Saturday, May 29, 2004
A few notes of thanks to the friends and everyone who came out (about 70 people!) to the reading and to The Philadelphia Weekly for spotlighting the event PW A-list, and to The Fabric Workshop & Museum for hosting the event surrounded by Ernesto's sculpture "The Garden."
The biggest thanks go to Macgregor Card of Germ Folios, who published the book; artist Nicole Michels who designed the book; and to Tricia Treacy and Pointed Press who made the beautiful letterpress cover.
Thanks also to Ernesto Neto, who wrote a frank and generous afterword.
The book is a collection of over thirty letters I wrote to Neto during a two week period when I worked as a guard for his exhibition "Only the Amoebas Are Happy," at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City in the spring 2001.
Here is one of the letters:
Friday May 11, 2001
If the gallery visitors do not see the sign on the wall to remove their shoes and wear the surgical blue shoes sock covers, then I ask them to put them on. The socks, worn to protect the piece from dirty socks and feet, are also referred to as booties. Some people really love them. Some take them with them when they go; some say it will remind them of the show. One woman told me (and this is probably news to you) that if she didn't wear the booties she would somehow be missing part of the show.
One chatty fellow in his early 60's, referring to the socks, asked if I had "Anything in brown? Anything in Oxford,?" I told him, "No. Today we have the blue." He said, "How about the blue then." Another said, "I'd love to remove my shoes, but don't breath too deeply if I do." I did not.
sitting next to, not walking in another's shoes, Thomas
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
"It may or may not be true, depending on if he makes it so." - Frank Sherlock
"hypersomnia." - Dr. Ryan
Lynne: "I've never met a woman who doesn't like romance."
Conrad: "You've never met my mother!"
"I'm thinking of taking your life and putting together my own" - my bad! - i misread David Hess' handwriting on the post card.
& the Grand Finale, took place today at rush hour on the Ben Franklin Bridge to Jerse after a middle aged white guy in a plum colored newish Ford Taurus LX almost bashed into the side of my car by swerving into my lane, which prompted me to honk and him to tailgate, honk back and flip me off before speeding up to the left side of me on the beautiful B.F. Bridge, stretching across the empty passenger seat, screaming out the window:
"DIE, YOU FUCKING WHORE!"
dag, i only wish i had thought of it first
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Well that's a good thing to hear.
For me (she said) a vegetarian diet would be for the sake the animals, and the environment. But I really can't imagine giving up meat and dairy.
I told her about the simple mathematics involved with eating meat. And how I had shared my simple plan with a few PETA members who told me that I should scrap the idea and insist on all or nothing.
The problem is this: we cannot afford (with the growing size of human population) to turn away anyone who wants to make an alteration to their diet away from meat, even if it means part-time.
Here's the simple facts for everyone: it takes 16 pounds of plant matter to make 1 pound of animal flesh (cow (meat or dairy), chicken (meat or eggs), pig, fish, etc.).
If you are someone who fully understands the enormous STRESS on the environment (not to mention the stress on the animals), and wants to make some contribution to this world's shrinking food supply, and cleaner air, cleaner water, and more space, here's what everyone can do.
You really DON'T have to quit eating meat altogether. Now, I know there are vegetarians who want to kick my ass for saying this, but it's TRUE! Any contribution you can give is really an amazing gift! Sounds corny? Sounds weird?
Look at this:
If you give up eating animal and animal products JUST 2 DAYS A WEEK
(at 16 pounds of plant matter for 1 pound of animal)
You will free up 32 pounds of plant matter a week.
In one year, you can free up 1,664 pounds of plant matter, and an enormous amount of oil, human, and others resources, which are wasted on meat production.
If you give up eating animal and animal products for 3 days a week,
you free up 48 pounds of plant matter a week,
and 2,496 pounds of plant matter a year!
Give up consuming animals 4 days a week,
you free up 64 pounds of plant matter a week,
and 3,328 pounds a year!
5 days a week,
free up 80 pounds a week,
and 4,160 a year!
6 days a week,
gives the world an extra 96 pounds of plant matter a week,
and 4,992 pounds a year!
7 days a week, you're a vegan,
and you free up an amazing 112 pounds of plant matter a week,
and 5,824 pounds a year!
If you're at all interested in being part of this change for the planet, start NOW! Just 2 days a week, that's all! If you can do 1 day a week, you can handle 2.
If everyone TOMORROW gave up consuming animals and animal products for just 2 days a week, this world would SHIFT so quickly that it would throw governments into chaos, and we'd all have to start thinking about how best to redistribute the wealth.
Not one person on this planet would starve, and our electricity and fuel shortages would come to an end. Plenty for everyone, because there is plenty.
In the name of ELVIS, who is all love,
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
a machine is BETTER customer service!? you wave your boarding pass under a beam of light and it sends you on your way, and that's better? were the people who were tearing tickets too slow? or? i don't get it!
but of course what's to get is that it's a bullshit cover-up.
this, at a time when US Air is laying off 4,000 employees.
and of course US Air executives takes care of "company" losses at tax time with bigger tax breaks for hard times, and gobbles a little on the corporate welfare meatloaf our working tax dollars cook in the oven.
but the poor fuckers who get laid off have to PAY TAXES ON THEIR unemployment benefits checks, which are already a mere blot of their usual take home. and they've ALREADY paid taxes on this money, as every penny they earned was already taxed before it was divvied up.
paying taxes on an EMERGENCY security blanket (for families) is outrageous. but some of them are simply MAKING WAY for better customer service, so maybe it's not so bad.
with irritation and love,
Monday, May 17, 2004
I'll never forget HEARING Taggart for the first time! 1995? It was at the Temple Cinematec, in Temple University's old center city building. That sunken-in classroom with the big movie screen. Fran Ryan was also there, you Frank, and Chris McCreary, and Matt McGoldrick also, I believe. And Gil Ott had a table set up with his press's books, and old copies of PAPER AIR (wish I had had the money to buy those magazines at the time).
But HEARING Taggart changed everything about understanding his poems. From that point on I knew HOW to read those poems. He was chanting lullaby as reader. I had never heard anyone ever read poems like that, and never have again since. He was extraordinary!
He read like those delicate (full of grace notes) piano pieces by Erik Satie.
I can't help but compare Taggart to music pieces or musicians.
