Wednesday, November 9, 2016 10:40 PM

So. I was just at the rally in downtown Chicago. I went out of a desire to better understand, which is simply put, how and why I end up going to any rally, even ones for causes I walk into supporting.

So. This one was definitely, so so. I was there 2 hours late, arriving at 7 for a 5PM start time. But for the hour I was there, I witnessed a sea of mostly young, mostly white people.

I went because the social media invite I had was structured around race, specifically, a rejection of racism promulgated by Donald Trump. I am firmly in support of anti-racism, and had never really supported Donald Trump’s campaign, so I thought, “Okay, this might be for me.”

What I witnessed was stupid and empty. There was nothing particularly productive or informative about anti-racism, and in particular, how this struggle can manifest under Donald Trump’s future presidency.

Then, I went to talk to a police officer. I asked her how long she’d been out here, if the protest location has moved over the course of the night, whether or not they had a permit to be there, and who the organizing parties were. Really, just basic-ass questions.

She told me that there were no permits for this event, and there was no clear organizer other than just “social media in general.” She also mentioned, either intentionally or accidentally to garner some sympathy, how the whole police force had been working double shifts for the past few weeks for the Cubs World Series events.

I believed every word she said.

I get that it’s frustrating when things don’t go your way, people. But this is a democratic society. If you are an intelligent human being, fully functioning as an adult in a democratic society, it is your essential responsibility to understand how and why a democratic election in your country became won, either by the movement you supported or another. Then, after that, it is your secondary responsibility to apply yourself in a politically productive way, to whatever you support.

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To remember, to imagine, and to stop believing

EDIT: This text has since been published at Riksha Magazine, under the title “Remember Heritage, Imagine Identity, and Stop Believing.” Here is a link to that piece.

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Axioms redefined

I borrowed popular sayings for the first half of each sentence—the second halves are new thoughts that enrich the preceding dictum that we often take for granted.

It takes money to make money—but it also takes no money to not think about it.

There are no shortcuts to the finish line—unless you started at the finish line.

To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…—…is to assume they have shoes at all.

Go for the gusto—before the gusto gets you.

You can’t teach an old dog a new trick—unless that old dog is young.

What goes up must come down—what goes down must come up.

Don’t judge a book by its cover—don’t judge a book.

There’s no business like show business—and nobody should business themselves in it.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush—better still is three in the bush.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—unless there is a way to discover brokenness through the act of fixing.

It’s all uphill from here—it’s all downhill from here.

It’s all downhill from here—it’s all uphill from here.

Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life—if the man is hungry, don’t teach him how to fish; give the hungry man food so that he has the time, energy and resources to learn how to fish.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—yes it is.

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Eleven Months – Violence

When I was younger, I remember writing in my journal, that I would not like to participate in any organized sports henceforth. The reason was that sports mimicked war, and as a pacifist, I could no longer support such an activity.

Then, I found sports again, in the form of the most brutal, overtly violent sport on the planet, boxing. Tracking the when, the where and the why I found passion for boxing, I point to the following interview with Angela Davis.

To suggest that there is an option between violence and non-violence in a racialized United States of America is to suggest that an animal can fly without wings. (Just to be clear, no animal can. Without wings, the best you can do is glide). Davis articulates this beautifully to the northern European interviewer.

My self-imposed pacifism as a privileged half-White man was a reflection of my naïve understanding of violence in this country. By the time of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement of our times, that White myth of pacifism has been thoroughly debunked: Our society experienced violent injustice regularly, and so no revolutionary change can exist with the complete absence of violence. Violence is not encouraged, yet is cannot be denied.

Violence is not encouraged, yet it cannot be denied. Which brings us back to sports, in particular, boxing. Boxing cannot  be denied, and the astounding talent and passion and skill that creates champions in the sport also cannot be denied.

I read an astounding book quite recently. It is called Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory and the Black Body, by Harvey Young. One section of the book brings Muhammad Ali into focus in a very powerful way, through the lens of performance studies. As I work on an essay about John Cage, Muhammad Ali, and Stillness/Silence as a transgression, I realize more and more what a profound artist Ali was. I also have understood more profoundly John Cage’s historical context in the U.S., and the country’s replete history of intolerance and persecution of minorities of any ilk. This book helped me understand the black side of things, at least a little better.

So here I am, as a purebred competitive athlete, turned pacifist artist, (re-)turned lover of sport. And here we also have a thing called violence. Violence is the spectre of sport. The Greeks invented our western understanding of sport as a means to train its citizens for war. War existed as a means to violence, and sport existed as a means to violence. The common goal was bloodshed.

But for the oppressed, violence was to the environment what oxygen is to water. The vitality of simply living, at all, breathes into the chemical compound, one for every two.

