Monday, December 31, 2007

I really like this guy.

The Haves and Have Nots

The Haves and Have-Nots...

Last minute gift shopping at the mall I try to avoid, I tried to avoid spending any money on myself today, but the White Barn Candle Shop with it's 75% off sale lured me over and in so that soon I was rummaging through a bin, searching for a vanilla scented plug in diffuser refill for a diffuser I bought there over a year ago but have been too thrifty to replace. The two-pack refill costs $12.50. So since they were on sale for a mere $5, I thought I might treat myself to one.

While I methodically moved box after box aside, not finding any vanilla refills, a couple, maybe twenty years older than I am, pulled 16 of the refills they needed from the bin and then exchanged polite conversation with another woman about how they have 17 diffusers just on the first floor of their house which are plugged in all year, and they've never had any trouble with them. The couple then walked to the back of the store and found more of their desired scent so that the last number of two-pack refills I saw them load into their shopping basket equaled 25. 25! Even at only $5 a piece, that's $133.75 (with tax). The box says these things last 6-8 weeks. So if each one lasts for two months, that means they have to buy 3x25 refills a year (I'm assuming the remaining 8 were for the upstairs?) That's $401.25 a year, IF they buy them only while they are on sale for $5 instead of their usual price of $12.50.

I know this is all very boring. I'm just saying that I keep forgetting the difference between the haves and have nots is NOT that one class can barely pay their heating bill and the other one can. It's that one class can barely pay their heating bills and the other class can give a shit in four different bathrooms and then cover it up with a pretty scent.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

As I Lay Me Down To Sleep

As I Lay Me Down To Sleep

Last night, head spasms. The unpredictable
unrhythmic head tics and jolts of breath
I try to steady but can't. Felt it come on me
early. Took my medicine. It didn't grow
any wider. I didn't try to fight it. It only
took half an hour for the tics to stop,
for my breath to settle back down into my chest.
Now today. Let's get through it without my body
spazzing on me, okay? Okay brain? My heart
is fine. It's my brain. It's so crowded in there.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I dream, I strain.

"All the time I dream I dream of Manhattan
or I dream of home. I strain. I leave, I go,
they leave, they go. " ML

I dreamed I pedaled my bike up the mountainside to the top of the hill where I could see Philadelphia's sky-line towering in the distance. I turned back and looked down on my hometown which was far off in the valley below and then looked again at the sky-line. I thought about a girl I know who is moving to that city and I thought "Well, at least her mother can see her from here." I thought it thinking that she would be safer and her mother would be more content. I thought it thinking that I cannot see my son from where I am.

I dreamed my husband had lovers so I had to leave him and had no where to go but to my mother's home. In the dream, as I realized that I had to leave my own home, I imagined the conversation I would have with my mother and how she would respond to my request. I imagined her sitting at a round table drinking a hot beverage and reading a newspaper near a window where sunlight warmed her shoulders. "Of course" she responded. "This will always be your home."

I woke wondering what if I tell my children that I am their home but then I have no home to offer? What then? What then?

I didn't wonder about my husband's loyalty, but I remembered the disloyalty of my first husband, and although I no longer love him, that hurt still twinges. The possibility of disloyalty, in all its forms -- it twinges.

Everything around me is in motion. People are constantly moving from place to place, leaving, returning. On days after nights like these, when I dream of places and the strain to remain or to leave them, I understand the desire to "die at home." And the dreams, in themselves, linger inside me long after I've woken. On days after nights like these I like to entertain myself with ideas of reincarnation, although I have no "beliefs" about what comes after death, I have fun playing with the stories that conceptualize a soul or something like a soul that may be recycled or even shared. I mostly just think that we humans are more sensitive to our surroundings than we realize.

One day someone is going to discover something very important.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Censorship In Art At The Restaurant

Hi everyone. I'm not a "Bad Penny Poet" though I do offer a venue and enjoy participating. Betty seems to have the best solution I've heard so far: to set time aside at the end of the evening and to hold the uncensored readings only after giving those who'd rather not listen to the pornography -- THAT IS NOT POETRY -- a chance to leave.

