Every Watering Word…Update

My book is currently in the top 50 of Amazon’s list of African American poetry, and #112 of Amazon’s list of women authors of poetry.

Thank you so very much for your support!

To order: https://www.amazon.com/Every-Watering-Word-Tanya-Manning-Yarde/dp/1681112043/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508079677&sr=8-1&keywords=every+watering+word

Photo credits: Kerwin Yarde

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Book Purchase Information

Pease and blessings everyone,

You can now purchase my very first book of poetry from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books123.org. Information follows below!

Please share a review as well.

https://www.amazon.com/Every-Watering-Word-Tanya-Manning-Yarde/dp/1681112043/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506906450&sr=8-1&keywords=every+watering+word

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/every-watering-word-tanya-manning-yarde/1127166813?ean=9781681112046

https://www.amazon.com/Every-Watering-Word-Tanya-Manning-Yarde/dp/1681112043/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506906450&sr=8-1&keywords=every+watering+wordEvery Watering Word Book Cover

 

STAY TUNED! FIRST BOOK COMING OUT IN A FEW WEEKS!

Here is a sneak peek and brief description:

This collection of poetry is an ensemble of many themes. Every Watering Word encompasses poetic rumination about women’s self-discovery; stories about coming of age; explorations of sex, sensuality and eroticism; epiphanies gleaned from motherhood and marriage; the structure and impact of racial and gender oppression; the trials, tribulations and triumphs experienced by love; the inheritance of jazz music ad honoring the Black Christian tradition while exploring tensions underlying what it means to be African-American and Christian.

Every Watering Word Book Cover

The Cost to be the “Boss”: Kelsey Grammer’s Stellar Portrayal of Monster and Man

tmy_chronicles, phd

The Starz series “Boss” unfolds with immediate access into Chicago’s Mayor Thomas Kane’s Achilles’ heel.  In an arranged secret meeting, he finds out his fateful diagnosis. The clock starts ticking.  There isn’t much time. Yet it is this very alchemy of electoral ambition and corporeal deterioration that make for compelling drama.  Kane is a well-crafted villain who is simultaneously vicious and vulnerable, sinister and sympathetic.

It is knowing upfront the mayor’s deterioration that spawns an audience’s intrigue, for the mayor does not go gently into that good night.  Kane is an alluring character study.  Ruthless and lacerative, he weathers all tides as his kingdom rises and falls, falls and rises.  His prowess to manipulate is fascinating, wielding calculated and merciless vengeance over all who disobey him, inclusive of kindred and his own political inner circle. Even innocent people who unfortunately help his health are thrown under the bus.

The beauty…

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Unleashing the Beast from Within: Movie Review of “Animal Kingdom”

tmy_chronicles, phd

Multi-award winning crime drama “Animal Kingdom” (Sony Pictures Classics, 2010) shines a focused light on the tension, turmoil, and tenacity of a family bonded by their familial investment . . . in criminal enterprise.  Enter the Cody family, consisting of grandmother, three brothers, estranged daughter and her teenage son.   Don’t anticipate a conventional family like that of The Cleavers, Bradys, or Cunninghams, or idyllic scenes of Sunday dinners or family vacations.  All is not what it appears to be, as the façade of family barely gilds twisted ruminations.

Instead, we are thrust smack into the tangled dynamics of this deranged family, and the perverse loyalty shaping and shaming it.  Narratives of twisted maternal instincts, sinister sibling rivalry, bilious behaviors, benevolent friendships and coming of age are slowly unraveled and witnessed.  Matriarch Janine “Smurf” Cody showers her sons with a love that borders on the incestuous, and yet harbors a diabolical…

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How to Find the Answer: A Crayon, an Inquiry Board, and a Pre-Schooler’s Journey

 

An inquiry board helps our son to formulate and formalize creating questions and seeking answers. It’s also become a means through which we build a community invested in investigating both our interests and world. 

 

Inquiry Board hanging in our sons' room.
Inquiry Board hanging in our sons’ room with Keith’s first set of recorded questions, December 2014.

 

 

Kids ask a lot of questions. From the abstract to concrete, their mind is always turning and churning new ideas about their circumstances, experiences, and environment.  My oldest toddler son, turning three, is always peppering me with questions. I try to answer as many as I can, but I also realize that what I know is finite. I am not the only or absolute source for answers. Knowing my limitations, I have begun thinking of ways to affirm Keith’s inquisitive mindset, while also figuring out ways to equip him with mental tools and physical resources that help him investigate answers to his questions.

To begin, I introduced Keith to a book called What is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn. An informative and accessible book, it breaks down the scientific method in kid friendly language and application, with pictures illustrating the different parts of the process (“a scientist is a person who asks questions and tries different ways to answer them,” “A scientist learns from her senses,” for example). Knowing he won’t grasp the concept of inquiry or the scientific method as a means to an answer in their entirety just by reading about them, nor wanting to just leave the support of his understanding at the “just read about it” level, I have begun exploring ways to affirm his questions, and to make his inquiry tactile, interactive, and responsive. To this end, I created an inquiry board.

I got the idea of an inquiry board from observing Keith’s particular interest in cartoons that are based in problem-solving. From very early, Keith loved the Word World series, in which characters solve problems through identifying what words best fit as a solution, and Super Why, where a team of friends explore answers to personal problems through examining the characters in famous books facing similar situations. Other problem-solving characters that intrigue him include Luna from Earth to Luna, Peg from Peg + Cat, Sid from Sid the Science Kid, and Steve and Joe from Blue’s Clues. Each character identifies a problem, applying particularized ways and innovative means to solve them.  Luna imagines herself in particular situations and reenacts them.  Peg employs such things as mathematics, geometry and pattern recognition.  Sid uses facets of the scientific method and employs his familial community of parents, friends, teacher and classmates.  Steve and Joe use investigative strategies, visuals and writing to figure out problems.  Keith admires them, constantly talking about the questions they explore, even emulating how they pursue solutions.  Witnessing this, I thought an inquiry board might be a great way (and buy-in) to get him invested and involved in not only asking questions but becoming an agent and participant in answering them.

The inquiry board comprised of a 2’ by 3’ whiteboard, decorated with various characters mentioned above, placed there so Keith could see his “fellow inquirers.” Attached are several large post-it notes where we record his questions for the week. Each week I listen for different questions he asks, and ask if he would like to include them on his board.

Recent questions include the following:

 

Why do we play?

What is a highlighter?

Why do we have to brush our teeth?

Why does Daddy go to work?

Why does paper rip?

Why do Leap, Lily, and Tad stay on Leap Frog? And Professor Quibly and Dad?

How come Scout doesn’t work?

How come our Sippy cups don’t have juice?

 

Several questions that piqued his own inquiry originate from the Earth to Luna show, with some examples including the following:

 

Why does yellow and blue make green?

Why do butterflies rub their feet?

Why do things sink?

 

Just a few weeks in, the inquiry board is a hit. Keith has bought into the idea full heartedly. We have moved from just me directly asking if he has any questions he wants to put on the board. He takes initiative, taking ownership of identifying, recording and exploring his questions. Periodically he will be in thought and then excitedly request, “Can we put that question on my board?” In fact, while writing this post (5:30 am), I went to change Keith, and while doing so, he asked, “Why are your hands so cold, Mommy? Hey, let’s put that question on the board!” Keith extends his community of inquiry to include his dad, who he will ask if they can put questions on the board together. A recent question they wrote together is “Why do we have to let waste go?” Keith also has taken initiative in wanting to write his questions. Gravitating away from asking either me or his dad to write them, he will ask one of us to guide his hand in writing his question, or try to write it all on his own (which, as a by-product, feeds his pursuit of learning to write his letters and numbers). Daily Keith goes to his board, interacting with it, whether through reading questions aloud, or selecting a specific post-it and using it as fodder for us to have a conversation.

While I don’t have specific measurable learning outcomes to report, I can say that thus far that the board and the social experiences we have around it are impactful.  It is a tool that I find useful in helping Keith formulate and formalize how to seek out answers to questions.  It has also become a means where we as a community invest in and value inquiry. As a parent, I feel this tool and the experiences it has created situates me less as having to be a “know it all” and more of a facilitator of methods and possibilities.

I am not just giving a man a fish for the day, but how to fish to feed himself for a lifetime.

 

Update, February 2015.  Here is a snapshot of recent questions Keith asked:

Why do we have to brush our teeth?
Why does soapy water make bubbles?
Why do baby teeth fall out?
Why do planes fly?
Why is there snow?
Why is there dust on the floor?
Why did the TV fall down? Why does the TV not work? (Sadly, the flat screen TV, like Humpty Dumpty, had a bad fall).

 

Using Texts to Kindle Reading and Relationships  

 

Have a variety of books and materials that are immediately accessible for children to touch. Use them as a means to ignite inquiry and spark dialogue.  

 

Kids are tactile. Having an array of resources within hands’ reach sparks their curiosity and instigates exploration, spawning the beginnings of inquiry and dialogue.  So I have devoted time to creating a room full of books, an in home library, housing hundreds of books we collected over the span of our lives (see recent blogpost “Building a Home Library: An Autobiographical and Intergenerational Bridge” at  http://wp.me/p1lNcW-ir, for details). Across topics and genres, our collections includes books about screenplay writing and the movie industry, curriculum and lesson planning, cookbooks, poetry, philosophy, religious texts, manuals, even photo albums and high school yearbooks. The boys also have a whole bookcase dedicated to their books, puzzles, and library loans.

 

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Like Spider Man, our oldest son Keith scales the bookcases, exploring their contents, sometimes pulling out a cookbook; other times an old photo album. The availability of so many books intrigues him, catalyzing between us a dialogue about various things. Pulling out an old photo album recently spawned a conversation about the history of his maternal grandparents and what it was like for me growing up with them.  Seeing and hearing me read the Bible piqued his interest, resulting in him pulling and perusing different Bibles from the bookcase, then asking me to read portions aloud to him. Scanning his dad’s Entertainment Weekly collection has him now asking questions about the pictures in it (“Why is the baby crying?” based on an ad), and self-testing his letter recognition (“That’s a T!” referring to the T-Mobile logo).  Exotic covers capture his eye in particular. He likes pulling out old issues of Poetry journal, and is particularly drawn to the several books I have by two of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison.  After pulling them and spreading them on the floor, he typically asks, “Will you read this to me?” I then read aloud a short excerpt. He may not understand the vocabulary, content, or context, but I do this to endorse his inquisitiveness.

