Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changin'

It's been a lovely education for me on this platform. I started blogging a little over a year ago because I couldn't drone on and bore my friends to death 'with all the unborn chicken voices in my head.' Word to Thom Yorke (see Paranoid Android lyrics).

Blogging has been an awesome space, a meta-space if you will, to explore trends, politics, art, ideas that I obsess over daily. As I write my novel, the blog has been an awesome respite, allowing me to sort through themes in the blog space. It's another space for my creative process.

Sometimes I try to add more to our conversation about these times we live in. I think I've succeeded in some areas; I'm sure I haven't other times.

All of this is to say that The Bellewether State is moving from Blogger to Wordpress.

Beginning September 7, 2009, you can find me at

Can't think of a better way to begin a new cycle than Labor Day.

Change is good.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rhythm Nation - MJ Dance Party in Prospect Park 8.29.09

The County of Kings represented for the King of Pop. Rain and barricades couldn't keep this crowd back. All ages, all colors, all... getting together to celebrate the music and life of the King of Pop on his 51st Birthday. It was bittersweet. These lyrics ran through my head like a tape:

We're Sendin' Out
A Major Love
And This Is Our
Message To You
The Planets Are Linin' Up
We're Bringin' Brighter Days
They're All In Line
Waitin' For You
Can't You See . . .?
You're Just Another Part Of Me . . 

For my part, it was hard to decide between dancing or taking pics. Not sure this small offering of images can do justice to the spirit of the people of Brooklyn in the park last Saturday. But if you weren't there, here's some highlights from DJ Spinna and Spike Lee's Party Saturday in Prospect Park. 


See and download the full gallery on posterous

Posted via email from bellewetherstate's posterous

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Public Option Hullabaloo 2.0

I signed one of those petitions to support the public option. I feel really strongly about it. There was a space for a note to POTUS. I doubt he'll read it personally, but I'm so peeved about the affair, I might have gone a little overboard.

Dear President Obama,

While I respect your team’s efforts to work with Congress and the Health Care Industry to develop mechanisms for reform and regulation, I must again reiterate my support for a public option. I'm not clear on what we gain if there isn't a mechanism that allows for uninsured, self-employed, freelancers to buy affordable health coverage that allows for preventive care.

I'll never regret my vote for you and your team, but I need you guys to 'man up' and push reform through that will benefit my generation. I'm 35 years old, unemployed, uninsured, now freelancer, with a pre-existing condition. This pre-existing condition is treatable, however, the medication is $300 a month, which well exceeds my budget at present.

I’m not sure how we find ourselves in this class and ideological warfare with our fellow Americans. However, my mind is on the future, my generation and the one behind me that will carry the burden of an over-bloated system that seems to support deep corporate interests rather than the welfare of communities. I’m not sure how our value system became so skewed that our choices are to include a bill that covers tort reform to limit recourse for patients who have legitimate complaints against negligent doctors. I’m not sure how we’ve come to accept that the only way uninsured can secure treatment is to go to the emergency room where they will incur costs that far exceed a modest premium if a public option existed. I’m not sure how we’re the only westernized nation in the world that refuses to acknowledge that quality health care is critical to the growth and health of a nation. I’m not sure how, with relative ease it seemed, we went to war with a nation for which we had no legitimate quarrel, and committed countless dollars to support it. I’m not sure how we failed to recognize in doing so, we would be engaged in nation building for probably the next twenty years. I’m not sure how we haven’t made the connection that our bloated national debt mirrors our values and our belief that we can leverage debt personal and communal without consequence. I’m not sure how we got here. But we’re here. You said we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. Well, here we are. We are at the most critical ideological crossroad here. I’m not in office so I don’t have the power to push key legislators like Baucus, among others to do right by us. You do. You’re the leader of the party; you’re the leader of our nation.

We can do this. I need you to be my fiercest advocate to get this done. Or at the very least, sell me on how an alternative to the public option will actually help me purchase affordable health insurance without relying an employer.

With respect and grave concern,


Syreeta McFadden

Native of Wisconsin, Resident of New York


Posted via email from bellewetherstate's posterous

Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 29, 2009

Today an interesting split of emotions. It is the 51st birthday of the King of Pop. It is the funeral of the Lion of the Senate. 

I wasn't alone in sharing these feelings.

These are a couple of images from the DJ Spinna/Spike Lee Tribute to Michael Jackson in Prospect Park, Brooklyn today.

More later.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

Posted via email from bellewetherstate's posterous

Friday, August 28, 2009

Design of Decade #4

By now, most people should know that I love Radiohead more than... maybe more than Biggie.

This track is from Amnesiac, which was released in June 2001. I've listened to this track over an embarrassing amount of times. But that's not the point, the point is that this week is the first time I ever watched this video. And I'm so surprised that my imagination of the sound and movement with this song mirrors the action with the video. I imagined a figure reversing in space, and spirals of light.

I'm writing about post 9/11 New York. It's challenging. A lot of writers have tried and will continue to try to write a record of our lives during this period. I can't think of a better soundtrack to write to in order to tease out meaning in our lives then and now.

