V3N8: October 1997
Volume 3 Number 8
Table of Contents
Despite what I might say and think of Bush politics, the Book Festival is an event not to be missed.
In 1984, he began directing and producing, which has led him to direct over 40 mainstage plays and to found two performing arts companies. He is one of the few equity actors working in Austin. He is not shy about his opinions on the black community nor the surrounding white-dominated theater scene in Austin.
Composer Edgar Varese said, "there is no avant garde. There are only people who are a little late."
The beginning of man as intellectual creature can be traced to the first asking of the question "What should I believe?" You could see a play any day of the week that attempts to answer that question.
It has been said that poetry is food for the soul. Diverse Arts Little Gallery's poetry presentation on Saturday, September 20, had the recipe.
Although I generally use this space to vent on issues I think important to the arts community, sometimes real life personal stuff just jumps right out in front. This is one of those times.
He's a dream and I feel like I died last night.
Our Lady of the Lake: Laura Bush
If you have been keeping up with library news around Texas, specifically that of Austin, then you know that the second annual Texas Book Festival, headed by Our Lady of the Lake, First Lady of Texas, Laura Bush (Honorary Chairman), is set for the first weekend of November, Saturday the first and Sunday the second. Despite what I might say and think of Bush politics, the Book Festival is an event not to be missed. The festival is a fundraiser for Texas Public Libraries (of which we can never have enough) and features book signings, panel discussions, and readings by some of Texas' most well-known authors (Larry McMurtry, Edwin "Bud" Shrake, Naomi Shihab Nye, to mention a few) and others who have used Texas as a background to their literary work, including Carlos Fuentes, who is promoting his newest novel, Chrystal Frontiers.
If you have a lot of money you wish to donate to the Texas Library fund, or if you would just like to hobnob with the hobnobs, don't miss the Texas Book Festival dinner, the first edition Literary Gala black-tie fundraising dinner to be held at the Capitol Mariott on Saturday night.
For more information about the Book Fest or the Literary Gala, call up ol' Laura Bush, or perhaps visit the Texas Book Festival Web page, or call the Texas Book Festival at (512) 477-4055. The event should be fun, the weather should be cool, the festival itself is free, and writers (especially Texas writers) can be very interesting people to meet. Come out and enjoy the books.
Austin Public Libraries
If you know about and appreciate things like the Book Festival, you probably also know about how close Austin came to losing one of its most valuable public resources, the Riverside Drive Branch of the Austin Public Library system. The Riverside Drive Branch provides service to more than 70,000 patrons, acts as one of only two public libraries for the Southeast district of Austin, supports job placement, computer training, bi-lingual teaching and learning, and needs to remain open. We shouldn't forget its importance. I know I may sound melodramatic, it is only one library, but in a world where TV's importance increases by leaps and bounds and the value of the written word loses ground with each year, we cannot add fuel to the fire by closing Texas libraries. So on a lighter note...
Before I say anything else, I will say this: Sheri Reynolds, true author of The Rapture of Canaan, wrote a nice book. Not a brilliant book, but a good one.
It is fascinating and horrifying to know that one woman on daytime television can hold up a book in front of a television studio audience, flash its cover, recommend its worth, and overnight, it will become a bestseller. Inevitably, indubitably a bestseller. Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, Sheri Reynolds' Rapture of Canaan, Ursula Heig's Stones from the River. Bestsellers. All of them.
Toni Morrison won the New Book Award for Song of Solomon when it was published in 1977, 20 years ago. The hardback edition has been out of print since the early '80s. Penguin had to reprint more. No kidding. After Song of Solomon made its appearance on Oprah, people all over the country walked into bookstores asking for a copy. Clerks happily handed them a nice, new trade paperback. Customers said, "Don't you have it in hardback?"
Song of Solomon is an excellent, beautifully written novel. Gorgeous prose, strong, desperate and hungry characters. It was a bestseller when it was published, as have been most of Toni Morrison's works. It is studied in accredited academies; it can be read from many levels; it can be compared to and complements works by Faulkner and Alice Walker; and Toni Morrison herself is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University. There is no reason why anyone shouldn't read her novel and too many reasons why everyone should, but why, twenty years after its initial publication, is it a bestseller?
Because of Oprah.
In a sense, Oprah is a phenomenon.
First: all of Oprah's books have been written by women, except one. She's Come Undone was written by Wally Lamb and won awards when it was first published (in 1991). It is about a woman and narrated by a woman in a voice critics heralded as so true to its character, so true to a woman's voice, a woman's thoughts, that you had to remind yourself it was written by a man. Also: religion plays some role, intentional or not, in Oprah's titles: Song of Solomon, Rapture of Canaan, Book of Ruth. And third: all of Oprah's Books are Bestsellers.
So: is there method to Oprah's madness, rhythm to her rhyme? And more importantly, are the books featured in Oprah's Book Club worth reading?