He was someone I was trying to reach in order to gain a recording of his reading to publish on FREQUENCY Audio Journal. As many people as possible need to hear Taggart READ his poems! It's almost ridiculous trying to explain what it's like hearing him, ridiculous because it's IN MY HEAD, but there's no way to convey. And that's why I want to make an extra effort to get a recording of him reading for our 2nd issue of FREQUENCY.
I get the impression that Taggart doesn't get enough press, and that Taggart doesn't push for it either. He's just out there writing his amazing poems (I'm looking forward to reading his new book) and it's poets like us who are filled with the sense of community and enthusiasm to talk him up, spread the word. Glad you sparked some conversation on him!
We need to get him back here to Philly again for another reading dammit! Maybe you can ask him for La Tazza? Or somewhere else if not there. And maybe I can FINALLY find out what that Simone Weil quote was at the top of his one poem. It was a sublime quote, and I remember trying to ask him about it, but was bulldozed by another poet, a bulldozer kind of poet, but I'm not telling names. But I went to talk to Gil instead of listening to the revving of the bulldozer engine.
Hey, wasn't Brett Evans also at that reading?
By the way, Gil Ott is of course another of these poets who made his own way.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
But Frank I'm glad you came back from the store with your report of the Samuel Delany reading. All the readings are almost always gender divided there, and frankly, most any other queer "community" reading, or event is the same. But they're also racially divided, and boy oh boy are they divided by class. Drag queens are about the only ones who will appear at any and all events it seems, which makes me happy because drag queens can't please me enough!
A few years ago I attended the screening of PRIDE DIVIDE, a documentary which tried to answer WHY gay men and lesbians don't get along. The director and a panel of 4 or 5 "important" Philadelphia queer "community" leaders were there for Q&A after the screening. The film was not very effective in answering the deeper questions, which I believe have to do with class. When I was given the opportunity to speak, I pointed out that ALL the members of the panel were wealthy business owners, and how, with our continued focus on consumption of goods and services being the way to win America over to gay rights, those without money in the "community" are being left behind. The panel being a perfect example, power and money being synonymous with being able to speak for the "community" as a whole.
Lesbians really DON'T always have as much money as gay men. I saw this on a daily basis at Giovanni's Room. There are men who will BLOW a couple hundred bucks a week on skin zines and "art books" (fancy porn), while the women were often paying in exact change for a sale book. People can get as tired as they want hearing about feminism, and hearing about the unequal stand financially and otherwise between men and women, but getting tired of hearing it ain't making it change one bit! And when I brought up issues of class, the panel had nothing to say, literally, nothing. The director said something like, "Hmm, that's interesting." That's interesting? What kind of bullshit is that? That fucking panel was a disgrace!
If they had asked Rita Odessa, head of the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Task Force to be on the panel, they would have heard a different story. Rita would have championed my views and used her time on stage to REALLY educate us all. The only woman on the panel was the head of the Triangle Group, some fancy yuppie, Republican, Log Cabin headed organization for gay and lesbian business owners. It was bar and club owners on stage for crying out loud! The same people who NOW get awards for "community service." Huh?
By the way, as a matter of historical fact, it was lesbians who got the ball rolling, right from the beginning. Tough, crazy, fierce women who pushed the system as far as they could to create a movement which would attempt to provide safety for gay men and women. It was butch lesbians and drag queens duking it out with cops at the Stonewall riot! All the young Republican types FLEEING out the backdoor. This I heard from Marsha P. Johnson, the drag queen who literally threw the first brick in the riot, who was homeless at the time she gave the speech I heard.
But if it hadn't been for the thousands of lesbians across America in the 60s and 70s creating co-ops to pull their meager funds to print radical newspapers and hire lawyers, there would have never been a gay movement. And these asshole "community leaders" wouldn't be strutting on stage to accept their awards today.
By the way, I'm in an anthology that's been forthcoming for several years now called Everything I Wear Is Blue. It's an anthology of queer working class writers. It's been nearly impossible for the editor to find a publisher, and that's no surprise, especially now with the PUSH to pretend harder than ever that everything's peachy with our economy, etc. There's plenty of money in the gay publishing industry to print the garbage the gay Republican Party leaders have to say. And there doesn't seem to be enough trees in the world for anthologies of gay first time sex, gay first time anything. I'm thinking about pulling together an anthology of gay last time sex, where survivors of couples write about the last time they made love. Actually, my idea is that it NOT be gay, but include gay, straight, or whatever. And WHERE'S the anthology of cranky rickety old gay writers!? Maybe with the aging Baby Boomers we'll finally see such a book come to print?
Friday, May 14, 2004
Delany read at La Tazza earlier this spring, and I was familiar with the work he selected. Though I missed the very beginning, I believe he read exclusively from the recently re-released The Motion of Light on Water. It's an autobiography of sorts, recounting drag shows at The Apollo, seasons at summer camp, & entertaining Old Man Auden in the Village, bluffing Auden that he "scribbled science fiction, to survive." (Delany had only written five pages at the time.) Delany's vocally animated reading style & character-distinct tonal range made it the reading particularly interesting & engaging, a rarity for me at prose readings.
During the post-reading discussion, the author was asked to speak about the differences between writing fiction & autobiography. The answer was "There’s very little difference." Delany writes through fiction as real just like autobiography, with just one vital difference. He spends hours & hours at a time creating a fictional world at the genesis of a piece, then writes/lives through it as actual past-present-future life.
He addressed an interesting theory that the Right will undo its institutions ultimately by opposing gay marriage, since the alternatives that gay couples seek & establish will eventually entice heterosexuals to also seek options outside the framework of marriage. Delany stops short of championing gay weddings, since he doesn't recommend marriage for anyone- an arrangement of unequals with often unpleasant outcomes, citing spousal power imbalances in novels from George Sand on. Delany is an ex-husband and has a partner outside the institution. He considers the latter a much more agreeable climate for a relationship to continue to grow.
Here's a hot, only somewhat reliable tip. Samuel R. Delany's next book will not be SF or autobiography, but a How-To book on maintaining an open relationship. You heard it here first. It may or may not be true, depending on if he makes it so.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
I took this a little bit personal, and not without some confusion. Taggart's LOOP was maybe the most important book of the nineties for me. And Ron had to convince himself to get through it? That book, Taggart's most successful use of the ecstatic reiterative, was/is something akin to magic, a sense of Sufism in its repeated utterances. Reading "Marvin Gaye Suite" aloud gave me one of the purest joys poetry has ever given me. So what gives?