This is entry #4 of my design of decade collection of material that lives in the muck of my consciousness.

Posted via web from bellewetherstate's posterous

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Design of Decade #3

It's the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This is a clip from the documentary Trouble The Water. If you haven't seen this film, you should Netflix it now. It's an intimate narrative that centers around a husband and wife with home video of those waters that overtook the Ninth Ward when the levees failed.

Posted via web from bellewetherstate's posterous

Monday, August 24, 2009

Of Boabab Trees, Nutrition, and Marketing #365black

Does anyone remember seeing this? From Boondocks, July 23, 2005.

Posted via web from bellewetherstate's posterous

"So live, that you might desire to live again…

Eternity is worth it… Let us stamp the form of eternity upon our lives… This life is your eternal life." - Nietzsche

Woke up thinking about eternal recurrence and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

"If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.

But the heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden the closer our lives come the earth, the more real and truthful they become. 

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. 
What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?... The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all."

This book changed my life.

Posted via email from bellewetherstate's posterous

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Mad Men Obsession Continues...

I just caught up to the rest of the world and I saw this Vanity Fair article on Mad Men.

Honestly, I've not read the article yet because I'm loving the photographs. I mean, seriously, just look at them:

Annie Liebovitz's photos are stunning. Sort of a Norman Rockwell throwback quality to them. These images are a little genteel by comparison. However, if you can dig back into your memory, or perhaps you might have missed W Magazine's photo essay with Brad and Angelina.

Both sets are extremely narrative. However, Steven Klein's photos show a menace in marriage that lies beneath the surface. There's a softer hint of tension with the images of Mad Men protagonists, Betty and Don. I love both sets. I think by default, my generation is still captured by the imagination of life in 1960s America.

I don't know. I've been thinking about marriage a lot lately, particularly because I'm revising a short story of my own that has a character looking side-eyed at it.

Maybe it's time to read more Yates.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Woodstock Music and Art Fair, August 15-18, 1969

Ladies and Gentlemen, Richie Havens' Freedom.

Health Care Reform Debate Round-Up

DSC_4408, originally uploaded by indigo_belle (bellewetherstate).

Yesterday, I kind of lost my shit on Twitter about Health Care Reform.

I shared with the twitterverse and now here, that I worked as an intern for Senator Russ Feingold (D, WI) during summer of 1994. As most of you may remember, that was round one of the Health Care Reform debate. That summer left a mark on my psyche, so much so that I mention it perhaps a bit much. It taught me a lot about how important it is to be an active citizen, pushing your representatives to act courageously on your behalf to shape policy.

And while I'm certain that I'm not alone in trying to tease out facts from rhetoric, I feel that I should be a little redundant and post some links that help anyone who comes across this post to get some informed insight that I found helpful. I'm unapologetically left leaning in my sources, but I'm loathed to find facts on the side of the right that merit posting.

The Atlantic Monthly.

Bob Herbert NYT Op-Ed.

Paul Krugman NYT Op-Ed.

The Rachel Maddow Show.

Rachel Maddow also points to Matt Taibbi's latest article in Rolling Stone.

Howard Dean at the Netroots Conference last week.

Michael Lux on the stategery.

President Obama's Op-Ed. Admittedly, his piece really is a plea for reform, but lacks specificity and the hard push that will lead to a Public Option.

Former Education Secretary Robert Reich.

My new favorite blog, PostBourgie simple and elegant summation.

My favorite MFA classmate also pointed me to the latest issue of Harpers, which for some unknown reason is trapped in the nether regions of snail mail.

I think if you believe in Health Care Reform, which really is a bill that's about regulation, it's worth taking the time to read these sources to help inform you on the debate. Admittedly, I got distracted by the squeaky wheels of the fringe parts of the conservative movement that I lost focus. And if we're truly entering a new generation of politics, and that our society is fully embracing a generational shift from the old order, then I must remember the wisdom from the 44th President of the United States, 'We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.'

I hope he remembers too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Want My Country Back

I'm not sure which America she's talking about either.

To be honest, I find these town hall meetings distressing. Grown ass people are practically throwing tantrums over a social reform agenda that they'd in all likelihood would benefit from. Most of these folks appear to be part of a socio-economic class that gives them health care, but still would lack adequate coverage if they were inflicted with a serious illness.

Rachel Maddow did an excellent account of the strategy or, strategery behind these town hall disruptions. Reasonable people can see through the menagerie and recognize that this is in fact, a politically orchestrated effort.

These details notwithstanding, it's still important to parse out language here.

This rally cry of 'I Want My Country Back', 'I Want My America Back' or some of my other favorite invocations, 'socialism', the Obama/Hitler analogies, ---the 'birthers', and good lord, the 'deathers'--- just drips with racism. I don't say this flippantly, but the supposed fringe parts of the conservative movement have invented so many ways to say nigger it's ridiculous. The language is loaded is white racism that it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge it.

