Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Walking Meditation in New York



Some days when I wander around New York in between meetings or brainstorming I become aware of how many friends I can no longer visit because they have moved, how many old haunts are vacated, how many trendy spots are now Chase Bank branches. The relentless churn of commerce and time does not pause for nostalgia. 

Why should I lament on change, unless I believe I am owed something. Unless I hold on to some expectation, I can't be disappointment. New York is a prayer wheel of equanimity, patience, and letting go. New places, new people, new time.

I thought this was going to be a rant. Some tirade against consumerism and New York City. The grooves of my well worn anger were so smooth that it slipped out of my grasp. In its place I held nothing but an awareness of what was once there. In place of that outrage something else appeared; a softer shade of humanity. In those creeping quiet moments when all my landmarks have been stripped and all the familiar faces vanished, I get lost in the prismatic enigma of a city reflecting my own mortality. My personal frustrations project out on to the city. 

I should be like so.

I used to be able to do that. 

Where do I find this old city?

I came back to this present moment. A row of beggars lined themselves down the village block. The autumn sun warmed the sidewalks and outstretched hands. She had money in her palm and told me that one hand washes the other. Together they baptize the face. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sitcom Slaves

Slavery is back in style. It's trending in the arts world, in film and on stage, through curated museums. The unearthed American psyche is pulsing with unapologetic delight. Racism is over (at least according to over 60% of white Americans) so now gawking attention can be paid to bloody roots of American society. 

Kara Lee Walker's exhibit "Subtlety" had lines wrapped around the block to see an enormous Mammy-Sphinx with enormous breasts, butt and an Aunt Jemima handkerchief wrapped around her head. The warehouse-size sculpture was made out of sugar and mostly white crowds flocked to take hilarious pictures of themselves by the enormous slave's butt crack, vulva, or breast area while making funny faces. Obviously "Subtletly"lived up to its title for many in the crowd who shoved faux fists up the slave's ass in order to post to their Facebook wall.

On stage, "An Octoroon" had an incredibly successful run as a re-imagining of a 19th century play about slaves and a 1/8 racially mixed woman. In the new hipster version slaves lounge around cracking jokes like in a sitcom, talking in contemporary urban vernacular. Audiences roared with laughter, again mostly white and privileged. On the day I saw the play, my seat neighbor was a Latino woman who rolled her eyes throughout the piece while the crowd delighted in the sassy, funny slave homegirls chatting it up while they idly plucked cotton with their fingers like they were doing rote office work. The audience in back of me were two well-known black artist who sat rigid the whole time and quickly fled the play afterward. 

Last night I caught "Father Comes Home From the War," another play that re-imagines slavery for a white audience as a slight inconvenience. The author doesn't bother to explain the conundrum of why if it's such a slight quibble, are people willing to die to escape the white collar doldrums and hum drums of the sitcom slave. In the first act of the play, the slaves enter joking about the approaching day, taking bets on what the protagonist is going to do, and remaining as chatty and free as "The View" panel. A guitarist sits on stage strumming and giving the scene the mood of warm nostalgia and home-life. A female slave suggests to her lover that they go back to the cabin and spend all day in bed. She must have banked her slavery vacation days to afford that luxury. The sitcom slaves wisecrack, talk in folksy metaphors, simile-ize their plight. It's very comforting, entertaining, and safe. The mostly white, upper-middle class audience sits enthralled at getting a peek into the life of their darkest curiosities and being assured: it wasn't that bad and it's long in the past. 

The hit series "Orange Is the New Black" is apart of slavery chic. Granted it's about the female prison industrial complex, but most of the characters fit the plantation mode. What makes OITNB innovative is that they have thrown a white observer into the mix to serve as the anchor for the audience to observe the wild comings and goings of shackled and caged women of color. For Halloween, dressing up as Crazy Eyes was very popular last year. 

The trend is only getting stronger with mammy roles, movies about black servants, and servile people of color. For me it's clear what I must do: get on this gravy train...or rather gravy ship.

It's clear that I need to write my own sassy slave and/or servant piece. As I sat watching "Father Comes Home From the War" the idea came to me: a Cirque du Soleil of slavery. Wise, sassy, folksy slaves with acrobatics and fireworks. And jokes. Perhaps they (slaves and or pre-civil rights era servants) find some time machine portal and are transported into the present before an audience for an evening of circus entertainment, song, festivities. 

Maybe the portal keeps spitting out oppressed people from different periods into the circus who are forced into these wise, sassy, joking roles. 

Perhaps we'll have wise and dancing Native Americans coming out of the Trail of Tears, folksy Muslims who were massacred in Bosnia, sassy gypsies, gays and Jewish families from concentration camps. They'll dispense these Yiddish tidbits of wisdom, borscht belt jokes, sing a folksy song, get enslaved and/or slaughtered, and then another group pops out of the portal and into the circus ring. 

Perhaps halfway through the show after the raunchy black slaves and athletically ripped Native Americans and singing Rwandans, people will start to think....'hey, something is weird here. The Holocaust is a serious thing and not to be taken lightly. I don't see anything funny about the Puritans who were slaughtered." 

