changing history

February 1, 2010

Fifty years ago today, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked into a Woolworth five-and-dime with asked to order lunch. They stayed until the end of the day, when counter closed. The next day, they came back with 15 other students. By the third day, 300 joined in; later, 1,000. The sit-ins spread to lunch counters across the country — and changed history.

On MLK day in the midst of all the “I Have A Dream” clips, a couple local reporters drew some very loose analogies between a couple local campaigns and civil rights. A guy from the Mercury talked about MLK in the context of the campaign to pass a two ballot measures that would nominally raise taxes on high income earners and businesses, and the guy talked about civil rights in reference to bike rider’s rights to use the road. Both columns bummed me out and reminded me of Oregon’s overwhelming whiteness. The campaigns being discussed were legit and they have an impact on real people’s lives, but they’re not landmark movements. It’s as though those reporters failed to understand the suffering, torture and killing that were part of slavery and part of the Jim Crow south. Whether or no they intended it, I read it as this casual white wash of MLK, where not only was he was separated from his blackness, but there was no recognition of why the civil rights movement was so necessary – why people were willing to risk their lives.

When people ask me about living in Portland, I try to explain it’s overwhelming sense of whiteness. It’s uncomfortable and strange. It’s so just so white.

No Comments »

To Be Hopeful for Howard

January 28, 2010

I read Howard Zinn‘s The People’s History of the United States the year I quit the Youth Shelter, when everything in my life was all topsy-turvy and I was dealing with it by recording music down in the basement at Chateau Drink More and reading books I borrowed from Ned and Jim. After I finished the The History, I thought, wow, this Zinn guy is brilliant. How come I haven’t heard of him before? And I felt an urgent need to recommend him and his book to anyone who would listen.

When I’m feeling cynical, like I just was tonight, I like to remind myself that even in my relatively short life I have seen things change on an epic scale – the passage of the civil rights and the dismantling of apartheid – and Howard Zinn played a part in that. And when I think about that I am reminded that I won’t get the chance to play even the tiniest of parts in working for change now, if I give into the lure of cynicism.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. – Howard Zinn


2008 in photographs (part 2 of 3) – The Big Picture –

December 19, 2008

2008 in photographs (part 2 of 3) – The Big Picture –

Posted using ShareThis


extend your hand

October 15, 2008

San Francisco is not my town. Not that I thought it really was, but the first few hours I walked around I kept saying to myself wow, this is great. It rocks here. And then the buzz wore off and I got that old familiar feeling of being out of place.  I marveled a little at how I keep thinking some where besides Indiana is going to sound the bell that I’m home. So far, I’m striking out.

There is something amazing about SF though, the way so many folks can live together so closely. The unconscious and inadvertent collaboration that occurs just to move down the street and get in and out of BART. Cities remind me that people do have the capacity to cooperate with each other. I think part of it is getting people out of their cars. Getting people in each other’s proximities, even if they avoid the face to face contact. I’d like to believe all those folks walking around and chatting into cell phones that seem attached to their ears are at some level aware of the mass of humanity around them. That it seeps in down through their skin or maybe up through the soles of their shoes and unbeknown to them it changes something inside.

I know I’m likely just talking exposure here, but we’ve got to start some place, right. For me it is impossible to be in a city like SF and not be reminded of suffering. Maybe if I saw it every day I’d feel helpless or defensive and that would give rise to the indifference thats stand between me and making meaning of my life. I dunno.  I had a job for thirteen years that was all about suffering and meaning. I’ve tried to carry that forward in my familiar and intimate connections working at being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. It is messy endeavor.  And I imperfect in my practice.

This weekend in SF I was outside the ferry building and checking my messages.  I was sitting on the ground, leaning up against a column. I had my head in my hands and my phone pressed against my ear when a hand reached down. I tried to shake the hand off, but the holder just extended his or her hand closer. I looked up, but because it was sunny I never saw the face. Just heard the voice.  A guy saying, oh, you’re ok. You’re just on the phone. It’s a cheesy analogy, I know, but we can all put a hand out there, like that guy, or this guy John Records who works with the homeless in Petaluma, CA.

Give to COTS and take action to end poverty.


dark words

June 12, 2008

Some of my interest in the language we use to talk about the darker parts of ourselves and the darker parts of our world stems from being raised by parents who had intimate relationships with darkness. My dad is a WW2 combat veteran, a Marine who fought in the South Pacific, and he suffers from post traumatic stress. My mom has her own dark story to tell; the details are not mine to reveal, but suffice it to say she saw some of the worst in someone she loved dearly. So as you can imagine, lots and lots went unsaid in my household, and to be fair I don’t know how either of my parents could have described the seminal events in their lives to me and my sister.

I’ve tried to imagine my dad killing people and tried to imagine what he did to survive people trying to kill him. And I’d guess that the darkness he experienced in himself and in other people was not something he wanted us to see in him or the in the world. But at the same time he felt the most alive there in the midst of all that. I know this because he told me as much. And it breaks my heart because that made him kinda fucked. It wasn’t like he could say “Hey kids, guess what? The world can be a terrible place and I have a terrible secret. I’m really fucking good at killing people and even better at not getting killed, and lemme tell you, that right there, that gave me a reason for living. I sure wish it was you kids and your mom, but what can I tell ya. Now pack up your shit cause Daddy’s taking you to the state fair.”


catching up

March 14, 2008

Back from Austin. Whew. It kinda feels like I dreamed the whole thing up.

I’ve got a new song in rotation: Challengers from the last New Pornographer’s record.

In taking a stance for freedom of speech online, I’ve added some sex blogs to my blogroll. Enjoy or not.

And for Peggy, here’s one for the new book. Check her out for yourself.

No Comments »

thinking about things

January 16, 2008

Last night I went with my friend, A., to a Colson Whitehead talk, sponsored by a really wonderful local non-profit, Literary Arts. This winter our book group read Whitehead’s latest, Apex Hides the Hurt. It was thin on plot, but there was some brilliant writing, just brilliant, and interesting commentary on race.

My thoughts in reflection of the evening:

  • After the talk, A. and I saw Whitehead in the restaurant next door. He was shorter than I thought he looked from where we sitting in the balcony.
  • Whitehead is a very entertaining speaker. His talk was accompanied by lots of laughter. He began with quoting the beginning of Steve martin’s ‘The Jerk’.
  • Looking around the audience I couldn’t help but be reminded I live in one of the whitest cities in the US (I hate this fact). Later I wondered if the ease of laughter in response to Whitehead’s race related jokes was because there were less than a handful of African American’s in the crowd and thus no reason for all us whities to feel self-conscious.
  • A. and I sat behind a group of about 7 women who’d I’d guess were in their mid to late 60’s, maybe 70’s. At least 3 of them were futzing around with their iPhones before the talk. I would love to make something a 70 year old could use without thinking about it.
  • I don’t much like riding my bike in this cold weather, but I’m rocking on my clipless shoes, even if I look like a complete dork when I’m at a restaurant, passing Colson Whitehead in the hallway and saying ‘wonderful talk’.
  • I really wish Portland were much more intellectually stimulating and/or I could meet more New York transplants who are bored by the sleepy and outdoorsy nature of the city’s populace.