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  • "Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy."

    "Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy."

    Langston Hughes was born on this day in 1902. In 1926, he wrote an essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," which, according to The Poetry Foundation, was "seen by many as a cornerstone document articulation of the Harlem renaissance."

    Here is an excerpt. Happy birthday Langston Hughes, one of the first poets I studied and fell in love with, whose work continues to help me view the world in new ways, outside of my own limited perspective. Thank you.

    From "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"

    "Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. I am as sincere as I know how to be in these poems and yet after every reading I answer questions like these from my own people: Do you think Negroes should always write about Negroes? I wish you wouldn’t read some of your poems to white folks. How do you find anything interesting in a place like a cabaret? Why do you write about black people? You aren’t black. What makes you do so many jazz poems?

    But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. Yet the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she does not like me to write about it, The old subconscious 'white is best' runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz and all its manifestations—likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. She doesn’t care for the Winold Reiss portraits of Negroes because they are 'too Negro.' She does not want a true picture of herself from anybody. She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white world believe that all Negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be. But, to my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering 'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspirations of his people, to 'Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beautiful'?

    So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, 'I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,' as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange un-whiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

    Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing the Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing Water Boy, and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."

  • #NoBanNoWall

    #NoBanNoWall

    "How to reason with nature?

    And how to ignore a wall?

    Try risking nothing.
    Look up to the palm tree tops. Look down across the sugar cane and cotton.
    Look anywhere, but do no make direct eye contact
    with the wall, or if you must, stand so close
    that the eyes blur and you can no longer see it.

    Keep calm and just keep eating.
    Don't ask where your food comes from
    or who picks or prepares it—
    about Monsanto,
    about how the rich got rich,
    or who the gatekeepers are.

    Do not look up the words
    social or justice in the dictionary."

    — Excerpt, "How to Ignore a Wall," by Amalia Ortiz, Rant. Chant. Chisme.

  • "No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark"

    Conversations About Home
    (at the Deportation Centre) 

    by Warsan Shire

    Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I've been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can't afford to forget.

    *

    They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you're young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on my face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck; I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.

    *

    I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.

    *

    I hear them say, go home, I hear them say, fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I'll see you on the other side.

    --

    from Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

  • The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom

    "Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty."

    – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

    *

    If you don't already have it in heavy rotation, I can't think of a better time to listen to Common's masterful album, Black America Again.

    "Letter to the Free," the closing track featuring Bilal, talks about mass incarceration and was inspired by both Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ava Duvernay’s documentary “13th.” Common wrote this track for the movie, but it was already a subject that was clearly heavy on his mind, and it’s a topic he returns to throughout the album. 

    The question he asks in this song—“Will the U.S. ever be us?”— followed by the conviction that freedom and justice will indeed come (“Lord willing!”) follow in the spirit of Dr. King’s sobering and powerful words from his 1963 letter to his "dear fellow Clergymen.”

    This weekend, I’m traveling from Chicago to D.C. to proudly join a diverse group of Americans marching on Washington, D.C. in the Women’s March on Washington. The guiding vision of this Women’s March is the belief "that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights,” along with the belief that “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.”

    Like Dr. King, I believe that our liberation is bound in each other’s, and that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” So while it may be a “Women’s” March, I’m marching for the racial justice that heroes like Dr. King and John Lewis, and so many more brave men and women, risked their lives for— or as King put, “so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

    See you in that “not too distant tomorrow” where the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood” — and sisterhood — will shine.

    #WhyIMarch

  • Te vas? No.

    Te vas? No.

    Me, at Frida's. December 30, 2016.

    *

    I ended 2016 with a visit to Mexico City, which of course included a trip to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's house turned museum. Oh, Diego lived there, too, I know. But it's really all about Frida, isn't it?

    There are other, in focus, "better" photos of me visiting the Blue House. But this is my favorite – no posing, no posturing, just me in front of a portrait of Frida. 

    Right now, the spirit of Frida feels more pertinent to me than ever, as we're only days away from inaugurating a lying degenerate and misogynist as our next President. She was fierce, resilient, and unapologetic about who she was – and oh, her jewelry! That's the short list. I don't need to explain to you why she was such a badass, unless of course you're the dude I was sitting next to on the plane ride home, WHO HAD NEVER HEARD OF FRIDA KAHLO. (Upon this admission, I quietly opened my book, The Power, and tried to pretend he no longer existed.)

    I only hope to channel some of Frida's chutzpah when I participate in the March on Washington on the 21st. 

    And if that's too tall of a task, I can certainly channel the Resting Bitch Face I nailed in this photo. 

    #WhyIMarch #WomensMarchWednesday 

  • Hearts Must Change.

    "After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce. And our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

    Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require. But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'

    For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

    For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

    For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.

    So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own."

    President Barack Obama's farewell speech, January 10, 2017, Chicago

  • Mix Tapes: What's In a Name?

    The Shins are here to warm up your first week of 2017 with a new single, one NPR calls "a joyfully infectious pop cut" that's a "hopeful ode of empowerment" to frontman James Mercer's daughters. 

    Give it a listen. It'll almost make you forget, for that fun 3 minutes and 10 seconds, all that's at stake right now for everyone's daughters. 