Well, I’ve just reinforced Silliman's read on Taggart in the nineties. The repetitive "looping" of language used for effect, performative, & a drift toward the spiritual- Ron's take on JT's direction couldn't be more accurate. It's his statement's conclusion that I couldn't resolve. "I found it harder & harder to convince myself that I ought actually to read his work."
While this is something I haven't quite resolved, it has given me the opportunity to consider timing- in writing & in reading. When I discovered LOOP in the early-mid nineties, I was a young buck stuck in a generational jam. Experimentally inclined poets my age were defining themselves in two camps- LANGUAGE & anti-LANG. All the Politics that accompanied this perceived dualism (yes Politics with a capital P) seemed claustrophobic & limiting. I was never much of a NY Schooly kind of guy, but I didn’t want to write like Charles Bernstein either- since Charles Bernstein is still being Charles Bernstein better than I could ever hope to. The work I was drawn to were certainly roots or branches of the Language School tree, but where could I go experimentally that wouldn’t be technical parroting & soul-less device do-overs?
That’s were Taggart's LOOP came in. With such a shift from his earlier influences, his work encouraged me to abandon the perimeters that kept me worried about everything but the writing. After LOOP I wasn't writing with "sides" in mind, I was writing for myself. I was heartened by JT's turn away from his established position to chase down a new vision- sometimes great and (as in some of the post-LOOP collections) sometimes not as successful.
How do I convince Ron that the works in question ought to be read? I don't. JT departed from the place where Silliman most closely identified with him at some point- the work he was most fond of. I came to Taggart's work a good twenty years later, discovering a different JT music, only coming to fully appreciate the earlier work later. So Ron's got his Taggart, & I've got mine. I still find myself coasting into ruts of what I "ought to be reading" over & over. But at an important time in my writing life John Taggart took me out of the ruts & off the road. It was a matter of timing.
Of course, I can think of a number of experimental writers that have made similar departures in the very same decade, but LOOP's the one that knocked me off my horse. So many poets have done the same for younger writers at crucial points of their development- I’d love to hear about them. This is not intended as even a partial literary history of the nineties, but a personal reading history.
It was an opportunity, a RARE opportunity for us to sit in a room, and view a recently made documentary about what is going on in Iraq. We were given the chance to see footage of the landscape of Baghdad, with it's incredible suffering, and it's beautiful art schools and museums and libraries destroyed beyond repair. We got to see our contribution to pain.
But it bothered me that when it came time to listen to an American GI tell his feelings about what it meant for him to be there, the audience hissed, and made fun of this man, making very obvious damning comments which landed square on this man's class. Okay, it was clear that the man didn't have the best education, didn't have the best command of English, and most likely came from poor, working people somewhere in the states. But most likely so did the Asian American and African American soldiers who were also interviewed in the documentary. But there was no sound whatsoever made when these soldiers were interviewed. And as soon as the white GI opened his mouth there was nonstop mockery, all around me, in the entire room.
I was literally sitting in the middle of about 70 to 80 audience members, 99% of us white, and probably 75% to 80% of the room making elitist comments and noise surrounding this white GI. Where was the empathy at this point? Why can't we have empathy HERE?
America's biggest problem isn't racial inequality, it's class. Racial and gender politics fall into line behind class. This is most evident with the gay community (if there actually is such a thing as the gay community, because I for one do not believe it exists in any way outside of class distinction.) The other night I was hanging out with my boyfriend (or whatever he is) and he wanted to watch Will & Grace. Frankly, I hate television outside of the news, but I said okay. And I was so appalled by that show. I'm glad I agreed to watch it finally, so that I could get a gauge on just how despicable it is. The writers of that show make me want to puke. Here we have the epitome of what gay culture is presently, not only as it appears to be seen, but how it actually is in some senses, but modified in such a way that it makes it seem okay. Will and Jack are trying to convert a fuzzy-faced gay man into an acceptable form for dating. Will openly talks about the role of gay men buying homes in poor neighborhoods to create a gentrified community, and run the poor people off the block.
Let me just stick with that example from the show. Open the Philadelphia Gay News and turn toward the back of the paper and you will see (no lie) FIVE FULL PAGES of sheriff sales. Unless you're gay, you're probably not opening the Philadelphia Gay News, and wouldn't know. But it's been this way for quite awhile now, that that newspaper devotes pages and pages of ink and paper to sheriff sales. Now, it's different if a family wants to buy a house, and they want to raise their children, etc. It's another thing altogether to buy blocks of houses from the cost of misfortune and to jack the prices, rents, taxes, etc., which then destroys neighbors who might have been living there for generations.
This is a very long example of what I'm meaning about empathy missing at the table when it comes to class. It's an old story, but we need to make it new. We need to STOP seeing this world as anything but ourselves, our collective lives. We need to start seeing how we affect everyone and everything with our daily purchases, our taxes we pay, etc.
Empathy is always strongest with those who suffer, or who at least encounter suffering. It's a very unpopular subject, but in the early 1970s when China forced teenagers in Shanghai and other large cities to move into the country to work on farms, it was empathy that was the goal. I'm NOT saying that I agree with the tactic, so don't start with the hate mail here. I'm saying that I believe that the ultimate GOAL was to create empathy. Actually, send hate mail, I don't care. It's true! That was the goal! Did it succeed? I'm sure in some cases yes, and others no. But I'll always remember dating Jian, a young man from Shanghai, who told me that if it had NOT been for this action made by his country's government, that his mother would not have been given the opportunity to become a doctor. And that most likely he today would not be studying at Jefferson in Philadelphia to also become a doctor. His mother grew up in a very poor farming community in rural China, a community Jian says which is always on the brink of starvation and disaster. And it was when city kids were made to work on the farms, that there were several well-off kids who worked on his mother's farm, and noticed her intelligence and curiosity for the world. They convinced their parents to help her go to college. And because of this, generations of lives in Jian's family would be forever changed. Now, we're also talking about Jian, who has no sympathy or empathy for the poor. He would LITERALLY say that the homeless should be exterminated for their own good. He had a cruelty and lack of empathy to him that eventually made it impossible for us to stay together, just one generation after his mother's hardships. But anyway, my long point here is that there have been cultures who have noticed the favorable sides of forced empathy. And of course it was horrible for these families in the cities to be split apart to complete the goals of this governmental program. It's awful, and I'm not recommending it, but my hope is that we find some way to achieve this form of empathy on our own, without tyrannical intervention.
