Saturday, September 29, 2007

Obscure Artsy Word List

Leave it to me to procrastinate writing an entry for September's Artsy Essay Contest. Frankly, I was a bit intimidated by Judith's clever creative prompt. She presents a list of 50+ words that she labels "obscure artsy word list." Please visit her site to see the complete list. The challenge or inspiration was to utilize as many or as few of the words that you want in creating an original work. I've been playing with the word list for days, waiting for inspiration to strike. I found my inspiration tonight in an early 17th century painting by Georges de La Tour, called Mary Magdalene. The rules require that I identify in some way which words I have used from the list. My selections are underlined.

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Magdalene of the Shadows

The thing about shadows is this--

darkness swallows them whole,

without light they do not exist.

The great masters understood

this juxtaposition of light and shade,

the sublimation of bright to dark.

So Monsieur de La Tour paints Mary by candlelight,

a woman in chiaroscuro,

the other Mary,

the whore,

remembered for her skills in foot washing,

her sweet perfumes.

What secrets does she hide in the dark hues that embrace her?

The gaze intent on the white heat of the flame,

a skull resting so casually in her lap,

what darkness wraps around her soul,

bowing her head with such despair?


The link for the contest:

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's Always Something

One of my favorite characters on Saturday Night Live in the early years was created by Gilda Radner, Roseanne Roseannadanna. Her catch phrase was, "It's always something," which she'd whine in an irritating, nasally voice, and then proceed to recite some inane tidbit of gossip about some celebrity's gross habits. I wish she were still around; I can only imagine what Ms. Roseannadanna would have to say about Bill O'Reilly's most recent comments that have stirred up a tempest in a teapot.
Just in case you've been vacationing in the Swiss Alps for the past few days, here's a brief recap. Mr. O'Reilly invited Al Sharpton out to dinner as a thank you for Sharpton having agreed to be a guest on his show, The Factor, a number of times.  O'Reilly selected the restaurant, a popular, soul food restaurant in Harlem known as Sylvia's. Evidently, a good time was had by all. Such a good time that Mr. O'Reilly shared his insights about his dining experience on The Radio Factor, a few days later. Following is an excerpt of the comments that have garnered all the attention:

And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice....
And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that's really what this society's all about now here in the U.S.A. There's no difference. There's no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment -- people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you're gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin....
There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, "M-Fer, I want more iced tea."...
You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.

Some have alleged that Mr. O'Reilly's comments were racist, but I don't hold with that opinion. I read the entire transcript from the program and I think that he actually intended his comments to be positive, even complimentary. Notice that I said intended; I haven't been kicked in the head by a horse recently and I don't find his remarks complimentary, but neither do I think that they are racist. (If you would like to read the entire transcript, please click here. It's not very long.)
What has intrigued me about all of this are the comments that I've been reading on blogs and news stories about this minor ripple on the pond of discontentment that plagues this country. There appears to be a sentiment that black folks should feel highly complimented by Mr. O'Reilly's words. I repeat, I'm not calling his comments racist nor am I alleging that Bill O'Reilly is a racist, but I do find it disturbing that folks don’t understand why black people aren't just falling all over ourselves in delight over his comments.
Let me try to explain it with an analogy; y'all know that I love analogies.
Imagine that I visit your home and after leaving, I publicly marvel at the fact that your house was clean, you didn't smell, and that you were just like other people. Would you feel complimented? I  agree that we toss the term racism around too much; it detracts from real racism, which does exist. However, Mr. O'Reilly's comments reflect ignorance and condescension; he's not a racist, just a moron.

Maybe if Mr. O’Reilly lets us know in advance the next time that he plans to visit a black owned restaurant, we can plan on break dancing on the table tops and shouting M**F**er loudly while we drink iced tea.

If you still don’t get it, I’m not offended. This really isn’t a big deal and I’m not losing sleep over O’Reilly’s remarks. I take them as well intentioned and try to leave it at that. I just hope that he doesn’t decide to compliment us any more.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Looking inward

Eleven days ago, Marie of Marie's Muses tagged me and I'm just getting around to playing. I've been swamped with work stuff and haven't really devoted myself to giving the necessary thought to completing the tag, until today. I apologize to Marie. I was excited to be tagged, but I have this habit of agreeing to take on extra work that results in my becoming overwhelmed. I used to think of myself as selfless, but I've come to realize (after years of therapy) that is really isn't altruism that motivates me to say yes, it's my need for approval. That's right, I've spent quite a bit of money over the years to learn that I'm insecure, needy, and so desperate for approval that I will always be the one who agrees to work late and keep the ship from sinking (or go down with it if necessary). 