 

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Keith perusing issue of Entertainment Weekly at dining table.
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Keith examining more closely pictures on the page.

 

 

The tangibility of various texts fosters a dialogic space. Dialogues emanate just because of a book he pulled out.  These books and the conversational shared space encourage and stimulate our talking about an array of topics, nurturing the relationship evolving between us. One where inquiry, exploration, and dialogue are fostered and legitimized. These conversations are the hallmark and beginning of him (1) exploring texts, (2) creating and examining ideas, and  (3) accessing and assessing new worlds within himself and outside.

And me learning how best to scaffold and support his interpretative and interpersonal possibilities.

 

What conversations have you had as a result of a child picking up a text and sharing it with you? What has been the impact on you both?

Literacy as Social Action: A Familial Practice (An Introduction)

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As a mom of two toddler boys, I am trying to balance rearing them as both citizens of a global community, as well instill within them the knowledge and skills needed to interface with it. I constantly find myself vacillating between supporting their learning and understanding of how to interact with and treat others, with acclimating them to effectively use literacy (thinking, speaking, reading and writing as tools and means) to interact with the larger world. Even more, learning how to grow, hone and innovate literacy learning without doing so in ways that are rote, remote and decontextualized.

I situate literacy as a practice, meaning particularized ways of interacting within a social context toward a social goal/outcome.  To this point, I am trying to facilitate my sons’ development of both functional skills with the acuity and discernment of which ones to apply within myriad social contexts.  Rather than limiting their literacy development to a collecting a set of skills that are finite, I am situating my sons’ acquisition of literacy as learning how to (1) discern the dynamics and expectations of an interaction/social event, (1) identify and apply the skills and knowledge they need to draw to participate, and (3) successfully employ and as well as adapt such skills and knowledge in situ.

Here is an example. If one is going on a job interview, the purpose of the social interaction is to convince a potential employer of one’s worthiness of the sought after job position. An interviewee, understanding the goal of the interaction and is knowledgeable of the skills and exchanges that need to occur within it, would discern the cues and inquiries of the employer as typical of a job interview, and thus provide pertinent information, answering (as well as exchanging) questions appropriate for the exchange. An interviewee would know this is not the time to go on tangents at length about political or religious dispositions, divulge personal information inappropriate for an employer to know, or sully the name of a previous employer, IN ADDITION to providing the necessary artifacts relevant to the situation (resume, business cards). The successful interviewee would, ideally, know how to answer the questions presented, and how to socially engage with various people s/he met at the potential new job site.

I am suggesting that literacy is integrative, the melding of functional skills in reading, writing, thinking and speaking with the keen awareness of applying the appropriate ones given the social context, doing so knowingly toward a specific social end.  To this end, I am I am trying to build a foundation of strategies and protocols around thinking, speaking, reading and interacting, a fluid tool box if you will, they can use, adapt and innovate throughout their lives.

In future postings, I’ll share some ways I am trying to support the development of my sons’ literacy development, doing so within both home-based and external environments. Not as a means to promote an absolute or absolutely successful examples of learning and facilitation, but more so a personal journal of a journey I am trying to take my sons upon, that, if done successfully, has put to best use of intersecting my maternal instincts with my formal training and experiences as an educator.

Building a Home Library: An Autobiographical and Intergenerational Bridge

The chairs

 

A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself. –Jane Austen

 

Readers have been a part of my life since birth. I cannot remember a time when I was not around someone reading a newspaper, analyzing the Bible and taking notes, or curling up with a good book simply for pleasure. From these experiences, books have become for me tools for excavation, solace in a stormy world, and a portal into possibilities.  Family and friends have impacted my experience to become the lover of reading and books that I am today.

And why I am passionate about creating a library and leaving a similar legacy to my two sons.

When I was growing up, my parents made it a point to surround us with books.  Dad amassed religious texts, books about the Bible and Biblical figures, as well as those related to his job as a supervisor for the NYCMTA. These included tomes of manuals and large “maps” illustrating circuit systems.  When I got older, he gave me several books; Billy Graham’s book Angels (which I still have today), books about astronomy, and an encyclopedia. Dad collected books and texts from numerous sources, spanning from the Strand Bookstore, a particular favorite, to dumpster diving, once salvaging a well-kept composition notebook with copious notes about solving equations (which I found real helpful in middle school).  Tuesdays were an important day in our household, because that is when the Science section of The New York Times was published. Dad and I would comb through it, cutting out articles (particularly about astronomy, my favorite subject) and pasting them in my scrapbook.

Mom too kept books and texts circulating throughout the house. She housed philosophical collections by Gibran, Greek tragedies by Sophocles, famous texts by African American writers (Ellison’s Invisible Man and Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots, which I still have), as well as texts about Black consciousness. Mom was an avid reader of newspapers, scouring the current events sections to keep abreast of new developments. She read different local newspapers (Daily News and New York Post) to gain different perspectives. As a member and past Grand Matron in the Order of the Eastern Star, several books were part of the bookcase she and dad had in their bedroom. Although a mystery to me as a kid, I would see her reading from these sacred books, practicing the delivery of their texts and her positioning as she read them, with dad observing and helping her practice (him being a Mason).

My childhood friend Carla grew up around masses of books. Her dad was a voracious reader, historical scholar and herbal enthusiast. I was always impressed by his learnedness about so many things, with facts and data literally at the touch of his hands and tip of his tongue. Creating an environment of scholarship and insight has profound implications. If you meet Carla, a prolific protégé of his intellectual investment, she is a walking library. She is facile with relaying information that in ways pertinent and personable.  His commitment to surrounding his two daughters with a plethora of information, and their facility in relaying and applying it, leaves an indelible impression to this day.

I want my children to be like his.

My husband is also an avid reader. A lover of political history, screenplay writing, film and film scores, and “old school” music aficionado, he has amassed volumes of books. Books to guide his revisiting and revision of drafts (now his fifth screenplay), topical texts to help him bring depth to a character (one such book titled Movies and Mental Illness), the history of favorite movies (The Making of the Empire Strikes Back and Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies), and books about the history of music (The New Blue Music).  To name a few. He also keeps abreast of the entertainment industry via periodicals too.

 

Some of my husband's books.
Some of our books pertaining to writing and screenplays.

 

Sharing these bibliographic biographies of how text surround and inform the lives of people I care about is to illustrate the impact of the word on their lives and mine.  It is why we as parents are investing in creating for library for our two sons. A place where we can expose them to myriad topics, agitate their curiosity and instigate investigation.

Our evolving library is divided into different sections. One whole bookcase is devoted to the boys’ books, texts specific to their evolving interests and responsive to their emerging questions. Keith, my oldest, is a fan of the rhythm and musicality underlying words (such as in books Jazz AZB and Chica Chica Boom Boom), abstract ideas represented visually (Perfect Square and One), humor (any book by Sandra Boynton, his favorites being But Not the Hippopotamus and Hippos Go Berserk), picture dictionaries, phonics (Preschool Prep Series), and books that show him how to explore creating a question and finding its answer (What is a Scientist? and Telling Time). The youngest, Maceo, burrows in a corner between the bookcase and closet, pulling down several different books, burrowing in, then studying their pages.  Books he gravitates toward the most are flip books, books with rhyme (a book of Sesame Street songs as well as Martin and Carle’s Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do You Hear? ), and with other favorites about shapes, letters, and numbers (particularly the Metropolitan Museum of Art Series).  As the boys show interest in different topics and genres, we add them.

 

Keith reading in the home library.
Keith reading in the home library.

 

Keith reading in the park.
Keith reading in the park.

 

Our library is also being built by the loving investment of others.  Diane, upon Keith’s birth, sent a huge box of children’s’ books that have been some of our kids’ favorites (so much so, like Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendinger Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name, disintegrated).  Linda bought a picture book without words, which makes a great experience for us to co-create a narrative with the kids.  Melissa, with children older than ours, has generously given several of her kids’ books they have outgrown. They are full of great ideas (exploring the world through the senses), morals and lessons (saying sorry is a hug given through words), and books about the precious relationship between a mother and her children.  Victoria and Virginia sent several books for the boys, books that delightfully travel the spectrum from interactive to comical to familial to educational. Our library has become a project with familial investors extending the confines of our walls and personal experiences.

 

Maceo reading in the local park.
Maceo looking through one of his favorite books in a local park.
Maceo looking through a book in his room.
Maceo looking through a book in his room.

 

A curious thing has begun to happen. Periodically Keith gravitates to one shelf of the library, where I have housed my two favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. He takes down the whole group of books by each author, spraying them across the floor.  Saying nothing, he leaves them there.  I am impressed how he unknowingly knows two authors who have informed my writing and life.

The shape of things to come…

 

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Sample of our books pertaining to issues in education.
Sample of my books by African American writers.
Sample of our books by African American writers.
Sample of my books pertaining to religion.
Sample of our books pertaining to religion.
Sample of our "self help" books.
Sample of our “self help” books.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Fela: Music is the Weapon (Movie Review)

 

Fela Kuti is a musical marauder, hallowed hedonist, and political phoenix, living a life rife with controversy, contradictions, chaos, conflict and curiosity. But between the beats and bruises we behold the brilliance and benevolence of a man.

 

In the biopic, Finding Fela, the finery and flaws of the iconic Afrobeat composer, multi-instrumentalist and activist are unfolded. Director Alex Gibney creates a mosaic picture from the shards of a complex complicated man. Extracted from almost 1,000 hours of archival footage, interviews of those impacted by his life, and artifacts of his career and politics, is the portrait of an impactful but imperfect rebel. The documentary educates us about Fela’s lyrical activism and the firefight he gave against governmental corruption in his homeland of Nigeria. Yet, also of his upholding of sexist messiness due to patriarchal viewpoints and hedonistic indulgences illustrated in him marrying 27 women in one day when already being married and harboring several mistresses. He is industrious in pursuit of precision in his music, yet persistent in smoking marijuana. His remains resilient against physical brutality and has unbreakable constancy, yet crumbles into himself and becomes spiritually obscure following his mother’s death. The film does not render a clean and pretty portrait. In its place, the ferocity, failure, and frailty of Fela are revealed as what makes him a masterpiece.

