Sunday, April 30, 2006

From the mouth of babes

This image comes from the May 1st issue of The New Yorker.

Now raise your hand if you can relate.....

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I wish I could write like this....

I was so blown away by the comment/response pasted below to my March 23rd "Words Exchange" post that I had to bring it to the fore as its own entry. All I had to say when I read it was wow....The author was a cat who seems to by the tag Kev; Kev if you're out there reading my hat goes off to you. And for the rest of the world take in Kev's gems:

But from the abyss, is it words that will save us? I used to think so. But what is the abyss? The abyss might be a good metaphor for disease (dis-ease). With dis-ease (disease), it seems the problem is often either too much of something, or not enough: hypotension/hypertension, microencephaly/macroencephaly, manic/depressive. What is the middle ground, the normal state, and will words deliver me there? Will words steer my relationships with others -- everyone, but especially friends (those people I share common judgments with on matters that matter) -- within that middle ground, however vast or narrow (I suspect more vast than narrow) it is?

A week ago 5 minutes into morning prayers I realized I was being silly in my communication with God. I wasn't asking God for material riches, but I was asking for unearned richness of character and fronting like I was willing, then and there, to do all the things necessary to make those riches redound. So I thought, this is silly: I am being insincere. Which lead me to the following reflection:
Life cannot be meaningful (meaning-full cf. meaning-some) unless your acts honor your vision of justice and truth as you know it. This occurs to me as I realize that in everything I take on, I have the power to make it meaningful. I can apply the type of sincerity that is a hallmark of prayer, or I can be less than sincere and hope that unearned riches will be my supplement. Bad habit.
Three weeks left into my graduation thesis (purely a collection of words, if nothing else) but I can make the time I have left meaningful.

Purpose is both found and made. It is the product of the situation you find yourself in: your inherited mind and body. It also comes out of engaged acion: after eight hours of work, two months of diligent application to the theorem, the next step (maybe not the answer, but the next step) becomes clear. After a year on the stage crew, the next step becomes clear.

Do words fit into this paradigm? Sort of: we need to honor the opportunity of community, which might include honoring the perspicacity of words, and yet, we know sometimes there's slippage in how someone else will understand the words we use. Speaking with sincerity may be the best bet.

Purpose: callings are myriad, the middle ground is vast. Yet it takes decent hearing. Good words, but even better hearing.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Toussaint vs. Toussaint

A few weeks ago I posted an entry about Lil Kim’s Countdown to Lockdown that I took down a few days later because I did not like how it read. Some friends who checked out the piece have been asking me why I took it down, and while I have been telling them the truth that I thought it was poorly written, I also felt as if I wasted my time writing it. Pointing out how B.E.T. programming targeted at young adults does not represent black women that well is like pointing at the sun in Hawaii—it does not take that much effort.

I then challenged myself to write about things slightly more difficult or which I could say something new about—rather than things that I am merely just adding another loud voice into the chorus. Unfortunately it seems I can not get away from this lockdown theme as much as I try. This week’s saga revolved not around Lil Kim, but Roger Toussaint, the leader of Local 100 Transit Workers Union, who led the December transit strike in New York. Toussaint was released today four days into his ten day jail sentence.

The Toussaint issue has been fairly conspicuous because (1) he was bold enough to lead the union in a strike, (2) the strike seemed relatively successful until his union voted down their agreement, (3) the MTA and New York government’s response bankrupt the union by leveling 10million dollars worth of fines against it, (4) NY officials and media representatives insist on referring to it as an illegal strike. Taylor Law aside, since when are strikes ever legal?

Of course one can not overlook race and ethnicity in this issue because not only is Toussaint black, but his union is also largely black and Latino, therefore making it only logical that they’d be poorly treated by NYC govt. and media officials. One friend went as far putting Toussaint’s imprisonment in a historical context evoke his namesake Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution who was seized by the French after leading the slaves in Hispaniola in an illegal uprising against their French slave masters. This might be a stretch, but then again, what’s in a name, if not a legacy?