I have no answer to the first question. I have no idea what's behind Oprah's new Book Club. But to the second question, I have this to say.
Yes. They are worth reading if only because promoting reading in a society ruled by sound bites and video clips can only be a good thing. And, judging from a brief glance at Oprah's choices, she's picked out a couple of good books.
Rapture of Canaan is a good book. Sheri Reynolds needs an editor, and she has the nasty habit of writing ineffectual dialogue, but...Rapture of Canaan is a mix of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlett Letter and Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Reynolds' prose can be lyrical, simple, true. To her characters, to the South, the South she writes of and wants us to visualize, set off from the rest of the world by "God's Almighty Baptizing Wind." Her characters' sermons and outcries to the lord almighty Jesus Christ are powerful, upsetting, riveting. She catches the Southern religious fanatic stereotype -- speaking in tongues, long, passionate hallelujahs, God-fearing sighs, loud amens, tears in your eyes, breath of Jesus pouring down your throat -- perfectly. But then, it all seems so stereotypical. Stereotypical and blown out of the water: sleeping in open graves for drinking, castration for "fornication," walking on pecan shells and strapping barbed wire to your legs and chest. Almost too much.
Reynolds' narrator is 13-year-old Ninah who grows into a 15-, not quite 16-year-old woman who takes her grandfather's religious community and crumbles it to the ground by giving (unwedded) birth to the next Messiah. She begins her narrative:
I've spent a lot of time weaving, but you'd never know it from my hands...With threads, hair, and twisted fabric, I weave in fragments of myself, bits of other people. I weave in lies, and I weave in love, and in the end, it's hard to know if one keeps me warmer than the other.
But rather than continue the story with elegant prose, she decides to tell the tale, much of it anyway, through clumsy, unnatural, over-accentuated dialogue. Ninah, in a constant search for truth in the past, asks her Nanna to tell her stories. Stories about Nanna's childhood, about Grandpa Herman before he became a religious zealot, etc., but Nanna never wants to tell Ninah any stories. Obviously, Nanna realizes just how bad a story teller she is. Nanna couldn't story-tell her way out of a paper sack, not the way Sheri Reynolds writes her.
Dialogue moves. With few words, it gives insight to characters, their actions, what they have done, what they might do. Dialogue adds rhythm, it adds voice, it keeps the story moving. Rarely (if ever, and I say never) should dialogue replace prose. Then dialogue becomes bulky, bland, and forced and loses that which makes dialogue an effective tool for writers.
Where, my friends, have all the editors gone? What happened to the power of language, the value of words? What became of those stories, those novels in which each word served a purpose? Contributed to the story, the setting, the characters? What happened to the rhythm of voice? Somewhere along the way we must have lost it, some of it, anyhow. That rhythm. But it's easy enough to find. In music, at parties, in churches, on the streets, in your own head. Take a step outside, Ms. Reynolds. Listen to how people tell their stories. You've got much to learn.
The 4th Annual Austin Film Festival is here, bringing with it a big chunk of fancy Hollywood flavor to the Austin scene. This massive event consists of a seven-day film festival (Oct. 2-9), the Screenwriter's Conference (Oct. 2-5), and the Heart of Film Screenplay Competition (which will announce its winners Oct. 3 at the Screenplay Competition Award Luncheon).
Started by executive directors and co-founders Marsha Milam and Barbara Morgan, the Austin Film Festival is the first to celebrate the screenwriter's contribution to the motion picture and television industry. Possibly the most valuable offering of the Festival to the writer is the Screenplay Competition. "In the Hollywood production community and in the screenwriter community, it was the competition that really put us on the map," said Milam. Two screenplays from the competition have now been made into major motion pictures. One of them, Excess Baggage, starring Alicia Silverstone, was just released in August. The writer, Max Adams, had the winning screenplay from 1994. She was a housewife living outside of Salt Lake City, Utah before she got her script optioned by Columbia Pictures President of Production Barry Josephson. Currently, she is reported to be living is L.A as a writer working on her fourth feature. The other soon-to-be-released major motion picture coming out of the Heart of Film Competition is Ron Peer's 1995 semi-finalist script, Good-Bye, Lover. His script was optioned by a group that had just left Miramax and formed their own production company, Gotham Entertainment. The movie will be released in January starring Ellen DeGeneres and Patricia Arquette. "No other screenplay competition has had this kind of success," says Milam, "and the reason we do is because our judges at the semifinalist and finalist level are development executives and producers in Hollywood who are actually looking for new product."
This year the competition received over 3200 submissions. The scripts are categorized by feature length adult/mature themes and feature length children/family themes. The authors of winning screenplays will receive $3500 cash, participation in the Heart of Film Mentorship Program, airfare and accommodations to attend the Conference, and the Heart of Film Bronze Award. The Mentorship Program is being spearheaded by Bill Wittliff, screenwriter of Legends of the Fall and the Emmy-award winning television screenplay for Lonesome Dove. He is also founder of the Southwestern Writer's Collection at Southwest Texas State University.
