Thursday, June 14, 2018

Everybody's Happy??

The two ideas in one sentence are problematic, to say the least.  Like good and evil, or elation and depression, there is a relationship.  But honestly, how does the sound of a "Reparations Happy Hour" sound to you?
This is the recent brainchild of some political activists in Portland.  Portland, Or you may recall, is the place that was once called, "where 20 somethings go to retire."  But, in reality, in Portland, all things are possible.

The idea was simple.  You ask white folks to contribute $10. and then stage a Happy Hour for black folks where they can get together knowing that enough, or maybe some... white people care about recognizing the evils and far-reaching consequences of slavery on the black community to want to do something other than talk about the idea.
Sounds preposterous, sounds amiss, or even ridiculous, yet this is exactly what came about recently in "the city that cares."*
It hasn't been an overwhelming success but these things take time, don't they?  We'll see; after all, it is doing something more than just talking about the idea.  And...it is an idea that has been around for decades.
One would think that if the U.S. government were really in earnest about some sort of financial compensation for the relatives of those were held in bondage, then something would have been done.
All these years later that Reconstruction proposal of "40 acres and a mule" looks pretty good.  But it never happened and don't hold your breath.
As bizarre and inadequate as the reparations happy hour concept is and sounds, one could argue that at least it gets folks talking.  And talk not too expensive.
Reparations for something as horrendous and far-reaching as the "peculiar institution" extend far into the trillions of dollars.  Then there is all the "it wasn't me or my generation" rhetoric you have to wade through. It's daunting, but what isn't as impossible is a group of folks making a small contribution and extending a drink and a bite to eat to a group of other folks.
I'm still processing this one.  bout the only ting, I can say for sure is that Portland, you never disappoint.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

1968

50 years ago it was 1968.  Arguably one of the most difficult years for this young nation, 1968 had the feeling of a malaise settling over the country.  Some would say it is not uncommon to what people are feeling today with the likes of Donald Trump in the White House.
In 1968 I was 21, and completing my Junior year in college.  On that June Tuesday in '68 when Californians went to the polls, I had a final exam in a class on political philosophy.  I wrote my Blue Book exam on the theories expressed in a book called The Radical Liberal. The author was my professor at UCLA that year, Arnold S. Kaufmann.  It was all so contemporary.

Comparing the ideas of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy was rewarding, even for a 3- hour exam.  What was far less worthwhile was the fact that I went home only to watch the assassination of Robert Kennedy shortly after he was declared the winner of the California primary.
I was in McCarthy's camp prior to that day.  But RFK was getting to me, particularly because he was outspoken on Civil Rights and social justice issues beyond the morality of the Vietnam War seemed to matter more to him.  In an instant, it all became irrelevant.  We would not have another Kennedy in the White House, at least not in that year.
Much like today, people were struggling to separate their feelings for their country from their feelings for their government.  I'd seen Robert Kennedy earlier that year as he spoke on the campus of Cal State, Northridge.  Even then, more radical members of the crowd were shouting at him, urging him to "open up the archives" insinuating that there was much to learn about the narrative that passed for the Warren Commission's conclusions about who killed his brother John. With Bobby that day was an entourage that included actor Peter Lawford (married to his sister) and pro football player Roosevelt Grier, the massive NY Giant who endorsed RFK because of his record on Civil Rights.   A month later the traveling roadshow that was his campaign was relegated to history.
The malaise deepened.  The "downer" was palpable. In two months the fight was literally taken to the streets and the whole world watched as the status quo paved the way for a Nixon comeback.
So here I sit, 50 years onward and the malaise has returned.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Re-inventing the Self

I'm staring straight into the face of it again.  It seems to come around every few years during this very different time of life. This time with no full-time employment. Self-reinvention.  One of the benefits of living in the US of A is that we enjoy this luxury.  It often can be stimulating and risky. Som who will I be when I am no longer the person that did these things for so many years.  Who will I be when I haven't a clue what I'll be doing.  Or do I?
Every time I ask the question, the answer is always the same.  Wait and see.
When we lose the structure and routine we've complained about for so long we feel compelled to create a substitute.  For good reason.  Do you know how easy it is to waste a day?  Days?  even a year? Define waste.
OK, waste, as in accomplishing nothing.

