Monday, August 27, 2007

Saudade Revisited

Cero commented on my Saudade comments found on Beached Bones. I am printing my response here.

Nostalgia that is the word! But that word does not translate now does it. The whole problem is that Saudade, as a state of being, is the substantive representation of ‘an act’ in the continuous tense by implication, not to mention it is “sweet” by connotation.

Saudade is a state that is far more ethereal than Nostalgic or Nostalgia, which are both more concrete. You can buy Nostalgia in a Time Life Series of CD's at 3:30 in the a.m., or even eat it at Crackle Barrel at lunch time (I interviewed with their corporate representative at a job fair once. It was crazy. All the companies in Nashville just examined me, one Christian publisher asked for my pastor’s name, another Christian publisher’s human resource person just held in a giggle when I showed her my resume . . . but I digress).

Nostalgia is not an individual experience; we can all experience it in someway.

I do not know Portuguese very well, but saudade is an important word no? That is the problem I think I have with cross-cultural studies -- without a certain linguistic mastery, things kind of fall to pot . . . in a certain genteel and polite Afro-dandy way.

But yes, Saudade leading into a discussion of Nostalgia and the Post-Modern is very interesting. I am going to come back to you on that. I have a problem with the absolutism of the Post-Modern theorist in practice; no holes are allowed to be punched, so I think I cut myself off from many useful ideas in the end. And in the end, I have cut myself off from ever really feeling comfortable enough to finish a doctorate based on theoretical methods. I have been looking for a safe strait in navigating that ocean.

Damn! I used the word “useful” in that jargonized way. I vowed never to do that in writing after I finished my first MA.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Second Chances

The picture above is of Ganymede. Ganymede is the "water bearer" other wise known as Aquarius in the Zodiac. He was seduced by Zeus and made the chef attendent to the king of the gods. It is my sign.

There is a movie called Second Chances that deals with race and religion in a very interesting way. OK. Maybe not that interesting. I just know of the director from childhood and my mom plays bridge with his aunt.

I liked the film staring and directed by Jeff Carr. In some odd way, I think I am going through the same sort of wave of second chances. I think it was that sentence "Report to the Bursar's office, pick up your bill, get it validated and . . . "

Hell, I have not heard that sentence in 14 years. Two phases of seven, a cycle is repeating and resetting and repeating again,. . . and I am spinning out of my Saturn Return . . . only to return to 1993 . . . no, make that 1992. Interesting.

To be a student, in America, like this again.

Friday, August 17, 2007

And Now a Message from Our Sponsors . . .

Per Ms. E and Malaika Adero. I think you should check it out.
For further information on the event check out

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Looking at the Boys and My Private Fangora

Love, Cinnamon and Cloves, in the Morning
So, this morning I am surfing through my Myspace page and drinking coffee while listening to "Labios Compartidos" by Mana, which is the sexiest song I have heard in a while. It is more of a Gypsy Kings manly sexy Latin tune as opposed to an Eros Ramazzotti lyric which makes me giddy and happy like a 15-year-old girl speeding towards Jones Beach in a VW bug with no air conditioning. So I guess that this is a signal that some form of normalcy if returning to my life. I probably should enjoy this break because I have only the rest of this week before graduate school returns as well as my new nine to five.

The Needle and the Knife
I will finally be insured by the end of the month, but the havoc my finances have gone through in the past 2 years is enough to put me back on the drip. I still have to pay out of pocket for a while and wait for reimbursement. I just don't know where the money will come from. Sometimes as a teacher and instructor I just don't feel like a professional person. Security is just very, very shoddy. It is a shame what people go through in this country. Embarrassing to everyone, including the doctors that have no explanation as to how I am to pay for the care I require; and, it is embarrassing to me to have to ask for charity. Why the hell did I go to college?

Sorry, just venting. It really is a horror show.

The Wayward Spiral of the Dead Dowager Empress
I was sent an article this morning by a Cuban friend about Brooke Astor's funeral. The New York Times article ends by saying that the funeral is beyond the end of an era -- there has not been a Mrs. Astor in New York City for the last 150 years. Pity. Growing up I remember this noblesse oblige mentality as being the equivalent of corporate brand recognition at the end of all the PBS programs that I watched. I used to wonder about the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. I used to visualize them in my head as people running the world, still dressed in an Edwardian fashion tailored so tightly you would think that they were stitched into the upholstery of their Victorian furniture. I don't know how I made that association, but I did.

There is some sense of horror to this situation. There are no replacements to that world. The rich have changed and New York has changed again. Or, maybe the horror is my placement in the situation, I am witnessing the closing of one century and the dawning of the next and with that comes a hyper-awareness that this new fortress being built is one I do not recognize. New York is becoming Chicago, a Broadway lite poster board replica of the Death Star, as menacing as a prequel without the funk of the 70's. With each passing day and step I open the paper to see one more building bought, one more neighborhood striving to maintain after the closing of a Copeland's or a CBGB's, and now with the death of Mrs. Astor, the erasure of a certain aesthetic. Forget the Astor 400, it is the way old money made me feel as a writer, a viewer of the arts, a purveyor of Lincoln Centers tall columns before Balanchine died. Maybe I am still playing catch-up to that New York, because I came to the city for far different reasons as a boy (hip-hop) and now am returning to it hurt by what I didn't know about the legend of the philanthropists and their pack of muses. I should have payed more attention, but my head was in a whole different stack of books -- maligned by race, class and gender, the foundations of the city never touched my fingertips.