The craft underlying the film Finding Fela is it bringing multiple ways of telling a story together, yielding a harmonious concert for the viewer to both learn from and experience. People from all walks of Fela’s life mine their memories to share with the audience. Longtime friend and band member Tony Little intimates his friend’s personal visions for changing the musical landscape of their country as well as challenges to accomplishing it. Michael Veal, biographer and professor of ethnomusicology at Yale University, articulates the genius behind Fela’s musical compositions, detailing both its mysticism and empirical design. Fela’s sons, Femi and Seun, and daughter Yeni, each share memories of their father’s political and personal decisions and the impact they had on their lives. Muse and mentor Sandra Izsadore shares of her dissemination of political texts and ideas from the Civil Rights Movement, helping both inform Fela and push him to use music as a tool for education. Several other personal narratives are divulged, spanning fond memories and impressions held by his former manager Rikki Stein, journalists chronicling Fela’s resistance to being beaten down by the government and kowtowing to it, and longtime friends who brag about their dear friend comically and cosmically.

 

Blended with personal narratives is concert footage marking pivotal times throughout his life. Excerpts of interviews of Fela himself illustrate his charisma and candidness. Still pictures of life in the commune, album artwork, and news articles further help add color to the margins of his story, marking both the changing times and the evolution of the artist/activist within them. Footage from the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival marks the breakdown and building back of his band, and the artistic and political impact of its transformation from Africa ’70 to Egypt ’80. Further complementing the building of the beautiful jigsaw that is both Fela and Finding Fela is behind-the-scenes footage chronicling the two years of creating the Broadway play, revealing the challenge and “higher calling” stakeholders took on regarding what to tell of Fela’s life, how to tell it, and why.

The movie chronicles how Fela used music as a tool of illumination and excavation. Throughout Nigeria’s iterations and instability stemming from civil war, government corruption and mismanagement, we learn Fela used his music as lens and commentary, a platform and place for espousing critique of government, and uplifting from such rubble the beauty of Nigerian tradition and identity. Consequently, he created Africa Shrine, a temple of music and political exchange, a place where he and his people could breathe, dance, and debate together. Part tabernacle, part juke joint, Fela employed it to lambast and lampoon politics, while also providing its audience a forum to raise and germinate ideas. Songs such as “Zombie,” “Coffin for Head of State,” and “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” are just a few examples of his massive repertoire of music used a political critique. Singing in pidgin was his means for speaking to the masses. But being successful as an anti-establishment activist and counter-hero were not achieved without great consequence. Numerous beatings, jailing, and the targeted attack of his home are shown in the film as becoming a regular part of his life. To this point, one interviewee remarked about Fela in that “Great musicians are created by the times within which they live.” As described in a 2011 LA Times article, Bill T. Jones calls Fela a sacred monster “Because he is so flawed. There’s something megalomaniacal about him. But he makes art as not only something you consume and have a good time with, but art that has aspirations of speaking to power and art that speaks for people who can’t speak for themselves.”*

Gleaned from Finding Fela is that Fela Kuti is a musical marauder, hallowed hedonist, and political phoenix, living a life rife with controversy, contradictions, chaos, conflict and curiosity. But between the beats and bruises we behold the brilliance and benevolence of a man.

 

http://exclaim.ca/images/Fela-Kuti---David-Corio.jpg

 

During the Q&A period, several audience members inquired about the logistics behind making the film, what was it like for some of those interviewed to see the film, Fela’s relationship with his parents, and the director’s vision for the film. In attendance were the director, Editor Lindy Jankura, and Ogugua Iwele, one of Fela’s friends who was also in the film.

Ogugua was asked, “What is it like to watch what you lived through?” After choking back deep sentiment, he then responded, “Emotional.” The director was asked how he became involved in the film project. Alex explained that Steve Hendel, one of the executive producers of the film, initially wanted Alex to do a film about the play “Fela!” while on tour in Africa. But what became more fascinating and attention-grabbing was archival footage about Fela’s life. After examining such footage the film project took a different direction.

Then, the editor was asked what footage from the play production and Fela’s life that, although did not make the final cut in the film, made the greatest impression on her. She shared that there was so much footage and so many remarkable things that she could not pin down one specific piece. Then, an audience member shared an observation of Bill T. Jones in the film (who co-wrote the book that the play is based, and was the co-conceiver of the play, its director and choreographer), perceiving his discussion with one of Fela’s friend’s about Fela as grilling and corrective in nature. Ogugua explicated that what occurred was not confrontational, more so, Jones’ interpretive struggle to get at the heart of Fela’s life story, doing so as a Black man in America examining and trying to best understand and then illuminate the life of a Black man in Africa.

Alex also clarified Jones’ actions, explaining that when “you do this work you enter as stranger and ask fundamental questions [so as to] come to [a] reckoning of who is this person.” Next, the director was asked what he wanted the audience to take away from the film. He hoped “people come away with the greatness of the man and was not perfect.” At the Q&As conclusion, Alex was asked to share final words. He in turn asked the audience to join in saying together, “Yeah yeah,” returning back to Ogugua’s earlier teaching of the audience the Nigerian salutation.

 

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The initial publishing of this review can be found on the 2014 Montclair Film Festival Website at http://montclairfilmfest.org/2014/05/finding-fela-music-is-the-weapon/. 

*The Sunday Conversation: With Bill T. Jones. December 11, 2011. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/11/entertainment/la-ca-conversation-20111211

“A Girl and a Gun”: Facts, Fictions and Fascination with Firearms

A Girl and A Gun Poster

“A Girl and a Gun” instigates a discomfiting albeit necessary conversation about firearms, illuminating the fantasies, frights and fascination associated with them.  Filmmaker Cathryne Czubek gains access to the chambers (literally and figuratively) of women’s personal experiences with firearms, and with surgical precision unfolds their revelations.  Intersecting issues around gender, identity, history, politics, and culture, the movie yields an unabashed and uncompromised examination of the impact of a firearm culture.

While the nation struggles with a politically imposed polarization of the “gun argument”– you are either for or against guns—the filmmaker craftily dispels this artificial chasm. Czubek’s anthology illustrates that no dichotomous argument can be made. Interviews of participants nationwide, from various walks of life, divulge a gamut of experiences with firearms, with multifarious perspectives emanating.  Being the one to kill in the name of self-defense, the recipient of a paralyzing bullet, the inheritor of a family hunting tradition, or felon misinformed by gun laws, Czubek introduces us to the “true” world of firearms.  Her movie reveals a world where outcomes and outlooks cannot be easily codified.   A world where perspectives do not ping pong from pro to con, but are marbled and striated, ever-swirling with conjecture, introspection, and conviction.

In one segment, Czubek shrewdly inspects the correlation imposed by media between firearms and gender. It explores the prolific albeit strange eroticism of women with guns within film, television, and advertisement.  Guns are correlated with empowering women, as vivified in the portrayals of characters like Sarah Conner in “The Terminator,” and Ripley in the “Aliens” movie franchise. Interviewees analyze “The Sabrina Pose,” the nickname given to the gun-toting, taut-thigh-holding stance portrayed by Sabrina Duncan from the iconic girl-power “Charlie’s Angels” show, illustrating how it conjures an unusual connection between a woman’s sense of self-assuredness and empowerment with the fetishizing of a woman holding a gun.  Perversely, bikini-clad models shooting high-power assault rifles are utilized in propaganda advertisements to promote the phallic prowess of such weapons.  In another twist, the film illuminates upon the typecasting and stereotyping of women as fashion plates even when arming themselves.  Footage from a gun show displays decorative gun handles and camouflage-decorated lipstick holders as further evidence of how notions of femininity and firearms are outlandishly fused together.

charlies-angels

Yet in a later segment, Rosemarie Weber, a Marine sent to Iraq, brings a unique take on the real consequences of having legitimized access to firearms.  Weber shares how “It was scary to see people you knew change” because they internalized that such access imbued them with a ” sense of power.” Czubek also captures an ironic feminization and gendered objectification of weapons, even by women. Weber makes an interesting comment about her affiliation and affinity toward guns, calling the ones she own her “Barbies.”

Czubek gathers several participants’ intimate accounts of family traditions, allowing them to unfold through their own words how such inheritances shaped their orientations toward firearms.  Emily Blount, a renowned medal-winning skeet shooter, learned to shoot from hunting with her family, sharing that skeet shooting with her father (who is also her coach) is “a way to spend time with my dad.” The movie delves deeper, exploring connections between traditions, notions of motherhood and firearms.  A mother from Lawrenceburg, TN, details the deep entrenchment of hunting within her family and the continuance of such traditions with her own sons despite tragedy. Margit Sawdey, a mother of sons living in New York City, separates her use of guns from her home and sons.  Literally.  Familial bonds that surface from shared experiences with firearms receive careful attention from Czubek, contributing to a deeper conversation that should be had after viewing the movie around the impact of social and cultural inheritance.

While exploring ways in which women and their families bond around guns, other vignettes and interviews revolve around the ways in which guns break them.  Stephanie Alexander divulges the impetus for becoming a victim rights activist. After a tragic event in her life, she retaliates by adding herself to a campaign to end gun violence. She shares “Getting out and making a difference gave me the medicine of healing.”  Aiesha Johnson reveals the changes to her life and family after being paralyzed by a stray bullet.  Karen Copeland recounts how misinformation about gun ownership and misplaced anger resulted in her incarceration.

Czubek surfaces the voices and experiences of women who have had to resort to the use of deadly force. She includes their narratives as complications of political arguments of firearms as tools of protection and empowerment.   When asked of how she came to like guns, Robin Natanel, a Tai Chi instructor in Holliston, MA, recounts a pivotal life experience where “I never had my mortality in my face like that before.”  While on the phone with 911 during the break-in of her home, Sara McKinley, a widowed resident of Blanchard, Oklahoma, makes a calculated decision to protect herself and her newborn son against an intruder.  Consequently, she confesses that she now walks around with a gun in hand at all times, even when holding her baby. Violet Blue, a blogger and TED speaker, shared interesting points about her personal gun ownership and being a woman in larger society. “I just love this gun so much.” Yet, “You move through this world as a target . . . those women who aren’t live in a privileged world.”  Deb Ferns, co-founder of Babes with Bullets, organizes “lady gun camps” nationwide.  She shares that for herself that “going to the range empowered me.”

Captured from the mouths of stakeholders, Czubek allows candor and contradictions to collide, vivifying the unevenness of how firearm use is portrayed when compared to actual experiences.   “A Girl and a Gun” surfaces what is problematic behind the enjoyment and execution of the Second Amendment.  The takeaway is that such a right, and its exercising, are both nuanced. There can be myriad historic, social, cultural reasons why a woman does or does not use a gun, having little to do with thrusting a specific political argument and agenda forward.