I still have not made up my mind on this subject. Sure, I supported the strike. I am in support of Toussaint. But for some reason I think that there’s more to be done on this subject—but exactly what? If you got any ideas let me know, I’m all ears…

In the meantime here are some pieces to check out on the situation…

Haitian Revolution

Roger Toussaint

Transit Workers Union + Strike

Taylor Law

Labor Notes vs Roger Toussaint

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It's a Different World

I know my parents love me,
Stand behind me come what may.
I know now that I'm ready,
Because I finally heard them say
It's a different world form where you come from.

Back in the day, Thursday nights meant that I was in front of the tv screen getting ready to watch the crew from "A Different World." I remember once telling a friend that I intended on applying to Hillman College. He fell out laughing and offered to give me a thousand dollars if I get into Hillman; this pissed me off so I punched him in the chest and told him that I would get into Hillman. After all, how hard could it be, Ron Johnson got in. He then offered to give me ten dollars if I could just get an application. It took a little convincing but I eventually realized that Hillman College did not exist.

The future was always and still is a different world for me. I spend too much time thinking, planning, strategizing about how I will make things happen in the future. It's the one place where I have always felt comfortable living in, which probably explains why I focus on it so earnestly.

Little by little though, I'm starting to build a similar relationship with the past. I like to think of myself being more athletic, energetic and romantic--not in terms of love--but in terms of what I thought that each day would bring. At one time each day was another opportunity for change in myself and the world and I tackled each as such Admittedly I do more planning than tackling sometimes these days.

Having gone through college and graduate school, two endeavors that were at one time future projects, I am starting to go back and redo in my mind experiences from high school, much like I might have exerted energy at one time, thinking about the fabulous dorm life I was going to have at Hillman, and who was going to play the Whitley to my Dwayne Wayne. Every once in a while I might give a second thought to not going to the senior prom, or never going out for the basketball team.

There are also moments when my future and past intersect. For example the first time I stumbled upon the show My Sweet Sixteen, I thought it was absurd/crazy/and the kids being featured only alternated from freakish to hellish. Was this how rich kids really lived? The same question that I asked while growing up watching shows like "Silver Spoons" or Beverly Hills 90210
is the same question I find myself asking as kid after kid enjoys one ostentatious birthday party after another.

It's been a while since I watched that show (I actually watched three episodes to get to the much hyped "Divo" episode) but when I found this article "MTV's 'Super Sweet 16' Gives a Sour Pleasure"
in today's NYTimes, I had to take a peek. I was curious to read Ogunnaike's take on the show, to see what someone closer to my age thought about the show. Not surprisingly the author, and some of the adults questioned shared my sentiments on "Super Sweet 16."

Just as I was about to pat myself on the shoulder, I noticed a link to another article "Student's Prize is a Trip into Immigration Limbo." Unlike the kids in "Super Sweet 16," Amadou Ly, the young man featured in this other Times Piece had no over the top celebration in front of him. He had no "Bentley's" much less "A Bentley and two homes," like one of the kids mentioned in the "Super Sweet 16" article coming to him. Amadou's plight it goes without saying is much dire than those of his peers featured in the MTV show.

Interestingly enough, these are two sides--maybe even the same side--of the American Dream. On the one hand "Super Sweet 16" promotes the opulence and lavish lifestyles that make America attractive to immigrants, make Americans self-conscious about how we handle our success, and the competitive spirit that makes that success possible and prompts the efforts to top over successful Americans in even the most trivial endeavors.

Amadou's story is also the American Dream, the immigrant kid lifting himself up by the bootstraps, the community patrons interceding on his behalf, and the competition on which his future rests, a competition one might even presume is filled with other young men and women biding for a similar American Dream. For some their performance has been attached to college acceptance, the post 1965 unequivocal green card necessary for climbing up the social and class ladder in the United States.