Really, if I was that interested in someone's sexual fantasies, I'd go back to seventh grade. There is a huge difference between literature/poetry/visual art/comedy/music et al that is sexual (I, myself have many sexual poems, as well as some artwork) and writing that is pure description of someone's sexual escapades and fantasies, devoid of any real artistic involvement/movement.

I believe that as artists it is impossible for us to ignore what offends us, and that we have a responsibility (those of us who choose to have one) to sometimes offend others -- but when we do, we make certain choices in designing the work that we present. Art without design or intent is not art. Even in our artistic accidents we can identify design. If an "artist's" only desire is to get a hard-on at my expense, I'm not participating.

You see? "Hard-on," in the proper context, may startle just a bit. But I designed it that way. To move you, your mind. Not to move you into my bed.

I am almost certain, from what I've seen, that none of the poets who've attended the open mic nights are what anyone would consider "prudish." They -- I -- we -- can however, distinguish art from smut.

I'll deal art, but not the other.

Thanks for letting me be heard.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A him... to ponder

Joe's assistant in the kitchen has been "clean" for about a year now. He lives at a half-way house within walking distance of the restaurant, hates it, lives with 14 or so other guys and has been looking for a place of his own. He's been working with us since June.

Before the half-way house he spent a year in rehab in Scranton, PA (might as well be W-B, it's so close). One of our customers, a correctional institute officer, recently remarked that he looks like he may have done time. Just out of the blue....

Anyway, I guess I just don't know what to expect, if anything, because I truly have no idea of what he's going through. When I asked him what he was addicted to, he said "everything" and gave his arm a tap, you know. So I don't know if that means crack or heroin or if they're both the same thing or if he meant both.

He's got a 22 year old son in college, a mom he sees at least once a week, and an ex-wife he's still hung up on, though they've been divorced for 20 years. He said he was always strung out so ruined the marriage.

He's quiet and rigid, never asks much or interacts....I said to him the other day, I guess we'll never see you with a lampshade on your head (trying to break tension cause he's sooo stoney sometimes -- it actually feels like an accomplishment if we get him to smile) and he said, not as long as I'm not drinking...

Oh, and he's got a giant scar across his head from a motorcycle accident which he says didn't really mess up his brain....hmmmmm.

So this guy's obviously got some stories in him. Whenever I get courageous enough to ask him something personal, he answers, but he doesn't ever offer anything up spontaneously. Very regimented. Still addicted to nicotine.....and his hand shakes really badly sometimes.

I guess I'm just wondering if there are things I should be aware of or look out for, since he seems like he was "hard-core" (ugh with the labels!). I try to act like a hard-ass, but I'm pretty gullible, really. The fact that he still loves his wife and mom are reassuring -- it means he doesn't hate women, and with me being his employer and everything... especially after our first cook -- well, that fact helps me to not take his stoney exterior too personally. He's also on depression meds. Like I said, he's not afraid to share, but I don't like to pry too much. I oscillate between wanting to offer him a room to wishing he'd quit.....I'm so weird.

And I'm just now realizing as I write this and admit to myself I will probably never board out a room to a male (other than family) that I have been conditioned to fear men.
Now there's a hmmm to ponder...
hymn to ponder
him to ponder

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Not Naming Names

Not naming names.

The first time I ever used the N word I was four. I was playing in the yard next door with the five year old girl who lived there, and whom I admired. I could barely wait to run home so that I could ask my mother what this new word meant. I remember the moment very clearly. I was barely inside the back door when I inquired, "Mommy, what is a Nigger?" I'll never forget the look of horror on my mom's face - then she composed herself, and very calmly told me what it meant, why it was used, and why I should never use it. "It means a dirty person -- like calling someone a pig....people call 'colored people' that word," she said, "but even the dictionary says it can be any person -- even a white person can be one. " She went on to explain how hurtful the word was to others, how cruel, and that I should never, ever use the word.

I try to be careful with language. I am not always perfect, I am sure, but I understand the connotations of language, I am aware that words connect and disconnect us. It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words; the opposite also holds: a word is worth a thousand pictures.