Elements aside, I would like to conclude with something less basic, more complex. My deeper understanding of violence has reawakened my love for sport. My love for sport, which perhaps initially converted me into an artist, also now profoundly sways my artistic practice. Taking violence out of an artist is like taking the wings out of a flying creature—it’s just not going to happen.

Let us alight, that essential airborne paradise.

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Eleven Months – Privilege

Privilege

 “Privilege is just another word for degree of separation, of remove.”  –D Soyini Madison[i]

As a privileged body (self identified white, male), I hope to engage in the reality of my own privilege, or as Madison puts it, my degree of separation, of remove.  The words remove and separation can be read as disengagement and divestment, respectively.  Disengaged divestment highlights the undoing nature of celebrating privilege. The celebratory act (of separating, of divesting), as well as the manner of the act’s execution (through remove, through disengagement), is cowardly. In this essay, I will attempt to confront this cowardice that defines privilege by examining privilege through four different manifestations: Luck, Pranks, Words, and Guilt. Each section is an attempt to better understand privilege as it interacts with the dynamic forces of life.

 

Privilege and Luck

The privileged attribute personal accomplishments to luck in order to disengage from privilege.  Privilege and luck are two very different things. Luck is when you flip a coin and it lands on the right side.  Privilege is when you are given a coin with two heads, and everyone else is given a coin with two tails.  Privilege can be phony luck—luck rigged; luck can be shrouded privilege– privilege with a mask. It is not that a privileged person is thankful for good fortune.  It is that he is thankful for the privilege that he refuses to recognize and would prefer to call “luck.”  Gratefulness for privilege—though unacknowledged, and perhaps unintentional—is a deplorable sentiment for a human being to maintain.  Thus, to be privileged and self-identified as lucky is to be thankful for–yet uninterested in acknowledging—privilege.  Ironically, this very privilege is what enables an acknowledgment of luck, thus completing the undying loop between luck and privilege: (blind) privilege enables gratefulness for luck, gratefulness of luck enables (blind, perpetual, and protracted) privilege.  Sigmund Freud, a white man, paraphrases the sentiment of “ill luck” as “external frustration”—the same comparison could translate to “good luck” as “external gratefulness.” [ii]  The external unknown, the producer of both gratefulness and frustration, good luck and bad luck, can now have an undressed name: privilege, and hegemony that enables it to continue.

 

Privilege and Pranks

As we have recently encountered another first of April, we ought to critically engage in the phenomenon of contemporary prank culture. The prank is the enactment of privilege: We are talking about those with the ability to secure respect and prestige in society through executing actions that are irrelevant and/or overtly damaging to themselves and the functioning of society.  Behind the allure of cheap spectacle, these acts are fundamentally nihilistic. Who is able to perform these acts for fame and monetary gain, and who are not?  The privileged are; the unprivileged are not. The privileged may engage in society in actively hostile organizational means, while the unprivileged must never dare venture toward enactment that so much as hints to activity, hostility or organization.

Perhaps we should all approach pranks the way the unprivileged most often do. Acting on the pretense of nihilism should be a taboo for all, not just the unprivileged. People, privileged or unprivileged, should expect the disapproval of society if their actions reflect a view of society that betrays empathy, harmony and respect for humanity.

 

Privilege and Words

Through education in words and the symbols that materialize through said words, we in privilege have an advantage within the realm of discourse that we have invented for ourselves.  Rebecca Solnit writes, “Language is power, When you turn ‘torture’ into ‘enhanced interrogation,’ or murdered children into ‘collateral damage,’ you break the power of language to convey meaning, to make us see, feel, and care.”[iii]  And at the same time, there is a perspective from bell hooks that I particularly agree with: “The possession of a term does not bring a process or practice into being; concurrently one may practice theorizing without ever knowing/possessing the term, just as we can live and act in feminist resistance without ever using the word ‘feminism.’”[iv]

Rebecca Solnit, as a white woman—versus bell hooks, a black woman—has relatively more privilege being White.  Highlighting this comparison, we must recognize that there are those with the privilege to use words, change words and implement changes, and those without.  A beautiful term to describe something new, if poorly theorized, will be rendered unsuitable in theoretical discourse. And those who have suitable words will continue to invent—if not, select—new words that are perpetuated onward in future influential discourses. In other words, words enable more words.  However, oppressed people have a knack for inventing alternative modes for defining and employing words.  These words that do not associate with scholarly journals, educational curricula, advertisement space in free market economies, mainstream media or culture, still, nevertheless, through the resilience of their creators, find their creative flow, communal recognition, and pandemic application. Albeit confined to marginalization.

