Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I Heart This

I love that Emily thinks this is her best song.  This song has saved me.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


(and see my previous post)

On Seeing Selma

First of all, the explosion.

I knew it was coming.  I had read an interview with Ava DuVernay in which she described why she filmed it the way she did, so I knew it was coming.

And in the film, if you have any sense of US history at all, you see 5 little black girls in their Sunday best chatting down the stairs at church, you have to know what is coming.

The explosion. 
But DuVernay staged their chatter, and their passage down the staircase, bathed in pale, clear light, in a way that lulled me. For a moment they were so vibrantly alive that I forgot the fate that was descending on them. And when the explosion ripped through that staircase, like a beast lunging in from the right side of the frame and leaving a swirl of splinters and patent leather shoes in its wake, I was shocked in spite of myself. ("Selma is a Horror Movie")

I leapt in my seat, squeezed more tightly my cielo's hand, and began to cry.  I never really stopped crying, all the way to the end of the film.  The terror and question in the eyes of Jimmie Lee Jackson when he is shot to death by a cop.  Dr. King speaking to his grandfather at the morgue:  “There are no words to soothe you.” Marchers being beaten, whipped, tear-gassed.  
DuVernay has given us a plain and painful illustration of what it means to live under deadly threat. An environment in which murder at least puts an end to agonizing uncertainty and perpetual fear is utterly distorted and profoundly inhumane. “Selma” communicates at a visceral level a point many observers have been trying to make in a series of recent national conversations: what it means to live in constant fear of death or violence for which there will be no justice. (same link as above)
But not just the violence.  Also the dignity, the wrestling, the doubt, the humanity, the love, the humor, the refusal to stay beat down, the rising up over and over.  Tears, until the end.  All the way home.  All the way til dawn.  The film as shaken me, grabbed me up, and will not let me go.  It kept me up all night calling me deeper, ever deeper, into the freedom movement, into, to slightly paraphrase the protest sign of a friend of mine, "proving #BlackLivesMatter" with how I live my own life.

In reading about the film itself and interviews with DuVernay, I became aware in a way that I was not before how rare a film like "Selma" is for Hollywood, in that it is a story about Black lives told by Black folk (directed and written by a Black woman, even more rare) that centers Black life, Black experience, Black narrative, Black storytelling -- and decenters whiteness and the propensity of Hollywood that only finds acceptable stories of Black life that center the white hero narrative (which means it is more a story of white life, really. See, for example, the outcry that LBJ is not actually the hero of "Selma.").
[DuVernay]: "...it is rare to have a black storyteller have some autonomy over [the] story. Also it’s just rare to have a black storyteller telling the story when it comes to history, period.  So I think when you don’t have that, you have this kind of groupthink that turns into a homogenization of the events, turns into us not being at the center of our own story, as people of color or women or what have you, and this kind of smoothing of the edges starts to happen, and that starts to contribute to this whole idea of “ugh, the same old thing.” And so with this I was very focused on not letting that happen. For whatever people think about the film, whether they love it or hate it, it is the vision of a black storyteller undiluted. For whatever that means for the way we are presented as people of color on screen. I think part of the reaction that some people have to history, particularly around black history, is just the way that it’s been told and by whom. (The Nation interview with Mychal Denzel Smith, emphasis added)

As someone who works to be conscious about how race and whiteness function systemically it's not that I was unaware that Hollywood, and thinking now too of the awards season, is so vastly white (and male).  What has become more clear to me is how whiteness, white supremacy gets upheld by the stories that get told, get made, get funded, get nominated, get awarded.

During the Golden Globes on Sunday, that understanding became crystal clear as "Selma" was passed over for acting, directing, and best picture awards.  I tweeted:

Now the Oscar nominations are out today, with no nominations for "Selma" other than best song, and what feels like a token best picture.  And no acting nominees of color -- I mean, I love Meryl Streep, and I get nominating her for All The Things, but is her Witch really so much better than Carmen Ejogo's portrayal of Coretta Scott King, a performance so riveting I stopped breathing in the scene where she confronts her husband's infidelity? Masterful.  Dame Judi Dench, also awesome, got an Oscar for much less work/screentime for her Queen Elizabeth in "Shakespeare In Love."  No nod to David Oyelowo for his nuanced embodiment of King's humanity.

As we left the movie theater Saturday night, my cielo said, "Oh, this will win so many Oscars! It has to!"  I responded, "I don't know...I'm afraid they will think 'well, we gave you "Twelve Years a Slave" last year, what more do you want?' and...yeah, it's amazing but the Oscars, well...."