Amadou, and Aaron (one of the young men mentioned in Ogunnaike's piece) are living in different worlds but same cities, sharing citations in the worlds most prestigious paper on the same day, but being brought to the fore by different writers. The mythic Hillman is a very real possibility for Aaron, while for Amadou it appears to be a real myth at this point as he rides to Atlanta, or "Atalanta," as W.E.B. Du Bois liked to refer to it in Souls of Black Folk. And a century after Du Bois wrote his reflections on "Atalanta," a young man, Amadou, is still dropping his golden apples in hopes of getting his suitor's hand, in hopes of finding the American dream. And as he searches for the dream another young man, Aaron, lives it:
Here's a chance to make it,
If we focus on our goals.
If you dish it we can take it,
Just remember you've been told
It's a different world form where you come from.
It's a different world form where you come from.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bronx BiAnnual

I’m damn near thirty (8 ½ hrs away to be exact) and have been seeing my name in print since I was about fourteen years old. And while I am far from what you would call a prolific writer, I still get a thrill whenever I see my name in print. Maybe one day it’ll become second hand, but for now it always amazes me, “did I do really do that?” I often ask myself when a new project has completed the publication length of the course. The next thought usually is, “I wonder if anyone’s going to read it?”

What’s prompting this reflection you ask?

Well today when I went downstairs to check the mail I was pleasantly surprised to find my complimentary copies of the debut issue of Bronx Biannual, a new journal edited by Miles Marshall Lewis. Bronx Biannual has been called “an urban Paris Review,” an intriguing nomination considering how urban Paris is for some of us in our imaginations. For those whose leanings are slightly more Francophone rather than Francophile, after reading the essays by Adam Mansbach, KRS One and Greg Tate, you’ll be forgiven for mistaking Bronx Biannual for an updated version of Tropiques, the journal founded by legendary Martinican poet, philosopher and politician Aimé Césaire and his partner Suzanne Césaire an equally dynamic poet and philosopher.

You may have never heard of Tropiques, but might be familiar with the better known Présence Africaine, another journal that the many of the Négritude, Harlem renaissance and black modernist literati in general were affiliated with. Whether Bronx Biannual becomes Tropiques or Présence Africaine depends a lot on what the readers decide. Not necessarily just in the sense of appreciating the writing, but in a more practical sense of enjoying the medium through which it is being conveyed—a bound journal. In an age where we’re being ushered further and further into the realms on online media, Lewis is rather daring in banking that people will care enough about not only reading, but holding what they are reading in their hand to invest in this journal.

Of course I am slightly biased. I do not have a financial stake in the success of journal, so I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the—hmm—I’m in it for the happy—or maybe even—the giddy. You know the giddy. You’ve surely gotten the giddy at one time or another. Some folks get the giddy when they buy a new gadget, think of when you got that new Blackberry, those new Manolo Blahniks, or those Nike dunks with a color scheme made exclusively for you. That’s the giddy. That’s the feeling I get when I see my name in a by line and hold the paper/book/magazine in my hand or read a like following from MuMs’ piece “Angels in the Realm of Paranoia” that’s featured in the journal:

Every now and again

They do to the beat

Move like the cherubim in rhythm

Reencounter clockwise

Never cross the eyes.

They know how the God creep

They listening for signs...

I’ve been listening for signs since I was fourteen and I got my first piece published in The Hilltopper, Jamaica High School’s student newspaper. Sixteen years later I’m still “listening for signs,” doing “to the beat” the only thing that I know for sure will give me “the giddy.”

It remains to be seen whether I am angel in the realm of paranoia, because I do believe there is something to this concern about the future of the bound text. I also know, or think I know how the God creep, and longer that we can go without crossing those eyes, the more opportunities we all will have to get the giddy, and the more chances there will be to reencounter each other in clock wise ciphers. Or could it be as the God once said, “In this journey you’re the journal I’m the journalist.”

Harlemite Miles Marshall Lewis, could not follow the leader no mo, couldn’t wait for another solo from hip hop’s own Godot, Rakim—and with his right hand man MuMs (amongst others) has sent us looking for signs in a time piece called Bronx Biannual trying to yet undo our propensity to look for dime pieces….But I digress.