We have of course experienced such things, in similar ways in the states. Forcing all-white communities to accept black students is forced empathy. And it was hard, very hard for everyone involved, but in the end was good. We've experienced this with forced bussing. Making a racial mix in the school system in the North as well as the South, in order to force empathy racially. It is interesting that it's ONLY been done to force racial empathy. We've NEVER ONCE (correct me if I'm wrong here) forced bussing to create class empathy. It's never been the case that we force rich kids in one PUBLICLY FUNDED Public School to attend classes with underprivileged PUBLICLY FUNDED Public School kids. Something to think about.
Maybe I seem FAR AWAY from my original topic with the viewing of ABOUT BAGHDAD, but I tell you I'm NOT! The fact is, we're living in a country where middle and upper middle class white people (to some degree) will have extraordinary guilt around racial issues, but will have NONE when it comes to -in particular-poor whites.
On Mother's Day when talking to my mother, she told me that my cousin Gloria's younger son just came back from Iraq. The high school had an event complete with marching band to welcome him home. I had thought, by the way, that he was in the marines, like his older brother, but he was in fact a reservist. Anyway, my mother started crying when talking about this. And I said to her how I understand that these young men in our family come from nothing, nothing in the sense of no money, and how REALLY FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE their situations are out there in Iowa. And how, putting on those uniforms not only gives them opportunities that they wouldn't easily come by -such as jobs, such as tuition money, etc.-but also, putting on those uniforms really makes them FEEL like SOMEBODY. And THAT is exactly what I was thinking when watching ABOUT BAGHDAD last week. That young white guy in his desert colored army fatigues was talking with pride. He believes he is there to do good, to help people. And you know what?, he PROBABLY IS! It's so easy for us to sit in a room in Philadelphia on Quaker owned land, and judge and mock this soldier. But he does believe it. He spoke with pride, and he spoke with confidence, and I'm not for one second agreeing with his statements about how he believes our president is doing a good job, but I do believe good changes have been made. You cannot watch this documentary ABOUT BAGHDAD and hear those horrible interviews from people about the tortures that they underwent under Saddam and NOT believe that there is some relief to some of the suffering. Are we creating more suffering in other ways? Of course! It would be idiotic to say anything but YES! But that young, 19 or 20 year old white kid believes strongly that he is empathizing with the people of Iraq. And I believe him.
The people in the audience who hissed and mocked him with "Gollllllly" and other dumb sounding language have some work to do on empathy. This war is without a doubt, to the benefit of the rich. It's the rich who should be mocked. It's the rich who are sending us there to build an empire unlike any the world has ever seen. The rich, and even the slightly rich in America have been buffering themselves (because they can afford to) from empathy for the poor. It's this buffer which endangers the existence of the human race. Dare I sound so dramatic? Yes.
Friday, May 07, 2004
The film screening:
The filmmakers Adam Shapiro (from American University), and Maya Mikdashi (from Georgetown University) were there for Q&A, which made me very happy.
So many things happened to me, personally, emotionally, during the film, and the Q&A helped me sort it all out afterwards. These issues will come out as I write this post.
Maya Mikdashi said before the film rolled, that her own goal with the making of this documentary last summer (July, 2003), was to show how "war is about people, not cruise missiles." And that was appreciated, not so much a disclaimer, but as a way of opening up to her idea she set for herself as a filmmaker.
At first I was annoyed with the camera crew not having control over their fucking equipment, and the blurry focus, etc., that kept happening. But it was easy to forgive that, and to "focus" on what people were saying instead. Then there was the issue with the cameras shooting things that made no sense. For instance there was about a fifteen-second shot of water brimming over a square concrete hollow structure, but the voice-over wasn't talking about water, at all, and I wasn't sure if the water was clean, dirty, what the hell was with the water? There were little things like that once in a while.
One of the things that was not only annoying but suspicious, was a very short scene of two children ripping a photograph of Saddam Hussein out of a book and then ripping the photograph to pieces. It was suspicious because:
a) we couldn't see their faces.
b) it was done in slow-MO while a voice-over of a man from the previous scene was talking, but what he was saying had nothing to do with this scene.
At the Q&A, I was sure I'd only have a chance at one question. So this was my question, asking about that scene. Was the scene natural? Who were these children? Did they just grab this book and do this on their own? Or was the whole thing staged?
Adam Shapiro went on and on about it, saying, no, basically, it was not staged. Adam kind of irritated me, talking and talking and talking about things that had nothing to do with the questions. But at one point he had slipped into his answer that that scene was Maya's scene. So, when he was finished talking, I quickly asked her, "So that was your scene?" She nodded, and went onto assure me that that scene was completely natural. That they had been shooting, and had wandered into a used book stand, and there were these two children, and the two children got to talking with them about the war. And they grabbed this book, which Maya says was a French book on Iraqi history, and they ripped the page of Saddam out. Maya seemed to appreciate my question, and thanked me for bringing it up, while Adam was defensive and annoyed by the question. But if you see the film, maybe you'll understand why I would ask the question, since, to me, the scene seemed staged. But maybe the feeling was the children themselves, their actions. And the integrity of the filmmakers came to mind for me, since I'm always questioning documentation, especially visual documentation.
(As I had mentioned earlier today in the post about the Wolfowitz protest, the Inquirer photographer asked me to stand a certain way with my sign. I was not giving in, and although he was amused by my refusal, I meant what I said to him, that I believe such things to be unethical. Are you documenting? Or are you featuring a script? Asking someone to turn their head slightly and move their sign a different direction is NOT documenting! That sort of thing makes me never believe anything I see on the news!)
The film was remarkable in the rich series of interviews they pulled together. One of my favorites was an old man, talking about the humiliation the Americans have brought him and his country, making them beg for money and bread. He almost started to cry from his rage, but caught himself. He then launched into this amazing recounting of the British occupation of Baghdad in 1916. After you hear this man, one thing is made clear, and that is that whether it was British rule, Saddam's rule, or American rule, the one constant has been the suffering of the Iraqi people. This old man made me CHOKE on my tax payment guilt. It was almost unbearable seeing him in so much pain.