However, in acknowledging racism in language is dangerous territory. When you're trying to coax people to the middle ground, acknowledging racism shuts down communication. People get tongue-tied and lock-jawed on old narratives. They get angry, hurt and defensive. They feel guilty. They stop listening. They act out. No one wants to be seen as a bad person. I think what I'm getting at is that intent behind words like socialist in relation to the Obama Administration's policies doesn't sit well. I'm not sure if these folks know what socialism is. I think these words get tossed around and sits on tips of tongues without full awareness of the historic implications behind them.

I'm not sold on health care reform as it stands either. I'm in desperate need of concrete details from Congress and the White House. But I live in a democracy. I understand that the point of town hall meetings provides me with access to my elected representatives to listen to differing points of view that may ultimately (or so I hope) influence public policy to the benefit of my community. Shouting down anyone to the point that nothing is discussed isn't free speech or democratic. It's stupid. It's selfish.

The left or anyone who was opposed to the Bush Administration certainly felt put out about the direction of the American experiment. I certainly felt that we were falling in a pattern that didn't represent the values that our nation purported to uphold. I protested the Iraq War, and I could look to the left and right of me and see a broad based coalition of like minded people who felt as I did. I don't imagine if town halls were held to levy support for the war six years ago, the left would be shouting down those who supported it. I don't think we'd burn Bush in effigy.

While I can appreciate opposition to health care reform and that the extremes of the opposition may very well constitute a minority of the total population, I cannot ignore the pejorative nature of their critique. There's bloodlust behind those words.

I want my country to find the middle ground.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pastime Paradise

I posting this as a stub.

As I was reading this post by TNC, my iTunes DJ randomly landed on this classic track. I don't believe in coincidences. As the summer presses on, and our national debate centers around flash point issues of health care reform and race. Within those two issues are layered complexities of class and the shadow side of our American heritage.

I can't remember who said it last year during the campaign, if it was a pundit, an analyst or Michelle Obama, but with advent of Candidate and President Obama, someone said, 'Now we'll find out how racist this country really is.' That sentiment loops through my head as I try to sort through the barrage information and misinformation.

If you haven't watched Alexandra Pelosi's documentary, I think it's worth at least a once over. I don't feel that she necessarily presented these folks in the most objective light, but given the growing populist right resentment towards a reform agenda government complicated by their racial animus, maybe she wasn't so far off.

There's a fine line between discourse and disruption. A fine line between civil disobedience and sociopathy.

More later.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Social Contract

It's a common thread in the narrative of black and brown people in America.

Bob Herbert's column in the Times today highlights some key points. Police interaction with communities of color, and people of color, cuts to the marrow. It doesn't matter if you're Ivy league educated or the average street negro, all brown boys in America have a story about being pulled over or stopped by cops simply because the color of their skin. It's more than a scene in an Oscar winning film.

Over the weekend, I found that we were still talking about it. Over brunch, another friend expressed her rage as best a poet can, saying simply, 'Am I to believe then, that their blue line is worth more than my blood?' An implied deference to law enforcement, without any accountablity to the people they are sworn to serve and protect seems to violate the social contract. Or should I infer from all of these stories that we were never party to that social contract?

Again, I could put it to rest, but then I came across this in my readings today. From Ross Gay's collection of poems, Against Which,(Cavankerry Press, 2006). I'm hoping he doesn't mind my posting it here. It struck nerves.

Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ 8:00AM

It's the shivering. When rage grows
hot as an army of red ants and forces
the mind to quiet the body, the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through hips, chest, neck,
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips,
his eyes scanning my car's insides, my eyes,
my license, and as I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,
his hands massaging the gun butt, I
imagine things I don't want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens.

Copyright © 2006 by Ross Gay

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Gentle Reminder

"The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ampler largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the doings of man that corresponds with the broadcast doings of the days and night. Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations."

-Walt Whitman

What's On My Mind

At least according to Wordle:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

'Teachable Moment'

I think it was Malcolm X who had once said, 'You got to make them laugh in order to make them think.'

Last night, the Colbert Report tried to disambiguate the furor over Gates-gate.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - He Who Smelt It, Dealt It
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTasers

The Word (flatulence, aside) picked apart why this drama struck nerves. The media frenzy over Obama, Gates and Crowley meeting for a beer, is frankly annoying. And to borrow, POTUS's word (sans modifier), stupid. The amount of minutes devoted to trying to pick apart what racism and racist means in our culture in lieu of real reporting time to present useful details about the health care reform bill is the real tragedy.

You can't cure cancer with a coke and a smile.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Beautiful Mine

Mad Men Season 3 Premiere is a short but distant two and half weeks away.

AMC's website has an awesome interactive program that for a fan like me, was irresistible.