Here is where I tell you to check out Bronx Biannual and to holla at yo boy to let him know what you think…and in the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the giddy.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

New Orleans Knicks

One of the ugliest seasons in New York Knicks history ended this past week and I for one stupefied by every minute of it. Going into the season I was genuinely moved by that scene of Stephon Marbury breaking down during the NBA press conference discussing Hurricane Katrina. In that press conference he gave us insight into Stephon, stripping himself of the “Starbury” moniker for a moment and reminding us—and more importantly himself—that there were larger events occurring that one needed to contend with.

It seemed that within moments press coverage around Stephon went back to being about how selfish of a basketball player that he is and that his “style” of basketball will eventually run its course with new coach Larry Brown and the two would end up feuding. Not to dismiss the plausibility of the Marbury and Brown feud, but I wonder if it had to be so inevitable? I ask because if you watch and follow sports enough you’ll hear enough about the unwillingness of athletes and coaches to open, to give writes anything beyond trite sound bites: “give 110 percent” and “take it one game at a time” are two of the more popular ones. But there on that late summer day, Stephon gave the world 110percent of Stephon, he took it “one game at a time” and that game was the dramatic disaster known as Katrina, and it seems as if no one took notice. No one really took into account that this man may have broken down—to the point that being engaged in a petty feud or head games with his coach, are the last things on his mind.

Instead of really exploring this, trying to figure out why this kid from Brooklyn cared so deeply about the faces and lives of the people from New Orleans, writers went back to the game of basketball…well sort of.

I have not live long enough to know really how great sports writing was in the good ol’ days, but I doubt that it was all that great, better than now—maybe—but not great as a whole. What I do know is that most writing about basketball and sports in general is often not about the sport at all, it’s about the men and women who play the sport. Writers have led us to believe, partly because they themselves have been led to believe that these men and women make their sports, reinvent it to fit their generation. The best example of this phenomenon is when writers and commentators refer to Allen Iverson as being of the hip hop generation because of his cornrows, tattoos and baggy shorts. Not that that they are wrong, Allen Iverson is definitely hip hop, but so is Ray Allen, who as far as I can tell does not have any tattoos, and seems to wear baggy shorts as a common sense alternative to the John Stockton shorts that surely must have caused a fair bit of chafing. In fact, Iverson is Allen’s senior, older than him by a month. He’s even a year older than Tim Duncan, with whom I share not only a birthday, but a connection to the same hip hop generation that Iverson is affiliated with, at least by birthright if nothing else.

And of course Marbury is also hip hop, which of course is one of the reasons that he and Brown did not get along. You see Brown is old school, a product of days gone by, a day when things were better, when guards passed first and shot second, deferred to their coaches and everyone lived happily ever after as big men launched outlet passes down the court. Hmm. Brown is old school eh. Guards passed first and shot second—kind of like how Oscar Robertson and Pete Maravich used to do right?

All joking aside, what I am trying to say is that in Marbury is also old school in his own way; and I do not just mean old school because he’s practically a ten year veteran in the league. He’s old school in the sense that he remembers a hip hop era where artists and musicians were trying to say and do something—and that something often mean standing up to authority. He’s old school in the sense that he knows his New York Knick basketball history too. However he does not fawn over Red Holtzman and Al Mcguire like Brown does; Marbury’s sharpest Knick memories probably revolve around the matriculation of another Brooklyn bred New York point guard to the Knicks, Mark “Action” Jackson, who himself was considered “hip hop,” and was overshadowed and pitted against superstar coach to be Rick Pitino. Jackson was not the only New York point guard jettisoned out of the garden prematurely so was “uncoachable” hip hop point guard Rod Strickland. Marbury has to be forgiven if he might have been a little defensive and apprehensive in his play and approach to this season because in his mind the writing was on the wall. If one needs to know one’s past in order to know where thou art headed, then Marbury surely knew as soon as Brown was hired if he does not play Brown’s way, he’s hitting the highway.