One word can drastically alter my perception of a person. Drastically. I guess I don't really expect than anyone should care about what my perception of them is, or that they should live their lives concerned with pleasing or displeasing me, because after all, who am I?

Who AM I?

Whoever I am, this language awareness and sensitivity that I have? I am not alone in it.

Mel Gibson. Michael Richards. The language of rap Music and Bill O'Reilly. They're all over the news. See also: South Park.

Two weeks ago I went to a an all day Poetry Festival hosted by a an active member of the local and Philadelphia literary communities, art communities, and music industries. He knows a few rappers, a lot of poets, has written professionally for our newspaper, The Atlantic City Press, and works to educate young people so that they might use knowledge instead of violence to fend off the horrors of the world as they feel their way through the bramble of reality that they must cut a path through to reach adulthood relatively unscathed. And life thereafter.

One of the events scheduled for the day was a panel discussion on the use of the "N" word. I was very excited about this, as a portion of my poetry addresses racial issues in general, and the use of the "N" word, in particular.

If you don't know my personal history, I can sum it up by saying that I married a black man and was disowned by my family for seven years. The man and I had a child together, then divorced. I loved him and it broke my heart to force myself to move on, but I did it and my heart mended. My family and I "reconciled."

Who am I? Nigger lover.

Words are very powerful.

Once, someone very close to me said to her son "the colors don't mix" when he asked her what her opinion was on mixed marriage. I love these people with all my heart.

Someone else very close to me left a beach recently because there were "big black boys" there and this made the person feel uncomfortable.

People are going to hate me for this blog.

But I hope not.

I replied to this person, "Big black boys -- you mean like Austin?" (my son).

Maybe that was wrong of me, but was it?

I love these people with all
that is left of
my heart.

Who am I if I remain silent? In my eyes? I am worthless.

Silence is the voice
of complicity.

Words are machetes.

And I'm pretty sure that these people I love love me and mean me no harm.

Once a friend's wife told me that she couldn't work in a beauty salon because she couldn't get used to the idea of washing a black person's hair. It skeeved her. I'm sure it dawned on her after the wine wore off (did it ever dawn on her?) that she was talking to ME. ME.

Who am I?

She then went on to explain that she picked nearly a hundred ticks from her dog the previous night.
But doesn't want to touch a black person's head.

I may be off track here, but I doubt it.

I was a coward. I was the "bigger" person. I could have embarrassed the woman, but I chose to remain silent. Shame on me.

After my divorce, when I began dating again, many of the guys I met who were "feeling me out" would ask "Do you date black men now?" "I date men," I would answer.

"All you are is all that you've been taught. And what you are comfortable with. What we are comfortable with is easier on us than change is, which is why we fall back into old habits or repeat things we've heard from others over and over like puppets. At least it seems that way until change occurs and we realize that sometimes the change brings us more comfort than we thought was possible before."

The above? It's what I tell myself about people every time I hear someone say something hurtful.

Just words.

Nigger. Kike. Jewbag. Spic. Fat. Stupid. Ugly.

The panel discussion on "The N Word" was interesting. One black woman whose son looked to be about ten, maybe eleven, said "he gets called it every day at school, but we haven't told him what it means."

She said, "Don't think that doesn't mean we haven't gone to the school about the matter, we have, but we haven't told him what the word means...." She said she didn't want to give the word any power.

I understand that she thinks she is protecting her child. But my own belief is that pretending a name does not exist is like pretending a place doesn't exist. Next thing you know someone you love goes into the wrong town and is hanging from a tree.

One of the panel members said that he didn't believe in censorship of any kind, and that sometimes, among one another (meaning blacks) the N word was okay.

I know, too, that there is a "movement" to take power away from the word by using it so much that it no longer sounds offensive. Maybe that will happen in forty years, I think, but when grown men tell their four year old daughters that it's okay if one of their teachers is black as long "as you don't marry one".....well, maybe in a few hundred years?

A few months ago a black man called his town's occupants "hicks." I found it offensive. He used it over and over until I finally told him that I was uncomfortable with that word in the same way I was uncomfortable with people using the N word.