Maybe the time machine will just keep spitting out more jokes, more genocide, more circus. I could title the piece Cirque du Blanc. And perhaps we can all sit back and finally see genocide/enslavement/ debasement on even comedic grounds. And perhaps that will be when we all stop laughing.





Friday, October 10, 2014

Where are the Ugly Novelists?

(ripped from my Facebook wall)

The shyest people were forced to read their work aloud. The shyest group was entirely composed women, music students, and most ppl of color. The professor told them that as artist these days have to be able to speak in public. Simply being a 'genius' won't suffice in the age of Twitter, Facebook, and cult of personality. You have to sell yourself. Some students got kind of sad but acquiesced because they knew that -in some ways- their fate was not in the art but also in having to be presentable.

Later that day, I'm in the Juilliard Business Entrepreneurship Meeting. This is a program for artist whose proposals won a prize for development at school. The group was ethnically diverse (Asians, Latino, Blacks, Whites) and diverse in field of study. But it was only composed of men. I found everyone to be ‘great guys: no hesitation in artists speaking about themselves, their accomplishments, goals, social media followers, their following. These were well-adjusted alpha male hybrids: well-adjusted enough to measure the amount of time we were speaking, but also perfectly willing to take up the entire time talking about ourselves. I include myself in this category.

It made me wonder a few things: maybe all this social media/cult of personality is killing it for introverts; are we missing out on all sorts of brilliant minds who don't promote themselves; and also are we handicapping things to favor male artists? I also questioned whether American patriarchy privileges boys with the expectation of battle/fighting/winning, but for girls emphasizes community wellness/agreement, compromise. As far as the latter is concerned these are great characteristics to have, but not the most flashy traits for selling oneself as the leader/entrepreneur in the American leadership molds of 'lone cowboy maverick' and 'organizing/building mogul.’ That’s not to say that there aren’t many male introverts and countless female extroverts, but does society expect it more from one gender, and thus train one to be more likely to be centerstage while the opposite sex is expected to stand in the background, concur, and defer?

In some ways social media helps introverts 'cope' with presentation, but the ppl who really excel (not just get by) at it seem to be natural extroverts. And also social media is still an outlier of a societal trend of explaining oneself constantly. For instance Juilliard musicians are some of the best in the world but they're not expected to do recitals any more. They're expected to 'present' 'explain' and then play a little, be interviewed, have jokes, etc. So it becomes like a cabaret performance.

Social media can get you in the door but our entire culture (on and offline) seems to be more like "Inside the Actors Studio" where you have to sit and talk about your craft, in order to be properly rewarded so that you can just continue to do the thing you really want to do: your art. A novelist these days should be loquacious. But even better if they're loquacious AND photogenic. Have you noticed how gorgeous novelists are these days? The same trend holds with tv writers and producers who are now getting magazine glamour spreads as a ‘reward’ for a hit show, while Oscar nominated directors pose for Vogue. When I was growing up in the 1980s, this wouldn’t be considered a reward for a writer, but the most cruel form of punishment. Unlike actors and dancers, these tradesmen are not public performers.

We are in the midst of the extrovert revolution is happening. All of sudden everyone is gorgeous. Either 99% of talented novelist and directors have become incredibly good looking, well-adjusted, talkative or the last 20 years...or something has gone askew. If novelist and poets have to be attractive and socially-balanced to be worthy...well goodbye to a craft which typically has some really gremlin-looking crazies who write great work. Goodbye to countless masterpieces we will never be able to see. Goodbye to the craftsman so focused on their art that they have no time to shave, comb their hair, find the right anecdotes for cocktail parties. Hello to the commerce of beautiful people. Hello, to beautiful one-hit wonders who quickly exhaust their repertoire of topics because they only look to themselves and their immediate circle. Hello to endless waves of meta-art, of self-reflective, psychotherapy of artist analyzing their art  because that's what they've been forced to do: constantly look into the mirror to validate themselves as people rather than look out into the world to enlighten humanity about our condition. Hello to the age of loquacious mediocrity.

Both facets of extrovert/introverts are needed for balance and wellness in a culture. But what happens when one is dominating the other? Anyway, I’m off to go figure out a way to use Instagram and become more of an social media extrovert.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Implosive Koch

The Koch Brothers aren't Republicans. They're Libertarians; corporate Libertarians. They've held these highly impractical right-wing corporate beliefs for quite some time and used their power in a more effective way for the past few decades. They have poured tens of millions of dollars into right-wing think tanks and policy organizations. The Republicans took the Trojan Horse bait. They gobbled up the policy papers, the money, the experts. And now they will reap the results. The GOP is splitting into increasingly smaller, angrier, incompatible factions. It's not an accident.