    Meanwhile, San Fermin is also brightening this sub-zero temperatures Thursday in Chicago with their new song "Open" that continues the sweeping beauty of the songs from last album, Jackrabbit. 

    "I have your body, I have your soul"

    *

    I'm also newly into Julie Byrne, and especially her song "Natural Blue," discovered via Pitchfork. Something about the depth of her voice when she sings, "When I first saw you...that feeling it came over me too" makes me feel both melancholy and romantic. (Oh, shut up, Alison.)

    Just listen:

     

    I'm excited to get back to the Mix Tapes in 2017, geeks! Hope you are, too. Happy discovering. Happy listening. 

  • "When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as important, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you."

    "10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings," Brain Pickings
  • to be sorted later » something funny started happening

    to be sorted later » something funny started happening

    "Brilliant Disguise" | art by Vin Zzep | via Society6

    I started drafting this post a month and a half ago. Seems like whatever it was I was sorting through at the time wasn't too inspiring! 

    That is both the truth and a lie. I've felt inspired; I've felt like sharing. Then I've talked myself out of it. 

    I've been here before. This is nothing new. But I'm back, ready to sort through some things with ... my computer screen! And hopefully, you, person reading this. Hello.

    So, to begin, and what brought me back here to this month-long abandoned "to be sorted later" post: My friend Jimmy recently shared this beautiful little comic with me. It's called "Doing This," and in it, the artist describes "being afraid of being bad at the things I loved," and it made me remember.

    I remembered the rush of creating, of compiling, of writing, of sharing — even if it is only silly, little, blog post. (Emphasis intended on all the places I naturally felt inclined to diminish what I enjoy.) 

    Maybe no one will read this. Maybe no one but me even knew I had started my "to be sorted later" posts. Maybe no one knew I had abandoned them for two months. But, as I was reminded:

    "What did it matter if I made something and no one cared?

    I cared."

    Thanks, Jimmy, for the reminder. And thanks to the artist, Sarah, for Doing This.

    *

    Let's just keep sorting through things that inspire us, shall we?

    For Literary Hub, Rebecca Solnit offers 10 tips on "How to Be a Writer" — of course, maybe you don't want to be a writer, but that's pretty clearly the game I've been playing at here, so here we are. I particularly like #8 on her list: Joy. 

    "Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing."

    Whether you're trying to be a writer or not, I am a firm believer that the suggestion to "pause, look out the window (there should always be a window)" is some of the soundest advice you'll hear today. 

    *

    Speaking of writers. Speaking of inspiration. Each year on September 11, I like to reflect by reading some of my man E.B. White's writings on New York, of which there are many. The most obvious, and one you should start with, is "Here is New York," but this year I found myself drawn to some of his other musings in Writings from The New Yorker 1927-1976. 

    You really must experience E.B. White's takes on New York in far more depth than what I'll leave here, but here it is anyway, from "New York," 6/11/55: 

    "The two moments when New York seems most desirable, when the splendor falls all round about and the city looks like a girl with leaves in her hair, are just as you are leaving and must say goodbye, and just as you return and can say hello." 

    I often feel that way about Chicago, though I can't say when I last saw a girl with leaves in her hair. Sounds like a vision, nonetheless. 

    *

    I also finally caught up on some reading this weekend. I finished Terry McMillan's new book, I Almost Forgot About You, and was reminded how satisfying a happy ending and a good love story can be. (I also started, and finished, the excellent and too-short novel, Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson this weekend. Highly, highly recommend.)

    Apparently I'm being reminded of things a lot lately. I cried as I finished I Almost Forgot About You, partly because, as it turns out, I'm a huge fucking sap, and partly because I was thinking about my mother. She loved Terry McMillan's books and would have been surprised by the romance in this new one. It's so much more than the romance, though—it's about friendship and family and most of all, the relationship you have with yourself. 

    Early on in the book, as the protagonist Georgia reflects on her divorce, I couldn't stop myself from nodding along, and then pausing my reading to take a picture of the page to send to my friend Natalie. Here's an excerpt of what had me nodding:

    "I ran out of tears. And by the time I went back to work, I realized I wasn't angry. I was numb. I felt as if he had killed me and this is what it felt like to be dead. 

    But then as weeks and months passed, something funny started happening. I stopped missing him. I stopped mourning him. I stopped mourning the loss of him, and in fact he was the one who became dead to me. I was relieved to have our condo to myself. I started feeling like I was on vacation in my own home. I did whatever I wanted to do without needing to clear it with him. I learned how to stop editing my every move. I stopped apologizing for being myself. Because I liked who I was."

    *

    It feels good to be yourself and like who you are. Maybe it's not always easy, but it's worth it, baby. Don't apologize for being you. Don't apologize for wanting to create and share. I'm trying it, and it feels pretty great.

    Let's do this. 

    *

    Previously: "once seen, it cannot be unseen" 

  • Mix Tapes: 'Rubbing My Hands At The Bottom Of The Sea, Scraping The Sand'

    Here for this

    "I was looking at her looking out the window and then I just leaned my head back and died and went outside of myself. My spirit went out of my body and I saw myself and the room. And then I woke up."

    This too. 

    When asked, "What does it physically feel like to play the cello?" Lu says:

    "Sometimes it feels like I’m playing water. When I’m sliding my fingers across it, I feel like I’m rubbing my hands at the bottom of the sea, scraping the sand."