Evolve or snipe?

A fiend of mine tweeted this article about imperatives in UK universities to increase the number of working class and BME (Black, Minority, Ethnic) students  attending and succeeding in post-secondary education. This is story is quite positive and sounds like several steps in the right direction but before I read beyond the headline, I was skeptical because I have recently been mulling over what America’s change in college student demographics might be missing.

Loosely knit and poorly cited, this is what talk radio, and some salient articles over the years have made me think about (white) men in the United States of America today.

The fodder:

  1. New Yorker article from the late 90s with the thesis boys are like whites, girls are like Blacks. And the whiteness/blackness had to do with intragroup variability. That is Whites and boys are more similar to each other or express a smaller range or characteristics than Blacks/girls. The racial variabilities were supported by genetic studies; the gender variabilities were supported by educational studies and went on to talk about why no single solution for promoting girls’ success in school would reliably work.
  2. 2015 Economist article – Examines a number of trails of evidence, the trend that stuck in my mind is middle- and low-income men are not adapting to either the new tech-skills/innovation economy nor the new social milieu of successful women. Therefore, they neither get a job, nor marry, a social construct which might help them adapt.
  3. Sometime last year I heard someone cite a study showing that as men age their preferences for porn/erotica remain static, while women’s preferences change and expand. I can’t find the study but this  and this both speak to the way women are more variable sexually than men.
  4. A recent discussion on some NPR show discussed the growth of women in the financial industry, but also pointed out an interesting trend. Wherever the women go the men leave. Women became stock traders, so men started investment banking. Women started doing that so men started hedge funds.
  5. The changing demographics of colleges and universities are not as sudden nor as drastic as reported when you look at real numbers –race/ethnicity measured and projected; gender measured and projected – women overtook the men in total aggregated enrollment a long time ago. Ethnic students do not yet out number white students, but the point there is less civilization’s bronze-skinned future and more that the fairer male students seem increasingly to be opting out of post-secondary education, at the same time as non-skilled work options are precipitously declining.

So where does that leave us? To me it looks like men are generally less adaptable than women, in many areas of life. And when the women do start to compete and/or exceed them a major response is to retreat. In the financial industry that retreat has been to higher-risk, more-exclusive niche work. But what about the young men, of every social class, who are now retreating from acquiring the skills which make them contributors to society? I’m going for an easy gag here, but I think it’s true, among other outcomes, you get Martin Shkreli.

I’m not ramping up for a “Save the Men!” campaign, though I think the UK has cleverly designed just such a program (first link in article) and I think it’s exactly the right idea. Rather I’m just acknowledging that, an equal humanity is more than women’s equal pay and representation; more than everyone being the same complexion in three more generations; more than gender identity and sexuality becoming moot.

Those who can easily adapt to the changing world have to make provisions for (or defenses against) the rigid and fearful.  Everything we are experiencing today is the carrion-laden battlefield of 4000 years of underestimating small groups of hell-bent oppressors…

Okay, that took a bit of a wide conspiracy-theorist swing. In less hyperbole: I believe that some people I have assigned to the category ‘won’t change’ probably belong to the category ‘can’t change.’ This is a perspective, and thus a group of people, I am at a complete loss to understand, some of whom have one or more of: wealth, power, arsenals, or extremist training camps. And it only takes a handful of such folks to make life very unpleasant for everyone.

No surrender. No chance of defeat. Women, people of color, we are in it to even it! Yet, water wears the rock, but does not drown the suicide bomber. So what are our tactics to uproot the violent might of charismatic rigidity?

 

 

 

Want what you have

Ha! Gotcha. I don’t have an answer on that one. An approach? Possibly. An answer? No.

My mom said something last night, as moms do, that triggered the Rube Goldberg mental machinations leading to some self-evaluation. The topic was career, a sector of my life in which I have a sort persistent emotional eczema. It flares and fades. Often doesn’t need treatment, but sometimes refuses to be balmed. I’ve managed to pretty much color inside of the lines for almost 10 years now (go me)! But recently I’ve been showing the tell tale dry itchy flakiness.

And this time, I don’t want the right ointment, I want to try harder not to get the eczema.

