Monday, December 31, 2007

If you cut off a head, what will grow in its place?

When Herakles (Hercules) was sent to cut off the head of the 9 headed Hydra, he discovered that for every head cut, two more sprung in its place. And cauterization was born. The only way to kill the Hydra was to cauterize the wounds from the sword.

Perseus cut off Medusa's head, by Athena's command. Pegasus and Chrysaor were born from her head. Her blood sprayed the deserts of Libya, becoming snakes; it also became a medicine that could kill or cure.

Azhi Dahaka - the demon of evil in Persian mythology - has two snake heads that guard him at all times. No matter how many times they are cut, they grow back to protect him. And so evil continues on in the world, only by a sea of molten metal will it be vanquished.

Shiva cut off Ganesh's head in a jealous rage; Parvati asked Shiva to fetch their son a new head and Shiva went into the forest and got the head of an elephant. In fact, nothing grew in place of Ganesh's head until it was placed there by his slayer.

The Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, beheaded by her brother Huitilopochtli, became the moon in the sky.

There are many monsters, gods and goddesses and mere mortals (MacBeth, Marie Antoinette, Grendel for example) who did not survive their beheadings, nor leave anything in their place but fodder for artists and historians.

And then there are those monsters and gods who beheaded mere mortals, their acts justified by their imm(p)ortality, the beheadings a ritual of mass cleansing. Such as the case with Ogun in Yoruba mythology.

Who then are the gods and monsters of our time?
What will spring up in Benazir Bhutto's place (they say her son has emerged from her blood)? What serpents are forming from the drops of red gold spilled in the sandy soils of Iraq?
Will these serpents become the moon, or is their fate to call forth the molten metals to purify our earth?
Who will betray whom and change our skies forever?
As we prepare to enter 2008, I am worried about the state of the world. No. I'm more than worried. I'm deeply, gravely concerned. And as a result, inspired. To create something beautiful, resonant, healing. Something to balance the wounds of history.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

So, it started today. Unsuspectingly. It started. There was food. I made crepes. And a fritata. We gathered from our various paths and agreed to join together for one year. To make art. And perform art. And conceptualize art. And commit to art. For one entire leap year. 366 Days. Well, kind of. See, someone was wanting to get ride of 350+ masonite tiles from her stock. But she made the taker promise they would do two things: do something every day and keep a blog about it. So, a group of us: Senalka McDonald, Samiya Bashir, Wura Ogunji and I agreed to do it. We said yes.

And then we got together today, Saturday December 29th and hammered out the details. Figured out what we're not going to figure out. Decided to commit. To the material. To the mission. To each other. We even came up with a name for ourselves and our blog: Penz (it's pronounced Pants). So, follow us as we go on this journey. Oh and by the way - not only are we committing to making one piece of art a day for 366 days and posting on the blog every day for 366 days, we're going to be involving others. Check it out.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ugh. It is COLD in Austin today. I feel misled by the past two years of 50+ degree winter weather. I did not know below 32 degrees was possible. Except "rarely". Anyway, I'm wearing all wool today and sneezing up a storm.

Benazir Bhutto is dead. It was over 20 years ago that Indira Ghandi was also assassinated. Why couldn't it have been Margaret Thatcher? That's all I want to know. Bhutto's leadership has been under constant controversy - some of which I believe is political baiting and some not - but she at least aimed for military reform. And then it's fucked up that one of the few female political leaders in the world has been assassinated. Yes. That's right. ASS-ASS-IN-ATED. Bomber, shooter, I don't care. Someone supplied the weapon.

Suffice to say, there aren't that many female political leaders in the history of nation-states. And most of the women have been terribly conservative. Here's a list I've started to compile of female political leaders. Not all of these women were democratically elected (and we can contest this as well), but I've tried to identify those who were by an (*):

Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka, Prime Minister, 1960 - world's 1st Female political leader)
Indira Ghandi (India, Prime Minister, 1966 - assassinated 1984)
Golda Meir (Israel, Prime Minister, 1969)
Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom, Prime Minister, 1979)
Eugenia Charles (Dominica, Prime Minister, 1980)
*Vigdís Finnbogadóttír (Iceland, President, 1980 - world's 1st Female elected President)
Agatha Barbara (Malta, President, 1982)
*Corazon Aquino (Philippines, President, 1986)
Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway, Prime Minister, 1986)
*Violeta Barrio de Chamorro (Nicaragua, President, 1990)
*Mary Robinson (Ireland, President, 1990)
*Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma, Prime Minister, 1990 - democratically elected; denied post)
Hanna Suchocka (Poland, Prime Minister, 1992)
*Kim Campbell (Canada, Prime Minister, 1993)
Tansu Ciller (Turkey, Prime Minister, 1993)
Sylvie Kinigi (Burundi, Prime Minister, 1993)
Agathe Uwilingiyimana (Rwanda, Prime Minister, 1993 - assassinated 1994)
*Chandrika Kumaratunge (Sri Lanka, Prime Minister, 1994)
Jenny Shipley (New Zealand, Prime Minister, 1997)
Mary McAleese (Ireland, President, 1997)
Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan, Prime Minister, 1998 - assassinated 2007)
Jennifer M Smith (Bermuda, Premier, 1998)
*Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia, President, 1999)
*Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia, President, 2001)
Angela Menkel (Germany, Chancellor, 2005)
Yuliya Tymoshenko (Ukraine, Prime Minister, 2005)
*Ellen Johnson Surleif (Liberia, President, 2006)
*Michelle Bachelet (Chile, President, 2006)
*Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina, President, 2007)
*Pratibha Patil (India, President, 2007)

This list is not exhaustive. It's what I could gleam from the lists available online. I'm not altogether pleased with the fact that I could do this over a two hour period or less. Damn. Damn. Damn. I'm upset with the circumstances of Bhutto's death, too. More than anything else.

On another note altogether, though also not so happy, Lisa C. brought to my attention this article by Tom Christensen of on small presses and the current challenges faced by said small presses as a result of large media conglomerates. Here are two small excerpts:

"Now, you might say, publishing companies are sold and merged all the time. Why does any of this matter? It is true that such changes in its landscape have been a part of publishing since the Renaissance. But:

Never before has such a large percentage of the publishing market been in the control of so few organizations.
Never before has so much of American publishing been accountable to foreign owners.
Never before has publishing been a piece of giant entertainment multinationals that control not just book publishing but to a large degree its promotion and distribution


"Today 80 percent of U.S. publishing is controlled by five giant multinational corporations. In my next post we will take a closer look at who they are and how their activities affect the way books are published in this country."

I've been trying to follow what's going on since the merger of distribution companies earlier this year. It's a little overwhelming, and as a strong supporter of small presses, I immediately think of all the implications. How many small presses will close this year? How many magazines? Because of lack of distribution (note: those big chain stores only carry books that are available through distributors), or resources to print. What does it mean for emerging authors, such as myself or others who are trying to get their FIRST book published? What are the implications for our social-cultural landscape if only a few multinationals are controlling the output and production of books (not all literature)?

I'm really not trying to be morose. It's just a cold day. You know?

Monday, December 24, 2007

A week late, but right on time.

Lakota withdraw from treaties, declare independence from U.S.

The Lakota Sioux Indians, whose ancestors include Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from all treaties their forefathers signed with the U.S. government and have declared their independence. A delegation delivered the news to the State Department earlier this week.

Portions of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming comprise Lakota country, and the tribe says that if the federal government doesn't begin diplomatic discussions promptly, liens will be filed on property in the five-state region. Here's the news release.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," said Russell Means, a longtime Indian rights activist. "This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically Article 6 of the Constitution," which states that treaties are the supreme law of the land.

"It is also within the laws on treaties passed at the Vienna Convention and put into effect by the U.S. and the rest of the international community in 1980. We are legally within our rights to be free and independent," he added during a press conference yesterday in Washington.

The new country would issue its own passports and driver licenses, and living there would be tax-free, provided residents renounce their U.S. citizenship, he said, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

The Lakota say the United States has never honored the pacts, signed with the Great Sioux Nation in 1851 and 1868 at Fort Laramie, Wyo.

"We have 33 treaties with the United States that they have not lived by. They continue to take our land, our water, our children," said Phyllis Young, who helped organize the first international conference on indigenous rights in Geneva in 1977.

Means said the "annexation" of native American land had turned the Lakota into "facsimiles of white people."

In 1974, the Lakota drafted a declaration of continuing independence. Their cause got a boost in September, when the United Nations adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The Bush administration opposed the measure.

Article in USA Today Blog.

To find out more:

Let's see how this all progresses.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Do it. Learn new words. Give rice. 20 grains = 1 teaspoon of rice. 1000 grains = a bowl.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Last night I watched the documentary "The Price of Sugar" directed by Bill Haney, and featuring several nameless Haitian/Dominicans (any configuration thereof) and Father Christopher Hartley - who is the "hero" and main protagonist of this film. It's an important film, and their website is designed as an action site. Thanks to M.P. & C.M., we were able to project the film on a big white sheet in their living room and then hold a conversation afterwards.

