Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ignorance is Dis

I don't particularly like the definition of "Ignorance." It makes no reference to the root word "ignore". Ignore- to refrain from noticing or recognizing. Many people in the low income bracket are ignorant.... I know... folks in high income brackets are too. I would argue that they can more afford to be. Some ignore that something called standard english exists. It's not that there is no access. The libraries are free and there are plenty of examples on T.V. What some folks in the African American below the poverty line community speak is way beyond Ebonics with which I don't really have a problem.
I want a word that says ignorant by choice. It's probably in the dictionary somewhere.
I'm trying to figure out how to handle the ignorant people in my daughter's life. She is becoming very race conscious person. Black people my age still talk about "good" and "bad" hair and delineate between light and dark skinned African Americans.
Getting back to the language thang, when people are totally oblivious to standard english it strikes me as reverse snobbism without the power. So snobbism is snobbism. As most of you know, if educated black folk us standard english around certain brothas and sistahs they/we are branded as "sellouts" and "toms" by some. Some of this is rooted in anti-intellectualism which cuts a swath across all socio-economic and color lines. this attitude has been showering down from President Bush since he has been in office with his C+ self.
For many sub-cultures the adoption of standard english can signal the "movin' on up (to the east, west, north, south side)" and out and away from "yall" syndrome which certainly does exist.
With my daughter I am trying to instil the multilingual theory of American language. She can talk all the slang and Ebonics she wants as long as she learns standard english and knows when to use it. Of course the ultimate dilemma is what to do when you are faced with both groups simultaneously. You know, you colleagues want to go on an adventure into "the hood" for lunch and ya run into somebody you know. Do you give them dabs and a hearty "What up my Nig?" or do you feign ingnorance with, "Sir do I know you?" Well "Nig" usually isn't my vocabulary but I've always reverted back to the language of my roots which is actually both. So I speak what the recipient is most comfortable hearing. My standard english is the "I gotta get paid" language in the world of the Anglo-American workplace. I must admit however, that I have introduced black and country and urban colloquiallisms that I use into the workplace and even into lectures to mostly white folk. On one level to know a culture is to speak its language and there are many things we say in our communities that have a certain elegance and creativity against which standard english pales.
Do you know the difference between "sang"as a present tense noun and "sing?" In my community you can be corrected if you say, "Aretha sure can sing!" likely response, "No honey, Aretha can sang!"
I heard you but I "ain't tryin' to hear" that noise. Nameen?
Do you "lightweight" understand me, "yo?"
What is the difference between "excuse me" and "excuse you?" Excuse you can save you a lot of words when someone has offended you in some way... anyway.
Well these examples aren't necessarily in the realm of ebonics like replacing "th" with "d" like in dis for this, udder for other and so on. One of my favorite parts of ebonics to speak is the "aspect marking"...that is the use of forms of be to mark aspect in verb phrases. He be steady tryin' ta teach me "correct english." He be sayin' all dat stuff that I ain't tryin' to hear.
Well many countries get into the fight to preserve the language. I remember years ago the French wanted to outlaw the use to the American word "hotdog". In the southwest USA and other places the push is on to make (standard) english the "official" language. this makes since to me for the sake of uniform agreed upon communication. Language is hard enough even within a locale or family. However, I would like to see the walls of ignorance and lack of acceptance on both sides come down. Thusfar the only thing I can see is that the right or wrong is sole decided by whomever is in charge.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Proper Etiquette for Grieving People

The mass italics below is a response to my friend Ro who just lost her dad. She was saying that some folks thought it strange that she would host an open mic poetry set during this time. She is a poet.

Behavior at a viewing, wake or funeral
A friend of mine you may know, Ray (Buddy) McNiece is burying his mom today. He did a gig Weds and maybe has one tomorrow. I couldn't go to funeral today. I'll be surprised if a lot of poets didn't show and if poetry wasn't read. I went to the viewing yesterday. Got there late because of the snow and I was the only one to see Delores. I walked in as the vacuum cleaner was going and folks preparing for the viewing. I knelt and prayed for a while. I made a note from a flyer I had. It originally said "Party at the Speed of Light". I tore off the "y" in party and wrote a eulogy of sorts and put it in the coffin. I hope nobody was offended. I'd be offended if people don't do that at mine. I never met Delores but I wrote in the memories book because I have 10 years of Ray's life on stage, in meetings, etc.

Our particular nuclear Clan and toward my mother's side of the family are not very emotional or rather I should say we don't readily show them. Out of my parents, my sister and I, I am the most subsceptible to wailing and crying. When my father died there was none of that! Just our wet eyes. I don't know about mom and sis but I was choking back tears. Mom silently wept and rocked side to side. My sister looked straight ahead very erect and proper silently crying.

My dad's sister Leola was a wailer and did not hold back.

I have a huge family. At one of our family reunions the family facilitators counted 500 folk for our sit down dinner and that was without the kids. During this entire time you could hear jokes about dad being told in rememberance. Mom tells this story of dad killing a rattlesnake with a rake. He swung the rake so hard that he knocked himself backward and tumbled completely head over heals. she still laughs about that.