I belong to the melting ice school of thought.  As Arthur Miller once noted, we are all trying to "write our name on a cake of ice on a hot July day."  No really.  We just do it in different ways.  In fact, just my writing this page, I'm participating.  It's a simple metaphor.  I write a sentence. Then another one follows.  And another.  I see where it goes.  That's the way to live life in the moment.  Give yourself the time and will to simply experience what will be as it will be.  Unless you are physically ill or incapable of functioning, you really have no complaint with anything.  Sounds too simplistic, but it requires action.  Requires you to become more than you currently are.  That can't be bad.
I suppose that there will soon be some new technology for self-reinvention.  Why not, we've got something for everything else.  Some sci-fi stories and TV shows are already exploring the many faces of transferring thoughts from one brain to another.  How to capture what's inside our heads without losing the poignancy or originality of a thought is quite fascinating.  Like this cartoon I saw earlier today.
If I had a built-in tape recorder or should I now say voice recorder to capture every thought-possibility that rolls through my brain then I'd be rich in thought.  I'd probably have a book or two of some of the best poems, short stories and short essays that I'm capable of producing.  No lament here.  The answer is to just do it myself.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In and Out of History

The boys were very well-behaved despite the constant rain and sticky mud.  When the 2018 version of the Preakness was over, there were no real surprises, but a glimmer of what is yet to come.  Justify continued his perfect streak and set himself up perfectly for a Triple Crown attempt, but whether or not his performance was impressive, or at least as impressive as the previous ones, remains in doubt.

That will set up the Belmont perfectly with an air of doubt and the chance to pull an upset.  It's possible that Justify could fall short because of the distance of the race and because the Triple Crown trail is paved with thorns and remains a grueling ordeal.
I'm reminded how easily names and places fall in and out of history.  Some wither on the brink and some enter cemented in place.  Even a 1200 pound thoroughbred who consistently displays all the speed and stamina of a true champion can appear vulnerable in the eyes of the knowing.
The fragility of something perceived to be strong and everlasting was much in evidence in a number of ways this week.  So it was with the announcement that Marylhurst University is closing.
Marylhurst is the small private Catholic university at which I have worked part-time for the last 10 years.  The fact that it is small, private and Catholic means nothing to me.  The fact that it values diversity, began a Masters in Teaching program devoted to social justice and equity in education, means everything.  I've been fortunate to work with beginning teachers going through that program for the last decade and now, mostly because of low enrollment, the school will be forced to close.  There will be much sadness, but those who will find themselves suddenly out of a job or a program should land on their feet.  At least a half-dozen other universities and colleges, some in the same financial shape, will be more than happy to pick up these students.  Many of the faculty will continue their work at other institutions.  In a few years, it'll all be remembered fondly.  I hope.  For now, we all do well to remember that the impermanence of everything constantly stalks our lives.  As for myself, I'm going to retire...again.  At least I can afford to take some time off and do some self-reinvention.  I was indecisive about how long I wanted to stay involved in public education and now the decision has been made for me.  Doors and windows.  The future is uncertain, but like the Belmont Stakes coming up in a few weeks, the possibility and potential for something good loom large in the homestretch.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Preak-ish

Every time a Kentucky Derby winner runs in the Preakness, which is almost every year, we have the potential for a Triple Crown winner.  So it will be on Saturday as Justify continues to carve his name into the tree of history at Pimlico.
Being the oldest racetrack in the nation, save Saratoga, Pimlico will dust off its ancient grounds, polish the silver, and once again host the eye of the nation and the best 3-year olds currently in training.

Once again, too, the naysayers and East/West bias holders will spit out their theories and reinforce the mythology about the tight turns Pimlico seems to have.  They'll take a stand against Justify, the favorite, and pontificate till their ears turn red.  Probably, Justify will romp easily and prove that the Belmont is the true test of a 3-year-old champion.  We've seen this so many times that it's predictable.
Still, with the strong undercard, the buzz in the air and the thousands all decked out for a special day, it'll be fun all day.  I say this all right now because you have to say it a few days before the race to have any credibility.  Yet, there are so many variables in horse racing, the cliches that "anything can happen" and "that's why they run the race," will put in an appearance or two as well.
I recall a trip to Baltimore that saw me find my way to Pimlico about 20 years ago.  It was a week before the Preakness and I'd come to Baltimore to attend a conference on teacher research.  The organization that sent me urged me to arrive a couple of days before the conference so I could see a bit of Baltimore.  I walked the inner harbor, cracked some crab with a few colleagues and then one bright Thursday morning, figured out how I might get out to Pimlico on public transit.
A very gregarious homeless person tutored me in how the light rail system worked.  Tickets were dispensed by a machine that only dispensed Susan B. Anthony dollar coins.  Having only a $20. bill, I now had a round trip ticket to the station nearest to Pimlico and about 12 dollar coins to spare.  I gave a few Susans to my "guide," who much to my relief accurately told me what station to exit and exited the train himself,  before my stop.
I was to catch a bus to Pimlico from the railway station, but nobody knew which number bus.
Problem easily solved when I just followed 3 elderly gentlemen who were discussing the Racing Form spread out in front of them at the bus stop.  Within minutes, I was at Pimlico.
Like many historical sites, it seemed smaller than it appeared in pictures and photos.  I recall Mt. Rushmore did too.

