Thursday, October 28, 2004


It's all connected ...that outburst yesterday over the state of the nation's psyche -- the wild charges of national madness ... .

Woke in the night and lay still while the dots connected behind my eyes in the dark.

It's the old Saints/Sinners Syndrome.

I know that we (human animals) are capable of good and evil as witnessed by those periods in history when we gathered in a carnival atmosphere to watch young "witches" of Salem being burned at the stake. Those black periods when families picnicked in the shadows of great trees in the town plazas of the south while black men were tortured and castrated before being torched alive!

I remember the stories told by my grandfather, Papa George, about how black men would be chased down, forced to kneel, head to ground, then hog-tied -- wrists to ankles -- and Klansmen jumping on their backs until the ribs were crushed -- and then tossing their near dead bodies into rivers to (mercifully) drown in the rapids.

There were many stories recited absently while this very young granddaughter weeded beside him in the vegetable garden or gathered in the melons or stringbeans for the table. Papa often sang fragments of field songs as we worked together in the warm sun. I'm not sure that he ever intended to share these horrific tales, but in his memory bank was the picture of his younger brother, Leonard, who escaped to Kansas City never to return. It was after a Klansman was shot and killed under circumstances my child's mind either never understood, or, wasn't prepared to receive in detail. He often droned on with happy tales -- always with the wicked wink of an eye. There was the usual chaw of tobaccco being rolled around the words -- then the p'tooey! Every now and then his voice would lower indicating some truth-telling -- and remembered wrenching pain that I was not yet ready to receive or comprehend, but that nonetheless became a part of my being along with Edna St. Vincent Millay and James Whitcomb Riley. Only I was always aware of the specialness of those stories and tucked them away until they erupted in full color during the Sixties and spilled from my music fullblown.

None of it was lost. All of those times shared with Papa laid the groundwork for the restless and socially responsible adult that I was to become. Wish he could have known how much of his life and times crept into my being -- to fortify me against the cruelties that lay many years ahead. During those troubling days of transition in the suburbs of the Fifties and Sixties, I was often angry. Hurt. Outraged. But, blessedly, rarely was I surprised.

I did finger my way through old files last night before climbing into bed -- and re-discovered a song that I can't remember ever performing. It was too disturbing. A kind of "Strange Fruit." Also noted that it bears the stamp of Malvina Reynolds' Schroeder Music Publishing Co. Forgot about that friendship so long ago.

The short song was written all-of-a-piece during the search for the three Mississippi civil rights workers during Freedom Summer, 1964. The search had gone on for weeks. Their riddled bodies were eventually found buried in a landfill; two young Jews and an African American. Students who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

I thought of them as the "Black Logs" of Papa George's horror stories. That may have been the first time I'd realized that those weren't simply folk tales I'd been given, but evidence of the criminal brutality we were capable of as a people. After all, Papa was the son of a slave and witness to that awful history:

Black Log

Black log driftin' down de bayou in de mawnin'
limbs a'draggin' 'gainst duh willow
Black log floatin' down de bayou in de mawnin'
now it's sun-up Owl must leave you
time to fin' his mossy pillow.
Bullfrog croakin' out his grievin' from dis strange lily-pad
three-fingered, twisted, lily pad.

Noontime, comes de rivah 'roun the levee ...
Boy heah fishin' fo his suppah time
Caught one! 'tain't nuthin' but a black log.

Black log rushin' down de rivah in de evenin'
Log cain't see de evenin' free, log and me -- in de rivah, no retrievin'

Comes de sea now...
here's de open sea now ...


Too late ...

(copyright 1965)

In the night I realized that the deep fear and near hysteria I've been gripped by was aggravated by what I was seeing on television. The America that is cheerleading this low-level sex and violence-driven reality genre we're seeing is capable of the most evil realities of our history; right from the tales of this country's youth. Have you seen D.W. Griffiths' "Birth of a Nation"? Rent a copy if only out of morbid curiosity. But I would hope that it was more than that; a need to know in order to not have to re-live.

It's as if we've been primed to accept the grossest kinds of assaults on the heart and soul; been de-sensitized to cruelty and debased by the media over decades to a level where even Abu Graib and the abandonment of the Geneva Accords is tacitly agreed to by a public no longer in control of its moral compass. Have we become the "good Germans" to the rest of the world?