The cultural history is layered. It's doubtful you'd see someone like me, even in my Mad Men avatar, move so freely in that space without it signifying some aspect of the past social contract. But it's nice to imagine that animated me could be patron in a bar, rather than server. It's a period of history I'd rather pretend never existed, and skip to the good part, when we got civil rights and I get to experience integration and live in a 'post racial' society. However, Weiner's drama is still compelling. The nuanced day to day interactions of race, gender and class in what we can now refer to as modern America, are so exquisitely rendered that I can't help but watch the show as if it were a cultural document. For our post-modern, 'post-racial' society, it's an interesting history to watch unfold week to week, a close examination of how far we've come in our own narratives, and a reminder of how far we still have to go.

As a writer, I find Don Draper, Betty Draper and Peggy Olson fascinating. I grew up poor, so suburban ennui, unhappy marriages, or inhibited women are fascinating for me. The women in all of these narratives seemed to be silently screaming. The tension was building last season with the women. Over drinks last weekend, three very liberated women (me and my friends) got to discuss the implications of psychotherapy from that era. We were trying to convince our friend that she needed to get caught up on the show; we were talking of the scene where Betty's psychologist talks to Don about what Betty discussed in therapy earlier. A detail that we found alarming. It was such a common practice, no one questioned it, until 1970. A lawsuit created what we've come to accept culturally as doctor-client privilege.

It just makes me want to reread John Cheever and Richard Yates. Maybe Patricia Highsmith, too. It also makes me want to listen to RJD2 on repeat.

Go Mad Men Yo'self.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Public Option Now

It should be restated again. We need health care reform now.

For one, like MSM, I got distracted by the Gates-gate episode. Following this very complex conversation or rather deconstruction about race, class, authority, law, free speech, and frankly, a story of two 'reasonable' men clashed which escalated about who's member is bigger than the other, was riveting.

It's already been said by many more wiser writers and minds than me; that Obama's presser last week that the real message of the urgency of the need for reform was buried in the MSM coverage of a seemingly gaffe by POTUS.

I've been trying to synthesize my thoughts about the bubbling race in America today question for weeks now. I had a rather random post that was only to function as a primer for me to redress late. I felt something was coming. I just wasn't expecting it to come in the form of segregated pools, excessive force/abuse of power cases, and the death of a pop icon.

Again, I digress.

I also started to draft a post about my recent trip to DC to lobby for reform. Particularly, I wanted highlight the people I met and why they were willing to bake in the late June heat, to push for reform and a public option. A few real life things happened that got in the way of that for me. And then my uncle died. I don't meant to make him out to be some sort of martyr, but the significance of his passing and the health care debate cross hairs for me. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer in March. He didn't have health insurance. It wasn't provided to him through his job. I can't help but wonder if there were a public option, would he have been able to seek medical attention months, years ago for a stomach problem that he could have easily dismissed as indigestion. He stopped treatment in June. Apparently he lived an expectantly longer life than any doctor would have conceived. He had a pre-existing condition that complicated his treatment with chemo. As my mother explained to me this past weekend, he had a childhood disease that should have been terminal. And it's apparently genetic. The irony, if you want to call it that, is that my uncle may have saved the life of his children with the discovery of this disease that was responsible for the complicating treatment that would've prolonged his life. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that.

The other story that seems to get lost is the face of the uninsured. It's an issue beyond black, white and class. 43 million Americans do not have health insurance. I've heard reported (trying to verify) that the number of uninsured Americans under the age of 30 constitute the large part of that number. A detail that I don't find too surprising. The low skilled worker, or the recent college graduate who have entry level jobs often are, for lack of a better word, shafted. Ask any bright, young thing who's employed by a publishing house, magazine, or advertising company to someone who's working as a janitor, security guard, or retail clerk. Do they have adequate health coverage, if any? Would a public option help small businesses who factor fringe benefits in employee compensation? Would small businesses be able to expand and hire more workers? Would that aid in our economic recovery?

I think Obama failed to explain these facts in a way that can incite urgency among everyone. MSM failed in deconstructing the argument in digestible bits that would push the conversation beyond what polls supposedly say about what Americans want: deficit reduction.

I'm biased of course. I'm part of a Venn Diagram of constituencies that's affected by this. I want a public option. I'm a bright, young, African American, thirtysomething that would love the independence of not relying on an employer to provide health care coverage. I'd also love a system that would make it affordable so that people like my uncle can seek and receive care in instances where their employer can't afford to provide them coverage. I'd also like for the forces that claim to read tea leaves through polls realize that my biggest care in the world is not the growth of the American deficit. I do care about it. But I'm a member of the generation that will carry the burden of many debts. I'm still researching the data, but my impression is that the national debt will increase with reform and without reform. I'd like to hear a sound debate about the rate of that growth if we don't reform our entitlement programs now.

It's food for thought.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Picturing Themselves

This is an excellent post about women and their role in the Iranian Revolution from Tehran Bureau.

Women are so prominent in this movement, from mothers surrounding the men during protests to shield them from police and the attacks from the basij. There's a strong feminine energy here.

I'm still following this. I hope everyone else is too.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I don’t think I knew it until I was washing the dishes this morning that I’ve been mad at Michael Jackson for years about Billie Jean.