I am doing two things.

  • Mantra – even if you’re cynical about them (I am), habits persist. Saddling yourself with a habitual statement that’s positive is probably, on balance, better than a negative one or a dissatisfied one. Therefore: “What I want most is everything I already have.”

Sure. I feel ya. LAME! How do you ever aspire to anything then? Where’s your go-getter spirit? Personally, I don’t feel that mantra has to cut off aspiration. And, perhaps more immediately, I (finally!) believe contentment is something to aspire to.

  • Imagine wanting different things – this one’s harder. But I have been looking around at who I admire and what I admire about their lives. I often focus on the achievements of those I look up to. I’m a pragmatist and I love a good objective metric. But I preach -and know first hand!- that ‘the good life’ (at least for me) is a Venn diagram and ‘objective achievements’ isn’t even always one of the participating circles. So I am trying to learn to focus on the stuff that is harder to measure (those multiple happinesses?) and see where that leads me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Strike the right tone

Not overjoyed. Not under a storm cloud. Somewhere on the broad continuum between.

More lively than stasis. Less agitated than…okay, yes. Less agitated than normal.

A bit sore about the gills, to mash up my metaphors.

Hungry. As I almost always am. For a food I’ve not yet fathomed how to eat.

Mr. Carle’s caterpillar never to turn into a butterfly [spoiler alert].

Tiburón, constantly swimming, and growing restless of it.

“Just-” Don’t say it. Please don’t say it.

I was born too discomfited, too disdainful of the status quo, too infinitely hopeful of some imagined infinitesimal ‘better,’ to get along smoothly on planet earth. And I am a slow learner.

So I am still yearning. LEARNING.

Sometimes my little mood ring heart glows sad: wondering if I’ll ever be any different; wondering if it’s all been wasted effort; wondering if I’m really a dreamer; and are the stars just dim sham night lights?

Your mind is a flotation device

That’s how I feel tonight anyway, when my thoughts are disconnected, unrelated, trailing off…

Too much sugar, stress, and an encounter with a small, common-cold-vectoring child over the weekend have brought me a bit low. Orderly thinking is the fist to go. But each conceptual balloon that floats up lazily from my subconscious and drifts off to parts unknown leads me on a little trip.

Weather Friday and Monday meant working from home both days. Having never had this privilege before, the never-fully worky “work days” sort of blend with my GDP-raising weekends, and regardless of a fairly robust ability to count, it is Monday night, but my brain keeps gently insisting it’s Tuesday.

I smuggled home a chocolate dipped, coconut macaroon from last night’s Superbowl party. Did not help with my sugar intake. Absolutely helped with everything else I felt today.

Woke up this morning from a weird dream turned scary. Turned out Oxford University is magical. Not exactly Harry Potter magical, more like all of the characters and creatures from Greco-Roman mythology are still alive and living under the Oxford buildings. I witnessed some folks having a battle while riding pegasuses, and I was being threatened so I would keep the secret. Shhhhh!

Without consulting a map today I correctly answered the following geography trivia question, which European capital is almost exactly due east from Washington, DC?

No, I’m not going to tell you! Play along. It’s interactive innit!

And sometimes that’s all there is…

The Multiple Happinesses

I could blog in the mornings (I would probably make more sense). But I usually wait until the end of the day to see what I was thinking about. I went to sleep last night thinking about multiple happinesses and the idea has recurred to me throughout today as I toured many zones of emotion.

The sky is light enough to wake me without my alarm clock at 6 AM now. This is my favorite part of having turned the corner from the solstice, when my morning routine is no longer in complete darkness.

I fell into the sheltering hum of domesticity this morning and didn’t want to leave. I made a nice mental nest of surveying the fridge and freezer contents for ingredients, menu planning, shopping list drafting etc. and would have been happy to cook, read and sit in int the sunny windows all day.

But, I had rehearsal. Aye there’s the rub. Theatre is my favorite sin. I would sacrifice 4 sunny hours for few other things. And yet in my current theatrical situation there are hefty social discomforts, so I always show up wondering what happinesses will be there. The reward today was my cast hitting all the right notes on my piece. We could take it onstage today and I would be happy with what it is. That felt tremendously successful.