This year's Conference hosts over 70 different panelists and 1200 plus attendees. From the 48 panels on screenwriting and filmmaking, panelists will include Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Blue Velvet), Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers, Nixon), Buck Henry (The Graduate, Catch 22, To Die For), Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), Ed Solomon (Men in Black), Andrew Marlowe (Airforce One), Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill), Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven), Whit Stillman (Metropolitan), Joe Tropiano (Big Night) -- and the list of writers, directors, filmmakers, and actors goes on. An added feature will be MTV Films' special panel on Austin Stories, with the executive producer, director, writer and a cast member attending. Those with reservations for the conference (held at the Driskill Hotel) will have a great opportunity to rub elbows with leading industry development and production executives.
This year's film festival has been extended into a full-week event and will present over 60 feature films and 40 shorts. The screenings include premieres, advance screenings, retrospectives and competition films. Competition films were accepted in the following categories: Feature Film, Short Film & Student Short Film. Last year's festival highlights included regional premieres of Sling Blade and Albino Alligator. So hopes are high for this year's crop. "The movies were selected by a committee of seven people," says Jason White, the festival's Film Program Director, "and they all have really wonderful elements in them that go from the commercial to the offbeat." Saturday night at the Paramount, an underground internet film reviewer credited for killing the box office will present his picks of the festival's competition films.
So why all the excitement here, you ask? "I think the reason people want to come to the Austin Film Festival," says Milam, "is because, one, it is for the writer and we were the first to do that, and, two, it's in Austin, Texas, and everybody loves to come to Austin. Austin has got such a great buzz." Milam also points out the fact that all the big studios and production companies have sent their scouts to the film festival to act as the actual judges for the Screenplay Competition. "Everybody knows it all starts out on the written page and this festival is all about that.
Boyd Vance is not a huge man; he's rather small, not necessarily imposing at all. He wears large glasses that he re-adjusts constantly to punctuate his sentences. They are not really sentences as much as phrases; he speaks too quickly to be bothered with finishing complete thoughts. His manner is excited, but almost surly; certainly catty in some instances. He unabashedly calls himself the "token black performer at Zach Scott in the '80s" and he is as critical of his own productions as any others. He is the founder and artistic director of Pro-Arts Collective, an African American theater company that recently produced Pill Hill at the Public Domain.
Pill Hill received lukewarm reviews and less-than-stellar attendance, problems Vance attributes to the work ethic and lackadaisical attitude toward theater in the African American community. Vance is also gay, giving him another perspective on the Austin theater scene. He rails on the religious community as profoundly as he describes his vision for Pro-Arts and the revitalization of East Austin.
"I was in a flagrant -- or I was trying to have -- discussion with an African American minister, who is very popular in the community, who spewed out the most blatant, homophobic, negative shit about there wasn't no sissies in his choir, when every major church in this community has gay people on the organ, gay people directing the music, gay women and men who are participating homosexuals and they cannot come together as people. The real deal is if all those sissies quit those choirs and basically stood up and said we're singing together and without you and your bullshit, we could make a major movement happen here. But we don't want to acknowledge that."
A native of Houston, Vance graduated from St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin in 1975. He returned to begin his theater career in 1978, playing major roles in Purlie, Cabaret, and Bubblin' Brown Sugar. He was a featured performer in the acclaimed Esther's Follies for several years, and for seven years toured nationally with Zachary Scott Theatre Center's Project InterAct. In 1984, he began directing and producing, which has led him to direct over 40 mainstage plays and to found two performing arts companies. He is one of the few equity actors working in Austin. He is not shy about his opinions on the black community nor the surrounding white-dominated theater scene in Austin.
"I might be out there doing gay African American stuff. In Austin, shit, we could use it. The African American gay community is so fucked up in their own dysfunction around forming community, or where do they get their empowerment from, how we come together as a people, people that are ours or not ours," he laments, almost bitterly. "The point of Pro-Arts is to address through theater some of this stuff."
"African American people see us with different viewpoints. I come from a different viewpoint. I don't mind doing African American interpretations of white plays because I think that the dramatic structure of lot of white plays allows us to interact and really work out how we act. I think that the way it's written is a little different. But I mean, look at an August Wilson play which is very anecdotal and relies a lot on speeches and a lot of people don't -- black people don't -- know how to tell stories the way they used to, and so his stories, his plays, have these long passages where you tell these stories that have deep inner meaning, but you know, it all has something, means something else, and each one of the characters has a symbolic name, and that's what's important about his work."
Over the summer, Pro-Arts produced three plays: Pill Hill; Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes, a play Vance describes as universal for blacks and whites; and a tribute to James Weldon Johnson, the author of the Negro National Anthem ("Lift Every Voice and Sing"). "When you get a play like Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes, which is about a family, one power, and a woman who gots power, and the power that women can't have and working with a family where everybody's greedy, trying to get, you know, and which is African American just like everybody else, then we're gonna let some African American women do this."