Another interview that blew me away was with an amazing woman who was a lawyer who took on a case against Uday Hussein. She was convinced that her client was telling the truth about Uday's crimes of stealing property, and other things. She was arrested, and the prison she was thrown into was unlike any other hell described in the entire film. She said she wished they had killed her, that the beatings and being submerged in shit and urine was more than any man she knew could take. She made it through. And when they released her, she drew a picture of a cockroach on Saddam's palace wall and wrote beneath it, "SADDAM IS A COCKROACH!" Which of course landed her in the palace prison, where she endured an even worse torture. She said that she saw her client being electrocuted because the door was ajar. It seems that they wanted her to witness this torture.
The accounts of people from al-Dujail were the worst. I can't even remember all of the different forms of torture these people talked about. Many of them showed the acid burns on their legs and feet. They talked about being placed in rooms that the guards dumped buckets of lice into, and the lice climbed the walls, and then bit the men until they bled. Then there was some other form of torture where they'd starve the men, then put a loaf of bread on a stake, then make them go for it with their teeth. The man who caught the loaf was deemed the worst dog, and I forget what happened to him, but something awful happened to him. One thing I remember was Saddam fleeing the area. There was one main road out of town, and Saddam had 300 cars, 299 of them decoy cars. The revolt took out several of the first few, but Saddam was really in one of the last cars in the line out of there.
Something interesting was the scene where they shoot footage of the bombed communications building. The building was civilian communications, where most of the major outside long-distance phone lines were housed. That building was obliterated, and the camera shots showed how and where bombs hit the structure. It was apparently known to not be a military communications facility, but of course once it was put out of commission, no one had any way of contacting the outside world.
When Maya was talking about her ideas of Globalization really being Polarization, she quoted Henry Kissenger as saying that, "the longer the Iran, Iraq war lasted, the better it would be for the United States." Not surprising I guess, but creepy nonetheless.
There's so much more to mention, in particular the College of Fine Arts, which was completely destroyed, I mean, completely. The library was the most haunting camera shot, the books a fine white ash heaped all over the floor and everywhere else you looked. Incredible loss!
The footage in the hospitals was the most potent of course. You see babies in the worst possible conditions. It's enough to make you vomit!
There's all that, then there's the interviews with American soldiers. I was saving this for close to the end, because I was so upset by this, and I didn't want that anger to spill over into anything else. But it was one of those situations where I transferred audience reaction to the filmmakers themselves. For instance, here's this white guy in his army attire, and he's talking about how he feels that he's there to do good. Says he wants to help people. The audience, ALL AROUND ME, was really pissing me off! EVERYONE around me! People saying, "Well dawg gone-it!" Stuff like that. Which is weird, because the soldier wasn't Southern, but whenever someone wants to imitate white trash, they put on a Southern accent it seems. It's so annoying! BUT WHAT WAS HE SUPPOSED TO SAY FOR FUCK SAKE!? He seemed sincere to me! He really did! And the fact of the matter is, I'm MORE THAN certain he's had PLENTY of Iraqi people come up to him and tell him their horror stories of torture, and glad that he has come to Iraq. I'm sure he's seen this and much more. It just pissed me off, the elitist, class bullshit. These middle and upper middle class anarchist and Quaker 20-somethings acting like they know anything at all about this guy!
When Q&A got going, Adam volunteered to say that they had not in any way tried to portray this soldier in a bad light. Maybe he was also annoyed by the crowd as well? But to be honest, I was so angry at the crowd's response, that I transferred it onto the filmmakers themselves. And it now reminds me of going to see Michael Moore at Penn last year. Someone had asked him from the audience why he made fun of the rabbit lady in Roger & Me? He asked the person what they meant. The person said that the woman in Roger & Me who sells rabbits for meat and fur in the film was being mocked my Moore. Michael Moore shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, I think this is more about you than it is me, because I found her to be tragic. If you found it funny, you need to ask yourself why she was funny." So I believe that my anger tonight was unfounded, that in fact they hadn't meant to make the soldier look stupid, that it was the IRRITATING bigoted audience of superior breeding!
I could go on, but I'm getting tired. And I wanted to add some weblinks I gathered tonight:
Iraq Aftermath: The Human Face of War
American Friends Service Committee, features on-the-ground stories about current life in Baghdad, written by staff living there.
Humanitarian Information Center for Iraq
Established by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Includes maps, media center, and weekly assessments by UN agencies.
Iraq Body Count
An independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military actions by the USA and its allies in 2003.
Informative site with analysis and reports. Brought to you by the folks who developed Electronic Intifada in collaboration with Voices in the Wilderness.
Iraq Occupation Watch
Supported by United for Peace and Justice, this site is primarily a portal for news articles.
Coalition Provisional Authority
Reports and updates from the US Military.
Valuable resource with analysis and commentary about the impact of debt.
This is a network of business people, lawyers, doctors, economists, politicians, civil society groups and many others working to ensure that the Iraqi people--emerging from decades of war, oppression and sanctions--are not forced to pay Saddam's bills.
Glad I made it to this film, hope you too can get a chance to see it. Here's the film's webpage: ABOUT BAGHDAD
Thursday, May 06, 2004
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arrived at 1pm to address the World Affairs Council at the Hyatt Regency near Penn's Landing in Philadelphia today, in place of Donald Rumsfeld, who has plenty of other things to address elsewhere.
A woman named Kitty needed help with her banner, and asked if I'd like to stand on the North west corner of Walnut and Delaware with a huge sign that said US OUT OF IRAQ! There were not very many of us, 50 altogether, but for a small group, the tactic to have HUGE signs and spread out on all corners of the busy avenue was a very smart idea.
For two hours I stood there with this sign, which was the first thing vehicles headed south would see as they'd approach the stoplight. 90% of everyone, no matter what race, gender, what model or make of car they were in, gave honks and thumbs up. That was a great experience frankly. The most enthusiastic were the men of Waste Management in their garbage trucks, hooting and shooting peace signs. The FTD Florist guy smiled and waved, he was so goddamed handsome!