I've had people say to me "You think about that stuff? Wow. You think about that stuff?"

At the poetry festival, a black writer called my red-headed friend a "blonde" when she did something (I don't even remember what it was now) a bit clumsily. Not everyone at the table heard the remark. But she did, and I did, and he did. Time just froze. For her and for me, anyway. He didn't even realize that he had slurred someone. Blonde jokes were so popular a few years back, and comedy is so hard to resist, especially in awkward situations, that he slipped right into behavior that reflects what he's been surrounded by: blonde jokes. He was actually trying to make her feel better about her mistake when he asked, "having a blonde moment?" She handled it with more grace and good humor than I could have thought quickly enough to muster in such a situation: She wrote a poem about the incident on the spot and then read it to him, getting him to re-examine his response. I'm going to have to ask her for a copy.

I am not the only one who thinks about this stuff. Many great writers have addressed the issue of language and it's power to sway and to persuade, to dominate, to kill.

(Speaking of domination, you do know, don't you -- that women couldn't vote until 1920 and blacks didn't really get to vote until the 1960's?).*

My red-headed friend and the panelist members at the poetry festival, as well as the Network news stations, are all thinking about the way we use language to describe "other".

Obviously, so are the writers of South Park. In "Le Petit Tourette" ?Cartman "discovers the joys of having Tourette's syndrome. Drunk with the power of saying whatever he wants without getting into trouble for it, Cartman lines up national TV coverage to take advantage of his new life with no filters."

If you don't understand that the characters on South Park are not to be emulated, that it is a brilliant political satire combining the most controversial or popular news with comedy to bring about social awareness through the art of entertainment (okay, not all of them, but many!) then you either shouldn't be watching it, or you should, so that you might learn something about the world outside your immediate "arena." Things like it's not really alright to use the words "Jewbag" "Cheap-Ass Jew" "Spic" or "Nigger." That these things resonate and have power over others in ways that you can 't even begin to imagine.

The world is changing. I keep thinking "soon all the bigots will be dead."
But I know I'm wrong. I'm not in denial. I'm humoring myself. They'll be here long after I'm gone.

But I'm here, now. And I can still speak. I just won't name names.

*In May, 1919, the necessary two-thirds vote in favor of the women suffrage amendment was finally mustered in Congress, and the proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification. By July 1920, with a number of primarily southern states adamantly opposed to the amendment, it all came down to Tennessee. It appeared that the amendment might fail by one vote in the Tennessee house, but twenty-four-year-old Harry Burn surprised observers by casting the deciding vote for ratification. At the time of his vote, Burns had in his pocket a letter he had received from his mother urging him, "Don't forget to be a good boy" and "vote for suffrage." Women had finally won the vote.

In 1789, African-Americans were defined in the Constitution as 3/5 of a person for counting representation, and could not vote at all. (Constitution's Article 1, section 2, and elsewhere)
In 1865, following the Civil War, African-Americans were given the right to vote and the "3/5ths clause" was rescinded. (14th and 15th Amendment). The clause relevant to your question is the 15th Amendment, article 1: "The right... to vote shall not be denied or abridged... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." (the "previous condition of servitude" meant that states couldn't deny the right to vote to those who had been slaves).
For 90 years thereafter, states did all sorts of things to abridge the right to vote for African-Americans. The main means were seemingly "objective" criteria like "literacy laws," which required that a person be able to read before they could register to vote. Since most African-Americans at the time were illiterate, that effectively prevented their voting. There were many cases before the Supreme Court, mostly in southern states, in which means of blocking the vote were removed.
The real change came during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when the last of the racial restrictions were finally removed. Prior to the 1960s, the Supreme Court had determined that schools could be "separate but equal," which meant there were separate schools for African-Americans. During the 1960s, the Supreme Court enforced the desegregation of the schools on the grounds that "separate is inherently unequal."
Legally speaking, the right to vote came with the 15th amendment. But socially speaking, it took the Civil Rights movement to make it a reality.

Friday, November 2, 2007