Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Searching for Connections

I've been thinking a lot about connections this week. I visited Gina's journal where she had posted two exquisite photographs of a spider web. Gina is a gifted photographer. The web looked so delicate; it reminded me of the hand crocheted scarves that my maternal grandmother carefully placed on the tabletops in her home and on the arms of overstuffed chairs. But spider webs are actually quite strong; their delicate appearance is deceptive.

I also stopped by to visit my friend Marc's journal. Marc is all about connections. When I think of Marc, I am reminded of a line from John Donne's Meditation 17, "No man is an island, entire to itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind..." In addition to being an extraordinarily decent human being, Marc is also quite witty, and he makes me laugh.

Marc led me to a blog by one of his friends. It's called kickin tina. There's lots of good stuff there and I've book marked it so that I may return. If you visit, be certain to read the entry entitled "everything zen." It's about connections or perhaps the lack of connection. It made me start thinking about how so many of us are constantly seeking connections, about how we often fall into pseudo connections, mistaking pale imitations for the real thing because we have deluded ourselves into believing that anything is better than being alone. A couple of years ago, I wrote a poem about the need for connection, at least in my mind, that's what it is about. The poem is below.

There Is Nothing Original In Suffering


For every poem about love fulfilled,

there are written

one hundred times one hundred of love forsaken.


For every promise of love forever,

Jove’s mirth fills the arch of heaven,

for it is written that love’s perjuries conjure laughter.


Abandoned lovers,

swaddled in denial,

believe aches of the heart

to be a solitary pain,

newly born to the betrayed.


And so poets,

knowing there is nothing original in the sufferings of the heart,

write one hundred times one hundred of hearts mangled,

blinding lovers to a knowledge

much sharper than love broken--

that it has all been done and will be done again.



The music is an a cappella version of a folk song,

Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair, that I heard

back in the 1970s performed by Joan Baez. The origins

are Scottish but it is also attributed to being popularized in Southern Appalachia in the 18th century. As with most folk songs, the lyrics vary a bit from version to version.

click here to listen to the song.


In full disclosure, I should add that the recording of the song is by yours truly.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Music and Memory

I listen to music with my entire being. Certain melodies wrap around me like a clear blue sky on a summer morning; others wash over me like waves lapping at the shore; and then there are those that crawl under my skin, merge into my soul and I am one with the music. I heard such a song 20 years ago.

Public television was trying to ride the MTV wave to boost its viewers and began broadcasting a half-hour program showcasing movie videos from around the world. I loved the program; there was no XM radio in 1987 and music from other cultures was not readily available in any other venue. I was particularly fond of the reggae music that was often featured. However, one evening the guest was a young man from South Africa, whose name I had never heard--Johnny Clegg. He was accompanied by his band, Savuka. I began watching out of curiosity but I continued watching because the music spoke to my heart and soul.

Clegg was in his early thirties. He was born in Rochdale, England but in his childhood came with his mother to her childhood home in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). Eventually they moved to South Africa where he learned to play the guitar and speak the Zulu language. Then he did the unthinkable, in defiance of the law against mixing of the races, and white and African culture, he formed a band with a friend who was black.  That first band was called Juluka, Zulu for "sweat." By the time I watched him perform on PBS, that group had disbanded and he had formed a new, interracial band called Savuka (we have risen). Savuka performed music that mixed Zulu and English lyrics, and African rhythms with European and Celtic folk music. In spite of the fact that they could not legally perform in public in South Africa, their music caught the attention of the people and was sold underground. Of course, I didn't know any of this when Johnny Clegg and Savuka came out on the stage to perform as I sat in front of my black and white portable television 20 years ago.

All I knew was that this white man was performing with a group of black men and one black woman, and they were making wonderful music and having a great time doing it. I eventually got their cassette and I played it over and over again. There was one song in particular that crawled inside my head and that has remained there all these years. It's called, "Asimbonanga," (we have not seen him). When I first heard the song, most of which is in Zulu, I couldn't understand most of the words, but it didn't matter. I knew that it had a message that was worth hearing.

I hadn't thought about this song in many years until today. I was chatting with a friend who had sent me a link to Carol Burnett's parody of Gone With The Wind (we all know about my GWTW fixation) on YouTube. As we were chatting, we marveled at how you can find anything that you want (sort of like Alice's Restaurant) on YouTube. When I got off the phone with her, it dawned on me that Johnny Clegg and Savuka performing "Asimbonanga" might be on YouTube. I hadn't heard the song for years. The problem with cassettes is that they don't survive being left in the car repeatedly when summer temperatures are above 95 degrees.