Vance wants to appeal to the African American audiences with timely and historically significant works that challenge his company's actors to expand themselves and challenges the community to accept this work as beneficial. He is willing to compromise, incorporating more religious content into their theater season, since he feels this is what the African American community is mostly interested in, due to the strong influence of churches and performance in church, in the neighborhoods.
"We're doing a tribute to James Weldon Johnson, the guy who wrote the Negro National Anthem. There is a collection, a book coming out, a collection of his poetry sermonettes and we're going to do some dancing and stuff. So I try to capitalize on some of this religious stuff that they think that they want."
Pro-Arts walks a fine line, producing works that should invigorate the community, but without actually succeeding in motivating the black populace to come out and support live theater. Vance has launched a comprehensive marketing campaign to address this issue, with billboards and ads on the back of cabs encouraging people to "support African American arts." Of working with the community, providing opportunities for black people to work in theater, he is hopeful, but a little cynical.
"Some of it has to be through trial and error. We do something and then we have to go back and try it again. Two years ago we had several playwrights to town and worked with David Cohen over at UT. We had a workshop for playwrights and I think two people showed up on a Saturday morning. So we gotta get people who are willing to work and do that. And so we went to the Writer's League, and the Writer's League underwrote their value. So we have a commitment to that and, hopefully, that's what this article will do is reach that audience who really wants the profits to happen and wants to learn how. The problem is, some people say they want to be a playwright and the real deal is that they really don't wanna be a playwright."
Vance sees the difficulty in getting artists to let go of their work and allow it to be used by companies and actors who might have different interpretations of their work, and thus, can expand into different contexts and meanings for the audience and the artists producing it. That's the level where he sees Pro-Arts as useful, in that a writer can bring a piece of work to them, and it may not be finished or even marketable as a play, but the group can work together with the creator to finish it or remodel it for commercial use, and all can benefit from the cooperative effort.
Within the last year, Pro-Arts produced two plays and two symposiums, one on technical theater, and one where they invited several agents (white agents, Vance is quick to note) who were committed to helping African American artists find work, and of the seven people who showed up, four of them were black. "So some of it is about where the community is, the other deal is about commercial theater. You have to make that leap. You know, black people have to be prepared to invest in their own careers and in the theater. Most people that go to theater know the people and expect comps. The deal with Pro-Arts, and Boyd Vance is gonna be a meanie, cause I'm gonna say it, how you gonna support the arts? During Pill Hill I didn't use my comps, because I was making a statement. If someone's gonna come see me, they need to pay for it."
"Money has to be invested. It was a good production. You see, black people have to become patrons. They have to become volunteers. They have to become administrators, have to read, and you know, some of this is like doing it in the void. Because you know, we're not gonna be able to go back to college, to the University of Texas drama school. We're gonna have to learn on our own time."
What is the solution, according to Boyd Vance? Drawing on the example of the civil rights movement, where a figure from the church, a major cultural institution in the black community, was able to motivate people as never before, Vance feels that it is time for the modern figures in theater and film to give back to their art form.
"We must go see it, we must support it. We must talk about it, we must be critical of it, we must invest in it, and we must trust in it. And we must learn the process of how to work together again. Some of that is gonna be about community building around the arts. If I am producing arts in the community, I might have to go over to Kealing Junior High and to the churches. I mean, if St. James Episcopal Church is putting on a jazz program, then surely we can produce a theater project by the same people. We have to make a commitment to do that."
Pro-Arts Collective will present To Be Young, Gifted, and Black from November 1 to 22 at the John Henry Faulk Theater, Brazos and Fourth Streets. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays.
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black is a dramatic collage of writings, stories, and remembrances detailing the life of Lorraine Hansberry, a premiere American playwright in the early '60s, who won a Pulitzer Prize for A Raisin in the Sun. The performance will feature Cara Briggs, Curtis Polk, Alan Keith Caldwell, Marla Fulgham, Leslie Mitchell, and others.
In 1974, Anais Nin, a diva of erotic literature, gave a lecture for a group of female artists in San Francisco. She focused on her experience of life as a woman and writer, outlining her unique perceptions of people while examining why one creates. She said, "I believe people write to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me -- the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art. We do not escape into philosophy, psychology and art -- we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones."
In the midst of the cultural "dark ages," Nin's insight is proven and highlighted. What isn't close to the center is simply an introduction into the avant garde. Composer Edgar Varese said, "there is no avant garde. There are only people who are a little late." What is interesting is the uncommon presentations with unifying messages and how they are translated through the media, or what is steadfastly becoming known as "popular opinion."