 

Privilege and Guilt

I accept the definition of privilege as Madison describes it, “a degree of separation, of remove.” I accept my life as profoundly attached to it, and this acceptance makes me feel guilt. Guilt, described by Freud as “a fatal inevitability,” is fundamentally expressed through the understanding of right and wrong, and more specifically, the recognition of society’s particular notion of right and wrong.[v]  However illuminating he can be, Freud, a white man, fails to illuminate how the hegemonies of race, gender, sexuality and class coerce our understanding of right and wrong, leaving guilt as the emotional testimony of this coercion.

Temporarily indulging in the dismissal of privileged emotion, I would like to assert that my guilt, and the infliction of my guilt onto others, is a human atrocity that only privilege engenders. Guilt is a reaction to privilege, and is therefore as atrocious as privilege itself. This assertion does not intend for the guilty to feel guilty for feeling guilty, which would be a useless and inane outcome. Rather, privilege should first be recognized as the seed of origin for guilt, and that seed is planted in race, gender,  sexuality, and class inequity. Secondly, the seed of guilt should not simply grow in the soil it finds itself into a larger, guilty plant, but rather transmutate into passion, compassion and action that engenders positive social change.

 

Conclusion

Privilege is in fact an atrocious thing. And to acknowledge an atrocious thing within oneself is a painful task. In her work with educating children and young adults on racial privilege, Jane Elliott observes that those first confronted with their own personal privilege often follow Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.[vi] I would like to now suggest a parallel between these 5 stages of grief, and the sections of this essay: 1) denial as the recognition of luck, 2) anger as the practice of pranks, 3) bargaining as the exercising of words, 4) depression as the feeling of guilt, and 5) acceptance as accepting privilege as the seed of guilt. These equations are approximate and open to faults, but nevertheless highlight that all action within the frame of privilege can be read in terms of grief.

Grievances aside, what is the next step forward? We in privilege, which is virtually everyone at one time or another, must work to form a deeper understanding of our own privilege, and subsequently convert that knowledge and the feelings produced by that knowledge into positive social change. While often painful, growth through deliberate introspection is rewarding, invigorating, and essential to the healthy functioning of self and society.



[i] D. Soyini Madison. Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance.

[ii]Sigmund Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents.
The deliberate rewording of “ill-luck” was within a discussion of our selective reaction to ill luck as an opportunity to embrace guilt: “…namely that ill-luck—that is, external frustration—so greatly enhances the power of the conscience in the super-ego [the self that monitors the corporeal self].  As long as things go well with a man, his conscience is lenient and lets the ego do all sorts of things; but when misfortune befalls him, he searches his soul, acknowledges his sinfulness, heightens the demands of his conscience, imposes abstinences on himself and punishes himself with penances.”

[iii] Rebecca Solnit. “#YesAllWomen: Feminists Rewrite the Story.”

[iv] bell hooks. Teaching to Trangress: Education as the Practice of Freedom.

[v] Freud. Civilization.

[vi] Jane Elliott. “How do you Identify Racism? The Angry Eye with Jane Elliott.” ttps://youtu.be/TZKWkhnSb5k

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Eleven Months – Black History in March, Malcolm X

The Eleven Months project is a form of protest against the U.S. government’s relegation of fundamental civil rights issues to a particular month in the calendar year, creating a morally permissible disregard to the remaining eleven.  The hidden motive for those of us in privileged society, it seems, is to quell civil disobedience with a scapegoat reason for our own political inactivity.  The current manifestations of Eleven Months include Black History (which runs from March thru January), and Women’s History (April thru February).

To watch this is to watch the bullying tactics of White men, chipped from the same block as Bill O’Reilly, true nobodies in American history, belligerently antagonizing Malcolm X, one of the most brilliant and powerful humans in all of US history.  Malcolm X was interrupted no less that 9 times in the first two and a half minutes, and for any other questions where he was able to actually finish a grammatically complete sentence, was rushed and redirected to an entirely different subject matter.  What is painful is not just the obscene behavior of a truly pathetic man who poses to be conducting an interview, but to watch a proud Black man in those times, deemed “militant,” show arrant civility towards the White man so unabashedly.

Malcolm X’s autobiography is a must read.  It contains a vivid and horrific account of his life, from the cruelty of domestic life in rural towns, to the perils of life on the streets of big cities, all occurring behind bleak veil of racism.

In the book, the truest difficulty for me, as a half Irish person, was reading his vitriol for all White people, when he first converted to Islam.  There was about 100 pages of anger and hatred towards all those who share a certain skin color.  When the skin color is your own, it makes that very skin crawl.

And then that seraphic ally, perspective, arrived at my side.  The pages became easy to read when I reminded myself of the simple, ugly truth: This feeling I have in my skin is only a small window into the unrelenting, inescapable reality for people of color in racist societies across the country, and around the world.