I've been to funerals where libations and bourbon where in order.

I remember when the head of a local motor cycle gang/club died. I say gang/club because it's hard to tell unless you have intimate knowledge of them or they get in the paper a lot. Some clubs like the Zulus are more social clubs and everybody has a legit day gig like "Pee Wee" who works at the post office, but ya can't tell to look at them. There are also members that are a little less savory.

AfroDog was the name of the deceased. It was a pretty amazing site. So many gangs were represented, the Soul Players, the Zulus, Pagans, Banditos (Ithink they were there). It was somber and respectful and a little tense because of some truces up for the funeral.

Sorry for your loss hon. It's not strange to be at a reading. We are a peculiar people so folks ain't always gonna get it.

Proper Dress

Growing up I went to a lot of funerals and folks were always dressed up. this is still proper ettiquette for us. As an adult I went to a funeral for the father of my friend Thaddeus Root. Thad wore a long green, tattered army coat, black pants and army boots. So that was dressed up for Thadeus. I guess he wasn't breaking any rules.... At my funeral wear something clean. Needless to say Afro Dog's funeral was about full bike regalia and if I remember correctly, mostly Harleys.

Remebering the Dead

Many times when I go to visit family in Alabama I will catch a group of my elders getting together that haven't seen each other in a while.... or sometimes they have. There will be a period of (names ficticious):

Uncle John: "U 'member ole Saul? Lived down by da ole cotton gin 'round da way?"

Uncle Obadiah: "Don't belive I doooo."

Uncle John: "You know! Married uncle Dave's boy dat had da rickets and one eye...!"

Uncle Obadiah: " Oooooh Yeahhh."

Uncle John: "He died."

Uncle Obadiah: "Umm. umm. umm. Well you member Virginia Dobbs lived atop da mountain over yonder?"

Uncle John: "Don't belive I doooo."

Uncle Obadiah: "Yeah ya do! You used to be sweet on her back in nineteen ought nine! Moved to Arkansas bout twenty sebbun yeahs ago."

Uncle John: "Hmm. hmm. hmm. I almos' forgot."

Uncle Obadiah: "She died.... Hundred lebben yeahs ole. Blind since she was sixty sebben."

The Proper Thing to Say when yo get the News

If you happened to have missed a funeral as of course often happens you 'd respond to the news with, "How was the funeral?" If you were at the funeral you might respond, "Awww it was beautiful!! So and So looked real good..." or "It was beautiful but so and so lost so much weight, didn't look liker herself." or whatever. On my dad's side of the family we do "marathon funeral"

If you've never seen (Atheist and god haters may not want to read the link and then again you may get a good laugh. It's scripture from the Bible and we hold it very dear to our hears. Enter at your own risk) a Masonic Funeral you are missing a treat. Very beautiful with lots of pomp and circumstance. At my father's funeral the Highway Patrol had officers posted at each intersection the procession passed. They stood at attention by their cars with the lights flashing until the procession passed. Wow!

When my dad died I didn't skip a beat. I went right back to work. We weren't estranged or anything but I wondered at how I was more broken up over the death of Bob Bergman, former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Was it because I didn't know if he was going to heaven? Was it because I saw him daily and my dad lived in Alabama? Was it the arguments and discussions we had about art? I think it's because I know I'll see me father again. Anyway I think about him a lot and I am apt to say a lot of things that he said... repeatedly, that I see myself passing on to my daughter:

"As long as someone owes you, you'll never be poor."

" My eyesight is so good, I can peep down through muddy water and spot dry land!" we both wore glasses and I am legally blid w/o my glasses.

"I had the patience of Job."

"Work smarter not harder."

I have his sense of humor in a lot of ways. He was a storyteller, I am a storyteller. Consider him remebered.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

10 to the 7 to the 5. 10 Defining Moments. 5 Pivitol People. 7 Critical Choices part ONE

A woman I love recently completed an interesting exercise. List 5 pivitol people in your life. List 10 Defining moments. List 7 critical choices. I don't think I will like what I find. I don't know how honest I will be with myself especially in cyberspace. All 10's are defining moments; all 5's are pivitol people; all 7's are critical choices. I reserve the right to do more or less and to revise, revise, revise. Some things I may say a lot or somethings nothing at all... right now.
5-Muhammed Ali- along with Joanne Howard a very beautiful high school english teacher, Ali thrust me into the world of poetry. I would write and recite silly prose like Ali. "moves like a butterfly, stings like a bee, who could it be? Muhammed Ali! He spoke these words before the fight, then Smokey Joe put Ali in flight, When Muhammed came down, Smokey Joe was still there, this was more than Clay could bear..." I still remember the entire thing! Embarrassing! However, in my junior year Joanne encouraged me to enter a poetry competition which I ultimately won. That poem, "Happiness Is" can be found at the end of this blog. I continued to write but was pretty sick of the poetry scene. Well mostly I was sick of mine own ego. I really didn't like any poetry but my own and I new something was wrong with that picture. 1986 I move back to Cleveland and I find this poetry set and... well this poem albeit long winded tells the experience best. It's called Born Agin. Of course the poet who inspired the poem is in the last line or so. Don't know where the edited rewrite copy is right now. I'll insert that one later. A few years later I am hosting a poetry set at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I bring in a group called the Black Poetic Society. People came from 3 or 4 counties to see this! they blew me away. One of the cats in the group was R.A. Washington who has been a poetry mentor, friend, confidant who has modeled much about the artist's life before me. Here he is:
Monkey Musak I have to say I am indebted to the poetry world and poetry community and Mike, Muhammed, Joanne and R.A.
I was once testifying to what Mike did for me at the Nia Coffeehouse and when Mike got to the mic he quipped, "Man I tell ya, give a guy a kidney and he never let's ya forget it!" Hey may be tired of that joke but it still tickles me silly this 8 years later.