Thanks to Czubek, we, as a nation, we are left with much to examine and discuss.

three little girls with guns-002

After the showing, the audience asked Czubek about the impetus behind creating the film and poignant questions about its implications.   One audience member inquired, “Why did you feel you had to make this examination of women and guns?” Czubek, who is also a photographer, shared that in 2001 she was on assignment photographing young girls in a gun club. After the assignment, she was so intrigued by these young women that when she returned to NYC she began attending monthly meetings of a women’s gun club in Chelsea that then spawned the idea for the movie.  Another viewer inquired how Czubek went about conceptualizing the film.  Czubek conversed how she wanted to learn about relationships between women and guns from a multiplicity of angles, that “A gun could symbolize different things for different women.” As well, she wanted to deeply explore the contemporary issues that arose from such relationships.  Another audience member queried Czubek about why she included only one incarcerated participant within the film.  Czubek explained she found Karen through the website writeaprisoner.com, and her particular story resonated. Czubek further expounded that Karen was the most honest among potential incarcerated participants considered, as others demonstrated other agendas. Then Czubek was asked how she was changed throughout the making of the film. She explained how she learned that “there are complex complicated reasons” extending beyond the dichotomous argument typically represented within our culture and society. Another audience member inquired, “How does it make you feel having shot a gun?” Czubek shot a gun for the first time during her assignment in photographing the young girls. She intimated that “it felt like a rite of passage.” Another audience member asked what the filmmaker learned about the ways women in the film incorporate guns within their lives. Examples she shared were that guns were positioned as sport, protection, and artifacts of war.  She found they were in constant negotiation between their roles (for example, as mother, girlfriend), as well as dispositions (vulnerability, competitiveness, empowerment). Finally, an audience member inquired how long it took to make the film, as well as the challenges and hurdles encountered. “A Girl and a Gun” took 8 years to make, and after initially deciding to shrink to film to highlight just a few participants, Czubek felt that the larger narrative was sacrificed, and thus expanded again to become a multi-character story.

I had the privilege of being asked to view and blog about several documentaries showcased at the 2013 Montclair Film Festival.   This synopsis/analysis is simultaneously published by the Montclair Film Festival website http://montclairfilmfest.org/2013/05/a-girl-and-a-gun/.

Making Memories Plate by Plate

Food is sacrament. Forkful by forkful, something old unfolds and something new begins to take its first breath.

Food is sacrament. Through its creations and sharing, I am educated in how to give and bless back the family and friends that purpose my living. Family albums bloom with snapshots where we celebrate anniversaries, show thanks for another year via birthday dinners, mark rites of passage such as retirement and commiserate over one’s passing.

Growing up
Picnic in Riverside Park
Family Gathering, 1995
Family Gathering, 1995
family birthday celebration
Celebrating Dad’s birthday

Growing up, creating Mother’s Day dinner was how I showed—in small part given the grandness of her love—the honor and appreciation I held for her.  I tired my father in an exhaustive day of shopping for everything we did not already have in pantry or freezer.  I used every pot and pan, to my father’s frustration as he was the designated dishwasher. I enveloped the kitchen in a fury of preparing exotic dishes (one year attempting Hunter Style Chicken for dinner, another year a complicated strawberry crepe-style cookie with homemade whipped cream for dessert) in an effort to convey a love supreme. Dinner would be met with my mother’s humble smile, receptive palate, and a willing stomach.  When an adult, and in the hospital recuperating from my tonsillectomy, she traveled a great distance via mass transportation just to bring me Carvel pistachio ice cream. Although melted after her long trip, both my eyes and throat swelled with gratitude. She came to see me, and brought with her a cherished artifact of childhood to help me heal.

The cooking for others has become for me a humble tool to thank others for the difference they have made in my life. I would throw dinner parties as a teenager, and even as a young adult. It was my parents’ way of “compensating” for being old school in not letting me go to house parties or hang out in the city.

mom and dada
Mom and Dad helping me prep and serve at one of my “tribal gatherings”

Although somewhat sheltered, I did not feel shrunken. Rather, their strictness churned my innovation to think of ways to spend time with friends. Food became a means to hang out, to preserve, affirm, and harness friendships. And, it was one of the few times my parents would allow me to be in mixed company.

Regardless of attending universities and colleges in different parts of the country, these “tribal gatherings” as they would come to be called was where over the breaking of bread we, old friends and new budding buddies, would rekindle memories of crazy times growing up, and new life experiences. And we would laugh, laugh, laugh. I remember N’Gai breaking out in singing Rick James’ part of “Fire and Desire,” and how his dramatization both impressed us (he could SING), and humor us as was characteristic of him. My home, and the food prepared there, became means to bridge the old parts of me that happened there and in the old neighborhood with the new parts of me that where happening everywhere else.

College Sisters Kimberly, Sandra, me, and Faith
College Sisters Kimberly, Sandra, me, and Faith

And the ethos shaping these gatherings was one I brought back to campus. One time I made collard greens with turkey, as Kim, Daryle and I took a break from late night studying to exchange stories and watch “Showtime at the Apollo.”  One time, through the graciousness of my dorm RA and family, I hosted a dinner in our rec room with classmates to celebrate Black History Month. It became a means to bridge my family with classmates of diverse backgrounds, a time I will cherish these almost twenty years later.

So food has become at times a tool and other times a bridge.  It is a means for taking care of others, affirming love for others as well as preserving and forging new relationships. One Valentine’s Day, I was upset about not having a boyfriend, so Mom made a picnic in our living room. When I was in grad school, my dad came to visit me for the weekend, and we went to an Italian restaurant and ate a simple dish of spaghetti and marinara sauce.  In that moment, I was both his little girl and his biggest dream. When mom and I hosted bus rides to Atlantic City, we wanted everyone to feel like family, and we used food to do so. It was important to my mom that our guests have something hot to eat for our long trip, a tradition I still practice in making breakfast for my family.  During those trips, we gave a bagged breakfast of sausage, rolls, and juice during the departure, and slices of homemade cakes we made on the return trip. Those experiences even launched for us a small catering venture, where we would make fried turkeys and cakes for sale.  After my father’s passing, and before her own, Mom and I created a new ritual of making food for the winter.  We would spend several weekends visiting farms and supermarkets to stock up on produce. Then, undergo the laborious yet loving task of prepping and preserving food for the winter.  I loved coming home from school to then return with pickles, spiced plums, beets, and stewed tomatoes. Just a few years ago, my childhood friend Carla came to visit me at a tapas bar where she shared her manuscript for her first book of poetry.  Later, when we went to dinner in the city to celebrate its release, she was so touched by the server’s attentiveness and loving words that she gave her one of her newly pressed books for free.  Generosity reciprocating generosity. At the annual Thanksgiving dinner where we all congregate at my in-laws’ home, my father-in-law has passed the torch of carving the turkey to me (I do a damn good job, I must say). But his humility and benevolence leave me feeling cherished and loved. I am a witness that the breaking of bread together heals, redeems and forges.

Growing a relationship plate by plate holds particular fondness for me with my husband. Morsel by morsel, we have unfolded fears, divulged personal trials, asked for and given advice, pondered the future, incessantly chortled, and healed from challenges. We have enjoyed cuisine throughout the east coast, from the fried seafood of City Island to nostalgic hotdogs with mustard at Nathan’s in Coney Island. From being blown away by the deeply developed flavors of fire and emotion conjured by the creole cooking at Marsha Brown’s in New Hope, PA (which we would later return after he proposed) to the down home savor captured by the cornbread at Warmdaddy’s in Philly.  From the pitstops made while traveling to see family down south to the lovingly prepared succotash, ribs and rice at my Aunt Shirley’s dining room table in South Carolina. We’ve counted the restaurants and eateries we visited, and we have been to about two dozen (many repeatedly, some NEVER again) in our years together.

Engagement Night Dinner at Marsha Brown's.
Engagement Night Dinner at Marsha Brown’s

Yet a particular collection of restaurants mark significant events with my husband and I, those of his childhood friend Craig.

Craig is a man of great humility and few words. But the cuisine of his restaurants shouts and testifies. My initiation into the power of his food was at Smoke Joint. Having South Carolinian roots, I was primed for home cooking, and the food did not disappoint. BBQ ribs that fall off the bone, greens that summon you to hum from their deliciousness, and beans that tantalize with traces of sweet and smoky flirtations on your tongue.  But the beautiful flavor of the food was a means to something greater. It was a conduit through which we grew to know one another.  Hurling jokes, asking questions, humming, we hankered down into the succulence of food that would then begin the teaching of how we would come to feed one another in soul.

Smoke Joint

It would be at Peaches, another of Craig’s restaurants, that I would then meet the urban frontiersman of fine food, and his life partner, Laura. I knew this meeting, and the breaking of bread with them at their place, was pivotal. I was meeting people Kerwin holds sacred, as he and Craig grew up together, in neighborhood and in church, and Laura is a woman whom they both highly regard and respect. If allowed, I would be initiated into a sacred group.  The restaurant felt welcoming, the exchange of greetings and smiles very promising, and the offerings of libation by Laura let me know that this initiation and assessment would be affectionately administered. Then, and now, I am fascinated and inspired by Craig and Laura being a couple who withstood the trials and challenges of growing a marriage, a family, a dream and a business simultaneously.

Returning back to the food, it did not disappoint. The chicken and Andouille gumbo always opens and breaks my heart.  I taste home every time I have it. It harkens me back to when Mom and I made it together. I had the task of stirring the dangerous but delicious roux, harmonizing the flour and hot oil in the cast iron skillet, building the base that my mom would then complete, and we lovingly enjoy. In homage to that conjured memory, and the powerful gift of Craig’s restaurant to channel it, I continue to make it on my own at home.

Peaches

Like the role of food when growing up, Peaches has also come for us to be a meeting place for old friends and new family. Periodically, another childhood friend, Chris, visits Brooklyn. When in town we converge at Peaches to banter and make new bliss. Like me, Chris orders the same thing, the Shrimp Po Boy, as it has come for him to be the signature dish that holds his memories, heart and stomach captive.  Sometimes Kerwin and I have gone as a family, bringing at the time our oldest son, as we make a new memory savoring deep-rooted food. In similar fashion, Chris’ wife Deshae also created a special moment when meeting for the first time by having us all go out together at the local Outback Steakhouse after visiting their church. Meeting her, and spending time with them and their family, has made an indelible impression on my heart ever since.