Okay, now that I have gotten that off my chest, I will return to the tag that Marie sent, called the Name Game. According to the rules, for each letter of my middle name, I must list one fact that is relevant to my life. I'm also supposed to tag one person for each letter of my middle name but as I've delayed responding to the tag, I've elected not to tag anyone. I suspect that others have already been tagged. Besides, I have weird letters in my middle name and I can't think of people whose names begin with the letters in my middle name. Just for the record, I don't particularly like my middle name. I don't dislike it; I just don't like it. Maybe it's because I love my first name. It's a bit unusual, and as has already been established, I crave attention.

My middle name is Yvonne and ...

Oh dear, it is difficult to come up with words that begin with a "Y." Young, yearning, yaffingale...

Y'all. (Yes, it is a word.) I like being a southerner and I like living in the south. I don't like cold; I need sunshine; I need warmth. I prefer our endless sequence of 90 plus degree-days that we've had this summer to being cold. If I lived in snow country (anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line) I wouldn't leave my house all winter. Next to the weather, my next favorite thing about the south is the word y'all. You can address a group of people by simply saying, "How y'all doing?" Doesn't matter if there are two people or two hundred. If you see your best friend at the Wal-Mart, and you want to know if she and her family are coming to your cookout, you just say, "Y'all gonna make it Saturday night?" The word becomes particularly relevant as one gets older and can't always remember everyone's name. For instance, you're at the mall and someone starts walking towards you wearing a big smile and calling you by name. When he gets close enough for you to see him without your glasses, you realize that he's the boy that took you to the prom and spilled punch on your pink satin prom dress, but you can't remember his name. Just look at him, smile really big and say, "Well aren't you a sight for sore eyes, how y'all doing?" Technically "Y'all" is plural, but southerners have been fudging it in this context for quite some time.

Vanity. My best friend, whom I've known for 34 years, came to visit last weekend. This is a big deal because we don't get to see each other nearly often enough because she lives in California and I live in North Carolina. During her visit, naturally our discussion turned to plastic surgery. (Hey, we're 52 years old and things are sagging.) When we were in our 20s, we always disparaged women who had face-lifts as being vain. We swore that  we would never become those women, vowing to celebrate our lines as a sign that we had lived and were proud of each wrinkle. But that was then and this is now. As we sat in my living room, using our fingers to demonstrate how with a tuck here and a pull there we could eliminate those pesky drooping jowls, we reminisced about the good old days and marveled at how we had become so absorbed in appearance. What makes us care so much about how we look? Is it vanity or survival? We live in a world where youth is a priority. While watching a repeat of last season's America's Top Model Competition, I was horrified the judges voted off one young woman because she looked too old. She was 20 and she looked even younger, but the judges felt that her look was too mature, too old for today's industry. I have no illusions about becoming a model, but employers are less likely to hire older workers and older workers are more likely to be victims of downsizing. I don't think I'm vain, just pragmatic. Unfortunately face-lifts are expensive so I've decided to use duct tape behind my ears to lift those wrinkles.

Opinionated. Let me just say that I don't believe that having strong opinions is a bad thing. I'm not stubborn, just opinionated. The difference is that I can be persuaded to change my opinion, if presented with facts and reasoning sufficient to demonstrate that I'm mistaken in my beliefs. What I don't have much patience for are people who are fence straddlers. That doesn't mean that I don't ever see shades of gray; some issues are far too complex to be simply analyzed. However, I think that there is far too much moral relativism about important matters and far too much interference in matters of privacy. For example, I think that this country needs to address the lack of health insurance and the inadequate health insurance for far too many people. On the other hand, I don't think that we need to be obsessed with dictating whom a person may choose to marry. I'm still waiting for someone to coherently and logically explain to me exactly how allowing any two consenting adults to marry undermines the institution of marriage.