I am making up for it now though. And there is more to report.

Oliver's Morbid Twist
My father has always been good for giving me the most unbelievable speeches while I am in the car. I guess I can't escape. I have always been a reclusive child -- at least around my parents. My grandmother was who I sought out. And in certain ways that has continued to adulthood. Even watching my father return from work in his grey suit sets off something in me concerning expectations and values that is incongruent. I am not like him in so many ways, but I am exactly like him in all the other ones.

It is as if my father is unable to speak for hours on end in the house, but once we are alone in the car he digs into me, or imparts a gem of knowledge, or makes a confession. It is like when I finished my stint at my HBCU and I was riding with my father on the New Jersey Turnpike heading north. In middle of his tyraid, as my 21-year-old mind drifted to the reeds growing in the toxic swamps beyond the oil refineries my father said, "It is all corrupt from top to bottom." I remember pushing my dreads away from my ear in some sort of physical response to the words I were pretending to ignore.

My father was in his fiery mode of speaking. I can count the number of times the man has been in a church, but the passion in his voice is something that I have inherited for sure, just as I witnessed my paternal grandmother siting in her chair with her cane using "the voice" at points of frustration or when instructing my younger cousins to pull up their pants , then coyly asking if them if they need her to buy them a belt.

"It is totally corrupt son. The entire system."

And I sat their in my new found righteousness thinking something odd with my father. As time has gone on and I have transformed from dread bean pie eating collegiate, to insecure graduate student, to secretively sexually liberated night walker, to naive office worker, to wise instructor, to just not giving a shit I realize that my father was simply trying to protect me. And that conversation concerning corruption is one of two different speeches I actually remember out of the hundreds my father felt he could embark on as soon as we jumped on the New Jersey Turnpike at exit number 9A.

My father's words have never rung so true as when I read the New York Times article concerning the bribery charges and subsequent confession of New Orleans councilman Oliver Thomas. The disappointment that I am feeling oscillates between despair and disbelief. This indictment hurts me worse than the Quincy Troupe affair a couple of years ago (well, that didn't really hurt, that was just human folly). New Orleans is without governance and I am wondering if there is any order into the investigations. Those council people who are disappearing seem to be disproportionately black, just as Operation Tennessee Waltz swooped up several black elected officials in Tennessee. But in the end, the ball lies at the feet of Thomas and all of his infamous alumni. Conspiracy theory or not, New Orleans is suffering from an attitude concerning its public contracts and rights as being part and parcel of private funds accessible to elected officials. And, on top of that, the most articulate and visible personality representing the disenfranchised in this terrible fiasco of the post-Katrina picture show is now gone. Oliver Thomas officially stepped down from his post, and it is effective immediately.

His absence was felt by me just as instantaneously.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Reading List for the Down Trodden but Hopeful Hearted in All Matters of Love

Right now I am staring at the blank page. It has been a couple of weeks and just as I finished that piece on Marie Antoinette by Sophia Coppola, I started thinking about my writing in a much different way. I contacted old friends from the "industry" and started to hope for a lunch here and there. I also received word of a journal run out Paris, so I felt my writerly self and my concentration on French verbs congealing into a proper project -- a true transformation. Now after a couple of weeks of job preparation and learning how to navigate a bureaucracy that has to be one of the largest in the country, I am back to square one, so to speak.

That vision of my time and writing is different now. It is slowly starting to settle in on my psyche that I am in the New World, where I am not an ex-patriot. New York, for all of its international appeal is much different than the streets and avenues that cross each other like a dying matriarch below 14th street, and the perfectly kept bodies and mobility of Bloomberg's Mecca in the east 50's. That is the transient New World, rouged in new money and Hermes cologne. New York is its children I am starting to learn. All one million of them. Many of them multi-lingual and trapped in a world where cognitive linguistic communication stops on the surface level of all things. Solely spoken Spanish, half learned English from the streets, snippets from various advertisers and newspapers are creating a weird pidgin dish of French speaking West Africans, Mexicans, Dominicans and Chinese dialects. It is a world full of its own commerce, beliefs and norms. I am just starting to wonder how I am going to elevate my students' respect for their mother tongue and English so they are interested in learning the academic language required for them to master both languages. Right now I only see our American democracy concentrating on the pre-eminence of English with very little regard to the advantages and complexity of other languages. My assessment at this point is that we are producing adults who are functionally illiterate in 2 languages because of the neglect of our system to address children who may very well be the first in their families to received formalized education. It is evident in the number of teenagers who are unable to talk about language using the 8 parts of speech in very rudimentary descriptions of how they form a sentence.

So, I am wondering about this French lesson I started 7 weeks ago when I was 20 pounds heavier. It is already giving way to Spanish in the restaurants, in the bodegas, at the corner grocer and at my local dive where I enjoy 5 dollar plates of food and beer. French is already giving way to Hispaniola as a whole.

There was that night when I sat on a giant blanket in a Bronx park drinking a Heineken and a Dominican friend talked about crossing into Haiti on a truck and having to turn back. It was all to much. The way he paused, took off his hat and wiped his face of sweat made me embarrassed -- all this talk of the Creole world in the wake of a horror that defies all suffering. The difference between erudition and witnessing never was more apparent.

"We are all part Haitian. We are from the interior. We are near the border. We are the Dominicans with the most soul." the other friend added.

I remember the sky being so beautiful as twilight started to turn the green trees black and the drink of choice switched from beer to cognac.