So what does he do, he tries being a good soldier, produces his worst individual and team statistical seasons in his career. Not only that, while he’s trying to play nice, his coach is bashing him in the media, sports commentators are calling him selfish and a locker room cancer—yet every time I turn on a Knicks game Marbury is at center court right in the middle of the post game prayer (an activity that if I remember correctly he did not take part in when he first joined the Knicks) and during the game jumping up and down ready to praise the accomplishment of a teammate. If anything, lying prostrate while he took this character assault was far from hip hop, it was human.

And now I am back to that original scene, Stephon Marbury, being consoled by Antonio Davis and NBA players’ association president Billy Hunter, as he tries to speak on the tragedy that occurred in Louisiana. He was not showboating. He was not disrupting the offense or playing the wrong way during that press conference. He was doing what the world, the media, refuses to let him be—be human.

If I were to venture to guess, this must have been the most difficult year in Stephon Marbury’s professional basketball career. If you go back to that scene at the press conference when he started breaking down he compared the faces of the kids in New Orleans to the faces of his own children. This was not Latrell Sprewell randomly implying that seven million per annum was not enough for him to feed his family. No what Stephon was saying is that in those faces he saw the possibility of losing it all, his family, everything that he’s worked for, his own life and to reiterate, the lives of his children. This must have been a daunting realization for Stephon because if after three years of doing the Chapelle Show Dave Chapelle could walk away in order to reassess where his life was going, I could only imagine what it must be like for the man once deemed the best sixth grader in the country, as he inches ever closer to thirty, to mortality. It must be a strange moment to be Stephon Marbury and trying to suppress reconsidering those days spent at the “Garden,” the legendary Coney Island playground where he honed his basketball skills. “Would life have been simpler if I were a lawyer—or a music producer behind the scenes?” I imagine Stephon asking himself from time to time before punctuating his thought with, “I may not be as materially rich, but my kids would not have to read this trash about me in the paper everyday!”

Similar to how I did not believe that America needed baseball and football to move forward after 9/11, I was not convinced that Stephon Marbury needs basketball to move forward with his life. I could be wrong—and I probably am wrong. However if you looked at this season, you could see where I am coming from. Instead of giving the man the time to rebuild and provide him with the necessary support in the media, writers abandoned him, left him to be and outside of some salacious stories about corruption and supposedly outlandish proclamations, Stephon Marbury was left behind. Ironically, this is arguably the same fate that befell the city of New Orleans.

This year’s New York Knicks, I would add are this years New Orleans. While on the flip side, the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets had the season many optimists predicted for the Knicks. In the ideal world, Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown would have hit it off like Byron Scott and Chris Paul and the Knicks would have given every team in the league a run for their money, and judging by the lackluster records of the bottom four Eastern Conference Playoff teams, maybe even made the playoffs. Instead while the Hornets became this year's feel good story, the Knicks became a monumental disaster that to hear Malcolm Gladwell say it, people will be studying for years to come. Gladwell was talking about business students picking through the deals made by Knicks executives, while I am referring to the years of investigation that will go into figuring out what exactly happened and is happening in New Orleans.

Back to the comparison: the Knicks had a six game winning streak. New Orleans had Mardi Gras. The Knicks have Isiah Thomas and Louisiana has Mary Landrieu and Kathleen Blanco in executive offices, the Knicks have Isaiah Thomas and Larry Brown—all four of whom seemed to be over their heads and wallowing in their own messes this year. James Dolan plays the uberwealthy scion making him the doppelganger for George W. Bush. Because of their innocent pronouncements that are blown out of proportion, shaved heads and beleaguered looks on their faces during the past eight months, Stephon and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin seem to be perfect matches. Except, I think New Yorkers—especially black New Yorkers really like Stephon. I am not convinced that the same applies for Nagin.

However, all of this will be decided within the next few days and months as the people of New Orleans—whatever that means after Katrina—return to the polls and the New York Knicks brass makes decisions about the future of their franchise. I hope for the sake of both institutions that the people in charge make the right decisions.

More importantly, I hope that Stephon enjoys this offseason, gets a chance to spend time with his family—moves away from the circus that was the 2005-2006 New York Knicks and comes back, if he comes back as “Starbury,” then so be it because even that would still only be the human thing to do.