Negritude. I like this word because it has attitude. Negritude is an ideological position that holds Black culture to be independent and valid on its own terms. The concept was developed in the 1930s as a literary and political movement in reaction to French colonial racism and was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, an American literary, social, and cultural movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Negritude is why I’ve never liked the image of a melting pot. I don’t want to be melted or assimilated; I want to be appreciated for being a woman of color. There is harmony in a tapestry, the many colors all contribute to make a whole. I find that imagery much more appropriate. I’ve heard people say, with good intentions, “I don’t see color.” Why not? Why should we not want to see color? Would a rainbow catch our eye if it were colorless? Noticing that someone has a different skin color is no more significant than noticing the color of someone’s eyes. It’s not being aware of or seeing the difference that is a problem; it only becomes a problem if value and worth are attached to a person based on his or her skin color. Appreciate the differences; they are what make the world interesting. I think that one of the biggest failures of integration has been the over emphasis on the acculturation of people of color to the aesthetics of the American-European culture. Acculturation should be a two way process, step over to the other side of the street, and learn a little about negritude.

New. In January 1998, I went to visit my doctor and left her office in an ambulance, heading for the hospital. They deposited me in cardiac intensive care, hooked me up to a lot of machines, and gave me a lot of pills. In April 1999, I called my doctor and told her that I thought that I needed to return to the hospital because I was having some trouble breathing. The result was more machines and more pills, and being awakened in the middle of the night so that I could take those pills. When I left the hospital in 1999, I was tethered to an oxygen tank, 24/7. I went back to work, dragging my tank behind me. New became an important word to me. I became grateful for every new morning that I saw. I’d open my eyes and smile because I was still there to face a new day. I focused on building a new life for myself. I appreciated the oxygen tanks but I got a bit tired of sounding like Darth Vader every time I was on the elevator at the courthouse (every time I breathed in through the tubing in my nose, the machine hissed and clicked). Eventually, I was able to dispense with the portable oxygen. I don’t know why and neither do the doctors but my blood oxygen levels returned to normal levels. It was a gradual process, but by 2004, I no longer need the portable oxygen. In the last three years, I’ve put new energy into becoming healthier. I’ve managed to lose 148 pounds (no, I haven’t had surgery, not that there’s anything wrong with the surgery, but I did it without surgery). It’s a little scary to write about my weight loss. I’m definitely not svelte, even now, so to acknowledge that I’ve lost so much weight is to acknowledge how fat I truly was three years ago. I feel new. Every morning that I wake up, I still smile, as I get ready to face a new day.

Eclectic. I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I have many things that I like, across a wide spectrum. My CD collection is the best evidence of my eclectic tastes. I have Aretha Franklin and Patsy Cline in my collection. I also like piano concertos, Italian opera, jazz, and Irish folk music. I listen to music according to my mood. Sometimes I need a good jam and Chaka Khan or Prince played really loud makes me happy. At other times, I’m introspective, and Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, or Tracy Chapman may hit the spot. When I’m feeling mellow, a little Reba McEntire or Brooks and Dunn singing a sweet, sad song about the one that got away, does me just fine. I thank my mother for exposing me to many different genres of music when I was a child; I remember her singing along with the radio while she cleaned the house or cooked dinner. I like to sing along with the radio as well, although I’m not really strong on the cleaning and cooking part.

Wow, this turned into a really long entry. I have to run, there’s a new movie on the sci-fi channel tonight.

 Credits: Jazz by Romare Bearden (art) & Leavin' by Shelby Lynne (music)




Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My reflection on 9/11

I wrote this poem on 9/11, sometime that night. I had been on the telephone with my sister and she told me that her husband had commented on the need to connect that was inspiring Americans across the nation to reach out and embrace one another. He also observed how sad it was that the sense of unity wouldn't last, that far too many of us would soon return to divisive mistrust, to an antipathy towards the suffering of others,  to a willingness to do violence against others, and to a selfish disregard of anyone's needs other than our own. I have shared this poem before but on this anniversary of that horrendous day, I want to share it again.


There Be Monsters

The images on the screen kick you in the guts,
...smoke and ash…smoke and ash...

Smoke rises from the oil,
onions, peppers, a little garlic
a woman in her kitchen
stirring, preparing
her eyes on the clock
always on the clock.

On the flickering screen, horror and hate,
smoke and ash...

She grips the spoon,
absorbs herself in tomatoes and basil,
listens for the footsteps, the metal on metal of key and lock.

"Did you hear...have you seen...all those people..."
her voice falls into the silence of expectation.

"A shame," he tells her, "a damn shame."

His words match her horror,
together watching smoke and ash...smoke and ash

But there is too much salt or too little,
too much basil or not enough,
always too much or too little.

She surrenders to the horror of the fist in the face,
wraps herself in smoke and ash
knowing that the monsters are always under the bed.



Sheria Reid