Then there was laughing with green-eyes in my car. I thought that would have been the pinnacle. But it was the old friends; the annual dance; the familiar ritual which made me feel glad I hadn’t chucked it all in for the book.

Each one of these bright spots had its own contentment, its own refraction of a bright whopping joy. You leap in the moment; take in the sweet. But there is another layer to each happiness: how the knees feel later, if that tasty moment actually ruined your digestion.

I am lucky to find most days that several delightful things have happened to me. And as I run my hand over them in memory I find they emit different kinds of heat, color, aura. I spend my days navigating toward the longest resonating, most comforting, refilling happinesses. But I wouldn’t know those if it weren’t for the others.

Hooked On Sonic

I crave certain songs, sounds, or pieces of music like many people crave certain foods. There are flavors you like all the time no matter what mood you’re in. Others, you enjoy when you taste them but it takes some getting up for. Some flavors may twinge your imagination even when it’s nowhere near time to eat.

I’m like this about sound and it’s a moveable feast all day long. I usually wake up with music in my head and may find that the lyrics give me a chuckle or seem (jokingly) like a bad or good omen for the day. Sometimes it’s a snippet of melody I can’t place, possibly original. Some days, like this morning, it’s just the vamp of a nostalgic tune (playing over and over).

It surprises me that music leaks so readily up from my subconscious when I barely consume it, but these little sonic visitations always take me on a journey. The vamp I mentioned was from a song called “C’est La Vie” by Robbie Neville, released in 1986 and eventually making it to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987. I loved it when this song came on in the roller rink (Interskate 91. Real!) And it is how I got my (IRL) nickname.

Later today with sun glittering off our plush royal icing snow, I was visited by the song “Little Fishes” a boppy, rustic instrumental recorded by Vince Guaraldi (yeah, the Charlie Brown music guy) and brazilian guitarist Bola Sete. This was one of the first albums of Brazilian music I ever bought from an independent CD store in Dupont Circle, Washington DC when one still browsed in bins with hand labeled cardboard signs. The whole album is kind of a sugary treat as  music goes, but it warms me.

Getting ready for running today, I was having trouble finding a matched pair of socks, so I improvised a tune about not wanting to wear a mismatched pair that got me trotting at a time when I wanted to be someone who had run, but wasn’t totally in the mood to do the running.

And then, emerging from a bath. I had that moment I try to get to at least once a day when everything within me is quiet. I don’t have a physical need (hunger, temperature, etc.) to think about and I have managed to muzzle the hordes of muttering gremlins that seem to live in my head most of the time chatting about anything I might have seen or heard in recent days. Into this quiet slipped, a song titled “Solitude.” I truly enjoy my solitude so it always feels like sharp tweak on the nose that the lyrics are so sad. But I suspect Ellington enjoyed his solitude too (when else could he compose?) and you can sort of hear the joke in the bridge which is major, has a suspiciously bouncy rhythm, and these large intervals that sound like a little game.

I had to YouTube a bit to find a recording that scratched the itch for me, which led me to savor this Ben Webster recording; note that this is one of those standards that -despite a simple and easily mutable melody- is almost always played note for note and straight ahead; and trip down one more garden path towards Dianne Reeves. I didn’t love her recording of “Solitude” -just didn’t match the luxe velvet of Nina Simone for me tonight.  But Dianne Reeves has recorded one of my favorite ‘wisdom of life’ songs called “Reflections (Looking Back)” The original tune is by Thelonious Monk which explains everything about the stellar bridge: a suddenly straight ahead melodic repetition with a new set of chords which really make you wait for the resolution, makes the lyric stand out for me, and while it actually makes little sense out of context it is the poignant epicenter of the song.

“In looking back, we just peek through the cracks, between what’s real and false. In this eternal waltz. Meanwhile we just keep dancing.”

The song’s final lyric, full of all the joy and regret of a life lived, instead of watching from the sidelines, is “Thank God I’ma woman who knows.”

