Monthly Archives: September 2008

I am Man

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CALLING ALL BLACK MEN:
For a photographic re-creation of the historical 1968 Sanitation Worker’s Strike to be held at MoCADA prior to its Opening Reception for its timely and provocative exhibition:

I AM A MAN

Photograph to be taken by critically acclaimed photographer, Chester Higgins, Jr.
80 Hanson Place, (corner of South Portland)
Thursday, September 25th 5:30pm-8pm
Brooklyn, New York 11217


I AM A MAN
On view
September 25, 2008 – January 18th, 2009Curated by Kevin Powell
Organized by Laurie Cumbo and Kimberli Gant

If you are interested in participating in the photographic recreation of the I AM A MAN March, please arrive at MoCADA at 5:30 PM. PLEASE FORWARD THIS EMAIL. The Opening Reception for the I AM A MAN exhibition will begin with a gathering of Black Men from all over New York City who will pay homage to the courageous men who stood strong holding their I AM A MAN protest signs in 1968 by wearing a contemporary t-shirt version of that sign designed by artist Derrick Adams outside of MoCADA prior to the opening reception. This historic moment will be recorded by photographic icon Chester Higgins, Jr. MoCADA is inviting all men who wish to participate to arrive at MoCADA at 5:30pm.

The photo is limited to the first 200 men that arrive at MoCADA.

The Mother of Reinvention

I’ve been thinking a lot about reinvention lately. As I walk through the city or see her skyline change from afar, Manhattan might be the capitol of reinvention on a urban scale. The architecture melds old and new, the statue of liberty gathers together our “huddled masses,” Ellis Island was the original gateway to reinvention — even mother nature has a hand in it, shedding old leaves from the trees in Central Park, storing chlorophyll for the new. All of this reminds me that not only is reinvention possible, it’s cyclical. It might be an ambitious statement to say that I feel our country can reinvent itself, after all, our forefathers managed to remake themselves and establish this country on their own terms. But sometimes the fall is harder than the resurrection; the ashes more difficult than the rising.

I am trying to be positive amidst all of this, despite the fact I have wavering clients, a monthly rent, late paychecks, and work for myself — if I was a nail-biter, I’d be down to the quick by now. I panic a little when I think a month or two or three down the road, my dwindling savings account, wondering if the work will stay steady. I send out resumes and panic again thinking of a cubicle, monotony, boring daily banter with co-workers, office politics. ugh. But I come from a family of re-inventors. For my mother, it was a way of life growing up in a family where she had to reinvent herself as a adult when she was still a teen. For my father, the black sheep of his family, he went from country boy to city slicker (literally) overnight. When his business failed, he learned a new trade and started another and when that didn’t work, he tried something else — third time’s a charm in my family. Same for my mother, she outgrew her first job, floundered in the second and hit her professional stride in her third. My parents had a lot more to lose (house, car, kids, bills), but they still took the leap.

I learned from the best and looked to what made me happy, until it all came to an abrupt end — not one I wanted, but sometimes you have to cool your passion and let it come to you in another way. While I continue to work at that, I’m on job 6,000, career number three, and all I know is it’s definitely not something I want to continue. I miss what I love, but am not sure I can go back to square one with it again. I ate the dirt the first time, for a few years, until I made it to a reasonable level, but then it came crashing down, falling like pieces around me. I wasn’t able to put the puzzle back together myself and finally struck out for new, corporate territory — though that too proved to be a suit I wasn’t ready to wear. So I sit here, going through the motions of a job, waiting for something to happen. Don’t get me wrong, I am looking and emailing and calling and networking, but in the end it’s still a waiting game. The irony is my quest for reinvention is reflected back at me in the state of our union, our election and our natural disasters. It makes the fight a little more difficult, melancholy. When I feel this way, I repeat a quote that became my mantra when I first read it in the book, Charlotte Gray, several years ago: “… You become an entirely different being every decade or so, sloughing off the old persona, renewing and moving on. You are not who you were, nor who you will become.”