Borne Agin

I walked into this joint with my wife and an old friend.
One cowering to my left
The other with the back of my shirt securely clutched in
Both hands
C’mon, C’mon, sez me
Irritated that I was out with two people who would actually
Show their fear
Let’s sit over there
Standing in a doorway
We peered in
A bare light bulb in the center of the room
Hung down
A swinging
and 4th
Like a freshly
Shedding light
Not quite bright enough
To give the corners of the room
Anything other than a
Enter at your own risk
sorta feel

Suddenly my mind escaped back to
My poetry days
My poetry haze
And I remember
I remember how I left the poetry scene
I just didn't dig any
But my own

I’m wrenched back to the future
Of that past
The now
The hear and now
My ears are filled to over-flowing
Filled to exploding
By a cacophony
Of living words
(If it weren’t for the safety valve from my ears
To my mouth)
Pictures with imagery so
juicy my mouth is literally
(If it were not for that safety valve
Surely, I would be deafened)
Living words
I’m drooling
Words that individually
just words
Words together
So strong
They lift me up off my feet
Squeeze the air out of me
Abruptly, return me
To gravity’s
Arrogantly stop time to
Give me a sweet
Negating the impact as I
To the hear
And now
Well sorta
I look at my wife
Her face is blank
Eyes bolted on some guy
At the mic
I wave my hand in front of her face
She only sees the words
Rolling, spilling
Cascading, spewing
Out of his mouth
(If it were not for the safety valve
From the ears to the heart
She would surely be blinded)
As the words hit the floor
Some flatten and spread
And become sticky
The smell of hot, freshly
Concocted Marmalade
Cooling on a porch in
Huntsville, Alabama rises to greet
Some words are slimy
And I reach for a
Handkerchief to wipe the snot from my face
And look around to see
Who needs it
Words sore
Words vex
Words sour
Words soar
Words Ricochet like high powered
Super balls
Causing us to dodge and weave
Duck and cleave
To one another
The room is chin high with these
Chilling us as they seep inside us
These words
Warming us
These words
Burning us as they touch bare
Tearing us as they touch thin
I realize the three of us
Sharing the same moment
Sharing the same
Slowly we separate
Into our own
Self absorbed
Time zones
Our own
Selfishly guarded
The room reappears,
But now it is
Gold tiers that were
Once steps going to who knows where
Now exist of their own recognizance
to go beyond
Just soaked in light
It is almost like the time
God spoke to me while I
Was tripping on acid
looking out over Placid
Landscaped greenery with brooks
That gurgled
Birds that twirped
wind that
the most
Wonderful Symphony
God said
I live and
I can touch you
and reveal My Glory
Even when you are
Out of
Enjoy your trip
And I want time with
you when you come down
And here I was
Coming down
Brown, round clown, sound
The blood in my ears
Ground, bound, found, hound
Is that what he’s saying?
I don’t think I can hear
The blood in my ears
Mound, town, wound
And I hear words fading out
And crashing into nostalgic self
“”Big King Daddy of …
Big King Daddy of what?
Is that what he said?!
At this moment God forges this
And God takes it
And sprinkles it
Into our
Shoving us back
To that single plane
Re-shuffling us together
Like a deck of cards
I take the thought
Form it into words
Take a deep breath
Just to hear my wife say it
The 1st part
What was that?!
And my friend
Say it
the 2nd part
What just happened!?
And I thought I heard God
“He’s one of mine”
About the guy at the mic
I thought he said
“When I count to 3
You will be back in Tremont
The other thing I remember…
The only furniture
In the room
A bean bag chair
The 1st time I heard Michael Salinger read

Happiness is…

Loneliness… an
Eternity- involvement then
Tranquility, Togetherness

Evolution toward total bliss,

Now two Psyches unite, a heart is won

The mind of a lover is totally undone
One heart seeks
The other mind…

Just a friend
So half goes without
And is empty within
The abyss of need
Devotion seemingly
Relentlessly severed

Life struggles to live
And gayety works at not being
As sadness and pain
Complete their cool deed
With but half the effort