This song has been heave on the playlist through some big changes I’ve made in the past five years. I aspire to be a woman who knows. And occasionally in that moment of quiet, or when lead to music that affirms something in me. I feel like I might get there.

Nia’s Return – Carretha Jackson

I always have two books going. One audio and one physical. Nia’s Return was my first #readdiverse2016 audiobook.

This book really framed the task of reading diversely for me, in that it was a reminder that not only will I be encountering great descriptions of different skins tones, more often finding the text peppered with foreign phrases or new-to-me cultural references, but I will come across differences in narrative style that may be culturally driven as well.

Having not done the definitive study I’m not sure if it’s actually a trend, but I have found a very simple, declarative style in many narratives from African writers, and I found a similar style here.

Nia’s Return is the private detective genre gone peak-oil, self-sufficiency, skipping toward the end of the world. Our protagonist is an out black vegan lesbian with her own demons, determined to keep to herself as she builds a home to survive the end of days but both love and trouble both show up on her doorstep as they always do in Noir.

The setting is novel. The city is Atlanta, but the antagonists are a Freegans and the underbelly our hero goes to is literally seedy –some characters go off the grid frequently, living only off the land, others are saving up for farmsteads, and helping the homeless with the same raider zeal we see mostly in stock traders.

The audio fell flat for me. If you’re interested see if you can find a print or ecopy. A new angle on the hard boiled dick, femme fatale included, but no eggs.

 

 

Generations – debbie tucker green

And, yes, it is my understanding that green opts for the lower case à la bell hooks.

I was pleased to have this play inserted into my January because it fulfilled both a desire to keep reading plays and my #readdiverse2016 goals.

My initial impressions have evolved through a discussion with friends and a peek at some reviews, so it’s hard to find my own voice on this, but I think my overwhelming recommendation would be to see it before you read it.

That might prove so unlikely, as to seem obnoxious, but the reasoning is this: Generations really needs to be heard to be felt. Or said another way, this play is much, much more than its text.

To wit: The characters list reads “BOYFRIEND, GIRLFRIEND (older sister), JUNIOR SISTER, MUM, DAD, GRANDMA, GRANDAD…and a CHOIR” The prologue and the epilogue are fully musical, and the dialogue in the five interceding scenes is a repetitive word game with identical words and phrases used over and over again. The language is vernacular and clearly has a meaning to the characters which will be interpretable but not automatically felt by people outside of the culture.

So it is obvious just from reading the play that to see it will be an experience. But it is hard to predict exactly what that experience will be. Reviews were generally good, though I think they steal a good deal of green’s well-delivered point, but more importantly they give you a sense of the experience. So barring a chance to see it a couple reviews are linked.

Cast as above: 7 Players 3M 4F and choir. Run time is reported as 30-45 minutes.

Diverse Reading Goals 2016

ICYMI someone I know only as Dan L. or @utterbiblio coined a handy little hashtag -#diversedecember- after the World Book Night 2016 list was announced and excluded any BAME writers (a useful acronym used in the UK to cover POC). The hashtag got people recommending authors of color and/or non-cis gender, diverse sexuality to give as gift books in the holiday season.

The hashtag grew up into an account @readdiverse2016 and the additional hashtags #readdiverse2016 and #diversereadinggoals to keep the party rolling into the new year.

I think (hope) I’m only fashionable late to the party as (before I knew about the hashtags) I decided that I will only read diverse authors in 2016 and I am so excited to do this across mediums (I listen to audiobooks and read multiples genres). And I will post about these works here.

I suck at games of exclusivity so there are some exceptions, mostly down to my backlog of audiobooks, but I feel like the universe is supporting me as a friend just recommended a BAME playwright. As soon as I can get my hands on some I will be start my #diversereadinggoals with Debbie Tucker Green.

What are you reading this year?

In Arabia We’d All Be Kings – Stephen Adly Guirgis

As noted in the intro post at the beginning of the month, I have a soft spot for this play. I’m not sure if I think it’s the best in this collection, only because I was so impressed with Jesus Hopped The A Train. But it has my favorite ending of the three and two of my favorite moments.