There were of course those who screamed and told us to DIE and gave us the finger. At one point this car full of pimply, angry hothead young white guys with shaved heads screamed something I couldn't hear. THEN, remarkably, threw a handful of (of all things!) Fritos at me at the red light! Well, of ALL the American snack foods presently on your local mini-mart's shelves, Fritos is my FAVORITE! I picked a couple up and ate them and thanked them with a smile, and they got honked at for extending their stay at the light to see what the hell I was doing. They called me a faggot (which, to their credit, was a perfect call), and drove off, honking and screaming at the next corner of protesters.
An old man with a VFW baseball cap came up to us, each of us, and YELLED, spitting, literally spitting with anger, pointing to the direction of the Korean War Memorial and telling us to honor, not shame the dead who died for us. I pointed across the street, where, at the South East corner were a group of people with a bell and bullhorn who were listing the names of the dead in Iraq.
"Do you hear that? We ARE honoring the dead. Those are--"
"--SHUT UP! I know what they're doing!"
He took a photograph of a couple of young women near me with signs which read PEACE IS PATRIOTIC! I thought maybe they could talk some sense into him. One of the young women started to speak to him about what her sign meant, and he said to her, "I'M GETTING THIS PHOTO DEVELOPED SO I CAN PLAY DARTS WITH IT!"
He was outnumbered though. All those in favor of war and occupation were outnumbered on those corners of Philadelphia today. When I wasn't dealing with the few counter protests, I was standing there, in the sun, soaking in the slightly distant, though very clear-sounding names of the dead being read. A man would read a name of a soldier (many many Latino names I noticed), and someone would strike a very loud, low-toned bell, which would resonate into the next name. After about a dozen of these American soldier's names, he'd pass the bullhorn to a woman who would read a dozen names of Iraqi's killed in the war.
It was interesting hearing both sets of names weaving together, across the bright day of busy commuters, half of which on cell phones, irritated by the traffic which was slowing to see what we were up to.
A Lincoln Towncar pulled over at the red light, and an old man leaned over his white haired wife and yelled, "YOU SHOULD TURN THAT AROUND!" What? "YOUR SIGN!" You mean instead of US OUT OF IRAQ, IRAQ OUT OF US!? "YOU HEAR ME! YOU HEAR ME!" What the FUCK was that old man smoking this morning? I am wondering now, hmm, well, what was that? What the HELL did he mean, exactly!?
George Washington crossed that river just behind us some 230 years ago. And an hour into the protest we got to see the police escort bring Wolfowitz up the street. There he was, and he walked quickly into the front door, followed by (odd) about a dozen or so young boys--maybe 13 or 14?--in identical suits with blue and yellow emblems on the upper left of each jacket. What the hell was that about? Some junior Republican squad? The names of the dead continued through his arrival, his speech, and his departure. The wooden teeth of Washington petrified, and petrified.
At one point a photographer from the Philadelphia Inquirer took my photo. He said I was photogenic, which flipped my spring fever switch, as I thought he was fetching. He told me to move a certain way, and I said that that was unethical to ask me to stand a certain way. He was amused, and quite sexy in his amusement. He asked me who I was with, and I said, "Well the Philly Sound Poets of course!" The what? He wanted to know more. These middle aged newspaper men have a kind of weird film over them, how do I describe it? Something that makes them kind of grubby, but serious, and seriously HOT! I could go on...
There were a few rainbow banners for peace, and they came over to talk to me, having remembered me from when I worked at Giovanni's Room. One of the lesbians asked if I'd like to stand with them, and, I don't know where exactly this came from, but I said, "I'm a poet queer, not a queer poet." We were all confused. But it was clear it was a no. But it was okay that they asked, and nice that they asked. And it was kind of cool that they were out there. I'm just tired of talking about being queer. I just want to have my life with poems, and have sex with various boyfriends, and that's about that. My friends don't care that I'm queer, and I don't care that they're not queer, unless of course they are queer, and everyone's fine with everyone.
The clergy were interesting, very serious looking, and answering all kinds of questions for the cameras and reporters. I hate the church, any church, but really, I need to shut up once in a while, and see what I already know: that there are some pretty fucking radical folks in the church. Their banner had a drawing of Martin Luther King, and a quote from him about War No More! One woman pastor, she had something to say to the reporters about King and his protest of the Vietnam War. I like that she brought that up, because it is something that can reach all kinds of people that might not be so reachable.
Hundreds and hundreds of photographs of the dead from this war, rows and columns of photographs on these large black and white banners along the avenue. It was something that made the protest very VERY potent.
For those of you living East of Broad Street in Philadelphia, you'll be glad to know that Randolph was present. He's running for Congress as an independent in the 1st District this year. Here's his website: http://www.randolph04.org
Also there were members of the Committee to End the Occupation of Iraq: http://www.endocciraq.org And they are having a forum they are calling Iraq Challenges the US Occupation on Friday, May 21st, 7pm, at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street.
Also, TONIGHT at the Quaker Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, the film ABOUT BAGHDAD will be showing. http://www.aboutbaghdad.com
Maybe I'll see you there!
Monday, May 03, 2004
Writing on isolation with you Hassen, at first seemed like a strange thing to do. You know, working out the words with someone else on the topic of isolation, it seemed funny really. But why not? I mean, it's happened in both our lives, and served our present lives in different ways, so why not examine it?
With me, isolation was something forced. And mostly, that's why I react so negatively when confronted with it as a topic. I much prefer community. But I'm capable of seeing how vital isolation was to my creative life, and I hope that we can both get personal in this discussion, really talk about our lived examples of isolation and creativity. But for me, I think I'm stepping into this water slowly. I want to ask some bigger questions first (if only for myself, which you may or may not be interested in following or adding to), then place my own life in there, by example, I suppose.
"Why does isolation work?" is my gnawing question. It's a splintered answer, probably impossible to gather all the shards together. But maybe a better question which is inside this first question might be, "Why the need to be removed from others to create?"
When I think of the ancient cultures we all come from, it seems that being creative was such a part of our communal space. Making a bowl, making it function, making it beautiful. Useful art makes so much sense because it's something we need, and we need it not just out of need to feed ourselves, but to feed others, our family, and visitors. And to say that that art was more simple back then is to deny everything about it really, because, where an "artist" today will sacrifice aspects of their life to paint it all on a canvas, the ancient bowl maker had all the same complexities LIVED, with this bowl at the end as statement for the life. The art was in the living, and the bowl was the masterpiece gift of that living, to share. I'm not being very specific of course, and if we look at cultures like today's Bali, we can get a better view of the carry-over of the ancient creativity. In Bali, everything seems beautiful, because everyone is busy making everything beautiful, everyone is involved in the art of decorating useful objects. And it's also important to point out that they have no word for "artist," as though there's no need to have that separate distinction between people.