And then there is Hothouse. The trinity of brothers met there when it newly opened, celebrating Craig’s new accomplishment and their time-tested bond. Kerwin was so taken by the fried chicken that he raved and raved and raved when he returned home.  I was intrigued. Pregnant and enlarged with our first child, we went. A tight wooden space, it resonates with the décor of a speakeasy.  But plates of that fried chicken swelled nostalgic within me, so much so that I think it is in part why our firstborn LOVES chicken. Hothouse now comes to be a place in our hearts that marks our celebration of an old friend’s accomplishments, and our celebration of growing a family.

And just this past Thanksgiving weekend, we were able to celebrate again a milestone in our dear friend’s career. The opening of Marietta. As an annual ritual, Craig and his wife Laura host several friends and family at one of their restaurants for Thanksgiving. Regrettably we missed it because of heavy traffic, and needed to get to my in-laws on time. But that following Saturday Craig, Chris and our family met there to break bread and make new memories.

Family
The family

Over the years I have come to regard Craig and Chris as my “big brothers,” feeling comfortable with asking questions, cracking jokes, and now, making sure that Keith and Maceo get to know their “uncles.”  A cornucopia of fried foods—chicken, whiting, and green tomatoes—overflowed our beige wood table.  Craig ordered on Kerwin’s behalf a variety of plates given Kerwin’s indecisiveness in what delectables to finally select. The butternut squash and mushroom risotto Craig ordered was decadent and quickly devoured. My second born, Maceo, a very finicky eater, grabbed for every plate that graced the table.

Marietta 2
Mommy and Maceo

Even under watchful eyes, he somehow caught hold of a chicken bone which he gnawed and gnawed until by his growling in enjoyment we realized what he was doing. After its removal, he settled for sneaking some watercress.  But he loved the sautéed greens I fed him by hand. Eventually I had to battle him in getting some for myself.  Good food will make you selfish.

Craig and Kerwin
Kerwin, Keith, and Uncle Craig

What was enjoyable about sitting with my family and brothers was the mutuality.  We peppered one another with questions. For Craig, I inquired what it was like to maintain several restaurants, his inspiration for the cuisine selected, reasons for the décor selected, and next ventures. Chris reciprocated in asking thoughtful questions for me to consider around Keith’s social readiness for school. For me personally, what was wonderful to behold was this band of brothers, these fathers, these spiritual kinsmen, spending time once again with one another.

Chris
Uncle Chris

Marietta and the men made me feel at home. I could be mom, and also kick up my feet.  Keith and I took advantage of the empty space (due to the holiday), giving my at times restless son carte blanche to explore.  Up and down the corridor we walked and giggled, touching plants and holiday décor, investigating textures and shapes. Ever the teacher, I built in mini-lessons about opposites, such as cold (when touching the window) and warm, outside (looking out the window), and inside. I also indulged the enjoyment of some delicious cocktails. Craig “reminded” me to indulge my quiet time. Sage and gin make a splendid mix. In my taking care of others, I was taken care of too.

Craig and Maceo
Uncle Craig and Maceo

There is something about good food and good times that summons me to find the tools and means to recreate them and share them again. Craig’s food so inspired me that again, in homage, I made renditions of them at home. Kerwin delighted in the risotto at the restaurant, so I made a butternut squash risotto with parmesan cheese this past week. I was so seduced by the bite and heat of the sautéed mixed greens that I made some too. Keith was an ever-faithful tester, who volunteered sampling several forkfuls in various stages of preparation (though they did not turn out as good as at the restaurant . . .will keep trying). Knowing Kerwin is a fan of mushrooms, I was inspired to make something we never had. Grilled cheese sandwiches made with challah, Portobello mushrooms, fresh sage, and fontina cheese. Kerwin inhaled the sandwich in just a few bites. I felt affirmed.

Risotto Greens

I see in my firstborn a growing fascination with food too. When in the kitchen, he breaks from his own play asking for seasoning. Sprinkling small amounts in his little hands, he stares in study at the different grains and colored powders, devours, assesses, and then asks for more. He can make distinctions between nutmeg, cloves, kosher salt, adobo, ground onions, garlic powder, and coarse black pepper (his favorite). At just two years old he asks for them by name.  This exchange can delay meals at times, but as my Mom did with me, and Craig for his customers, I am learning how to create foods as a portal into new relationships, and bridges into new ways to create love for others.

Keith and Greens

Forkful by forkful, something old unfolds and something new begins to take its first breath.

For more information about these restaurants, and menus, please visit http://www.bcrestaurantgroup.com/.

A Father’s Pen, A Daugther’s Lens: “Every Day is a Holiday” as a Narrative of Resilience

After his mother’s passing, a centenarian of wise years and generous heart, my cousin began renovating his Brooklyn childhood home. Pulling up well-lived carpets, he discovers the floor underneath protectively covered by newspapers from 1947, the year his parents purchased the brownstone. Resourcefully, he did not quickly discard the papers, fire hazard they may have been. Enthused by this archaeological discovery, he combed the articles, even finding a front page story about famed baseball player Babe Ruth. He plans to frame it and others in homage to the history upon which his family unknowingly walked their own.

Similarly, Theresa Loong discovers the pièce de résistance of her father’s life as he shares with her his wartime diary while ill. A literary heirloom, she could rightfully have chosen to keep it to herself, remaining the sole beneficiary of his innermost thoughts and wisdom. Unselfishly, she deems her inheritance too important not to divulge. She unfolds both diary and daddy in the documentary Every Day is a Holiday.

Dr. Paul Loong

A perspicacious filmmaker, Theresa unearths the bones of her father, breaking open the marrow of his lifelong resolve to endure challenge after challenge. The documentary begins with his intimations of being a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II from 1942 to 1945. At just 19 years old, he candidly details the exploits suffered within Mitsushima and Hitachi prison camps. Shoveling sand, breaking rocks, bagging cement, toiling in dangerous hot copper mines wearing tattered clothing, hunger festering until fights break out over grains of rice, are just a few of the atrocities recorded within his words. Dr. Paul Loong recounts that the captured soldiers were transformed by the mercilessness and brutality into “walking skeletons full of dirt and rice.” Together, father’s pen and daughter’s lens harmonize, bringing into sharp focus the horrific inhumane physical conditions and mental anguish he and his comrades endured as POWs for three years.

The diary serves as a portal into the deepest realm of her father, a space he did not disclose to fellow prisoners, and not until late in age when he believed his daughter could understand. Justifiably, Dr. Loong’s writings and life thereafter could focus predominantly on unbosoming a chronicle of despair. However, his entries do not break bitter. His written expositions, and the life they have taken on ever since, contradict captivity. The imprisonment does little to chip away at his steadfastness or eclipse his tenacity. On August 15, 1945, he and over 45,000 imprisoned soldiers were finally liberated. He records his renewed conviction in a better life by writing “Every day will be a holiday.”

The epiphany of celebrating life and cherishing liberty has informed his daily living ever since.

Every Day is a Holiday situates the snapshot of Dr. Loong’s period of imprisonment within the larger photo album of his life. Like a favorite uncle sharing his life story during a family reunion, we are invited and drawn into Dr. Loong looking back on his trials, tribulations, and triumphs. Deftly, Theresa dredges his diary, capturing his pithy observations and beautiful prose, juxtaposing highlighted excerpts with photos and videos of his life since the camps. Her digging uncovers that his attention and motivation are emphatically centered on future possibilities. It is from this center that an even greater story unfolds line by line, reflection by reflection.

Theresa weaves a compelling narrative of the testing of her father and how each test actually served as a compass. We are beguiled by one-on-one interviews of his accounts of becoming self-sufficient in an unknown country, securing U.S. citizenship amidst many deliberate roadblocks, pursuing an education and career in medicine, and preparing to financially sustain a family. Family photos, as well as on-location and archival footage, illuminate and illustrate her father’s evolution. Candid interviews capture her father’s humanity; his fertile mind, fragility, and funniness. Like sitting at the knees of an elder, Paul Loong dispenses humor, compassion and honed clarity. We learn he is a complex man who despite tests of faith, patience and strength, does not remain trapped in the tests. One incident does not a life make, and Theresa craftily shows this by positioning her father’s memoir within a larger conversation about humanity and resilience.

Following the viewing, the audience had the opportunity to meet and talk with not only filmmaker Theresa Loong, but also her mother and father, as well as executive producer Bill Einreinhofer. The audience posed questions about the making of the film and also to the family. First, Theresa was asked about what brought her to do this film. She shared that the idea for the film germinated while interning at Channel 13 and grew from a family visit back to Mitsushima. She thought about how personal stories can easily go unexamined and unexplored, and thought about how the intersection of storytelling and film could best suit the telling of her father’s particular story. An audience member then asked Dr. Loong whether he remains in contact with fellow POWs. He shared that he maintains correspondence with a few that are in Canada as well as the widows of POWs who are deceased. However, because many have passed, correspondence is now within a community of the children and grandchildren of the deceased. Another viewer asked how Dr. Loong was able to travel from Chicago to New York during the period when he was still trying to secure citizenship, which Dr. Loong then explained through telling of his non-unionized service on an oil boat. Next, Dr. Loong was asked, “During the most difficult times in life, what sustains you?” He humbly replied, “My belief in God’s goodness.”

Next, Theresa was asked how she managed to get the film funded and completed. She explained that she worked on the film for nearly a decade as a side project and then found support and financial backing from Kentucky Educational TV, ITVS, The Film Shop and Kickstarter. Finally, both Dr. Loong and Theresa shared about an unanticipated experience in doing the film together. He shared that it was difficult to do the movie because it brought up very sad memories, something which Theresa disclosed that she did not realize the painful impact of recalling what happened as well.

I had the privilege of being asked to view and blog about several documentaries showcased at the 2013 Montclair Film Festival. This synopsis/analysis is simultaneously published by the Montclair Film Festival website (http://montclairfilmfest.org/2013/06/every-day-is-a-holiday/).

Inside Gideon’s Army

Recently I had the privilege of being asked to view and blog about several documentaries showcased at the 2013 Montclair Film Festival.  The documentary Gideon’s Army  travels the gamut of public defenders’ resilience, resistance, remorse and redemption while serving others.  This synopsis/analysis is simultaneously published by the Montclair Film Festival website (http://montclairfilmfest.org/2013/05/inside-gideons-army/).

Gideon’s Army follows the lives of three new young public defenders. Filmmaker and former litigator Dawn Porter chronicles the trials and tribulations of neophytes Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick as they reconcile advocacy of impoverished clients with the harsh reality accompanying it. Each share reasons for becoming defenders and face myriad tests in emotionally, psychologically, and financially sustaining themselves in their work.