For example, a year or so ago I read an interesting article about raving in the British Press Bureau which seemed to be a staunch opponent of gatherings which were obviously opposed to authoritarian belief systems. The Bureau's coverage built its argument against the use of drugs, using a moral platform as the foundation of the argument. I'm certainly not condoning drug use as a form of self-destruction for anyone. But the underpinning of their morality was clearly an oversight, yet a common distortion of opinion when the purpose of a gathering, such as a rave, is completely overlooked. What amazes me is how frequent cultures, communities or individuals are impounded under moralism when they are simply victimized by intolerance because they are functioning in a non-established way. Their purpose is not necessarily a defiance, but a promotion toward acceptance, tolerance, and change.
I'm not suggesting that when a hundred people from diverse backgrounds and classes come together there won't be an eruption of some form of violence and or exploitation. Certainly there is always a slow evolution for human behavior in settings such as this, but I think the ideal is what should and could be promoted by the media spotlight, instead of random acts of grazing.
Raving acts as an adhesive to humanitarian ideals, bringing multi-culturalism in front of mirrors. In modern society we perceive and are perceived as groups, not as individuals. There is so much emphasis on what we are supposed to be as opposed to who we are. Individualism has been lost in the trappings of stereotypes while identities have been shaped through the eyes of our peers. Breaking away from the stereotypes requires a different kind of introspection. Some fight fiercely for independence, as if straining to be "different." What falls behind is the rebuttal belief, "when the 'selves' of society are recovered, the power of the Corporate State will end." I don't understand on a personal level why it is so difficult to translate what is essentially the definition of prejudice by the sanctity of mainstream money-shaking America.
Raves provide a place for cohesiveness between diversity. It doesn't matter what kind of car you've got sitting outside a rave as long as you are mentally capable of accepting a simple ideal with the intent to take it with you back into society where it is a subconscious struggle against generalities.
In many ways raves appear to be a resurrection of the goals set in the 1960s, when examining the domination of false goals and consciousness served the needs of a growing country in spite of and in opposition to the Vietnam War. The liberating encouragement of self-discovery and its process (disconnecting from the one we've been programmed to be as children or as adults) can be released. People are obviously capable of functioning as a community, adopting a separate code of ethics and behavior that is not encouraged in the everyday world. But thinking about the age-old rule of thumb, "don't talk to strangers," raving provides yet another uncommon way of healing these safety nets and directing a kind of growth through ritualistic celebration.
Raves are another way folks can gather together once in a while to expand consciousness and celebrate life, rhythm, and dance. During shared moments of ecstatic joy, people share who they are and advance visions of a harmonious planet. The political content of the music is native, and stimulates a reduction of ego-role behavior decreasing one's need for power. At 120-220 bpm, it is full-throttle trance-formation, when the "chaos theory hits the soundscapes of civilization." It's not about pushing vinyl, it's a living ideal and a rejection of hostility which is a fade-out for the words peace, love, unity and most of all -- respect.
The beginning of man as intellectual creature can be traced to the first asking of the question "What should I believe?" You could see a play any day of the week that attempts to answer that question. Dan Bonfitto's 12-part industrial espionage series questions that question by answering with an ambiguous "Nothing." If that makes no sense, you're using your senses well. If the statement "nothing's true" were true, then the statement would be false because it has provided truth. This is the Liar's Paradox, and it is not the last one you will find in Flame Failure: The Silent War.
Episode 5, like every episode of Flame Failure, begins in darkness. Its characters sneak all around you through the catacombs where a cult called the Mechanical Fellowship offers purity through labor. Some are cultists; some are agents working for the government; and some are members of the Syndicate, an organized crime group. Their struggle is for possession of a book of ultimate knowledge based on Goedel's theory of Inconsistent Systems, the modern mathematical legacy of the Liar's Paradox. The book is an appropriate Holy Bible for contention between these characters, any of whom might tell you "We are all liars."
As you are slowly re-introduced to the light, your natural reaction would probably be to identify the setting so that you may place yourself and the characters. Give up now. The scene is a futuristic one illuminated by television sets and images of medieval Catholic pageantry. The characters are all antagonists in an epic with no heroes. Be careful when trying to discern who's working for whom. One of the conditions of The Silent War is "trust no one." Some of the characters have multiple affiliations among the three groups. The question of loyalty is further muddied in a world where computers interface directly with the brain and an "implant" can cause anyone to be controlled by someone else.
It's true, the whole series is a "Huckleberry Beanstalk" -- a game of hide-and-seek introduced in Episode Two in which the thing hidden must be in plain view. But the Downstage Players are a dedicated group who keep the wheels turning in this twisted Trojan Horse. Between the bloody fight scenes, beautifully choreographed by Paul Schimmelman, the unconventional use of stage and set, and a "plot so twisted that the X-Files is envious," there's enough meat here for any Austinite hungry for an action-packed theater experience.
Episode 5: Filter for Zeal ends with the elusive Book in the trash. What is its potential for whoever may be so lucky as to possess it? Episode 6: The Algebra of Sacrifice will address that question, but don't expect an answer. In a world fighting for order under inconsistent systems, there is no such thing as absolute truth.