Of course, Malcolm X’s contempt subsided after those 100 or so pages.  He came to see his own situation with perspective and grace, which is hard to do when you are born out of racist rape, when your father and friends are all killed by racist hate groups like the KKK, when you’re family is forced to move when the KKK burns down your house (the one your father built) as an infant, when you yourself will die by murder in this same alley of diseased thought.  The ability to still show perspective, (perspective that I could easily achieve in the detached entertainment of a book), to still perspective amidst all that encompassed his reality for the entirety of his life–a reality that has caused pain and suffering through violence and humiliation–is powerful stuff.  The achievement of that kind of perspective is seriously humbling and forever inspiring. I’m so thankful for Malcolm X, as his life matters very much to me.

Here he is kicking some major ass, when freed from privileged interrupters.

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The Spiral

With no way other than the one could one ask one way more or less the same.  Could one ask one way more or less the same? One way fills nothing much because if only alone again it would fill the same. It is a matter of staying.  It is a matter of filling and staying and hearing the same filling that was there. So much for the one way. So much. So little to see because nothing is so empty when it is you and me.  And to forge the new path with the same trail and the same foot, and the same sameness, what is there to really see. What is there to really see?  Well, that is another story for another time when the emptiness has left and all that is left is less than empty but more than one thing.  But that time will not come because it is an easily expressed equation that deals absolutely.  There is no clear forging of a path because there is no new and there is no path.  The forging is also not new. The forging is emptier than nothing else.  That is the secret that lies close to your head when you are not looking, far from your eyes when you stare, and behind your mind when you think not at all…

This is the exposition to something smaller. The smallest one can get is achieved by beginning with nothing.  Behind nothing is a large step that only grows with un-looking.  I myself have tried to look, I myself have tried to step.  But that is not a step worth forging because nothing waits inside, behind, as well as straight ahead, of it.  So let’s keep it simple and neat: One will try as I have, and I will try as one might, but there is not any more than nothing behind what you try to step upon.  The path is not a path and the step is not a step, and there is nothing to forge – nothing but nothing.

But let’s take a step back, because now we must dive deeper in.  There is a winding road that spirals into itself.  This road has no beginning and no end, and we are all unwittingly on it.  I have tried to see it, I have tried to see out of it, but it is an impossible task.  So, we continue along a non-path that spirals to nothing, starts at nothing, and leaves us the same.  Even the same does not exist when truly examined.  The same disappears next to nothing when nothing is the only other thing.  There is no road at all – only spiral.  This is the form of true emptiness: a spiral.

There is no beauty to be found at the end of the spiral, even when it is the form to be found.  I have tried to find beauty, yet unwittingly stepped back, which was also forward, which was also not at all. Motionlessness is achieved only when one looks for the beauty.  Motionless itself may be beautiful. One cannot know, but one can hope.  Hope is all there is to hope for. This is not meant to be funny.

Nearing the final stop, and hope is all there is to hope for.  We can divine deeper things.  We can prove the non-existing of others. But hope is all there is to hope for.

Thought, not fact: Crawling into nothing is darker than staying.  There is only more nothing yet the walls close on the spiral to flex the muscles of its true form.

Thought, not fact: I am seeing the same as you and that is enough. One can only hope for hope, for it.

The same is nothing and there you are.

Thought: But maybe, just maybe,

No you,

No me.

You.

Me.

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Poem #2222

Speaking directly to not just one face
When your face is not directly one.
Trying to grab such alternative ways
When the one way of yours is much too much.

Acting for nothing and staying the same
Is the one way for nothing to stay the same.
Sleeping to reveal the one way
Is sleeping much too much the same,

One face, one name,
once is said to directly,
is all one face and name can say.

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Questionnaire

Answering broad questions with riddles.

Are there a few key ideas that you tend to explore in your music? 

I explore my messiness, framed neatly.

What sort of influences do you feel have been key in your development?  (both musical and non)  

My influences are whomever and whatever I influence. This is also my approach to influencing others.

How do you feel that you fit into the contemporary music community?

You can play many games. GAME ONE: Take the game everyone plays; win it. GAME TWO: Take the game everyone plays; reinvent it. GAME THREE: Invent a game; play it by yourself.

I play game two.

What opportunities have been most influential, instructive or exciting in your career and why? 

The moment institutional support was no longer a factor.  Because it relieved me from oppression.
Equally so, the moment when money became a factor in what I did as an artist. Because it re-oppressed me.

How has music composition shaped your life or provided unexpected turns to your path?

I think anyone who is creative enough to want to invent and build something from scratch is an exceptional human being.  I suppose composing gives me pride.

 

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Poem #282

When there is a cloud, I write — When there is sun, I look up.
My words, and the space between, is a weather transcript.

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