Caseloads of 120 to 180 clients each do not smother the young attorneys’ resolve to go the extra mile for clients, regardless of what they must forgo and forgive.  “All I do is this,” says Travis, a first year devoted public defender in Georgia, confirmed by footage showing his office directly next door to his apartment.  “Either this is your cause or this ain’t,” is another of his battle hymns. June, based in Mississippi, harbors a boots-on-the-ground approach in working for her clients because they are “all counting on me for being there for them.” She regards her clients as kinfolk; because several divulge of previously having inadequate counsel, she tries to redeem the profession and their faith in the system. Brandy, based in Georgia, takes on a mentoring role, particularly with adolescent clients naïve to how the system works. She even visit clients when lonely being behind bars. Yet her experience, and like so many of her counterparts, is that sacrifices are not always reciprocally respected.

While sensationalized court cases dominate and saturate the airwaves, Porter deftly unearths through trial footage and interviews the unglamorous and unfair world of public defenders. Travis must defend a client against armed robbery charges without any DNA evidence.  Because the taking of a witness deposition is not required in Georgia, Brandy must prepare her case for her client, an adolescent also facing armed robbery charges, without knowing what the prosecution’s witnesses will say. With minimal resources and routinely problematic circumstances, public defenders must pull effective defenses from meager means. Where are the bright lights when you need them?

This documentary drives the sympathetic point that public defenders need bolstering too, and spotlights the only program nationwide providing it. The Southern Public Defender Training Center (now Gideon’s Promise) mentors fledgling frontiersmen in the legal wilderness. During one meeting Brandy unbosomed her dilemma, telling of a client’s graphic yet nonchalant detailing of raping his daughter, triggering in her a collision of her humanity with her growing ambiguity over whether to remain a public defender. With only 15,000 in service nationwide, the movie drives home the point that public defenders, like water, are a resource that should not be squandered.  The personal and professional lives of Travis, Brandy, and June somewhat justifies why 1 out of 3 public defenders leave the profession.

In Gideon’s Army, Porter situates the narratives of the defenders’ lives against the larger social, economic and ethical social landscapes within which they occur.  For poor clients, existing economic hardships become exacerbated. Once being jailed, lack of employment results in them losing jobs, homes, cars, and child custody. In one Georgia county high bonds are prohibitive of clients sustaining livelihoods and lives; a bond for shoplifting is $40,000.  One of Brandy’s adolescent clients was eligible for a pre-trial diversion program if his mother could post $3000 bond, which she could not muster. Consequently, he pled guilty. Working within systems with minimal resources and questionable executions of due process, Porter makes us privy to the underbelly of the pursuit and metering out of justice received.

Amidst their trials and tribulations Porter also reminds us that public defenders have human needs too. June is a mother who, once her student loans and bills are paid, is left with $300 for monthly expenses. She candidly shares of one time writing a check for groceries that she knew she did not have money in her account to cover.  Brandy, facing student loans of six figures, is shown putting $3 of gas in her car, hoping it will be enough to get her back and forth from home to work for the next two days. Travis seeks a life outside of work, seeking to bring fulfilling relationships into his life, and once getting them balancing them with his work.

The blessing emanating from the grievance of Clarence Earl Gideon not receiving counsel has led to us all having now the privilege of legal representation during trial. But Porter craftily unfolds throughout the movie the layers of complexity that underlie delivering and receiving it.  Each attorney learns they must navigate and negotiate the intersection of principles and actuality, as pursuit of justice exacts costs on defender, client, system and nation.

Everything free ain’t free.

A fruitful dialogue and exchange of information ensured after the screening.  An impromptu and informal panel of Dawn Porter (Director, Producer), Julie Goldman (Producer), Summer Damon (Co-Producer), Paul Fishman from the US Attorney for New Jersey’s office and another public defender were present to field questions. One viewer asked Porter how the film was made and the attorneys selected. Through her connections with Gideon’s Promise, she was able to interview and select participants for the film; although outreaching to prosecutors, all declined participation.  Another viewer inquired about funding sources, which Porter credited the Ford Foundation and HBO as substantial contributors.

When asked of the number of cases she followed, Porter shared interesting stories of the rigor she was put through in order to even get to film cases. Georgia requires a motion requesting permission, but one judge who eventually accommodated filming, requested formal arguments be presented. Less of a challenge was experienced in Mississippi where June is based, as she simply asked permission of her judge. Another viewer asked if pro bono representation is provided in New Jersey, which the representative from the US Attorney for NJ office explained that all attorneys within the state are supposed to provide some sort of pro bono counsel, explicating how that occurs. However, he detailed how because of the sequestration, his own office is furloughed 11 days. Another viewer made comparison of what occurred in the movie with what is transpiring in the Bronx where the magnitude of caseloads is causing a backlog.

Predictions for Oscar Sunday by “keyfilmfan”

Film-reel[1]

Guest Blogger “keyfilmfan” offers his predictions for this year’s 2013 Oscar nominations . . .

First of all, I want to thank my wife for allowing me the opportunity to guest blog as she continues to rest after delivering our second child. She then added that I can talk about any topic I want. Any topic? Wow, I feel like I’ve been given a blank check and a pen. Here we go.

I do miss the times when I can just grab my keys, jump in my car and drive to anywhere I want to go. The place I found myself the most when I had free time was at the movie theatre. Nothing beats the experience of seeing a film on a big screen in a sold out auditorium.

Nowadays, it is pretty tough to separate myself from my infant son. In 2012, my wife and I went to see a grand total of three films. Not just any three films, but highly conceptual, highly anticipated, commercial blockbusters: Marvel’s Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. I’m thankful I got to see three, but if I was allowed to see only one film last year, it would be Skyfall. I am maintaining a decades long tradition of going to view every James Bond film at the movies since Moonraker in 1979.
While we are on the subject of Bond, every true James Bond fan should know by now that this Sunday, history could be made at the Academy Awards.

I haven’t been this excited about the Oscars in years. I cannot wait to see the great Adele belt out the Skyfall theme and then return to the stage minutes later to accept her Oscar for Best Original Song, a first for a James Bond tune. Then, the ceremony will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the film franchise. I will get to see a cool montage of classic Bond film clips. Most of all, if all egos are set aside, I may get to see for the first time ever all six actors who portrayed Bond appear in person, standing front and center, side by side, gleaming with pride, looking out at the rousing standing ovation coming from the audience. I am confident this will happen. If it does, well… I may just cry.

Oscar Sunday is just days away, and I am ready to predict the winners. Let’s face it; you don’t really need to see the films in order to know who will win. As we’ve seen in Oscar’s past, the best picture doesn’t necessarily win Best Picture. The winners are picked based on the hype currently spreading through the media and the mighty marketing campaigns that’s been taking place on my TV screen ever since the nominations were announced.

Here are two of my favorite campaigns. Academy voters are mad as hell that Ben Affleck was shut out of the Director’s nomination and they are not going to take it anymore. Translation: Agro will win Best Picture. Next, the people behind Silver Linings Playbook are pushing the fact the Robert De Niro has not won an Oscar in 32 years. Has it been that long? Well, this movie legend is overdue to win another one.

As a long time viewer of the Oscars (by the way, if you run into someone who claims they are movie fanatics but they never watch the Oscars is lying to you), one thing is consistent: the movie with the most Oscar nominations usually wins the most Oscars. Since this year is a horse race, Lincoln, who has the most nominations with 12, will not walk away with a boat load of statues. In years when there is no runaway hit, the Academy likes to share the wealth. Here is how it will break down.

Lincoln – 12 Nominations, will win 4; Directing, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Production Design
Life of Pi – 11 Nominations, will win 3; Cinematography, Original Score and Visual Effects
Les Miserables – 8 Nominations, will win 2; Supporting Actress, and Makeup and Hairstyling
Silver Linings Playbook – 8 Nominations, will win 2; Actress, Supporting Actor
Argo – 7 Nominations, will win 2; Picture and Film Editing
Amour – 5 Nominations, will win 2; Original Screenplay and Foreign Language Film

As for the other categories:
Original Song – Skyfall; Animated Feature – Brave; Sound Mixing – Skyfall; Sound Editing – Skyfall; Costume Design – Anna Karenina; Documentary- Searching for Sugar Man; Documentary Short – Inocente; Animated Short – Paperman; Live Action Short – Asad

Let me know if you agree with my picks or if I’m way off the mark.

The Lone Crusaders of “Valhalla Rising” and “The Book of Eli”: Preternatural Archetypes and Iconic Rebels

This won’t be a review of these two films evaluating their merits and detractions.  More so, this blogpost is an investigative pondering, a thinking out loud about the power of movies serving as introspective lenses into ourselves.  After seeing “Valhalla Rising” a few days ago, it has not left my bones or cognitive preoccupation.  The brooding landscape, the haunting music, the brutal yet beguiling treatment of proverbial conflicts (man versus man, man versus society), the aesthetic achievement of a  movie not ending with a conventionally bow tied happy ending, have moved me.  I am responding to a movement in my marrow, an archetypal and iconic familiarity implanted by my father, now resurrected.

To give context, In “Valhalla Rising,” the clairvoyant Norseman protagonist, One Eye, is introduced as a captive exploited for the gladiator-style sport of combating and bludgeoning fellow captives.  One Eye is temporarily compliant with his slavery and defers to his captor’s bloodlust for combat.  He is then sold by his captor to another who hopes to use him to stave off the Christian Crusaders who have begun the onslaught of whomever they deem infidels.   However, One Eye brutally takes back his freedom, and resumes his quest, accompanied now by the boy (called The Boy) who provided food while in captivity and will provide his voice, as One Eye is mute.   Ironically, they encounter a group of Crusaders embarking for Jerusalem and join them.  Then when the ship is trapped by obscuring mist and stilled currents, some crew interpret the presence of The Boy as an omen of their demise.  Others are resolved in perceiving both One Eye and The Boy as a means to a supernatural confirmation of their quest, with One Eye providing messianic-like security.  The men then land upon a taiga, and begin to realize that they are nowhere near the Holy Land of Jerusalem for which their chartered their course and agendas.  They encounter aboriginals, as well as the fraying interior of the deepest and dilemma-ridden aspects of themselves, leading to revelatory unfolding.