Flame Failure will continue at The Public Domain Theater at 807 Congress Avenue the last two weekends of every month through May '98. For reservations, call 459-3825. Check out the website first at members.aol.com/DSPlayers.
Staring into the mirror, she winced at the thought of a spring and summer spent in retribution of ethereal love. Fate was calling to her in her sleep, maybe it was just the message, but not the warning. The mirror responded to her. "Sweet lady on the wall, don't worry about leaving it behind. Forget. Sharpen your tact, strengthen your wise, go to sleep and shut that eye."
Her interior was the garden and the best kept secret she only understood by sharing through the power of a pen. Yet, failing anyone she cared for was like failing herself with an angry veil. Her character matched in the bedroom of thought, but lost in the judgement of another heart.
She walked outside to her porch, a traditional way to digest an onslaught of too much thinking, or maybe not yet enough.
There was always something to spy on, however insignificant, to take her mind off of her mind. Especially in the parking lot across the street. She spotted a couple arguing under an unforgiving afternoon sun. A young man leaned against an old Cutlass, arms crossed in dignity, as if he truly believed in his stance of close-mindedness.
She watched his movements, sharp and repetitive. "I thought it was always that women are the ones to carry the chips." Obviously enraged by something distressing, she listened closely as he fired the words -- shots at his girlfriend, who was clearly less interested in his refusal.
"You don't care about me!" He screamed. "The minute I turned around you were talking to John, just like last week! You don't care about me! As a matter of fact you don't care about anyone but yourself! You are a bitch Lacy!"
The girl stood in silence for a moment collecting thought, obviously more tactful than her counterpart. "I was just asking him for his notes on the class. I am not a bitch! What is your problem?"
"Jealousy." What was more obvious was the level of intolerance -- too high with a countdown for rebuttal. Sure enough, but it was the girl who inexcuseably pushed him, and dropped the book in her hands at his feet. He stared at the ground, then followed her to her car, swiftly side-kicking the door as she unlocked it.
"Is that love?" she asked while looking at the sky.
The mysterious West Avenue biker passed by, donning his green felt hat whistling to her in usual fashion. He smiled and waved. "You got a basket!" she yelled while forming its shape with her hands through the air.
"Huh?" he mimicked, while stopping to hop down from his bike. He gently dropped it in her yard and climbed up the tiny staircase.
"Your basket," she pointed. "It's new."
"Yeah, pretty cool huh?"
"With a touch of sincerity even," she laughed noticing the small plastic flowers lining the bushel. "You know what is strange, somehow you always just seem to appear." Her eyes widened. "Maybe it's your hat," she said, touching a piece of it. "It's so bright it always catches my eye."
"Well you know in real life I'm a fairy," he suggested with matter-of-fact sanity.
"Is that right?" she asked, raising one brow.
"I don't believe in fairies," she said shaking her head. "I believe in angels."
"Fairies are much more reasonable than angels."
"I don't think so," she responded smiling. "Angels have purpose and carry meaningful messages. Fairies are just pixies steering other people in tiny circles, like a spinster."
"Well there are angels of DEATH, same 'mind' thing. What do they do to a traveller?" he asked. "But let's just say for the sake of fun this fairy is positive."
"Not a trickster or a siren?"
"No, with a message and everything -- just like an angel."
"Like what?" she asked, tasting sarcasm in his tone. "A line, or something truly thought provoking?"
He stopped for a moment, pursed his lips to the sky, while resting his hands on his hips, "I give," he sighed. "He who knows he has enough is rich."
"Poverty is my pride." she said in a self-satisfying rush of exaggeration.
"Okay," he smiled, pausing, "Excess and deficiency are equally at fault."
She cocked her head to the right, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
"Wait, I have another one," she said.
"Good, because I'm getting lost in your transaction."
"I can't believe you picked up on it in the first place. Let's see, that person who lives completely free of desires, without longing attains peace."
"Do that include...?"
"Keep going," she laughed.
"I can't now."
"Yes," she smiled. "you can."
"Okay, give me a sec. I can tell you're about to get really technical on me here, gotta find an escape. Let me think," he said. "She'll bark or she'll cry," he mumbled. "Here goes nothin' -- reestablishing meaning in a chaotic thought system is the way to heal it."
"You think so huh?" she asked. "Love means different things to different people, and urgency has no place in love."
"Yes, but we are all just dreamers in a world of dreams," he said, walking down the stairwell.
"And they are all different," she said kissing him with her eyes.
"I told you I was a fairy," he teased, tossing a leg over his bike.
"A pixie," she whispered.
"And I have an open mind."
"Then you are truly one with a sense of purpose."
"Not really, I just talk a good talk."
"You can't fake that," she said.
She watched him ride back the way he came. "I didn't even ask his real name. That was rude."
