Sunday, October 31, 2010

In The Light Of Bobby Porter

Towards Fragile Peace In The Confrontation Of Vulnerability

Disclaimer: I did not know Bobby Porter that well. Much of what I may say could be construed as romanticism or hearsay. This is simply my journey towards approaching a tangible understanding born from a stirring realisation when I was an artist in my mid thirties. One day, I woke up and screamed, “I’m not going out like Bessie or Zora.” This internalisation of the history of American artists of colour, made some profound changes on my psyche.


Bobby Porter was an African-American artist in Pittsburgh who crossed genres and lived a life in harmony with his muse. Recently, he made his transition. How sad for all of us still waiting. How glorious for him. From all I know, he was a big-spirited man who just made himself a place wherever he was. Some very high brow people call that “zen,” now. In fact, there are even best-selling books called “Be Here Now.” Well, he was here. He was now. And from what I have been told, there was not a cardboard box on the planet which could label and contain him.

What is actually sad about Bobby’s journey to the ancestor’s arms is that he made it as a United States veteran. Not sad, you may say, because he lived to sing even after Vietnam. He stood up and defended our ability to choose liberty, freedom or both. His artistic life celebrated the notion of liberty. (Our founding fathers made it quite clear that “freedom” comes with responsibility, frugality and work for the sheer joy of combating the evils of idleness.) But, liberty....is a very different concept all together. And he went out there and defended both principles....liberty and freedom. Those same founding fathers who believed Bobby’s ancestors should not be free and also did their best to control his ancestor’s liberty when freedom actually arrived.) So - in spite of every historical nuance - Bobby presented a persona that through his life and artistic choices stated firmly, “we all arrive here on this planet as homo sapiens. And, we have the liberty to choose the ways in which we conduct our lives.”

So, it does not surprise me that our government could not even allow him liberty in death. They will only pay for a body to be interred, not cremated. In this day and age of discussing “greening everything from our bathrooms to our cities, this is a curious standpoint. Cremation is the greenest form of remembering that the soul has moved on and the Earth remains a limited resource from which all of humanity must sustain ourselves. Regardless of politics, the fact remains, that Bobby’s close friend had to find a way to remove him from their facility and find the funds necessary to honour his last wishes.

We live in a wonderful digital time. People can be mobilised within seconds. A heroic effort was launched on Facebook letting people know about donation centres or events around town which would take money to offset the costs of honouring a valuable community member’s wishes. Awesome!

However, this got me thinking. Why are we as an artist community not tapping into those resources which allow us to care for our own? Six years ago, my friend’s house burned down. I learned that in order to get relief donations broadcast on the news, we had to set up a “relief fund” through a reputable bank.” Getting the relief fun set up took one hour. Once it was set up, I was able to contact all news media sources and they gladly did “follow-ups on the tragic fire and how you can help.” My friend was able to rebuild her life. I learned a lot from that.

We now have excellent resources such as, “Caring Bridge” and Helping Hands” and “Kickstarter.” And here is where I begin to question our - defined as the artistic community - commitment to liberty but not freedom.

Every time an artist gets sick or dies...it is always a mad scramble to fix it. And so many wonderful energetic souls step up. It and always seems to happen. But, we don’t we plan for these eventualities?

Some of us may be off the scene for a period of time and want to help. But can’t because we are no longer able to whip by “this show” or swing by “that venue.” Yes, in fact, some of us have traded our liberty for freedom. We have living wills, regular wills and great detailed plans for “controlling our artistic work” long after we’ve gone. (With allocated administrators and folks we deem appropriate to the task of honouring our artistic vision. Laugh all you want, but, Langston Hughes was one smart cookie. And whomever is his beneficiary is doing just fine.)

Just because some of us think like this, doesn’t mean we don’t want to help. It just means as artists, each of us choose their own path. Some paths value liberty. Some paths value freedom. Some paths value a balance between both. But, we are all out here together sewing our souls onto our sleeves and asking the world whether it moves them or not.

Even before Abolition, Black folks knew that “shit happens.” I remember reading about a Free Men’s Society in Philadelphia circa 1830. Every member paid one nickel a month. (Approx. $20.00 today) And when it came time to bury someone or help someone or send someone down south the free a free man who was taken by unjust laws., they had it! There was no corporation trying to minimise risk for shareholders. There were people in this community who had a need. Period. And if the coffers went dry, well, I suppose they fund-raised. (I apologise for not citing a reference. Those books are no longer littered up with bookmarks. In fact, they all live in a closet at the top of the staircase because I care so much about “neat” and “tidy.” No longer do I feel a compulsion to immediately reference a source and make a footnote on my musings. As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to validate my own knowledge. Look it up yourself.)