I just have to keep remembering that, breathe deep and reinvent, yet again.

-Downtown

Wonderful Town

This sweltering Sunday found me in the middle of Times Square with my three favorite musical theater hopefuls checking out our fellow college alumni perform for Broadway on Broadway. If you’re a cheap New Yorker (like me) this is the perfect way to get a taste of the upcoming — and current — Broadway shows for free as they hit a stage set up in Times Square and perform a song. We stood surrounded by our fellow New Yorkers and tourists listening to performances from Billy Elliot and Gypsy to Avenue Q, [title of show], In the Heights, Xanadu, and saw our friends rock their roles in Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid and Legally Blonde.

B’way on B’way was hot, and I mean that in the literal sense. As soon as our last friend-related performance ended, we headed out in search of an air conditioned cafe. I split with my friends and made a pit stop at the bank where I was subsequently locked inside the ATM facility for 15 minutes with another bank patron. As we were banging on the glass to get ANYONE’s attention, I felt a sting on my arm and saw a bee drop to the floor. I’m not allergic to bees to the point where I need to carry an epi-pen, but am allergic enough that my arm immediately began to swell to the size of an egg. Luckily a passing police officer saw our distress, swiped his ATM card, and released the door, setting us free. Hot, tired from the sun and slightly paniking about the ever-growing size of the egg on my arm, I hailed a cab home (not before grabbing an iced coffee from Starbucks first, which they gave me for free!)

Sitting here now freshly showered, minus one bee’s stinger, I realized my day was helped along by various New Yorkers: the B’way on B’way staff that lead us to our special “artists’ guest” area, the performers, the man in blue and his ATM card, the Starbucks barista and even my sympathetic cab driver, who waited in front of the grocery store (with the meter off) while I grabbed some miso paste for my sting — an old trick for decreasing swelling. For all the times this city tears us apart, swallows us whole and spits us out, it truly is our fellow New Yorkers that make Manhattan a wonderful town.

-Downtown

That’s Lice

A late August visit to the salon was the bomb.

Fortunately for me, and for an anxious 14-year old just back from camp in Canada, LA based Hair Fairies has a New York outlet and they were able to schedule an appointment within an hour of my plea for help. Another enterprise, one that makes regular visits to the teen’s school for head checks, wasn’t able to confirm an appointment time when I called just before 9 a.m. today or again at 10. So, a googling I went to find the competition. And whew, Hair Fairies rose to the top of the list.

The morning after we arrived home, the early-to-rise glamour girl crawled into my bed, leaned her head against the fabric headboard and proceeded to watch videos on her laptop. I did my best to refrain from cringing over the prospect of little white bugs crawling from her head to my bed. I was touched, frankly, by her wanting to be with me after weeks apart. Besides, the worst thing I could do, I think, would be to show my anxiety and turn her away. If the bugs were in our house, they were in our house, my bed or not. Freaking out about the unknown wouldn’t serve me or my daughter.

I did know that there are professionals who can check and offset the problem. And while people do, it’s not necessary to throw out all of your furniture, stuffed animals, children’s toys and have every lick of clothing sent to the cleaners. You may, but there are cleaning techniques and even companies that will do the cleaning/delousing for you. The bugs can only live off the head for 24 to 48 hours. So remain calm.

My fairy princess sat in her barber shop throne while the dedicated technician, clad in royal blue scrubs, a navy blue bandana around her head and gold earrings with Timothy written in script from one end of the hoop to the other, manually checked the teen’s hair and scalp. She separated the strands, fine tooth combing section by section first dry, then wet, from top to bottom, under and over, in search of head lice. At each interval, dry, wet and a third looksee with nit zapping cream, V-Marie stated her findings or lack thereof. “Didn’t find anything yet,” she said.