Stories about lone crusaders and the conflicts they encounter fascinate me.  The preservation of self despite the infliction or indifference of others, the indestructible resolve to uphold and defend what is believed even at cost to self, are compelling narratives.  One Eye is embedded within an interwoven tapestry of two conflicts—man against man, and man against society.   One Eye does not willfully engage or pursue conflicts with others, or deliberately position himself to take a side for his own advantage.  In his quietude he remains resolute to keep moving, resilient in accepting and fulfilling his premonitions.  Beholding to what seems to be a calling to something greater, he combats through the shadows and valleys of others’ intentions, expectations, and manipulations.  This instinctive perseverance and acceptance of his fate are what confounds some characters and convicts others.

One Eye’s obligatory devotion to fulfilling his premonitions and the path they lay reminds me of my father.  My father was a man who availed his limbs and logic to providing me the best life possible (on earth and heaven).   Specifically, my father upheld the belief that it was his responsibility to instill within me religious practices and spiritual teachers to inform my life going forward.  The most indelible impression he makes upon me are what he taught me about my origin.  He had a way of explaining that we are translation of a divine intention.  Dad taught me about God and Christ, and many Biblical figures to serve me in life as guideposts for my living.  His favorite king was David, a man chosen by God to build and defend His kingdom knowing in his walk of earthen life he would both travail from and prevail against his personal foibles and fallibility.  Jesus impressed him because of His determination despite any and all obstacles to do His Father’s work.  Perhaps the parallel between One Eye and my father’s teachings lay in the fact that regardless of what the eye/s can see, there is a life purposefully divined and driven beyond physical unyieldingness, and to resolve to see and live life beyond circumstance strengthens one’s ability to do so sedulously and steadfastly.

Since seeing “Valhalla Rising,” I have also begun to reflect upon how I was also moved by the movie “The Book of Eli”.  The latter is also a movie that moves my marrow me because of its theme of sight beyond circumstance.  As like One Eye, Eli is diminished in his sight (he is completely blind).  However, Eli’s blindness does not mentally, spiritually or physically deter him.  Instead, his ordaining to deliver the last Bible propels Eli.  The sight garnered by conviction emboldens both characters to resist surrendering to physical limitation or societal intimidation; in Eli’s case, Carnegie’s hunting and assaulting of him to acquire the physical Bible in his care.  Throughout the movie, Eli invokes and demonstrates his Biblically-informed and infused sight to traverse an apocalyptic wasteland, the degeneration of others, and the attempted exploits of demagogue Carnegie to exploit and kill him exclusively for gain.  Unfortunately, Carnegie’s greed and thirst for power literally shrink his sight to only register what is physical.  The Bible Eli carries is written in Braille, which Carnegie cannot read and therefore exploit to wield his power.  The Bible that Eli transports is actually committed to memory: he succeeds bringing it to a repository and printing press housed in Alcatraz before succumbing to his injuries.

My fascination with both protagonists is that the fragile meets the fierce.  Despite what seems to be limits in the flesh, the execution of their beliefs is what avails them strength, courage and wisdom to continue pursuing their higher calling.  Each protagonist prevails against his own carnal limitation.  Despite the exploitation of others—attempted and executed—each remains undeterred to accomplish a goal greater than the obstacles that materialize and plague them.  They remind me of my father, whose spiritual sight helped him to prevail against affliction.  He taught me that we were born ordained to do special work on earth even before assuming earthly vessels, and celestially supported by the hierarchy of Heaven to complete it.    Who we are metaphorically, mystically, molecularly, and metabolically overshadows and overpowers  any obstacle we will experience in our walk on earth (perhaps this is also why movies like ”Contact” resound in me too . . .I’ll save that for another day).  This teaching he embedded in me informs and instructs me some 15 years after his passing.  Ironically, he died just nine days after my Baptism, and though for me premature, I have never believed this to be an accident as a surrender and restful return.

His job done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman Redux: Are We a Nation Rhetorically at War with Itself?

What do we as a nation think of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case?   Here are recent posts from CNN’s website covering different aspects of the Trayvon Martin case.[1][2]

you know: what a good scapegoat for blacks to point at and cry racism.

P41: Caucasians are liars, murderers, thieves, rapists, sodomites, false witnesses, blasphemers, gluttons, idolaters, envious, lazy, swindlers, haters of GOD ALMIGHTY, and of the ORIGINAL BLACK MAN, BLACK WOMAN, AND CHILD.

Turbokorper: …there once was a community of thugs
…who were really good at pimpin’ and selling drugs
…we just move away,
…hopin’ they will stay,
…in the squalor, the crime and the bugs.

Lagergeld: Zimmerman is a brown Mestizo like the average Mexican yet CNN and the other networks keep pimping the lie that he is white to promote such BS agendas as this and to somehow twist words, journalistic accuracy, and reality itself to make some freak show tie-in to Emmett Till.  This is Communist News Network. As you were, Comrades.

Kimip: Far more Republicans (56%) than Democrats (25%) say there has been too much coverage of Martin’s death, Big surprise there. They would only care if it was someone from corporate America that was shot and killed. 

Michwill: If you’re not a part of the black community you need to keep your opinions to yourself. We don’t comment on the priests that molest the white altar boys or all the pedophiles in your communities or even when the white husband decides to kill himself and the whole family!!

Justice Has Occurred: I just read some of Trayvon’s published tweets. He was an inmate waiting to happen. Putting him down now may have saved some lives…black and white.

Recent responses to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman dynamic have clearly plucked a raw nerve, suggesting that this case has repercussions and ripples extending beyond that fatal night.  In some respects, the case has us all examining our experience of race and ethnicity in this shared country, particularly around civil liberties, law enforcement, due process, interactions with other ethnic groups and the perceptions we believe others hold of us based on our own positionality.  This is a case that harnesses within both individuals and groups a pulsing plethora of emotions and positions: vulnerable, victimized, and vindicated.   It is hard to not take aspects of the case personally and be impacted by them.

But as suggested by the smattering of the comments above, there is an undercurrent that is surfacing.  That facts and aspects of the case are being chiseled into reactions that are then used as leverage to hurt and harm a stranger or unsuspecting group.  What particularly resonates with me are some of the personal attacks that people have hurled at one another.  It’s made for a charged atmosphere of hurt feelings and caustic retaliation, the flinging of accusations and assumed political agendas.

Yet I wonder about the impact of such flagrant and rampant personalization, how it is churning and festering within us as citizens of a shared nation, leading us into then maliciously attacking specific individuals and groups. To some degree, it is human nature to hurt when harmed (a scorned lover, a bullied child).  But to sharpen understandings of the case into weapons to inflict undue damage is making for unfortunate fallout.  A failing of compassion.  A missed opportunity to understand and be understood.

The inflation of the case whereby people are using it to insult, instigate, implicate, and inculcate fellow humans does nothing to further understanding the incident, the case, each other or us as a nation.  But what the hurling of such incendiary comments, abuse of facts from the case, and exploitation of stereotypes does is beg us to look into the mirror.  Why are we using this case to purposefully and deliberately disrobe, dismiss and denigrate?  Why are we fashioning the hurling of hurt? What benefit manifests from adding insult to injury?  What long-lasting good comes from using this case to leverage insults against fellow humans? What do any of us score, or even win?

Why are the branches attacking the body?

This is not to suggest anything against our right to free speech.  This does detract from the historical, social and cultural backdrop against which this case occurs.  But we can retain emotive clarity.  When I read such comments as those listed above, and see their growing proliferation like dandelion spawns in blistery winds, I wonder where else they will land.

And, like the nature of weeds, what potential for life they will begin to choke.


[1] Study: Republicans, whites more tired of Trayvon Martin coverage. CNN.com. April 5, 2012. http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/04/justice/florida-teen-shooting/index.html?hpt=ju_t4

[2] Trayvon’s Death: Echoes of Emmett Till? CNN.com. March 24th, 2012.  http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/24/trayvons-death-echoes-of-emmett-till/comment-page-3/#comments

Looking into the Mirror of a Great Divide: How We Define Ourselves at the Expense of Others

In the recent blogpost titled “Black Canadian Like Me,” Alyson Renaldo suggests a contention between kindred of shared borders—Black Canadians and African Americans. She recycles the “Black on Black” crime of people of shared African Diasporic experience disliking and distancing themselves from each other, suggesting that cultural cluelessness, assimilation, and a “lack of reaching back” are the culprits.  Yet in irritating this sore spot, is the author as much its promoter as its clarifier, when suggesting for example that artist Jill Scott’s lyrical references to southern cuisine lacks insight and makes her “clueless” to the cultural experiences of others, and the questions of one Los Angeles bus driver to the author about her diction suggest a universal myopia about African Americans’ understandings of other Black people’s experiences?  The post below explores the dimensions of Alyson’s argument, and the larger dilemma underlying the building and burning of bridges between Diasporic neighbors.

In the blogpost “Black Canadian Like Me” (http://www.theroot.com/views/black-canadian-me), Alyson Renaldo begins her blog sharing reflections on recently attending a Jill Scott concert in Canada with her friends.  She admires Jill’s music, acknowledging it as a portal into an intimate portrait of Jill, a translation of personal experiences churned into lyrical public artifacts.  But it is this very translation that the author criticizes and deems offensive, indicting Jill’s song on a platform larger than her lyrics, holds the song responsible for more than self-expression.  Going wider and deeper than classifying Jill’s performance as creative expression, she critiques both Jill’s song and herself as an artist.  Because Alyson and her friends were unfamiliar with some of the cuisine and cultural references Jill made, the author alludes to Jill’s references to food as intentionally excluding her and her friends from what “should” have been a concert of inclusivity. What follows are some of the comments Alyson and her friends recorded that they made during this collision between concert and culture:

“[Jill’s] just setting up her experience in the song. But, well, not really, because she’s asking us to reminisce with her, which means we’re supposed to know about these strange food combinations, too,” and “I don’t think they know there are others on the planet with them. Maybe she thinks the ‘c’ in ‘Canada’ really stands for ‘Carolinas.’”

Alyson and her friends situate Jill’s center of gravity—how she defines herself—as off-putting, and in the author’s words, “cultural cluelessness.”  She asserts that Jill Scott disappointedly does not take into consideration the experiences of others within her music; talking about certain cuisine indicative of her personal story excludes and alienates others’ stories.

The author seems to be going in the direction of a cultural indictment of a personal cuisine-based affinity upheld by Jill Scott, but is using Jill’s lyrics to lead into a generalized assumption of African Americans’ cultural insularity and exclusivity. She interprets Jill’s culinary affinity as an elitist cultural alienation of them, foregrounding it as an implication of African Americans as a whole as being culturally insular and ignorant.  Using the concert as a case study, the author devotes the rest of the blog to also discussing a premise that African-Americans participate in a self-erasure, with this erasure being a non-affiliation with Diasporic cultural and historical roots, a cultural and ethnic myopia whereby border kindred of African Descent (in this case, Canadians) are disregarded, and an unhealthy assimilation and absorption of Americana.