From a piece that came out today:
The minority actors who earn nominations are those who are in films that serve white interests and "converge with white sensibilities." Citing directors DuVernay and Spike Lee, he writes, "representations of blackness that defy racial stereotypes and challenge societal discrimination are almost never awarded, and seldom nominated." 

If you are thinking, "It's just the Oscars," think about the cultural impact the Oscars have.  Again I ask, whose stories are being told?  By whom?  Whose experiences are being lifted up? Whose lives are awarded? I even wonder, did "Twelve Years a Slave," surely a brilliant film and important story, break through the whiteness barrier because Solomon Northup eventually gets free thanks to a white man, so white folk can feel good about this "happy ending" and check off the diversity box on our to-do list? 

In "Selma" Black folks get free because of themselves.  And still it doesn't quite have a "happy ending."  The marchers make it to Montgomery, but the text on screen as the final King speech in front of the Alabama capitol rolls in our ears tells us some disturbing things, including white folk who are killed standing up for black life...and we watch always, always aware that yes, this struggle will take his life, too.  And then the closing song mentions Ferguson, so...

"There are no words to soothe you."
When Common, a black man, stands and acknowledges that all lives matter, but white people stand and only acknowledge themselves, there is no integrity to the assertion of inclusivity. ("Hollywood's Political Deafness: What Cosby, "Selma," and Hebdo Reveal about White Liberal Consciousness")

The Golden Globes and the Oscars tell us WhiteLifeMatters.  I want to be clear that I am not talking about skin color of nominees exactly but the stories.  Whose stories?  Vastly, overwhelmingly, the stories of white experience (particularly white male experience), ever strengthening the normativity  and value of white (male) life over all other life, white (male) life which is defended with award statues and choke holds.

I saw "Selma."  And I am still seeing Selma. 

I won't watch the Oscars and add my tally to the celebration of whiteness.  Instead, I will go see "Selma," again.  I invite you, too, to see "Selma." And to see Selma.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Epiphany Blessing

This is just right. Just where I am. 

For Those Who Have Far to Travel
An Epiphany Blessing

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;

to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions
beyond fatigue
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

There are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel

to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.

by Jan Richardson

Friday, December 19, 2014

Changes Coming...

Hello All Good Folk who still hang around this blog.  I know this space has been mostly dormant for a while but come the new year I am planning to begin writing again with more frequency.  In the meantime I'm updating things here and making some mostly-cosmetic changes do go along with my renewed commitment to SPEAKING OUT, not being silenced or hidden.  Stay tuned!

A #BlackLivesMatter Silent Night

Thursday, October 23, 2014



by Harvey Shapiro
I am still on a rooftop in Brooklyn
on your holy day. The harbor is before me,
Governor's Island, the Verrazano Bridge
and the Narrows. I keep in my head
what Rabbi Nachman said about the world
being a narrow bridge and that the important thing
is not to be afraid. So on this day
I bless my mother and father, that they be
not fearful where they wander. And I
ask you to bless them and before you
close your Book of Life, your Sefer Hachayim,
remember that I always praised your world
and your splendor and that my tongue
tried to say your name on Court Street in Brooklyn.
Take me safely through the Narrows to the sea.

"Psalm" by Harvey Shapiro, from A Momentary Glory. © Wesleyan Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Perfect Poem for Me

You'll see why.

A Hundred Years from Now
by David Shumate

 I'm sorry I won't be around a hundred years from now. I'd like to
see how it all turns out. What language most of you are speaking.
What country is swaggering across the globe. I'm curious to know
if your medicines cure what ails us now. And how intelligent your
children are as they parachute down through the womb. Have
you invented new vegetables? Have you trained spiders to do your
bidding? Have baseball and opera merged into one melodic sport?
A hundred years....My grandfather lived almost that long. The
doctor who came to the farmhouse to deliver him arrived in a
horse-drawn carriage. Do you still have horses?

"A Hundred Years from Now" by David Shumate from Kimonos in the Closet. © University of Pittsburg Press, 2013.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RIP, Pete

This song makes me cry.

I saw him in concert once when I lived in Tucson.  Gosh, but he had a way of getting people to just SING.  Rest in Power, good man.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lost to the World

Dame Janet Baker.  My goodness but this is stunning.

German/English text here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

O Sweet Spontaneous


O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

               fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched

, has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

         beauty                  how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

              thou answerest

them only with


"5" by E.E. Cummings, from Complete Poems 1904-1962. © Grove Press, 1994.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Immigration Action

Sometimes (often) I am overwhelmed by who/how She calls me to be in the world. 

Livestream video of immigration action here in Denver yesterday, which included the arrest of several friends.

Video streaming by Ustream