Two weeks ago Omolara Williams McCallister and I spoke at a regional UU conference at All Soul’s that was centered around Black Lives Mater and racial justice. Also speaking that day was Alonzo Smith who is a professor of Black history. I decided to turn our talks into a podcast but unfortunately have been super busy. So here is the raw audio from that talk and Q&A.
The first 20 minutes is me talking about the emerging analysis of BLM: on White Supremacy, Capitalism, Patriarchy and lovelessness and alienation. The next 20 minutes is Omolara talking about “the Wheel of Relationshit” [not a typo], a TED talk worthy presentation on organizational accountability with the movement. The last 40 minutes are Omo, Alonzo and I answering questions from the audience. Hopefully I will have time to mix and render this into several shorter, smoother podcasts but that might be a while.
[You can also listen to this podcast on itunes by searching “Well Examined Life” under podcasts]
It’s amazing what you can learn when you listen. I mean really listen and hear, another person. This site was founded on the believe that you can increase your own self awareness through dialogue. That means we can learn more about ourselves through hearing the lived experience of another person. The self referential aspect of this endeavor has always been slightly troubling to me. It’s always seemed problematic. Yet the more I engage in these conversations, the more I grow and the more a realize that there is as much growth in the telling as the hearing.
Similarly, once I embarked on the task of interviewing Black Women, I had to come to terms with the fact that this is my project and anything they express will necessarily be filtered through my lens which is a male lens. It seems inevitable. Unless I ask the interviewees to spend hours editing their own interviews, my editing decisions will shape how their stories are told. This is not ideal, but the alternative was to not hear these stories, to not be able to work with them and have them challenge and enlighten me and my audience.
So, I will add this disclaimer: Above, you have an interview with my mother, who beyond being my mother and one of the kindest people ever, also has a great deal of wisdom to share. My hope is that her stories and insights will enlighten you and, for those of you not blessed to have Black Women whom you can ask to sit down and hear from, broaden your image of what a Black Women is. Yet, it must be said that no 12 minute interview can encompass the brilliance, the beauty or the complexity of my mother. I would suggest you all check out Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” to better understand why.
So listen, enjoy and share. Hopefully, when I get a new laptop, I will be able to actually edit podcast and get a series going. It was difficult to edit this without my computer crashing so it’s not my best work. Until then, I encourage you to continue celebrating the Black Women in your life. I encourage you all to listen to their stories. To learn from their strength. To be inspired by their beauty.
the physics of nonsense and non-compliance:
radical action in the forefront
meager meandering of an eager and creative soul child
streams of neon-neurotic non-neo-liberal consciousness
things mother forgot to remind me
things I think of in between the oppressions
the science of living
If, as they say, E=MC2
then would ODB and Jay-Z squared off
freestyling in the market place of ideas
make matter reverberate off the window you forgot to put down in the rain storm?
Would your room be flooded with the 2 cents of disaffected black youth?
Could you handle all that realness?
Would the curvature of time-space triangulate slowly if Lauryn sung the hook?
If it got loud enough would it scare the birds in the bush worth the gander with the one Black swan?
Would your investment in bird watching books be squandered?
If, as the world turned faster the days our lives got longer
until a year became the infinity between the end of your first kiss and your eyes opening
would time still equal money?
What if we all woke tomorrow and decided that it would be Sunday
would we ever get our mail?
Would the mail-man,
zers be forced to work on sunday?
Would the injustices of the world perpetuate themselves in our own lackadaisical heaven?
Does liberation come with Paid Sick Days?
Does the revolution take water breaks?
Will the water be our grandmother’s lead lined tap water?
What if “Alf” was just an anachronistic prophesy of Clintonian democracy?
How much wood would a wood chuck need to chuck for Chuck and Heavey D to stop the violence?
If our best educated, best prepared, best equipped refuse to fight then when does the battle start?
What if we all got into a room and talked it out?
What if only the respectable folks could hold the mic?
What if I told her I loved her?
What if we all got along, all the time, all the time and love was everywhere?
Would we have room for our beds?
Would we have to sleep,
huddled in our happiness,
peaceful in our orgies because
fucking is the opposite of war?
Maybe the world is just too much.
Maybe we just can’t handle it all?
Maybe the revolution will just turn off the lights
Maybe we will spend our lives on our backs,
staring at the stars at night,
holding hands and signing hyms
praising how simple,
how lovely it all is when take the time to look at it?
Maybe heaven is a world only perceived through our eyes and ears.
Maybe it just beauty without context.
Maybe this hell is being beaten with false histories.
Maybe death is the daily monotony of work and existing with our blinders force feeding us information and life is everything else…
All across America young Black people are articulating the damage, the pain, the fear, the lynchings that come with being one of the backs upon which this white supremacist nation was built. It is important that we all bear witness to this pain. If you are Black, it is essential that you open yourself to the pain you push behind your mask so that you can function in this society. That pain needs to be released. It it needs to be spoken. You will find power in its utterance. In articulating your own humanity, in flaunting it in front of the very society that denies it, you will find a type of individual freedom from which is the raw material for our collective liberation.