Like everyone, I was listening to Thriller on repeat upon hearing of his death. In 1982, washing the dishes was one of my household chores. I was eight. Billie Jean was playing on the radio and I finally listened to words of the song and got it.

Who was Billie Jean anyway?

Somewhere, the synapses crossed and I think my eight-year-old brain rationalized that Michael, like my dad, or gave my dad a reason to pretend that I wasn’t actually his daughter.

The first time I called my father daddy, he looked me square in the eyes and told me never to call him daddy because I wasn’t his daughter. I understood and didn’t understand simultaneous. Because I looked like him. I had a space in my teeth like he did. No one on my mother’s side, including my mother had a space between their teeth. Their teeth were perfect. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. I think I got angry, because I knew it didn’t logically make sense. He certainly acted like he was my father, so why say some ish like that? Then I thought it must be because it made him feel old to have a daughter. Then I felt some sympathy. I mean no one wants to feel old. It smelled like ben gay, collard greens and mold. At least that’s how I imagined old to feel.

Everyone and their mother loved Billie Jean. I couldn’t tell if it was because it was a good song or simply because of Michael’s deft gravity reversing soft shoe push across the stage and then subsequent toe stand as a ballet dancer. I didn’t like it. I actually hated the song until I made myself love it. I listened to the words, the heavy blues guitar riff, that sounded full of a world of deep delta troubles. Now I can hear Muddy Waters all up in and out of Billie Jean. I’m not sure how as a child I understood the meaning of the song. Maybe it was the hook, ‘the kid is not my son.’ The contradiction in the narrative, ‘eyes were just like mine. Wanna dance on the floor and around.’ The hazy hindsight of one-night stands and adult relationships stirring some rationalization in eight year old me.

In other words, I was pissed. I knew where babies come from. My mom was pregnant with my sister and my father was around and then not. And in the summer of 1982 while I was doing the dishes, he tried to teach me how to moonwalk. He seemed to have grasped the mechanics. It was a soft shoe push backwards. Small steps. All we needed was the smoothed and scuffed surface of the kitchen floor. Maybe a little of the soapy suds from the sink where I was doing the dishes to help with our torsion, motion backwards, like Armstrong. ‘That was how he did it,’ my father, excuse me, Gerald, explained. I did get it for all of five minutes maybe less. Under a heavy bass guitar blues riff, pushing my one foot after the other backwards, a small step for mankind with this man who looked like me and was not of me, yet was everything to me.

Now I realize it may seem weird to be secretly resentful of Michael for a song. Even odder to me that this is thing I’m thinking about today on the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing.

I guess this is how memory works. Fragments of the familiar link back together in space.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

MJ Legacy, Ctd.

For those of you aren't aware, Jay Smooth's Illdoctrine video blog often offers the most insightful discourse on issues and themes in the hip hop world as well as pop culture.

His most recent post about MJ offers a deconstruction I haven't heard too many places except in the comfort of my circle of friends, artists, writers.

It seems to me that mainstream media and its pundits, missed an opportunity to examine this hyper-reality that has manifested in our culture over the past 25 years or so. We watched Michael for nearly four generations in my family. You can't say that about many pop stars. And I don't think any of us thought about the kind of spiritual and emotional toll that takes on a person who is constantly watched, living in a meta-reality, between worlds, personal and public.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Disambiguation, Redux

Toni Morrison shared some wisdom about language, culture, and writing at a talk about a month or so ago. I've watched it a few times. She hit some nerves for me that have been swimming in my head for years. Blogs, Twitter, SMS text messages, hyperlinks... all of these things that allow us to move and share information faster, regardless of quality is unprecedented.

Watching some of the opening statements for the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, I found myself returning again to this video:

The key point? There's a difference between discourse and information. Literature, more specifically the novel, in this age will still act as a vehicle to organize information and human emotion. As Morrison says, 'the novel can be a body of knowledge.'

I'm still processing, sorting, filtering, organizing...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BET Doesn't Care About Black People

'George Bush doesn't care about Black people.' That was Kanye West. Remember? He blurted that out in a moment of honest frustration with the Bush Administration's blunder at providing relief to victims in the Gulf. Network media cut to commercial fast during the Hurricane Katrina benefit. We all know what happened or didn't happen after that.

Fast forward to 2009 and the BET Awards. We all in the African American community had great expectations for a proper send up for Michael Jackson from America's only Black network.

*Le sigh*

Writer and Comedian, Elon James White, goes where no prominent African American leader or entertainer will ever go.

This is effin' hilarious.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


We danced hard.

We watched him. We studied those moves. We studied those moves like our lives depended on it. We succeeded and failed. I had no rhythm in 1982. Eight year old me struggled to copy those moves. In third grade at Golda Meir Elementary, we had a talent show and a group of us practiced a dance routine to You Wanna Be Startin Something. I was the weakest link. I danced like the Tin Man in the Wiz, even though I always adored the limberness of the Scarecrow.

I remained a fan but kept it closed to the vest.