Favorite moments: In scene one there is an exchange that boils down to:

  • Did you hear about the black guy killed by the cops?
  • Last Friday?
  • No the other one.
  • Oh! Tuesday.
  • No the other one

When you read the beginning notes and find out the play was first performed in 1999, the dark humor in this exchange becomes even more of a ‘same shit, different day’ head-shaker when you think about everything that is still happening.

And in the course of the play a character goes missing. Watch how it’s handled. It will break your heart.

Even if I’m still on the fence about favorite play, I think this narrative involved my favorite characters, the folks who manage to stay just above rock bottom. They’re not homeless or not for long. They always manage to beg, borrow, steal or work just long enough to stay drunk or high, or not get evicted this week, or place one get into debt with the bookie again. There are a lot of people on this margin. And it is a pleasure to see them more fully –aspiring, taking action– and not just what happens when the threadbare rug comes out form under them again. And it becomes clear how hard it is to change one’s circumstances, particularly without any of the support and modeling many of us get to take for granted.

Cast: 12 9M  4F (one male part doubled). Multiple Settings but can be broken into interior and exterior and simplified. Themes: Some days in the lives. Or the perpetrator-less crimes of bad circumstances.

 

Jesus Hopped The A Train – Stephen Adly Guirgis

Wow. I dislike hyperbolic terminology like “It blew me away!”, but I am tempted to use some similar triteness about this particular play. I was surprised and pleased by how deeply this play got under my skin, and I hope that others would enjoy being pushed to their edges in this way.

Jesus Hopped The A Train is a well-choreographed prison drama that cleverly manipulates and pushes lots of buttons. You quickly come to like who you are supposed to and are just as quickly cringing on their behalf. And then there is the inmate who has found religious salvation, whose fervor made even this tolerant agnostic squirm. But the reward is a play you will be thinking about for days (or weeks) to come, and possibly feeling a little heart sick about prison systems.

Cast:41F. Different views of the single jail setting. Theme: Redemption?

 

 

Good morning, Monday!

I woke at 4. Then 5. Then the internal debating started. At 5:32 I got out of bed. No I didn’t want to get up and do anything. But I wanted to the day to go the way I hoped, the things to get done, and that meant getting up now.

So I am up and I am going and the first thing I learn is that David Bowie has died.

I can feel the press of a lot of words about the way (and who) we mourn publicly versus the potent stabbing losses many endure privately, but there’s not time for that before work. And in spite of a certain crassness to any fawning we do over celebrity, I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with the glitter streaked cries of distress going up all over the world right now. Bowie was talented, innovative, and an artist who liberated many of us with his shattering of the status quo. He also seemed a decent enough sort. The loss of all that is quite enough for any society to be sad about and I hope it inspires an enormous amount of legacy. Go, please all of you and shine! Keep at it until you find your voice.

I did get on here to say another thing. In 2015 I worked very hard towards some very specific goals, and I achieved them. The feelings of success and pride still linger. But I also had a number of experiences I didn’t plan on which re-shaped my inner architecture in ways I feel daily, but prove gossamer wisps when I try to express them. The way I chose to honor that this year was by letting life happen to me a little bit more. When you are unskilled in this arena it’s quite heady letting go. I feel like the beginning of this year has already been landmark. And we’ve barely begun. And it hasn’t really snowed in the northeast yet (my darkest hours) (sorry to use the ‘s’ word everyone). Still I’m trying to celebrate. So here’s to not knowing, and having faith in who you are, and listening to what you scream so loudly in actions and feelings and balancing that with the perhaps-too-much-lauded word.

Our Lady of 121st Street – Stephen Adly Guirgis

Several former students are coming to pay their respects to a beloved(?) nun from their Catholic school days who has passed away. Only someone has stolen the body. It’s the worst high school reunion you’ve ever been to with everyone you didn’t want to see.

Of the three plays in this collection, it is the funniest. There are great themes of self-acceptance, change, how hard it is to change, and the truth of tragedies that are never going to go away, pain that may never grow distant. It was fun to read, and with the large, rollicking cast and its great tempo, I think it would be fun to do.

Cast: 74FMultiple settings but easy transformations. Themes: You can’t go home again. People will do some crazy shit. Can’t you see that I’m different now?