If you are not-Black then you need to bear witness to this pain. You need to force yourself to see the humanity of the Black myn and womyn who are mourning their own deaths. You need to force yourself to understand that this pain is not new just because you haven’t heard it before. It will not go away until we as a nation can come to terms with the Blackness of 36 million Americans. It will not go away until the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers no longer have to wonder what their role is in their own nation. It will not go away until we recognize the humanity of all Black people despite class, nation of origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ability or criminal records. It will not and cannot go away until you understand that #blacklivesmatter.
If we as a nation cannot all agree on that simple fact we can never be whole; we can never heal this gaping wound across our nation. This festering sore that is one of America’s foundational sins will continue to grow, to ooze and to infect every institution of our nation. Yet no longer will this infection be contained to Black bodies. No longer will Black people be the ones who bear the weight of their oppression by shucking and jiving on the razor thin edge of white racial sensibilities. No longer will we let the tonnage of white racism sit on our chests, crushing us slowly while we pretend it isn’t there. If this movement is anything it is a promise that if we can’t breathe, you can’t breathe.
I’ve debated with myself about what the purpose of these interviews is. I’ve been constantly questioning why I do them and, more importantly, what I want my audience to get out of them. I have yet to come up with a coherent answer to the second question but talking to my dear friend and big sister Clare O’Brien Rocha has reminded me of the first. Clare and I share a special history. Our parents met shortly after my parents were married and while her parents were dating in a little post-hippie Baha’i community in 1970’s Colorado. We grew up together, sharing family vacations and alternating Thanksgivings at each other’s houses for over 15 years.
As a kid, her parents were my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Steve, the kooky hippy couple whose life seemed like how married life was supposed to be. Her mother Nancy was both a second mother and, if I’m honest, the archetype for what I thought the perfect wife was supposed to be: beautiful, warm, funny, and passionate. Her father goes harder in everything that he does than any man I’ve ever met. I love both her parents like they are my own. In fact, my dream marriage would be facilitated by her father in swim trunks, Hawaiian shirt and suit jacket.
When her mother passed a few years ago I was devastated. It was a like a part of my world no longer made sense. It seemed like with no Nancy to look forward to every Thanksgiving, with her warm smile and long dark hair, a little bit of the world’s magic left too. I was unaware of Nancy’s mental illness until she passed and I never really talked to Clare about it until this past April when I stayed with her and her own family out on Long Island.
Seeing Clare again after so many years was an amazing and moving experience. Clare has a unique gorgeousness about her. Seeing her not only reminds me of the only teenager who would hang out with “the babies” on family vacations but I also see the same smile and raucous humor of her father and the same warmth, empathy and same clear eyes and long dark hair of her mother. She embodies a spirit of my childhood, the hippie, sing along, wholesomeness mixed with a down to earth realness that I don’t find with many other people. Likewise, one of the first things she said to me was, “I saw you and it like looking at a young Tony!” I realized, sitting on my her couch, taking up the most space possible, with my hands rested on my belly and half my shirt covering my bearded mouth, that I was just that; a young version of my father. She says it with such love and nostalgia that I became much prouder of the idiosyncrasies of my father that I’ve internalized.
So for me, it was clear that I just had to interview Clare. I had to talk to her about our completely interlinked childhood. We talked for hours about how different our views of our respective families and what it was like to be raised Baha’i in Colorado. We talked about how our parents’ friendship became our model for what adult friendships were supposed to be. We talked about how we assumed that your close friends become your family and that while blood will always be thicker than water, sometimes the water can run twice as deep.
So what will you, the listener, get from Clare’s interview? Other than the awesome music that weaves throughout the interview, other than her truly beautiful [if slightly sick] voice, Clare moves the world with more style, swag and intentionality than you’d ever imagine. Clare is a stay at home mother of two, living in the Gatbsy-esque tip of Long Island known as the Hamptons and drives an Audi yet every image of her that just popped into your head from that description is either false or woefully incomplete. Whenever Beyonce comes on [which is quite often]her oldest son, who is quite possible the cutest child in the history of children, looks up and says “that’s my mom’s best friend ‘yonce.” She is a feminist, an artist, a fashionista, a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter, an amazing cook, a hilarious story teller, role model, a big sister, a trend setter and the first real interview for the Stories We Tell Ourselves In Order To Live!
Through her own rugged determination and restless art filled spirit, Clare has created a narrative of life that is truly wonderful. Hers is, among other things, a narrative of the power of every day choices, of constant growth and endearing love. She cannot be defined or understood in 40 minutes of monologue but I believe that we all have something to learn from her internal beauty. Listen! Share! And increase your self-awareness through dialogue.
It has been a rough week. A week that has forced me to think a lot about family, the bonds we build and the comfort we provide each other. It was also a week of tremendous social upheaval in Ferguson, MO. Already the conversations about Ferguson on Facebook and Twitter were giving me anxiety as many people were processing the event as if this was the first time they ever considered police brutality as a real thing which I viscerally read as “oh, I guess you all weren’t making it up after all.” This is the kind of thing that I would sit in my Great Uncle’s room for hours discussing. Those memories increased by anxiety as I felt I had no way to process the two events separately.