My late friend Peter had a saying, 'Sometimes, you just gotta dance out your demons.' He picked up from watching an episode of Charmed. I used to mock him, but I still accepted the underlying wisdom.

I've been watching old videos of Michael like everyone else has over the past few days. A few videos come to mind, Beat It, Jam, Black or White and the seminal work, Thriller. Watching Michael's dance solo at the end of the Black or White video (beg at 6:32) I can't help but feel he was dancing out demons. He morphs from panther to man dancing fluid, masculine, and wild, then back to panther.

Michael was Matrix before the Wachowski Brothers dreamed it.

What were those demons? Only time will tell us the full extent. We saw evidence of them over the years, never quite grasping his metamorphosis from black man to indeterminately ethnic. Perhaps it was a hybrid of love and hate for mankind that compelled him to make his body a template to teach us something. That we are one people, beyond artificial lines of color. I did see that. However, I also saw a soul in crisis, sacrificed to us for contempt and ridicule.

I did eventually figure out how to dance. It was in 1991. Shit was pretty bad then for me, but this song may have saved my life. Flexibility and abandon came when I finally let go and surrendered myself to pulse of the music. And the body memory of those moves revealed themselves to me.

Sometimes, you gotta dance it out.

Only now, I realize that I turn to his songs to help me deal. In his voice, the rage at injustice, poverty, racism, all the things that divide us vibrate underneath his songs. I connected to that. It's the equivalent of a primal scream for me. Growing up in '80s and '90s America and being black were challenging times. My family struggled during those times. My parents couldn't afford to buy me a Thriller jacket. We ate government cheese. I was lucky to score an old copy of Right On to clip pictures and pullout posters of El Debarge, Michael Jackson, and Prince. There were drugs. There was crime. There were senseless deaths. There was hunger.

Things that make you wanna holler. Or scream.

It seems to me Michael came from a musical tradition to give voice to those struggles. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On begot Stevie Wonder's Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life, begot the Jackson's Can You Feel It, begot We are the World begot Man in the Mirror, which begot Heal The World.

He was an artist.

He used music to give voice to our shared frustrations, local and global. He also gave us hope. He entertained us. His videos challenged convention and elevated story. He merged forms revolutionized dance as means of communication. He reminded us that there is ecstasy and joy in dance.

He held his crotch because when you have Kundalini energy moving through you, you gotta try to harness it.

Shiva is known also as the cosmic dancer. It is said that Shiva's dance manifested in two forms, gentle and violent. Shiva dances to destroy, create and build again. Watching Michael, I can't help but wonder if that was the energy he was trying to manifest in his fluid motions, pirouettes, pops and locks, gravity defying leans and moonwalks. Michael broke down old forms and barriers in everything and birthed something new.

He was a deeper creative spirit than I had originally imagined. It seems clearer to me now as I look back on all those years with adult eyes. Michael was a student of history and culture. It didn't seem obvious to me growing up, but now, I'm a better student. I've studied other cultures and their dances, and I understand now what Michael was trying to show us.

I weep for yet another marker of the end of my childhood. Nothing lasts forever. It sucks that sometimes you have to lose something to realize how much really had.

But I'll never forget the dance. I'll shake my body onto the ground as if all of creation depended on it.

They Don't Care About Us

I'm not alone in seeing the connection.

The person who posted this originally created it before MJ's passing. If anyone denies Michael Jackson's reach, message and legacy. I encourage you to look at the video.

Warning: These images contain graphic content and may not be suitable to minors.

The world is watching.

Grand Street and Lexington Avenue

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

May you find peace in the afterlife that evaded you in this life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mad World

I feel their sense of urgency. And I'm hopeful for their success in achieving self determination as a society. The people deciding who represents them. It's not so much about the who's the best leader for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It's about respect for the process, the structure of the civil society itself. Mousavi is symbol now. I don't think we'll ever come to know what kind of leader he would be. But these protests do show that the people were seeking an alternative to Ahmadinejad, a leader that could be a vehicle for reform within their society. And the system failed them.

Remember 1989? There's a weird symmetry in history. Deja vu all over again. I remember feeling the same desperate sense of urgency and hope and dread for the students in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. I was a tween then, but I understood the longing of an oppressed people challenging the system. Later when we started high school that same year, two German tourists spoke to my world history class and talked about the shifts they were feeling then in their own country. I asked them a question that I felt in bones. I asked them if they thought the Wall would come down. I still remember his facel, and he said, 'I hope so. I sure hope so.' It could not have been more than two weeks later and the unthinkable happened. I remember Jeremy running to class the next morning saying to me, 'Syreeta! How'd you do that? How'd you know? You called it!'

All I can say is that people dream in a common language. If you heard those German tourists in my history class in 1989, you could feel the urgency for change. And I don't think it's a stretch that young Germans felt a kinship with the students in Tiananmen Square. In the wake of that tragedy, they might have found their courage to challenge the old order in their nation.