Going to galleries and museums is important, because these "artists" of our own time and culture have worked so hard to share their discoveries of our infinite connections into the singular act of breathing, or seeing, or love. They've chosen to examine it all and we can stand there and see ourselves. And whether they go into isolation to create or not, they still have been held by the bowl maker in some way, because we all have been carried forward by the bowl maker.
Also carried out of the past are all those outrageous lies, the superstitious angst. To be honest, it seems to me that religion has so much more to do with needing isolation than we might think at first. With religion, even if you have fought against its rising waters all your life, you develop gills like everyone else, and you're in it, and although you may not be a believer, and may not give into its demands, it permeates everything, just the same. It's always there, its awful lessons, making a test of desire, and the only way to sometimes deal with it is to shut ourselves away. Or to stand in it, daily tormented with decisions based on deserving desired people and things. And in a way capitalism itself has been this enormous tidal wave of desire which has rushed over the planet in response to that horror of denial, and it too creates its own demands and fills our entire way of life. And then isolation from consumerism becomes another method of coping in order to create.
isolation, well. i'm not sure if it's a point to be made now, but your bowl
is more about craftsmanship as it relates specifically to human
physical efficiency. a flourish to the practical aspect, maybe as well as
the representational. while that type of thing is lovely, i'm not so
interested in that process as i am at art created via a tabula rasa, or a
more raw? organic? sub/pre-conscious projection, which, to me, is about
self-examination and facilitating one's evolution through creative
expression and future-self definition. this is a very different process than
bowl-making from my perspective. or at least for my part in this discussion.
there is craft to be made & found in both processes. in any process. i am
mostly interested in the craft that is developed a little more directly from
the mind. yes, surrealism, but with maybe a greater emphasis on direction
and ultimately, yes, these inner progressions through the creative act, can
very much affect other humans & community. however, the process of
development may require isolation from the audience.
i'm not sure i understand what you mean with regard to isolation and
religion. as religion has been for me an external conditioned response to my
senses/surroundings and therefore something i could change if not eradicate
if i saw fit. i can reason (thankfully!) my own evolution from the control
of superstition and mystic definition, as i see it. we don't need to carry
out these programs. especially if we find that we are uncomfortable or
tormented by them. isolation, for me, has allowed an arena to wrestle and
examine such rooted thought patterns from socio/religious teaching and form
my preferred belief system - one i found more nurturing and/or gratifying if
not simply more logical (yes, i said it, and i don't mean empirical).
without isolation, i would be doomed to a life of disappointment and
oppression. it was necessary that i be removed, whether by my own hand or
another's, from community, as it was community that defined & imposed an
intolerable reality in my childhood.
isolation is quite different from religion. it is the state in which we
confront, head-on, our psyche without distraction. it is not water but the
state we find ourselves in the water. and in this state can we free-form
possibilities without stipulation. this is where we are allowed to work out
of the straight-jacket of our conditioning. that is, if we're not petrified
with the sublimity or horror of it/ourselves. must everyone eventually
confront this for their own good or for their art? i don't know and that's
maybe beside the point and i'm not even sure why i brought it up. i guess i
want to clarify that i'm not insisting that it's the best way for anyone to
create or develop. but for some, it's the only way. i guess, if you'd like,
we can further discuss why that is.
Actually, I wasn't talking about religion, I was talking about being affected by its powerful demands, and how isolating those demands can make someone. For you who say you can turn it off, good for you. But this is rare in the historical context. Many people, in fact, many MANY people have become isolated because of religion. I've met queers for instance who enter religion for an acceptable (respectable) community, but of course wind up isolating themselves unlike any other possible form of isolation. Religion is suicide's bastard child-result in many cases. Even the governments of nations can't compare, in that religion's all-seeing and all-powerful alleged connection to the spirit world can cripple a person's total sense of themselves, which creates isolation.
Religion is a power structure, and like most power structures, it insists life be lived in certain manners, which you either conform to, or be punished by. For those of us who come from families riddled with Fundamentalism, this much is clear. If you don't, can't, or won't conform, you lose so very much: love most of all. Being shunned, and being told you are not worthy of a family's affections because of some ridiculous interpretation of the Bible, is excruciating, and isolating.
So maybe I wasn't making myself clear. But religion is an awesome power in the sense that it controls all aspects of how the congregation FEELS and THINKS of their bodies and their jobs and their spouses and their children. Its horrifying control has warped centuries of art and science, and continues to do so to this day.
To be honest, I believe isolation is one of the worst things in the world. And I agree with what you said Hassen, that it may not be the best way to create, in isolation. But I must admit, as I've said before, that it was isolation that brought me to where I am today with my poetry. If I had to do it over however, well, I'd certainly NOT take the isolation, so, whatever the changed results of that would have to be what it would be. But I'm not interested in changing the past (as though I could if I wanted to...).
To talk of those who have come from isolation to create, well, I cannot examine a life better than my own. Looking back, before that stretch of years I refer to as the years when I became a poet, (8 to 13 years old in particular) a few years earlier than that I had already had experiences of feeling different from everyone else around me. Of becoming isolated. The first time, the time that set me up for seeing the world as untrustworthy, was when I was five. I had just been told that I was adopted, and that Ronald Conrad wasn't my "real" father. This idea of "real" was forever going to be odd for me. My mother and Conrad had married and he had adopted me.
It's a funny story, this one. When I was told that my last name was different before the adoption, I remember asking if I had worn a wedding gown. It was the bride whose last name changed afterall, right? It bothered everyone that I wasn't getting the adoption process, and how my last name had changed. And they turned to anger at times when I would ask "were you at my wedding aunt Darlene? I don't remember it." Where was their sense of humor? I thought I was a bride, how funny is that!? The confusion isn't that difficult to understand!
If I had been a girl it might have been cute, but of course I was not a girl, and it was not funny for this Pennsylvania Dutch family my mother had married into. I remember looking at a wedding album with cousins who were a few years older, and they'd ask me who I looked like in the pictures, and I'd point to the bride with her beautiful lace veils and waves of white satin fabric, and they'd all giggle. Giggles made much more sense than the harsh condemnation the adults were giving me.