The blog has me pondering, and probably will continue so long after writing my own response.  Trying best to not write tit for tat, there is something about this supposition of Diasporic and border-based betrayal that does not rest well.  I think the blogpost offers a personal account about how one’s identity is formed and informed by historical and contemporary factors, but makes an over-sweeping judgment to about African Americans as a whole that further contributes fuel to an artificial fight between the survivors of the African Diaspora.

Jill Didn’t Mean No Harm

Alyson frames Jill Scott as “culturally clueless” because of the particular culinary references and cultural connections she made with them.   However, artists work on dual planes—they express a particularized experience, yet do so in forums which universalize its access and foster new possibilities.  This universal access then allows as audience to experience the framing of life as offered by the artist, while also being invited to innovate upon this offering by infusing or revising pieces of ourselves (writing a poem or essay based on a phrase, creating a dance to complement it, reminisce about a time in our lives when we experienced similar, do research, ask questions, etc.).  As another option, we can accept it at face value as just an artist’s interpretation and integrate nothing of ourselves.  To Jill’s defense (and credit), while not everyone grows up on collard greens and candied sweets as particularized by her, there is a universal human experience induced by food and tradition.  As a universal human experience, food and tradition are intertwined, used to commemorate universally human events such as rites of passage, marriage, birth, death, war, victory, etc.

Art is an invitation into a dialogue between artist and audience, a conversation amongst a multiplicity of beings.   I am a fan of Jill Scott in how she mixes a range of emotions, experiences and epiphanies with a range of sounds.  I admire how John Coltrane translates the divine into music.  Composer Clint Mansell generates a soundtrack for the movie “Requiem for a Dream” that gives a sound to addition—razor-backed, uncomfortable, brooding and solemn.  Teena Marie blends guitar and a multi-octave range to make compelling narratives.  Jamiroquai makes the ethereal into the audible.  Astrud Gilberto sings Bossa Nova in a way that is seductive, soothing, and sonorous.  Yo-Yo Ma interprets the history of countries and different music genres, rendering them into melded art.  I may not come from where each of these musicians comes from, nor agree with or enjoy everything each produces.  But, as artists do, by siphoning their specific experience through music, each provides a medium and channel into the human experience.   So to argue as Alyson does that someone’s articulation of his/her experience to be deliberately excluding of others is a huge stretch.  To suggest that an artist’s singular articulation is endemic of a practice of a people is erroneous and unfair condemnation (I’ll return back to this point in the next section).

We have to be careful of criticizing musicians (and perhaps artists in general) as cultural elitists and exclusionists because of references made in a song, and just because some references are unfamiliar or outside the realm of our specific experience.  My husband is a fan of several artists old and new, across a span of artists (from Aretha to Adele, from The Dramatics to The Bee Gees, from David Ruffin to Neil Diamond), eras (60’s, 70’s, 80’s), genres (movie scores to classic soul) and continents (here and abroad).  Several of my nieces love and grew up with Soca and Calypso.  Being around them has made for me a feeling of discomfort because I am unfamiliar with many of the songs and artists they like.  However, it is the intersection of our shared lives as family, amidst this discomfort, that has encouraged me to ask questions and penetrate past a wall of assumed difference, rather than be immobilized by assumption.  Lesson learned  and the take-away. . .while there is variance in our musical tastes, and in the content and cultural referencing of the artists, these things make for more of an opportunity for curiosity than criticism or Diasporic cutterage.


Cultural identity Held Up in the Mirrors of Others’ Eyes

Another argument made in Alyson’s blog is that there people of the Diaspora living in the United States  “process race and community differently than I” (than Canadian-located counterparts), that there was a kind of oppression-and-assimilation orientation that people of color in the United States hold compared to brethren living in Canada.  She recounts her rearing as being entrenched with identifying with the country of family origin, not current location (in this case, Canada where she was born as a citizen).  She makes several statements that that end.  For example, she states, “It was absolutely unheard of for anyone of my ilk to claim Canada,” which “absolutely everything, from your table etiquette to your family pride — was figuratively imported,” and “my generation’s parents knew what they were doing when they insisted on raising us as West Indians first, rather than Canadian.”

There are two implications here.  One is that only Alyson has been reared this way, suggesting that no other immigrant groups, whether voluntary or involuntary, practice the preservation and continuation of old traditions in new lands and inculcate their young to do the same.  Second, the author implies that if someone was not raised this same isolationistic way, that she or he is deprived and “less than.”  The author’s mentioning of how she “processes race and community” seems more as to bring separative distinction and deliberate distancing to the forefront.  Isn’t this the very same elitism she accuses Jill Scott of doing during the concert?  Jill is accused of cultural elitism because of references made in a song and “promoted” during a concert, yet the same indictment could be imposed here for the author’s elevation of how she was raised to the assumed absence of how others are not.

The author also makes an interesting statement about her rearing and interracial interactions between white Canadians and people of the African Diaspora living in Canada.  She asserts that in Canada there is a deliberate distancing between those of West Indian descent and the white majority:

“. . . when it comes to my sense of self, I am Caribbean, first and foremost.

As a child of West Indian immigrants, I clearly remember my dual development: When I stepped outside, my whole world was white, with a smattering of minorities, but when I returned home, the inverse was true. My entire socialization mirrored black and West Indian sensibilities, training that took place exclusively at home. All standards of progress were set by West Indian ideals. None of this was explicitly articulated so much as explicitly modeled.

It could be reasonably surmised that, as a community, we were invested in privacy and distance from the majority. Our parents interacted with the country’s white majority as one would a friendly co-worker. Caucasians were not our parents’ superiors — nor were they subordinate. They were just people with whom our parents were expected to spend significant amounts of time. Granted, if, while using this model, they forged friendships, that was cool, but it wasn’t even remotely necessary or solicited. Also, it goes without saying that it was not considered wise to bring one’s ‘work’ home . . .

Perhaps my generation’s parents knew what they were doing when they insisted on raising us as West Indians first, rather than Canadian. It meant that we could live within a white majority but not be defined by that majority. This is how our parents ensured our solid foundation, which was and remains an immeasurable gift.”

The author states that confining interactions with “the majority” to just work is optimal to preserving one’s own identity.  To contrast, it is the lack of preserving this distance, and the adoption of “the American dream” has led to the “downfall” of African Americans. Based on a brief stint of living and going to school in Los Angeles, talking with a bus driver, and attending a party with white Americans, Alyson contends her understandings about African Americans grew.  Yet the author condescending argument has holes as well, as evinced by judgmental comments about African Americans such as, “[there is the] American cultural norm of self-absorption, a trait to which black Americans are not immune,” “I had completely forgotten is that black Americans are still Americans, a nation firm in its resolve that no person or thing on this planet — or in the heavens — matters as much as they do.”

Alyson doesn’t specifically state what she believes as the way African American process race and community, and its differences to her own.  By implication, it seems from the blogpost she is suggesting “differently” that being born as an African American means to be devoid of rearing that infuses one’s growing up with being brought up with history, knowledge and traditions of Diasporic ancestry.   It also implies an over-willingness to accept, acculturate and assimilate the beliefs and practices of the dominant culture—to the consequential cheapening of one’s self.   Her premise also implies that to assimilate some beliefs, to participate in some of the traditions of one’s current country of citizenship, is a cheapening of oneself.  Suggesting that there was not enough “resistance” placed against integration and “hence the consequence” of marginalization.  As if to suggest living a daily strategic negotiation on multiple fronts of culture, employment, and identity are demeaning work.

However, growing up through multiplicity does not lead to mediocrity or “selling out.”  As a woman of color born and living in the United States, I am the culmination of various experiences.  Some directly rooted in my ancestry and ancestral history, others based on living within a multi-ethnic nation.  Some experiences I have had through growing up in a major urban city, others from visiting family in rural settings.  Some experiences are inherited from family traditions, others from sharing in the family experiences of others.  Some experiences as a woman of color have helped me ascend, other have been afflictions because of people’s assumptions based on my gender and ethnicity.  Who we come to be is more mosaic than singular.

I was not sure of the connections the author makes between Jill Scott’s music, her cultural upbringing, and suppositions about the African American experience.  What I did read and note was the tracing of experiences distancing, in both the author’s accounts and also in my experience as the audience.  A conventional conclusion that summarizes talking points wouldn’t do justice here, because what Alyson’s blogpost brings up is the need for more dialogue and conversation across borders of land and heart.

For now, for us all I offer one suggestion.  Stop placing so much responsibility on a song, and so little on introspection.

 

The Honor of a Father

Sitting at Crystal’s book signing last night was an amazing event.

She was signing books for friends, family and invited guests, with wide smiles and loving arms to complement her words. What was touching was seeing this family event unfold. Guests bringing babies, Tonya bringing her daughter and daughter’s friend, several friends cheering and eating various sweets, and parents attentive to guests who were brimming with love and pride. What was so touching was seeing the proud parents mix and mingle throughout the crowd, taking snapshots. Tonya and I had the brief fortune of meeting and talking with Crystal’s mom and dad. Each were so happy for their daughter. Talking with her father, one could feel the radiance of his pride and sincere fondness of his daughter. He shared fondly of her love of books, and of the deep pride he felt seeing her live and fulfill her dream. He shared of how she loved books from since being a little girl, that the two became fast friends and ever since were inseparable.

My exchange with him reminds me of my own father. He too made it his mission to unfold the possibilities of the word and world in my hands, doing so one book at a time. He would scour old book stores and bring back something for me to read, sometimes leaving for work early (as if he didn’t already have a far commute from the Bronx to Brooklyn), to avail time to search for gems before descending into the tunnels to work. He would go through dumpsters to retrieve old notebooks, one time finding for me a composition book full of copious notes about equations, which really came in handy in high school. He brought home books about stars and angels. He was especially fond of bringing old and worn books. Something about their antiquity appealed to him, regardless of topic. There is something about his commitment to making sure that as many words and worlds were possible in my hands that above all things from him, books and an education are among the most cherished gifts I harbor from him.
I was most honored that as we were leaving, Crystal’s father returned and said goodbye, and shook our hands again.
Meeting Crystal’s dad and hearing him share the love and pride of his daughter touched my heart.
And warmed the memories of my father within my hands.