The poignant part of the President's Cairo speech two weeks ago sort of reads now as a prophetic allusion to events that are now manifesting. Pundits have found fault with the connection with Civil Rights Movement and resistance movements -fringe to moderate- of some Arab communities to regimes. I felt that it struck a very raw nerve. Something that we all had to acknowledge. African Americans learned from the Indian struggle against British rule during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1947, India became a sovereign nation again. Our own history shows how civil disobedience can affect change. It ended injustices my forebearers suffered through. It gave me the right to vote without fear. It seems clear to me now that the Iranian kids heard him. Still, Obama can't engage them directly. That's not his purpose at this time. A statesman engages governments. This is a populist movement. And all we can do is watch, support, and hope that human rights are respected.

My color scheme is green so that they know that I'm with them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catch A Fire

, originally uploaded by mousavi1388.

I don't know about you, but I'm riveted by the events in Iran since the weekend. If you've been living under a rock, Twitter has emerged as the critical source for following the events in Tehran. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan has masterful coverage. A must read. Print media as it lives online has in-depth accounts, images, and analysis. Television has failed. Perhaps today we'll see a difference in the type of coverage that the cable news and major networks will show than the pallid interest it had displayed over the weekend.

I can't help but think if we had Twitter in 2003 during the height of the antiwar protests, would we have had a larger impact on the mainstream media coverage? Would that have stopped the invasion of Iraq? Hindsight remains fuzzy. But now? We have this technological infrastructure to support digital communication. And that communication supports civic engagement and action. Perhaps a revolution.

I'm watching these events very closely. We're getting information in real time. This is the future of journalism. The future is now.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A More Perfect Union 2.0

This is simply brilliant.

If you don't have time to watch the video, please read the transcript. I can't think of another person who has the moral authority to deliver this speech. I felt the same way about his speech on race last year. There's a maturity beyond the words. There's clarity and acknowledgment that he gets it. And so do we. He doesn't insult our intelligence or talk down to us about it. He's embracing it full on. There's honesty in balancing our fixed perceptions and opposites, naming them and then challenging us to transcend.

I don't even need to glean what the Right will say about this. But in embracing this 'third rail' of sorts, he's taking the road I don't think any of the candidates last year ever could. The opportunity here is to challenge the world community to be the change we wish to seek in the world.

The middle ground is something close to freedom.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Writing On The Wall

St. Marks and Third Avenue, New York City.

© syreeta mcfadden

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Funkin' Lesson

I don't know what's going on in my brain today. But it began with a question that I woke up with this morning: what is black?

And then I remembered the jam from back in the day.

Still thinking about where I'm going with this question. But right now, I'm shakin' my ass to early '90s hip hop.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Remembering those who have served and sacrificed. Below are photographs from the Veterans Hospital campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Siempre Fidelis.

Friday, May 22, 2009


In the ongoing debate about torture versus the rule of law, constitutional values, and American identity and values, the media seemed to miss the mark, not surprisingly again.

Jon Stewart still wins.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NOLA Diary - Fragments

It was too brief a trip. It was my first trip to the Crescent City and I only got a small taste. NOLA was in good spirits when I arrived. Jazzfest was in full swing, along with some ill-advised consumption of deep fried foodstuffs and crawdads. Yeah, I said it. Crawdads.

Some fragments of my impressions:

1. Time is measured by BS and AS. Before the Storm. After the Storm. The Storm holds weight. It is matter of fact. It is reality. It is not imagination. It is lived and it is real.

2. The fleur de lis has three points. It is symbol and totem. It is ubiquitous. It is an act of defiance. The phoenix that rises from the ashes. NOLA is rising.

3. Gentrification presents paradox. Rebuild, renewal and rebirth challenges the traditional neighborhood fabric and urban design. The communities of the 9th Ward, Mid City, Esplanade are in transition.

4. There's nothing French about the French quarter. Jackson Square is Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

You come to really know a place through the passage of time. Sure, I'd seen films about 'Nawlins' as well as the documentaries about Katrina. But it provides a limited point of view. It frames the narrative of communities and the people who live in them. You can see a picture and connect to place and feeling, but you're only looking at the object through a narrow prism of the photographer/filmmaker. You hope it evokes an awareness of space, sound and feeling that you may have felt when you took the shot. And in the sequencing of those images and sound, the filmmaker hopes to construct a larger narrative for her audience. It's still two dimensional. Memory works like that sometimes. It's spotty, fragmented, fractured and magic all at once.

Nonetheless, I've included some images from my travels.

I don't presume that my photos tell the whole story. I don't think that was the point in my taking them. It really says more about me as photographer. And all of this is a really long way of saying that I plan to go back as soon as I get the chance.

Friday, May 8, 2009


H/T to Crucial Minutiae blogger Jennifer Gandin Le for this one. If you have time to watch this short film featuring TJ Thyne of 'Bones' fame, please do. And if you're not smiling by the end, then there must be no love left in your heart.

Happy Friday.

Mirror Error

Some other thoughts on the 'T' word from Andrew Sullivan and blogger Hussein Rashid.