My fear that we've lost our way and that THIS de-sensitized public is capable of choosing as its leader one who exemplifies the least of what we are. THIS degraded and dumbed-down public is capable of extending the reign of this regime into another term of office during which time all branches of governance will be downgraded and disempowered. The courts are already effected and the promise of further degradation is perhaps less than a week away as at least one justice steps down. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are being shredded day-by-day by policies that the Congress is rarely allowed to weigh in on. Most power is being wielded by an Executive Branch out of control.

Small wonder that I'm relatively sleepless these days and nights...

Would love to slip out of town and hide until it's all over ...

And, yes, I do believe that THIS America is capable of returning these people to power despite the towering national debt, the horrors being wrought in our names overseas, and an unprecendented transfer of wealth that threatens the social order.

Or, will the balancing part of the electorate rise to prevent the mounting chaos? Will the pendulum begin its swing in time to save us from ourselves? This has been the magic of our system -- this cyclical swinging from Left to Right, Liberal to Conservative, Good to Evil, and back. Maybe we've run out of the energy needed to empower the loyal opposition. Maybe not.

I truly don't know... .

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Had a strange thought as I flipped the remote ...

across the teevee offerings last night while waiting for it to be late enough for Jon Stewart's Daily Show... .

Is there anyone else out there who believes that what we're showing on the tube is pathological? Can anyone truly believe the "Extreme Makeover" shows are real? That one can actually deal with all of the permits and zoning requirements in any given municipality -- plus line up the elements needed to pull off a brand new home in 8 days? Do we really believe that it's sensible for a troubled young family to allow the embarrassing exposure of the most intimate details of their lives to national audiences to pruriently mull over (Dr. Phil)? Do we really and truly savor the experience of seeing the humiliation of rejection offered up to us by "The Donald" week after week as young hopefuls gather around in his boardroom conniving for a place on the career ladder? Sitting in my room watching otherwise credible elder pundits shouting and interrupting one another in the worse show of adolescent rudeness on most of the panel news and opinion shows -- and upon which we are expected to make our political choices? Has anyone managed to sit through the awfulness of Tyra Banks's "Top Model" and seen what beautiful young women are subjected to in the quest for a career on the catwalk? How about the awful "Survivor" series, and worse yet, the young men and women who are chosen to prance before us in competitions to enter into the "holiest of contracts," -- marriage -- and we frown on gay marriages as an abomination? I cannot imagine that I had to click my remote before gagging -- to avoid seeing a young woman swallow a handfull of worms! It was hard enough to gradually get used to watching animals copulate on camera!

Am I the only person on the planet who finds no fascination in watching surgical procedures? Are we being led to believe that plastic surgery answers all our prayers and that inner beauty is no longer a consideration? Should we be concerned about the fact that South Korea has become the plastic surgery capital of the world -- with a great majority of its women opting for rounder eyes and more western noses? Or that lives are being lost by women in India through mercury poisoning from skin bleaching to better navigate a world dominated by western culture?

Am I wrong to want to wish all of this self-deception away?

Nothing makes me feel older than to watch couples sharing a bed as a part of the dating scene in almost any second act offering on most prime time dramas. Small wonder that the Miss American Pageant got tossed. It had become an anchronism in these days of Victoria's Secret models parading in angel wings and bikinis on the catwalk in a display of soft porn for the mainstream.

Oh god! I need to get back to work again. I'm fast-becoming a crotchety old woman who lacks the will to simply clip her fingernails to the quick and get about the business of growing the necessary callouses on my left hand ... . The state of my nails has never been a concern. I've had many more pedicures than manicures over the years, to feed my need for nurturance and decadence(?). Nothing makes one feel more pampered. The Wes Montgomery Songbook #2 lies unopened, awaiting my developing the will to pick it up and get to work. There's much to write songs about. Wonder if the muse can be re-awakened? Wonder if fear that that part of my psyche has atrophied and that I'm too frightened to face that possibility after such a long time?

Would a digging through old papers for some original song lyrics I may have forgotten help me to reconnect with my inner self? I'll try that later today. Running through old files often jars loose some "soul" that I've misplaced.

I'll let you know what happens ... .