Meanwhile, I checked out the salon scene. Hannah Montana played on a flat screen across the room, colorful kids playthings neatly arranged throughout included a kitchen corner, drawing table, game boy DS, a noticeable lack of fabric and teeny curly headed fairies hanging down from the tops of each of the four window frames overlooking Avenue of the Americas.

Other than stylist/technician, Marie, and the salon manager, my daughter and I were the only people in the shop. Good for the general public, I thought, not good for business.

And then, “Nothing,” said V-Marie with a smile. She completed the wet stage of her comb-through examination of the near waist-length Botticelli like curls of my growing girl.

And as to why head lice seem to have gone mainstream, ie fancy sleep away camps, private schools, kids, teens and adults get them, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps they’ve developed a resistance to the pesticides that people use to rid themselves of the white bugs and eggs. No matter, they exist and deal with the prospect we did.

Caring for her, about her, is as simple as saying it’s my job. I would do anything for my children. No matter what. The way a mom stands by her wretching child, holding her hair, gently stroking her back as she heaves into the toilet. Gross, yes, but of no import. What matters is trying to offer some sense of humility in an otherwise unpleasant time.

And so it was with the bugs. But unlike throw up or emotional pain, I called someone to our rescue and fortunately for this household, no bugs, no nits. Whew. A giant sigh of relief and once again, thanks to the hair fairies, the monsters step aside for the princess.

Last-Minute Spectacle

Tonight I saw Elvis. Costello, that is. I was given last-minute free tickets to a taping of Spectacle, Elvis Costello’s musicians showcase/talk show for the Sundance Channel (which you know would never produce a typical “talk show”). I grabbed my Virgin Records friend and we hopped the 3 train up to the Apollo Theater to catch Elvis with special guests, Jakob Dylan (the Wallfowers; son of Bob), Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) and She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and Matt Ward). For the Spectacle back up band, the most amazing father/daughter drummers: Pete and Tennessee Thomas.

From our front row seats, we caught close up views of some very awesome guitar playing. Each performer sang a song on which Elvis played guitar and then sat down for a chat with Costello, who not only asked insightful questions, but did all the research on each performer and their background on his own — no show researcher, quite impressive! What also struck me was how sensitive and eloquently Costello spoke of and asked about each artist’s style and relationship to music and shared some of his own stories. No matter how young or “green” the artist, Elvis treated each with equal respect and even told them how listening to their music inspired him. Always cool to see someone that truly loves what they do and even more, loves to share it with others.

By far the best part of the evening was having all of the guests on stage singing “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Best last-minute event I’ve attended in a long time!

And, on the way out, I got to rub the legendary Apollo tree stump, which all performers, from Ella Fitzgerald to today, rub for luck before they perform.

-Downtown

Celebrating the Future by Faking it

Editor’s note: This post might start out normal, but it is somewhat of a rant.

Among the Downtown set, getting an evite to someone’s birthday dinner is met with a mix of both happiness and dread. Happy to be celebrating a birthday with a friend (extra happy if they’re turning a year older than you), not so happy because inevitably, the restaurant is expensive, you have to pay for the bday person’s dinner, everyone drinks like a fish, over-orders, someone forgets their wallet/leaves early/forgets to pay and somehow you manage to walk out dropping $80 on a $12 pasta dish and eight glasses of water. I may complain when the evite appears in my in box, but I’m always happy to go, celebrate with friends, meet new people, maybe discover a new restaurant.

BUT

this time is was painful. I reminded myself 8,000,000 times I was doing this for my friend. But that’s hard to remember when you’re seated next to the driest, most boring people in the world, across the table from a Library Science major (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you can guess the type), a textbook editor, and someone that works in “logistics” for a New Jersey magazine. I drank ten glasses of water to avoid having fits and starts of conversations with these people, which clearly, they couldn’t seem to carry. At first, I felt bad. But then I got a little annoyed. These friends of my friend were all around our age, went to schools that ranges from MIT to Trenton State, some were still in school (Masters, PhD, etc) and some had jobs. But NO ONE was interesting!  I started by asking people what they did, and I don’t just mean how they were employed because most weren’t, but what they liked to do and were interested in. I received blank stares. I kid you not.