Over the past couple of days I have had the support of my family, friends and co-workers which I appreciate greatly. Still, I needed an outlet for all the emotions that have been making it hard for me to breathe, focus on work, move forward or even put on a brave face recently. So I turned to my art and tried to process Ferguson and my Uncle’s death through that. Here is a new podcast I just finished which is an exploration of my emotions over the past couple of days. I hope those of you coming from calm places find it interesting and that those of you dealing with similar feelings might find a bit of validation.
I should also warn people that this piece includes explicit and sometimes jarring descriptions of violence as well as some explicit language.
How complicit are you in the project of American Empire ?
Here is my latest audio art piece “Acoustic Discourse On Violence.” The piece explores a working logic of non-violent action that is complicated by visceral reactions to fear of the unknown, shame at our moral complicity and responses to aggression. I have been contemplating taking a vow of non-violence and compassion for some time now. I also frequently find myself thinking “why don’t we riot any more?” as the anger–which is a response to the ideologies of dominance that become visceral and integral parts of my lived experience through the assertion of whiteness and capitalism–build up inside me. This is an attempt at exploring those two impulses. As always, please let me know what you think.
Booing Up When All Your Friends Are Lesbians…& You’re Not
Here it is…the moment [a few of] you have been waiting for. The debut of my play writing prowess…a comedy of queer proportions…the story my dating life as read by my friends…the hilarity that might could be the DC Queer DIY Punk Scene… one my favorite things I’ve ever created.
This play is a compilation of pieces of my life with the boring taken out, names changed and background slightly rewritten. Most of the dialogue is real. Some of the events happened. All of them could happen…at group house near you. I’m really proud of this play as it represents a lot of personal and artistic growth. Not only is is better writing but it is more honest writing. Some of the truths contained within might surprise people who haven’t talked to me in a while…if that is the case, I encourage you to ask about anything that surprised you. I will probably write more about this play later and will post the script soon but for now…here is my first ever radio theater comedy podcast!
If you like the music [and really how could you not?] check of Spoonboy and Hot Hyms for more!
This latest poem is less a poem and more a audio art experience? The Poem is called strip or remover of difficulties or the things they ask you to strip away. It’s new, its different, it complex. Listen to it twice and let me know what you think!
Strip away the paint and the decorations and a house is a just a shelter.
A physical space for us to be protected from the elements.
Pieces of wood and steel and brick that allow us to live our lives.
That is the purpose it serves and it can only be judged by how well it serves that purpose.
You remember the first time they asked you to strip. They didn’t know what they were asking but your mother had taught you when to know. Your slave like hands slowly began to undo the braids on your head. You undid your history with each row you took out; rows of fertile hair where your identity grew unraveled. You reached your ash black hands towards your mouth and stripped away the taste of mother’s cooking. You used your degree to strip the pigment from your skin and hoped that it bruised white. The act of bleaching stung at first but you would get used to the feeling, you would tell your son that it’s what it feels like to successful. You knew what purpose you needed to serve and you had learned to serve it well.
Strip away the paint and ornaments and a car is just a vehicle.
An instrument to carry us from one place to another.
Pieces of steel and leather and rubber that allow us to live our lives.
That is the purpose it serves and it can only be judged by how well it serves that purpose.
You remember the first time you asked her to strip for you. Neither of you knew what you were asking but she did it anyway. She stripped herself of her ideas first, letting them fall seductively to the floor. She removed her desires slowly, concealing enough of her wants to be mysterious. Her delicate and child-like fingers unlaced the rope that held her self-esteem together just like her mother taught her. Her movements were easy and provocative but unnatural. She stood in front of you, naked, left with only her tentative will to clothe her, ready to shrug it off if you asked. You wouldn’t learn to ask until college though. On the surface it felt right and you repressed the part of you that knew it was wrong. The act of repression stung at first like shaving the skin off your soul so that it could harden when it heals. Soon you would get used to that feeling; you would tell your son that it’s what it feels like to be a man. Her eyes ask you if she served her purpose well and you are unsure how to answer.
Strip away the flavor and the spices and food is just energy.
An organic fuel to give us sustenance.
Pieces of the vegetables and animals and minerals that allow us to live our lives.
That is the purpose it serves and it can only be judged by how well it serves that purpose.
You remember the first time she asked you to strip for her. She didn’t know how much it would hurt. You pulled back the emotional curtain as she sat across from you. She watched in silence as you used the knife to strip off the mask, the temporary fix that, over the years, had been permanent. You ignored the bleeding and locked eyes with her, studying her reaction. She didn’t realize it hurt until you started crying. She rushed over to tell you that you could stop but you kept carving. Once the mask was off and the tears had washed away the blood she said you were beautiful. The act of accepting her love stung at first like your pulling off the scrabs of your scarred soul. Soon you would get used to feeling, you would tell your son that this is what is should feel like to be a man. You ask her if you served your purpose well and she answers:
Strip away the clothes and the history and a person is not just an animal.
We are more than the gold and cotton and paint that covers our flesh.
Pieces of the earth we use to enhance our beauty.
Our purpose is not to serve and so we cannot be judged by how well we do.