Meanwhile, I'll distance myself from the damned remote and shut down cable until I regain some sense of balance. Have always believed firmly that each of us creates our own reality -- right now mine is in serious jeopardy! Obviously my depression today has to do with what I'm choosing to allow into myself -- a problem that my normally socially involved daily life never allowed.

Problem diagnosed. Now for some solutions ... .

Monday, October 25, 2004

Took care of the series.

Registered my complaints with the managing editor and she agreed to pull the rest of it. It's a shame. I really thought it was a good piece of writing and -- if the essays did what was intended -- would have raised the curtain on our centennial year with style.

When I re-read the second part (the one that was so drastically edited), it was good, was submitted as a draft which invited cutting -- but would have been better served by a re-write. Wish we'd handled it that way instead of aborting the series. Maybe next time ... .

Spent Saturday evening at a seminar at the university. It was a five-hour presentation of ROHO (Regional Oral History Project) followed by a reception in the Morrison Library of the Doe Library. There were three presentations by researchers who'd conducted oral histories of the "Rosie the Riveter and the Richmond Homefront in WWII," plus the "Disability & Independent Living Movement." Both the Rosie project and the Disability portions were of interest to me so I braved the rainy afternoon -- pulled on my hooded windbreaker, and trudged through the campus under dripping trees and fast-filling creekbeds.

This was the first time in ages that I'd been in such a setting with academics. The audience was largely over 60, though there were a few student types sprinkled through. We sat in comfortable dark and rich leather couches under the mellow lamplighting common to libraries. The sense of stability and strength of the ages surrounds you in that setting. The mahogany tables and wainscoting mixed discreetly with the computers that were barely in sight on the half-level above the room. It was as though the technology tried to be understated for fear of destroying the ambiance. Beside the uniform softly-lit parchment tortoise-shell lampshades they looked hard and garish.

The Rosie stuff was old hat, of course, since I'd been working with much of the material for some time. The Disability section was of far more interest to me. Though the area is far more oriented toward physical rather than mental disabilities -- another culture completely. With Berkeley being one of the centers from which the movement sprung in the early seventies, much of what was discussed had a familiar ring for me. I'd spent some of those years as an aide to a member of the Berkeley city council, and knew some of the players well. I'd also been responsible for these issues more recently as a field rep for Loni Hancock.

Discovered something important while sitting there, mostly apart from the others. That world is less interesting to me than my current reality. There's a preciousness about the academic life that I remembered with some discomfort as I looked around that beautiful room. I think that I'd forgotten that. It mattered not the color of one's skin so much as whether or not one held proof of credentials -- no matter its relevance. The distance between the African American professional academic class and the everyday working class African Americans who make up my life in Richmond seemed as great as those between black and whites. I realized that I much prefer the grittiness of life in Richmond than this. Not sure just why that is.

It might have something to do with the fact that -- despite the fact that the university is at the cutting edge of change because of the role played in the research community -- at the human social level, that tends to get lost in the paper chase. At the social level, the waters get muddied somehow, and there is a loss of relevance to what I witness on the streets and agency waiting rooms of life, and I'm not sure why that is.

I do know that the experience of being a business person in a marginal "micro" business in South Berkeley changed my relationship to the black world. Having the experience of making a difference through hard work and determination created something that continues to be the driving force in my life. It moved me from the theoretical hypothetical to activism and I've never looked back. It opened my eyes to opportunity and closed them to indifference and privilege.

I also know that this is not a criticism of black academics. We need African Americans at all levels involved in all aspects of life -- from top to bottom. Even the Thomas Sowells, Frank McWhorters, and Ward Connerlys have their place, I suppose, if only to help me to define my own path in opposition to theirs. Can't take this as far as Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas, but they're nicely balanced off by Elinor Holmes Norton, Barack Obama, John Conyers, et al, and help me to define the issues.

When the world gets too complicated and I begin to feel overwhelmed, pulling back to my 500 feet realm of influence works to renew my sense of power. There is an opportunity to influence the shape of the next city council in my city by helping to get out the vote. I'll do that. This week will re-awaken that wonderful sense that I, too, can lean in the direction of change with those who share my hopes for the country, and -- this old atheist may just say a few prayers for deliverance from the goings-on under the present administration.

I must have faith that all over the nation others are leaning with me ... .

Let us pray!