Literature has often been a teacher of humanity for me. As this subject is debated over various outlets, my memory takes me back to IB English in 11th grade. Our reading list included Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Wikipedia has a decent synopsis.

My memory of the novel is fragmented. It's sort of a mash-up between other things I was reading, junior and senior year of high school. I was also reading Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and The Pendulum and Elie Wiezel's Night. These stories stayed with me. They were stories of the individual versus the state. Maybe it was my first literary encounter with torture and why I think of it now. The Pit and the Pendulum, Night, and Harrison Bergeron along with Darkness at Noon form this dystopic nightmare for me. The lines where these stories overlap in my brain comes to this point: totalitarian regimes suppressing the rights of individuals and systematic murder of citizens. The Spanish Inquisition was torture. Rubashov in Darkness at Noon was tortured and was compelled to fake a confession. Harrison Bergeron was murdered for not conforming to the rules of the State that suppressed his individual freedom. Elie Wiezel survived living in a concentration camp while Nazis methodically murdered Jews, gypsies and others.

Isn't it odd that the conservative movement fears Obama Administration's policies on social entitlements and tax code versus the Bush Administration's sanction and codification of a torture program? Where's their fear of losing the rule of law?

Not everyone has read these stories. They've read others, perhaps. Maybe it didn't affect them as much as it has affected me. Maybe they can't see how these stories were written so that we remember to do better. Maybe they can't see how at this moment, art and life are thisclose. That is not a typo. We still have time. We're the ones we've been waiting for.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not In Our Name

'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' - Martin Luther King

I'm not sure if enough people are talking about this.

I've been avoiding it myself. Looking at the issue straight in the eye. See the character of the American people through the actions of our leaders. Honestly, I don't want to. But much like that nagging small voice inside your head, you must relent and deal with it.

Part of the strategery in releasing these memos is that it forces us to talk about it. Everyday people, beyond the mainstream media. Some would like to frame this debate as 'leftwing' issue. Some have even attempted to phrase the conversation in this way:

It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, ‘Oh, much good will come of that.’ Sometimes in life you want to keep walking… Some of life has to be mysterious.
- Peggy Noonan

On the interwebs, populist outrage seems to be simmering. Andrew Sullivan and Ta'hesi Coates for the Atlantic Monthly have written about it.And again, we have Shepard Smith, with his flashes of outrage. This guy's done a song about it, Jon Stewart reported it satirically on the Daily Show, Nick Flynn wrote a brilliant essay about it in Tin House last year, George Saunders wrote satirical story about it for the New Yorker, and yet, I sort of get the feeling that we're not angry enough.

We are avoiding talking about it. It's ugly. It's ugly like lynchings, serial killers, interning Japanese American citizens, rape, police brutality, eugenics projects, and slavery. It's the dark side of the force that everyone tries to forget.

For what good is this great republic if we can't be honest and be held accountable for our crimes? How dare we say that we're the moral compass to the world when we're unwilling to prosecute crimes committed by our leaders? When did we let our fear forfeit the rule of law?

The most damning realization in my reading these memos, the Red Cross Report, the Senate Arms Services Committee Report, and other sources to deconstruct the issue is this: Torture became policy. Torture suborned confessions to support the invasion of Iraq. Torture was policy and vehicle to support a political and agenda.

And that realization sends chills down my spine. It makes me weep. I hope I'm not alone.

Torture is wrong. Waterboarding is torture. There, I said it. And I will say it again and again. We all should. And we can't stop until officials of the previous administration are brought to justice and are held accountable for their crimes against humanity and the republic.

photo: © syreeta mcfadden 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

NaPoWriMo - Catch Up/Day 22

Ok, so I'm behind. I decided that I actually should follow a prompt. Day 22's prompt from Robert Lee Brewer was to write a poem that involves work. Below is my attempt.

Kid A-Draft

To say, It is what it is, signals defeat. Acceptance doesn’t always set you free
and the heavy stone pressing on your heart each day
as you waddle up the slope of the Fulton Street station
doesn’t make the day go any faster. The fluorescent lights
blind. You are an island in a sea of grey cabinets.
You think, this is what it must have been like for Mrs. Basil
E. Frankeweiler
. Mixed up files, yellowing papers, and mildew.
The worn adhesive on a file label wedges itself between papers
Unaware of their original intent. Who knew recycling could feel so liberating?
Letting go gets easier, but the paper still bites
Its cut burns the skin worse than rubbing alcohol
and your mother warned you never to bite your cuticles.
Your underexposed pieces are the most sensitive. What gives?
New skin should be protected if only for a while.
You wait for something to happen.
Make copies. Answer phones. Someone on the other line
is asking you to come home.

Filing and copying as a task always makes me think of Radiohead's Kid A. I have no other explanations to give.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

County of Kings

After an unpredictable slew of transitional weather, Brooklyn found herself basking in the warm glow of the sun. Here are some scenes from yesterday's life in the sunshine.

Under a big bright yellow sun. It's going to be a good summer.