And of course I was having sex with the other boys, I was the bride, and that's what the bride does, right? Or so I was told by a boy who was four or five years older. He taught me to suck his cock, and it was loads of fun, as I recall. I remember him looking down at me on my knees on the bank of a creek, telling me that the more I did it, the better I'd get. And he was right, I've turned out to be a pretty fantastic cock-sucker. Weird, but it was his encouraging words that gave me a solid belief in myself, that I can do whatever I want by focusing on the task. Sucking cock was my first lesson in concentration. It's not for everybody of course, I understand that, but it should at least inspire the idea of the infinite number of reins available for grasping the imagination.
Finding out about the adoption though was when I learned to distrust appearances. Which has turned out to be a fairly useful tool. My FRANK poems are an example of this at work. Looking intensely at something, not believing what you see or are told you should see, and concentrating hard enough to uncover the Super Life beneath it. Everything has a Super Life underneath. Nothing is beyond surrealism's grasp of mutation.
But my point is that this experience of both discovering my father was not my father, and being condemned for not understanding the adoption process, shut me into this part of my brain that started to focus my thoughts differently than those around me. Many times things seemed funny to me that made no sense to others. While my younger friends were busy trying to see how everything fit into its place and how everything should be defined, I was busy with a slightly deeper examination, and deconstructing the bits of movement, combining those movements with the movements of other things, NOT confusing, but recreating by seeing how similar things were. The new world is always in each of us.
does anything create isolation? i suspect it waits. however one perceives
it. not only depends upon the circumstance of the person confronting it but
also how one comes to confront it - or how one associates it. yours, for
instance, seemed to be approached when you were in pain
caused by a community not of your choosing. you say power structures create
isolation but i think they create emotional trauma, diminishing one's sense
of control over one's own destiny. isolation is not created by it & it isn't
the isolation itself that is damaging but the feeling of powerlessness
and/or insignificance when one's ostracized. and this feeling is usually
reinforced whenever one confronts a general society. we are always
challenged, our reality, our purpose, our expectations, what is expected of
us. but unlike the challenge during isolation from non-human environs, it
challenges us based upon social constructs, mores, which are arguably as
'unreal' - or unrealistic - as any religious tenet. people don't have to be
raised around religion to have an inordinate sense of guilt or alienation or
powerlessness. from the earliest, we are manipulated and modified by
another's will over us.
also being raised in a fundamentalist home, it wasn't quite the same for me
as for you, Conrad. i don't recall ever feeling, with my own immediate
family anyway, that if i didn't agree with their religious convictions that
their love would be withheld. & fortunately my personal sense of "god" was
very different from what was imposed on me. it was isolation and attitude in
that sometimes frightening space that confirmed to me that dogma was
corrupt. this benevolent unifier i was told existed was not, for me, found
in communion but in solitude - that being this incredible will mirrored all
around me. i wonder if in some language(s) 'potential' is similar to if not
the same as the word 'truth'... anyway, i'm always surprised when people
ask me if i believe in god. it seems like such an obsolete question. i
suppose that's because i just have my head up my ass and don't often know
what's relevant to other folks. someone asked me that question again
recently. after sheepishly mumbling 'define a god,' i went on to say if it's
defined simply as The Inexplicable Will to Transform, then yes. if one
defines god as anything that mightn't ever be explained by human empirical
study. the most amazing, unfathomable thing i can think of is evolution, or
rather, the will that drives evolution. all matter seems to have this
potential to transcend its circumstance. the process of recognizing and
realizing this potential is what i'm most interested in and i can't help but
think that isolation is critical to that process. i mean, all artists work
in some degree of isolation anyway, don't they? maybe those with a more
intensive process need more space.
this brings me back to my original post on Laib, as well as to the point i
probably intended to make on a personal level. it might be that the act of
contending with the abyss of the self in isolation (can't say that with a
straight face) is what makes the artistic process so appealing to me. like
Elizabeth Scanlon had mentioned, Laib's physical act of retrieving pollen
for his piece is in itself profound. this is the process of discovering that
there is no actual isolation with matter &/or consciousness or whatever you
want to call it. social conditioning suggests that isolation is horrifying
because it also suggests that isolation can be absolute ('eternal
damnation'), which appeals maybe to our deeply biologic nature, i don't
know. this idea of absolute isolation, i'm convinced, was concocted and is
perpetuated as punishment, manipulation for one to conform to order
'safety' (ironically, in the context of biological evolution).
of course there is no absolute isolation (if one accepts our current
understanding of physics anyway), which is what's exciting about working
through that confrontation. this is a space where a process can emerge to
contend with its circumstance artistically. & in these rare incidences all
the variables can harmonize concept, intention, aesthetic, mathematics or
good fortune, intuition, whatever. the process of finding ecology in
'isolation' tickles me. the process of expressing in/from silence. of
physically smearing pigmented oil on a board, of color and definition,
intense physicality in creating an image. the process of realizing there are
few restrictions but our own, of projecting the idea or representation of a
new work or a new self. the process of transformation, exploration, of
fractals and un/real Alternatives. of things too amazing for language. & the
result is maybe a work that is not only a delightful piece of aesthetic but
one that insists on our acceptance that the process is also the art. * again
to reference Laib.
*(which approaches something even more important to me - the reality and
validity of experience & the pleasure of sensation of experience/creation
even if the pleasure derives solely from our own validation i don't know i
of course i realize these things are not paramount to others & i certainly
don't suggest they should be. these are, as you'd wanted to explore,
personal experience with - & take on - the subject. most immediate, i often
need my own space to follow my thoughts wherever they trudge. perhaps
because of my place in the family or the religious practices that insulated
me from 'secularism' during childhood development. maybe the incredible
silence during the Midwest winters or during our long camping trips to the
Keweenaw Peninsula in the summers. or i'm just an oddball who can't focus
her thoughts at any given moment on any one task if there's the slightest
disturbance. (please note my disclaimer here for my seriously inadequate &
loose discussion about such an immense & potentially tangential topic).
alone, i don't have to contend for a little while with others' behavior &
agendas or manipulations or needs, frankly (not that these things can't also
be important in a creative process). i can absorb color aroma sound from an
organic world and stretch with or without a conscious narrative in my head.
isolation is often emancipation.