and then, weird. Uncle Brian

came back to my dorm room
and smoked all of my friends up.”

screaming and screaming and
screaming laughter now

today i noticed

a boy - enwombed by his father -
roller blades into peace

despite screaming and screaming
and screaming the happenstance

of my deadly discovery.
every flesh memory

the hullabaloo

my mother never tells me
people die. like her best

friend. doesn’t want a witness.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The History At Home | 15. Things My Dad Said That I Forgot

In keeping with Black music Friday during the 32 Days Of Black History Blogathon, I thought I would spend just a few more moments on Joseph de Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint Georges. Simply because today I wish to remind everyone that The Three Musketeers were Black. Okay - I can't prove it...but...I can make you say, hmmm.

According to this on-line biography,

Members of the National Guard were asked to volunteer for active duty, so Saint-Georges enlisted on June 21, 1791 as an aide-de-camp to two generals. He soon received another call to duty. On September 1, 1791 a delegation of men of color, led by Julien Raimond of Saint-Domingue, asked the National Assembly to allow them to fight in defense of the Revolution and its egalitarian ideals. The next day, the Assembly approved a corps comprised mainly of men of color, with 800 infantry and 200 cavalry personnel. Saint-Georges was appointed to be its Colonel. Its official name was légion franche de cavalerie des Américains, but it soon became known to all as the légion Saint-George [Saint-George Legion]. The Colonel chose his friend and protege Alexandre Dumas as Lieutenant-Colonel. Like his Colonel, he was the son of a French aristocrat and an African slave. He later had a son, also named Alexandre Dumas, who won fame as author of The Three Musketeers.

I can only imagine young Alexandre Dumas growing up amongst the stories of these men-at-arms, these highly accomplished person who had lived such romantic interesting lives. Albeit, Dumas and Saint Georges eventually fell out with each other. But, the kind of comraderie they shared is the stuff which keeps an elder warm in the later years of life.

What I find interesting is that in school they never taught us two things - Dumas was Black and some of his lesser known work dealt explicitly with these themes. At home, I vaguely remember my dad saying something something in passing about Dumas being Black. Like many teenagers, with no visual proof, I dismissed it. And since The Three Musketeers" were not something about which I obsessed, I never gave them a second thought.

You may read more from the article below about Dumas and his life here:

Alexandre Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterêts. His grandfather was a French nobleman, who had settled in Santo Domingo (now part of Haiti); his paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean, who had been a black slave in the French colony (now part of Haiti). Dumas's father was a general in Napoleon's army, who had fallen out of favor. After his death in 1806 the family lived in poverty. Dumas worked as a notary's clerk and went in 1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant handwriting he secured a position with the Duc d'Orléans -- later King Louis Philippe. He also found his place in theater and as a publisher of some obscure magazines. An illegitimate son called Alexandre Dumas fils, whose mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was a dressmaker, was born in 1824.
Called as "the king of Paris", Dumas earned fortunes and spent them right away on friends, art, and mistresses. Dumas died of a stroke on December 5, 1870, at Puys, near Dieppe. His son Alexandre Dumas fils, became a writer, dramatist, and moralist, who never accepted his father's lifestyle.
Dumas did not generally define himself as a black man, and there is not much evidence that he encountered overt racism during his life. However, his works were popular among the 19th-century African-Americans, partly because in The Count of Monte-Cristo, the falsely imprisoned Edmond Dantès, may be read as a parable of emancipation. In a shorter work, Georges (1843, George), Dumas examined the question of race and colonialism. The main character, a half-French mulatto, leaves Mauritius to be educated in France, and returns to avenge himself for the affronts he had suffered as a boy.

I am delighted however, that this lessor know work is now available. “Georges,” Modern Library, ISBN-10: 067964346X is finally back in print. One of my very favourite authors, Adrienne Kennedy says this about the book, “Georges is an illuminating, instructive, and enduring blueprint of racial conflict and strife, as compelling and relevant today as it was back in the 1840s, when it was first published.”

But, this striking title makes you put your finger to your mouth and say, “Hmmmm. As in Saint Georges? Georges? The way he signed his name during the French Revolution?

The book description reads:
“A major new translation of a stunning rediscovered novel by Alexandre Dumas, Georges is a classic swashbuckling adventure. Brilliantly translated by Tina A. Kover in lively, fluid prose, this is Dumas’s most daring work, in which his themes of intrigue and romance are illuminated by the issues of racial prejudice and the profound quest for identity.
Georges Munier is a sensitive boy growing up in the nineteenth century on the island of Mauritius. The son of a wealthy mulatto, Pierre Munier, Georges regularly sees how his father’s courage is tempered by a sense of inferiority before whites–and Georges vows that he will be different.
When Georges matures into a man committed to “moral superiority mixed with physical strength,” the stage is set for a conflict with the island’s rich and powerful plantation owner, Monsieur de Malmédie, and a forbidden romance with Sara, the beautiful woman engaged to Malmédie’s son.
Swordplay, a slave rebellion, a harrowing escape, and a vow of vengeance–Georges is unmistakably the work of the master who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Yet it stands apart as the only book Dumas ever wrote that confronts the subject of race–a potent topic, since Dumas was of African ancestry himself.”

Sound familiar? What would have Saint-Georges life had been like, if he'd never gone to France. Who might he have been?

The book is on my wishlist, I’ll let you know how it is. In the meantime, if your school age children are being asked to read any of his other classics - please steer them towards this important - almost forgotten - piece of work.