I have to check out of this hotel. The moon belongs in her place with the night, a true feeling of light. And the sun with its truest setting. The sun sets in the east, not the west. Love without trust is impossible. Attacking love will keep it hidden for it can only live in peace. With love inside, no one has any need except to extend it. Love without compassion is imagination. An intruder is not a lover but a thankless thief drawing water from an endless well. Those who let illusions be lifted from their minds are the world's saviors. Surely I am old enough to know that I hold my own key in grace. Someday I'll find a love all my own...
It has been said that poetry is food for the soul. Diverse Arts Little Gallery's poetry presentation on Saturday, September 20, had the recipe. Take two Austin catfish poets (must be the Dr. Marvin G. Kimbrough and Floyd Freeman variety), sweeten with the smile of Patricia Inyang, spice heavily with the "Unprotected Poetry" of Los Angeles raw poet lgjaffe, and stir to the Brazilian and African beats of percussionist Awys, for an afternoon banquet of poetry that nourished the spiritual palate.
Dr. Kimbrough's Beat the Drum, an entreaty to teach boys to hit drums, not women, along with jaffe's Mommy, I Can't, a poem spoken by the voice of an illiterate child, stirred the social consciousness as perhaps only poetry can.
A full course of racial delicacies was served, with Freeman's litany of the ships' names that carried African slaves to North America, Kimbrough's raucous Cockroaches and jaffe's take on the Nazi "racial cleansing" in Cattle Car and the lighter Hello, leading one to wonder, as the poet proposed, whether "racism is more about taste buds than color."
If life were to imitate the art of each of these fine poets, we would be well-fed.
One of the things that comes with publishing a little monthly mag and writing a column is editorial freedom, an outlet for vanity, a way to send mail to my friends who read me every month. Although I generally use this space to vent on issues I think important to the arts community, sometimes real life personal stuff just jumps right out in front. This is one of those times.
I think just about everyone on our staff, at one time or another, has written (or talked about writing) a piece about love, about relationships, about finding that special someone. I've read them all and smiled that cynical smile that seems to come so easily when I think of the heartbreak and pain that invariably comes with relationships. Smiled even more when those written pieces actually reflect the real life everyday of my friends here at the little magazine. One of those drippy, oh-so-sweet verities pieces even predicted a marriage that actually happened.
Love is a good thing. I'm all for it. But you know, I've been around the block a couple of times and I tell you; love is work. It's good work if you can get it, and you should get it if you can.
I'm 40 years old. I had a marriage when I was a kid. It didn't work for all of the right reasons. I had an engagement as an adult that didn't work for all of the wrong reasons. I've had a couple of other very significant hard-good relationships that taught me much about life and love, and most of all, taught me a lot about myself and the emotional world in which I live. And yes, although those relationships didn't work for the long run, I did experience love, caring and compassion. My life is richer as a result of those struggles for love. (Now I didn't say I'd do it all over again the same way. I'm just saying I'm a wiser, more loving person today than I was 10 years ago.)
Well let me tell you, I've been watching and thinking a lot about what is going on with my friends lately. Lately, in this case, being over the course of the last few years. The thing I've noticed is that some of my friends, my cohorts, my peers are turning 40-ish, cutting their hair, shaving (faces and legs/underarms) and starting families. You know, having kids, becoming parents -- and in a couple of cases they are even sending their kids off to college and becoming kid-less (i.e., a couple) again. What's up with that?
I had planned to be ahead of this curve (wanting to maintain my sense of being a trendsetter and all), but something happened -- see above paragraph -- and I missed the first wave. Next thing I know, I have a whole crew of new friends under three feet tall. Seemingly out of no where (but I really do know where they came from). I look around and there is -- you know who you are -- Monsho, Manoa, and Uvia; and Coleman, and Manny, and Shelby, and Rudy, and Eli, and Salina, and a couple of other little ones; and Michelle and Eric are now old enough to be going off to college. What happened? Did I miss school that day or what? Is everyone either having babies or sending them off to college? I mean, after all, we are about the same age, we all had that dream of having soul mates and families, raising the smartest-most-beautiful-artistic kids, living happily ever after all that stuff.
Now I'm 40 years old, and like many of you, wanting to experience that nesting thing. I have -- and continue to -- "suffer for art" and all of that PC - what - you - gonna - do - for - your - community stuff. But you know, I too really want to feel a more personal, selfish being-at-home kinda feeling about my life, my work, my dreams. It took me a while to get here, but for a while now I've wanted to embrace, experience, do parenthood. I want to be a dad. I want to be a full family partner. I want/need a family to call my own. It's not that this notion just came across my mind. But now is the perfect time for it.
Regardless of what the books say. Regardless of what the new conventional wisdom says. Regardless of how many times young 20-somethings swear that age doesn't really matter. That old biological clock is a real thing. And it ticks a little faster every day. Yes, I've read recently of those 60 year old women having babies. Yes, I know that medical science/technology has moved our life expectance way up there. But let me ask you, would you want to wait until you're 60 to have your first kid, just to validate some scientist's notions on senior citizen pregnancy? Nope, not me.