So what do people think about getting behind the knowledge that “shit happens?” What do you think about organising and pulling our resources together so that we are prepared? What intellectual, emotional, physical, financial resources would you contribute to making sure that this never happens again? Because - I’m not going out like Zora. And I know you don’t want to either. And I know that betwixt all of us....we may just build a better legacy for Bobby and all artists ...whether they are of colour or not.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dread = Fear OR Head Injury Failure

So, I’ve had some ongoing health issues lately. We have insurance. We have the best doctors. We have the ability to address the issues. And after a year, they still haven’t been solved.

But, we’ve been muddling our way through and counting on the fact that we have the rare privilege here in America of being able to afford healthcare. But, it seems as if even the ability to afford it doesn’t deliver.

Last Friday afternoon, I tried to walk from the dining room to the kitchen and fell over. My friend said, she heard a thump and rushed into the kitchen. I was on the floor. My eyes were rolled up in my head and I was drooling. Ten seconds later, I woke up. Needless to say, I was a bit out of it.

She kept saying should I call 911?

I kept saying “No, I’m cool. I’m sorry for messing up the play date.”

Finally, I felt the back of my head. There was an Ostrich egg there. Another friend dropped by. She is also dread. I asked her to look at my head and see whether we had anything to worry about. She kind of gasped and said, "OMG! It's really red." It was then that I decided that going to the hospital might be a good thing. Husband came home and kids were packed off. (Thank you lovely friends)!

So, we go to the ER. Great. I am interviewed. I am given standard neurological tests. I am given an EKG. Blood is drawn. An I.V. is inserted. Heart is monitored. But, nobody will touch my head.

I am released. I am not allowed to go anywhere unattended. I may not drive. I am to follow up with my PCP on Monday. I sleep for two days. I wake only to restlessly try to make our son’s life seem “normal.” My husband makes sure I follow up with our PCP on Monday.

So, I do. And the PCP is incredulous that I am in his office and nobody ever thought to scan my head. I can’t walk unassisted. I’m dizzy. I can’t see straight. So, he sends me off for a CT Scan. Never does he touch my head.

(In defence of all the lovely health professionals who attended me, I will state now for the record that I present “poorly.” That means, I’m not moaning and crying. I am often witty and engaging. And I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what ails me because, why complain for no reason? I like to present all of the facts in a rational manner ....somehow hoping they will be relevant. And pain is a state of mind we accept. Right? This does not not help me or them.) Moving on....

(Side-side note: this is the woman who swears child birth is painless. Both of my births had to get someone to coerce me into the hospital by my midwives because I kept saying, “it’s all cool. the ancestors are with me. the ocean waves are great and I love riding them.”)

But the fact remains, nobody was willing to touch my head. Not even today during the CT scan. When asked if I had any metal in my “braids,” I suddenly realised that I do. I began combing through my locks looking for this one piece of jewellery. The technician simply stated, “As long as it is way down there we don’t have to worry.” Well, I did worry.

I don’t know about CT Scans but I do know that my dense heavy locks were over the exact place they needed to be looking at. And I do know that the ER MD wasn’t willing to touch my head to feel the Ostrich egg presenting itself there. And I do know that no one was willing to look under the mane for any damage. And I wonder....will this leave us in a deeper more long lasting limbo.

Am I so fierce? Is my mane too terrifying to diagnose? And why aren’t there more African-Americans in these fields? Because there seems to be some deep fear about approaching my dread.

And fierce as I am....I hate limbo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Club Family!

(in this post - the word "we" refers to me and my husband.)

So, in London, we used to go out once a month and dance. Those, nights, we also hung out with adult friends. Maybe we had a pint and a tasty morsel we would name dinner. They used to call it the "baby disco." And it was fantastic! But, America has moved on beyond the "disco era." We have "clubs" now. Isn't it so inclusively exclusive?

Well, we want to keep dancing with our children. We want to hear fresh beats and see cool talent working their two turntables and their microphones. We want it to feel like we are home with friends, and, at the same time having a special evening out on the town. So, we invented Club Family for Pittsburgh.

Club Family features DJ Supa C spinning clean sounds for full family enjoyment. No longer, do you have to dance around your living room alone. No longer do you have to get home in time for "pookie's" 6 AM wake up call. Don't wait for date night! Club Family brings fun fresh sounds to get the whole family moving, grooving and fantastic fit! After all, we're in this together now.....because we've chosen to have families.

And if families can't get their groove on together, what kind of world are we creating? So, spend your date night eating great food and discussing books, career moves, philosophy, religion, household budgets, and education. But, jump into your body and get "high-up clean fun" with the rest of us at Club Family! (Please note: high-up clean fun could be construed as an antonym to "low-down, dirty fun." Of which I think many of us has had their fill. Or maybe not.....but, who has to change pookie's diaper in the morning changes the perspective quite a lot.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

and then comes the unwelcome (draft)

sunrise with trumpets, pearls
and bouquets of wild
flowers falling out of a little boy's mouth.

next bodies
slipping together
same as seven

years ago
adjusted
for growth and

loquacious inventions
detailed. minutia forgotten
the moment we seek

coffee and milk
and peanut butter. must
get to bed if I care

to enjoy the show.