The Washington Republican establishment thought it could keep outsmarting the goobers, i.e. their base. They could run on opposing gay marriage, unending war, tax cuts for the wealthy, and hatred of all things federal government (accept for the armed forces). They thought they could continue to put up an contradictory, hypocritical policy without anyone calling them out. In the 1980s and 1990s, they successfully co-opted conservative Christians, running circles around Ralph Reed and the senile Moral Majority obsessed with strange gays lurking by their windows. But Pat Robertson is a child in comparison to Koch.

The Koch Brothers needed a party and even a half-divided Republican party gives them more power than a completely invisible Libertarian party. For years they tried to run Libertarian candidates. And the only place they had any consistent success was with fringe, backwater parts of the country. The duo began feeding the Republicans experts, policy wonks, low-level candidates. Within the next generation they will become a localized, radicalized faction of elderly separatists. Incapable of governing, the grand ol' party will play the role of obstruction and rancor. They will to continue to prod their shriveling members back to polling booths and on to Fox News.  As a result, the Republican party is finished.


U Lucky Bamboo


He gave me a lucky bamboo plant for my birthday. Surrounded by smooth white pebbles, the pocket-size green stalk shot up from a four-inch ceramic bowl. The plant is of insignificant monetary value. When I moved back to Queens, I sat the bamboo in my lap, not daring to put it in a box. The relationship ended a few months later. I kept three of his books, an iTunes gift certificate, and the lucky bamboo. The miniature plant continues to reach up. It’s twice as high and continuing to flourish in a ceramic pot that is now too small for its ambition. It has remained confined to these tight quarters but I keep vowing to buy a bigger pot and more pebbles. At that point the plant would officially become mine. It’s strange to think that this is the only living thing shared between us.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slainte

Tonight I walked into a cloud of bliss. I’m fortunate to be in a phase where I have a lot of projects, work, surrounded by creative souls, but two weeks ago an odd ailment struck my stomach and caused enormous pain whenever I drank or ate anything. I had to exist in a state of semi-starvation in order to avoid this blistering agony. And all the projects and work faded from the foreground. It was all just background noise, insignificant pleasantries. For a week I truly understood how amazing it is to have just good health. More than a Grammy, an Oscar, a Pulitzer, it was so clear how just simple, good health of waking/sleeping, eating, good bones, good nerves, functioning body parts is one of those unsurpassable priceless gifts. And suddenly today I'm walking down the street and I realize that everything has returned to 'normal.' I can focus without pain, meditate without discomfort, I have been granted a reprieve to live to the fullest. Maybe that phantom ailment (triggered by wheat) was a gift. I was walking around in the rain tonight, giddy and lit up like Christmas.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ricochet


The white bone of my index finger glistened under the flickering porch light. Metallic numbness spread from my hand, up through my arms, and pierced my back as the rifle clattered against the burgundy tiles. All my senses went into hallucinogenic shock. My hand bubbled a frothy pewter substance, the grass was silver porcupine shards. Mouths and bodies moved in slow, muted, balletic gestures. Vibrations floated from the radio, the street lights, and passing cars. I was bathed in an electric plasma, alternating between frost and lava. In my chest, a velvet knot unfurled. My mind processed the hallucinations.
Blood isn’t silver.
Grass is green.
These vibrations are sound.
Robotic instinct made my right hand grab the bubbling gash of my left. Was there a magic bullet still careening out into the night and across the Miami sky? Would it come back? I was 10, but I guess you’re never too young.
***
Something's going wrong
Someone's on the phone
Three o'clock in the morning, yeah
Talkin' about
How she can make it right.
Uncle Harry unlocked the briefcases. He took out a small militia of rifles, pistols, ceremonial arms. Uncle Harry and Uncle Bill laid out the assorted collection on the burgundy leather couches. I stood up and began pacing the living room, beating out the rhythm to the Al Green song pulsing from the stereo. Texas sunshine slid in through the Venetian blinds of my uncle’s living. Guns, film noir lighting, and soul music.
Make you do right...
Love'll make you do wrong...
Make you come home early...
Make you stay out all night long...
The power of love…
Smith & Wesson. Browning. Beretta. Heckler and Koch. Kimber. GLOCK. Harry and Bill fondled the various handles covered in chrome, mother of pearl, steel, durable rubber. A trickle of sweat fell down the side of my face.
Uncle Harry noticed my averted eye contact and careful foot steps around the couch. He motioned to Bill and -without any further conversation- they quickly pack up the guns and the cases disappear behind locked wooden cabinet doors.
I looked down at the smooth L-shaped scar on my left finger as I hum along with Al Green’s falsetto.

***
A dull muffled horn blasted through my ears. The notes spilled into the middle of my skull and trickled down my spine. This trembling numbness slid down my back and reached my bubbling left hand. The rifle clattered against the patio. Robotic and emotionless instinct took over. My right hand grabbed its twin, covering a glistening white bone.
Trauma knocked something loose. Rusted silver gushed on to the patio and grass. It was blood. Why was it gray? Maybe it was blood and marrow, or smoke mixed with blood?

I recognized the vibrations. They were voices. I looked around and saw strained faces. Worry, concern, confusion, disbelief? My mother’s lips were moving.
-Aurin Squire