Like I said earlier, I was married when I was in my early 20s. I didn't start a family then because I was too busy trying to grow up. I was too busy being a graduate student - musician - hipster - austinslacker. I needed to use my headspace and youth to establish my career, be open for travel, explore my options, and to go on more trips. I had the opportunity to start a family, but something told me I should wait until I was more mature myself. That something was right, of course. The marriage didn't work and there are no children to now shuttle between Austin and Upstate New York.
I won't continue with these snapshots of failed relationships. The point is, when I was in my physical prime, when I was a young whipper-snapper I felt like I didn't have time for kids. I thought that someday I might, but that someday seemed very far in the distance. By the time my mid-thirties rolled around I finally felt the need to settle down and be a family man. But you know, you gotta have a partner to do that kinda thing. And it didn't happen. Although I don't think 40 is old (relatively speaking), I must admit that leaving the ranks of the 30-somethings put me through some changes. Life really does look different from this side of 30. 40 is just a good personal milepost at which taking an inventory of ones life is appropriate. Damn, I'm middle age. To some, I'm an "older man." To my mother I'm about to be too old to give her another grandchild. Most of all, I realize that I am the one who really wants children. I don't think it's just an ego thing. I have a lot of love to share with a child, a lot of love to share in raising that child with the woman I love. And you know, I just think I'll make a damn good father.
It's too late to change the past, but I've come to realize that some of my priorities were misplaced. This whole thing of "my work" can end up being a smoke screen to hide the truly important work of being human. Not that I have serious regrets about "suffering" for art and culture. That too, for me, is part of the important work of being human. The thing is, I almost waited too long to learn that stressing over funding cuts, being upset with board members who don't raise enough money, or staying up all night to meet grant deadlines are not the things that are truly going to make me happy. That stuff comes with the job, but at 40, I now REALLY know that being able to go home to a loving partner is the real thing. And if I were able to go home to a kid or two, that would really add some meaning to all of this.
So, I guess the whole thing boils down to timing. The thing is, I think we are not always in control of that. Two of my best friends, a couple, got pregnant and married when we very young. Getting married, up until the pregnancy, was not something they had even discussed. Well, they lost the fight with the timing. But they raised a wonderful, smart, talented, musical kid who is becoming a great adult. According to B, the lesson here is that you don't necessarily have the chance to choose your kids (or the time for them to come). The souls of the little ones choose you as parents. Then its up to you to step up to the plate and go for the home run.
Several months ago I decided that I was really ready to be chosen as a parent and partner. I just figured if there were a new soul out there looking for a pair of loving parents, it would find us in due time. I've been waiting for that little soul to decide on the perfect time.
It's the perfect time. Grace is pregnant. Right now. I'm gonna be a dad, a father. Grace and I are gonna be real-life parents. I'm in love with a woman who wants to be a family with me (and #3) and we are happy and amazed that we are so blessed. We are blessed and I am lucky.
And, my mom really likes the idea, too.
Eugene Everett Nearburg 9/14/24 - 8/17/97
I'm filling a book a year -- I'm coming to the end of this one and I am more myself than ever before, alone in my thoughts, with my memory who speaks silently in all voices to my loneliness. It's unfortunate, this condition, needing to remember so much, but so afraid of the vision. If I found an answer to my searching, I think I would finally be eternally lost. If he hears me dreaming, he knows how his eyes shiver me inside.
I think this must be God, my father's voice in his eyes, burning there with an unmistakable ache. He dances smoothly in suede shoes. His watery countenance washes over me and I glisten incandescently in the nighttime, a Jupiter moon above setting a glittery rhythm.
My father effortlessly graced my reality. His stoic ways entranced me, his unwavering intelligent gaze demanded my rebellion. He sat to the right of the moon, his judgment dripping from his fingers. My father drives, gliding on a highway of light into the eternal, a pearl fedora perched atop his pate, a solar wind pulling trails of stars from his brim. The Cobra lustres metallic under his gentle caress, and his manicured hand flashes across the dash, settling briefly to shift into fifth gear, then quickly withdrawing to flick a silver comb from his breast pocket. He tips his hat back to smooth the silky mouse's belly hair slick against his neck. With the slightest motion, the comb slips back into place, and my father sucks an El Rey do Mundo across thin lips. I remember the ember breaking into orange swirls across the blacktop. Only, the black asphalt has merged with the flat plain to become starry sky and it is raining. He's a dream and I feel like I died last night.
He is alive, unfettered by worry and fatigue, free to expand into me, seeing me whole and raw simultaneously. It's the truth I never told him. Now I belong to him completely, as I never could before. He was my reason to achieve, my person - whom - I - always - wanted - to - be. Give me a piece of the dream and I'll weave it into the story. He is within me.