But there is a quality about a racetrack that holds true any place you go.  They are usually laid out similarly, so you have the phenomena of feeling at home almost instantly.  I fund the saddling paddock, the clubhouse, the bet/cash windows, and the obvious places for restrooms and where the programs and Racing Forms are sold.  I like to watch races from various locations, so at a venue I'm exploring for the first time, I am constantly moving.  Each race is a separate puzzle with a cast of characters both human and equine.
My day at Pimlico was fun but not really one of the more memorable ones I've had at a track for the first time.  Nevertheless, when Justify steps on the historical dirt of Pimlico and the band strikes "Maryland My Maryland," I'll remember Pimlico, and toast the Preakness winner and Susan B. Anthony simultaneously.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Oh A Sis


I saw her by chance
     after 30 years
the SoCal dream glinting in their eyes,
the perspective of the photo
had the best interpretation
     the best reminder
two palm trees growing
     out of their heads
 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Black and White Spaces

April 2018
Ashland, Oregon

On this warm, windy Spring day I wondered a mile or so from the downtown section of Ashland, Oregon and found myself on the campus of Southern Oregon University.
Finding the Student Union was simple and here I sit with a fresh cup of coffee in a space where I am easily, save one, the oldest person.  I found a bathroom, a bookstore, and an internet connection with little or no effort as well.
I feel safe in this space even though I'm just passing through.  College campuses seem particularly interested in the concept of safe spaces these days and in the wake of a recent incident at Starbucks in Philadelphia some folks are unabashedly conscious of how they are being perceived by others and worry about whether to buy something or if it's even OK to wait for someone you are meeting if you don't seem busy and like you belong.
Do we want a culture of coffee shops where it's acceptable to spend a few hours taking your time?  I think so.  People work from these spaces; they spend money and extend their effort in the company of like-minded folks.

Of all the comments and consequences of two black men being arrested in a Starbucks for waiting, the most compelling commentary I've read concerns black people in white spaces.  While this is nothing new for black folks, it's alien to many white people, who assume they are safe by default.  And what exactly do we mean by safe?
So while Starbucks forgoes profit for a day and tries to make its workforce more racially sensitive, perhaps what might be more productive is to give its white employees a sense of being white in a black space.  Rather than work on a forced sense of understanding, get at the emotions behind feeling like "the other."
My experience is a bit atypical in that department because I once taught an ethnic studies program to high school students who were predominately black or in a few cases all black.  That's rare, and rightfully questioned, but it yielded an unforgettable experience.  Let me add that I was the most qualified person at the time.  But going further I did have a few other experiences where I was definitely a white person in a black space.
The first time I recall came in a small neighborhood bar in New Orleans.  While a VISTA Volunteer in 1969, some of my fellow VISTA colleagues and I traveled from Houston, Texas to New Orleans to visit some Louisiana colleagues in a section called Gert Town.  This was one of those little poverty pockets tucked inside the inner city.  At one point we entered a small tavern in this all-black neighborhood and sat at a table near the jukebox.  One of the local VISTAS knew a few folks there and within minutes two things happened.  One was a gentleman bought a pint of something (it was dark in there) and brought it to our table.  In these small bars, it was not uncommon for patrons to purchase liquor at the counter and bring it to a table.  It was less expensive that way.  We chatted with our new friend and welcomed his gesture of hospitality.  He left our table shortly afterward and that's when the second thing happened.  The place got back to normal.  People danced, they drank, and they laughed and talked.  We were an anomaly, to be sure, but the page quickly turned.  We left the bar and went back to the place across the street where we were staying.  That was about 1:00.  By 2:30, the place emptied rapidly as a jealous woman attempted to "cut" her rival before leaving herself.  Within an hour all was quiet on the homefront and another Saturday night in Gert Town was in the books.
The other experience for me came when I attended a party in Oakland about 10 years later.  My department hired a young African-American teacher and she invited everyone to a party at her home. There were about 50 people jammed into that small two bedroom apartment, but the vibe was wonderful.  The late 70s offered great dance music and these folks were intent on dancing the night away.  By midnight I realized that other department members had left and I was the only white person there.  That realization brought a surprising array of emotions with it.  Most notably, it was something I'd never experienced. Did I belong?  Was I vulnerable?  Did my presence make anyone uncomfortable?  I remember standing around after that and watching people dance.  I must have been moving to the music in some way because a woman came up to me and said," I know you want to get out there, so c'mon."  We danced a few dances and then she went into another room.  Shortly thereafter I had an interesting conversation with a man who was a detective, and then I left.  Did I belong?  Probably.  Was it a safe space for me? Definitely, my dance partner saw to that.
The takeaway for me was that I had experienced something new, a little unsettling, and most rewarding.  Most important of all, this was not an everyday experience.  I had the luxury of going years instead of hours where those emotions might resurface.  My experiences are unique to the time and place.  What I do know for sure is that we remember and reflect on our experiences through our emotions much better than through contrived experiences.  Also, we are still working on the notion of "our spaces."