After two hours, the “party” started breaking up and I hightailed it out of there and walked through the East Village to my west side home. When I hit Stuyvesant Park, I started wondering what all those people I went to high school with (birthday friend included) were doing. I ticked through as many people as I could remember and came up with almost nothing. In its time, our school graduated philanthropists, entrepreneurs, diplomats, social rebels, policy makers, magazine founders, leading feminists, a few queens (real ones, not drag) and wives of heads of state. It was a pretty competitive environment both academically and socially. Graduates went to top-tier schools (except for some of us) and what are they doing now? Legal assistant, administrative assistant, medical assistant, assistant office manager, assistant to the President of (blah firm/hedge fund/office). And the general female consensus seems to be they’re whiling away the time until they either a) get married or b) have kids.

Where did the leaders go? My fellow classmates that wanted to be litigators, start non-profits, change society, make films, music, fashion, technology (OK, that kid did do something), run countries and corporations. Why work so hard academically throughout middle/high school and spend a ton on college, if you don’t plan on pursuing your career aspirations? I know I was one of the lucky ones that knew what she wanted to do (for the most part), but come on, they could have just tried to make some of the dreams happen … I know I did and still do. What went wrong? These are kids I believed in. I thought one girl would be running our country or at least be Secretary of State, but now she’s in Argentina, where she’s teaching kids English until she figures out what to do next.

I’m depressed and mad. I’m in a bit of a career rut now, but even in my rut, I had three former classmates say they’re so impressed with what I’ve done. Huh? What I’ve done? I’ve held up my end of the “future” bargain. I’ve worked, and when I didn’t like a job, I found another more interesting or more humane one. I stopped hiding behind the textbook and started living in the real world where we also learn things and meet people and make money. I still continue to further my education by taking classes, reading EVERYTHING, consider grad school and go to lectures. In a nutshell, I became an interesting person. I have cocktail talk. I can carry on a conversation and I have interests. But perhaps most importantly, I have interesting friends that reflect the various facets of my personality and background.

I think I’ve just realized something…

It all comes down to confidence.

If you’re not confident in yourself or what you want to do (like my friend) then you surround yourself with like-minded people — no confidence, career direction, etc.

I don’t always have confidence. Most of the time I fake it. I’m sure even my friends do too. I’ve been practicing the art of faking for so long, sometimes I forget I’m faking and actually believe it. And maybe that’s what it boils down to. Not how good a student you are, how much community service you’ve done, how many internships you’ve had, who you know, how much money your parents have or where you came from. Maybe it’s all about how well you can “fake it till you make it.”

And that revelation, my dear uptown, is no lie.

-Downtown

What is journalism for?

interesting new-media-ish way to market a story…
http://www.veryshortlist.com/web/daily.cfm/review/585/Website/novelsin3lines-translated-by-luc-sante/?tp

and then there’s the Mad Men thing… I like this one!
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/01/business/media/01twitter.html?pagewanted=print

and this in from DT: btw, just to add to this, when watching the DNC last week, there were better updates coming from my twittering friends live at the DNC than CNN

and UT responds:

The citizen journalism dialogue is ongoing. Tonight’s class, the first for the term, more or less covers the historical and ethical standards of journalism.

Question posed at end for discussion:
What is journalism for? (today’s reading assignment)
The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001 and 2007), 12.

What do you think? For more on the subject:

Here’s a link to last week’s “trends in journalism” talk by Academic Dean Grueskin who’s just joined the j-school faculty: http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/cs/ContentServer/jrn/1165270052298/JRN_News_C/1212609822164/JRNNewsDetail.htm#