Just read it.

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

Warning: there’s a sappy, muhfugging saccharine, jackass Care Bear stare, shoot rainbows out of your belly button, have you been drinking with unicorns? kind of optimism at the end of all this. Because I have had my struggles, somewhere in all those dark hours and months of kicking endlessly toward the surface of whatever circumstances I felt I was drowning in, I began to see that waves cycle their highs and lows; began to have faith that one day it would be my turn to crest again; came to understand that it is only the deepest tragedies which are truly permanent. I caught some sort of courageous, or experienced, or just cowboy-ed up/big girl knickers on infection that flips the script. Makes you realize how easy it is to be up when things are good -shii-it, anybody can do that!- and start to measure success by how well you do when it’s not your *ucking turn to win.

I have stumbled. I was hasty. I blinded myself with fantastic ideas about things that were only just within my reach. I told myself the story about limited possibilities and I rushed. I have cost myself a not insignificant pile of dollar bills. I made an expensive mistake: out of hope and a non-trivial dose of fear, with a sprinkling of weighting too heavily another’s advice.

I am embarrassed and angry with myself. I’m still wavering: What did I prove? Is there anyway to save face? How do I prove I’m not just a dumb feathermucker?

Or maybe I am just a dumb feathermucker. In which case perhaps it is my time to win at that. And while I really want to go out (with appropriate safety gear) and break a whole Crate & Barrel full of dish and glassware for the satisfying sound and feel of busting something in reality, I’m working on some other approaches. And that’s where this curious infectious optimism comes in. I’m proud of that fact that I didn’t keep on going and lose all my dollar bills, just to uphold some image. I’m proud I’ve earned that many dollar bills to lose. And I’m surprised and pleased to find myself reaching for the running shoes, writing pissy posts and tweets, channeling my energy to pep up tonight’s performance, looking for the foolery in my foolishness. It is to laugh: to keep from crying, to strengthen those stomach muscles after being doubled over in regret, to stutter your breath until the sigh of relief comes.

What are you worth? What is your every moment of being carefree, confident, uncomplicatedly joyful worth? Way more than any number of dollar bills. And it gets a little more valuable every time you own your shit, and love yourself anyway.

Three plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis

The last 2-1/2 months of 2015 were a wild ride for me. I still struggle to find the right words to describe all the experiences, yet remain dazzled by the outcomes of all of it and electrified for 2016.

In amongst everything that happened was a simple gesture on a dark day that felt like the deepest kindness in its moment. I was asked to join a tutor in a workshop yo read an excerpt of a Stephen Adly Guirgis play. The gesture and the reading balmed a heart that was very sore at the time. And in revisiting that small miracle I was moved to read the whole of the play.

Due to the vicissitudes of editions and my library’s buyer, I read In Arabia We’d All Be Kings in collection with: Our Lady of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped the A Train.

Perhaps I’m still a little too star-eyed about the last few emotional months, but these three plays together really captured the very modern poignant moment for me.

Guirgis’ characters are the people many of us ignore or disdain and off-handedly disrespect by not having any curiosity about the whole of their lives that may have brought them to the moment when we see them having a loud public argument, or acting in a way we might perceive as threatening, or selling themselves, or sitting, restlessly high, on a bench.

And he tells the story of their personal transformations which for all the ways they change their humanity, these transformations often aren’t enough to alter their circumstances.  Guirgis does this with a gigantic serving of humor, no side dish (or even after taste) of a guilt trip, and the tragedies in these plays are handled with an off-handedness which is both absolutely real for the context and sharpens the brutality by its casualness.

These three plays are good together and I recommend this collection if you can  find it. And read it in order. The intensity builds.  I came away from these plays feeling: deeply sad about the ways humanity can’t quite manage to serve and support all of its members; suffused with warmth for these earnest, fallible characters; and a little bit in awe of how immersive and thought-provokingly discomfiting Jesus Hopped the A Train was.

So adjust your profanity settings, and kick off your 2016 play reading with these gems. Be prepared to look at the publication/performance dates and be ashamed of how little has changed.