I found several versions on YouTube, but the one that I like is sort of a grainy video that probably dates back to the late 1980s. They sing the song just as I remember it. I've watched the video three times already. Whoever posted it also posted the lyrics and included the English translation for the Zulu lyrics; I've pasted them below the video. I hope that you enjoy it. I still get chills listening to this song; I particularly love the descant that the female vocalist adds towards the end. In the beauty of this song lies so much bravery and hope. Clegg is still performing, only now he can do it openly with his Zulu band.


Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang' uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph'ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water


A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me


Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge
Neil Aggett
Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph'wafela khona (In the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la' siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Making a Difference

Hello y'all. I copied the information below verbatim from Marc's blog to help spread the word. As Marc points out, this is an easy and cost free thing to do that will help a lot of people, so please pass it along.

Fight Breast Cancer with a Click

Please tell ten friends to tell ten today! The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site (see below link) and
click on "donating a mammogram" for free (pink window in the middle).

This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/ advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for advertising.

Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know. *


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Humane Values

This entry began as an email response to my  friend, Indigo, regarding her comment to my entry, "You Might Not Like What I Have to Say." I respect Indigo and I value her opinion. However, as my email got longer and longer, I realized that I had not really clearly said all that I wanted to say in the previous entry, so I scrapped the email and wrote this entry instead. Thanks, Indigo, for being my inspiration today.
I totally agree with Indigo's assertion that all living things deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, to live without cruelty and abuse.  My point wasn't to defend Michael Vick but to question why we find it so much easier to build public fervor about his actions than we do about the human to human cruelties that go on around us daily. It seems to me that if we focused the same intensity of outrage on things like homelessness and world hunger, that we could do far more to eradicate both.
Vick is just one man, a small cog in the cruelty that revolves round us daily. If every person who is gainfully employed would donate just one dollar a month to charity, think of the number of issues that we could address--more shelters for the homeless and abused, improved housing for the poor, access to medical care for the poor, more feeding programs etc. Why do we accept that people living in poverty is a necessary reality when we have the power to ensure that all people have a standard of living that includes the basics of food, clothing, shelter, and health care? I'm not advocating that Vick and others who abuse animals be allowed to escape all punishment but I am frustrated and disgusted that one individual's participation in abusive acts is garnering far more public outcry than the ongoing, non-stop, societal failure to take care of those among us most in need of our help.
What profoundly disturbs me about the intensity of the let's crucify Michael Vick syndrome is that it allows us to perceive ourselves as humane and caring without having to really do anything that is humane or caring. How much effort does it really take to be appalled by the abject cruelty of dog fighting? But what does our disapproval and dismay really cost us? Nothing, absolutely nothing and when we are done with our outrage, we go back to our lives as before. We are not better for the experience; we are not kinder; we don't recognize our responsibility to ensure that all people have food, clothing, shelter, and access to health care. We will continue to support election of officials who run on platforms of non-caring; the politician who adamantly promises no new taxes and declares that the illegal immigrants are the source of all our problems; the politician who asserts that the single most important issue is family values and that he/she will work to guarantee that the alleged sanctity of marriage remains inviolate by denying the rights of others based on their sexual orientation. We will not stop to consider that as painful as taxes may be, that they support the infrastructure of the social programs that care for needy. We do not see that in denying the rights of consenting adults to love whom they choose, we are violating the very family values that we espouse to support. Ultimately, we also are not really taking any meaningful steps against animal cruelty. We simply choose to ignore the cruelty inherent in the raising of most of the animals that eventually end up on out tables. However, we are able to feel satisfied that we responded humanely to the actions of these despicable men involved in the dogfighting business; satisfied that we are not like Michael Vick and his partners in crime. So satisfied that we go back to our lives as usual instead of raising a public outcry demanding that all beings receive the care, respect, and lives free from abuse and cruelty to which they are entitled.
I think that as a society  we have numbed ourselves to any sense of being our brother's keeper. Certainly there are individuals who engage in charitable activities and show concern for those who are less fortunate. However, as a society, we tend to abdicate collective responsibility for taking care of those who for whatever reason are unable to provide for themselves. We waste a great deal of energy focusing on whether or not they are deserving of our concern and care. I don't understand the concept of deserving of help; am I not my brother's and sister's keeper? Don't they deserve my help simply because they exist?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

You May Not Like What I Have to Say

I don't approve of dog fights but then I also think that boxing is a cruel sport. Two people climb into a ring, and try to see which one can knock the other one out first.  I don't get it, but lots of people clearly don't have a problem with boxing, even though on occasion, someone dies as a result of being in the ring. One is legal, the other is not; I get that. I also understand that the dogs don't have any say so as to whether or not they will become fighters. 

I also recognize that this is a society where boxing is an acceptable, popular, profitable, and legal sport.  But this is also a society where sportsmanship often takes a backseat to violence. Fights among opposing teams at athletic events have become expected in some sports. The violence has invaded the little league venues as well.  Parents yell, curse and smack each other while attending their children's athletic activities.  In a truly sad case a few years ago, one parent beat another parent to death as a result of his disagreement with the way the victim monitored a pick up hockey game. As a society, we often behave badly and engage in violent behavior.

We also mistreat animals in other contexts. Hogs, chickens, turkeys, etc. are raised under horrible conditions to supply us with meat on our tables. There is nothing humane  about slaughterhouses. So, I'm tired of folks acting as if Michael Vick is the second coming of Satan because of his involvement with dog fighting. I think that he is definitely ignorant and could have used a good mentor to help him understand that he was on a dangerous and self-destructive path. I think that he was engaged in an illegal activity and deserves some punishment. I find dog fighting reprehensible and cruel. I cannot comprehend how anyone would view it as entertainment, but conservative estimates are that there are 40,000 people involved in the business end of dog fighting--putting on fights, buying and selling dogs. The size of the viewing audience cannot be precisely determined but dog fighting prize purses may be as much as $100,000. It's a big and illegal industry.  However, I also know that Mr. Vick did not invent dog fighting and there are far scarier monsters walking among us than Michael Vick.

I can't stop myself from reading the comments on message boards about the Michael Vick case. Many advocate that Vick be executed for his cruelty to animals. There are also a shocking number of comments that seem to associate Mr. Vick's activities with his race. According to many posters, Mr. Vick is typical of violent black men. One poster keeps repeatedly adding his comment, "Send the Darky home." I'm not clear as to where home is. Mr. Vick was born in this country; he is home. In my home state of North Carolina, generally the sad looking individuals paraded on the evening news who have been arrested for dog fighting are white men and a few white women. I have never concluded that they somehow represent a predilection for violence in white people.

Over the years, I have rarely witnessed this much excitement about cruelty to human beings. The young black woman who was recently held and tortured in Tennessee by the rejects from "The Hills Have Eyes," hasn't garnered as much media attention or outpouring of caring as the abused dogs in Vick's case. Her story has barely caused a ripple in the media although she was held for more than a week by six people who repeatedly tortured, raped, and humiliated her. It happens that the six people were white and three of them were women, but it has never crossed my mind to conclude that white men and women are sadists based on the actions of these six people.

Even when we are convinced that someone's actions have resulted in a loss of life, society doesn't always extract the same penalty. The facts and circumstances are weighed along with the intent of the perpetrator and the  severity of the act. The woman who alleges that she forgot that her two year old was in her car for eight hours will not be charged with a crime in the child's death. The prosecutor says that the act was clearly an accident and doesn't rise to any level of criminal negligence on the part of the mother. The minister's wife who shot her husband in the back while he was in bed, received a three year sentence and served a total of seven months. My point is not to suggest that she deserved a longer sentence but merely to point out that even in murder cases, there may be reasons for the judicial system to show leniency.   People kill, torture, rape and otherwise abuse other people, and receive far less public condemnation than Michael Vick, and far lighter prison sentences than what he is facing.  I can't help but wonder what motivates us to maintain such fervor about Vick's bad behavior but placidly ignore so many other transgressions that surround us on a daily basis.

Now they have decided to save all of the fighting dogs except one. Quite frankly, I wouldn't want one of these dogs for a pet or even living in my neighborhood. However, saving the dogs makes people feel good about how caring and humane we all are. It's so much easier than taking care of the homeless, feeding the hungry , providing aid and support to victims of domestic violence and child abuse, making our prisons into places for rehabilitation, or just plain giving a damn.

Thanks to two journal land friends who in writing about this topic inspired me to examine my own thoughts on the matter, Barry and Spencer. Click their names to read their thoughts on this subject matter.