I remember the first time I ever spent time on a batey. I gave up sugar for almost 2 years. Because of what I witnessed. And then I went to work in an ice cream shop and became nearly diabetic from eating so much ice cream (gelato, really - gianduia gelato, mango sorbet, the works). And I drink coffee with sugar - especially if it's office coffee. And when I lived in NYC, I used to be on the J-M-Z line and would watch the billows of smoke coming from the Dominos sugar factory on my way into work in Manhattan.

It always stank to me even though we couldn't smell anything from the train. That's cause I grew up driving past the ingenio in San Pedro de Macorix in the D.R. where they process sugar cane and make it the white stuff. It stinks. Like rotting meat. Makes you wonder, huh? And then when you drive past San Pedro you cross train tracks where all the workers on the plantations (bateyes) load the cane onto boxcars. Crates, really. And then you get to La Romana, and when you drive north of La Romana, all you see is cane. All the way to the mountains. Acres and acres of cane. No people. That's because they're on lockdown inside.

But, you gotta watch the movie to learn more about that. And oh yeah - and remember to watch the film with the critical eye it deserves. For even though Father Hartley's work is important, it's all of the nameless Haitian/Haitian-Dominican/Dominican laborers whose bodies are literally on the line.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Every time I open my in email inbox I have a lovely little gift from the Word of the Day. Today's word: unfledged.

unfledged \uhn-FLEJD\, adjective:

1. Lacking the feathers necessary for flight.
2. Not fully developed; immature.

I always wonder how writers stumble across language and then somehow make it theirs and then release it all again. I think of Octavia Butler's "Fledgling" and of the birds that nest in the trees outside my window. I think of children who are not children anymore, and yet they are unfledged. The children.

I collect these words of the day. I put them all in one place and then from time to time I stare at them, trying to make sense of my love for them. There's no apparent logic to my attraction. Except maybe the sound of the word. The way the letters look together. And maybe then, after that, their definitions. Unfledged just sounds like a word that's wanting to take off, but is somehow grounded.

These words don't end up in my every day vocabulary. They are a private pleasure. I rendezvous with them at haphazard times, consider their completeness and openness. They are beautiful.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Life is becoming.

This past Saturday, a group of us came together and worked with Wura-Natasha Ogunji on a series of videos she's creating. She made us fathoms - threads in the colors of our deepest powers - and in S & K's backyard, we discovered the depths of ourselves. We moved and spoke with each other wordlessly. For hours. For days, it seems, since I'm still reverberating with the vibes from the experience. And then, we got to see some of the images. And it was so beautiful. The artist hasn't released stills or videos yet, otherwise I'd post some here. And when she does, I will.

Besides that, since being back home I've been working on a performance piece and on transcribing conversations. Absorbing the winter sunshine. And petting my fluff Friends on Facebook. I'll admit it. I can waste SO much time with facebook. It's amazing.

Marvin K White's in town, and he's performing on Saturday at the Victory Grille. Yay! Don't want to miss a chance to see him in his brilliance.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

New York, New York.

I spent a little time in New York City on my way back to Austin. Not enough time to do everything, but enough time to go and do some research at the Center for Jewish History archives, which houses the collections of the American Sephardi Federation among other collections. I had a great time. Spent two days reading about Sephardi literature and Jewish Caribbean history. There's not much out there right now, that I've found so far. But, I feel like maybe I'm not looking in the right places. Anyway, what I did find was fantastic, and very exciting.

I also got to attend the workshop Tongues of Fire, led by the fabulous r. Erica Doyle and meeting at the Audre Lorde Project. Which leads me to the fact that this week there is GENIUS AT WORK.

Tonight December 3, 2007, Ernest Hardy will be reading from Bloodbeats, Vol. 1 A at Columbia University in uptown Manhattan.

Then Thursday, the participants of the Tongues Afire workshop will be reading at the Audre Lorde Project from 7pm on.

And Friday, to end an already fabulous week, Tisa Bryant will be celebrating the release of her new book: Unexplained Presence [Leon Works Press].

A note about the significance of these three events this week. For one, I have often found myself complaining about the fact that there is just not enough cultural criticism. But between Ernest and Tisa, I find that there's great hope. Ernest's collection of essays on pop and hip-hop cultures are brilliant, insightful, critical, compassionate and they remind me of the complex social and political context under which we've been living for the past 20 years. Tisa's writings are a combination of fiction, critical literary and arts theory. Not only was I refreshed by the form in which she writes, but I was led to think about art and literature in a completely new way - her analyses lend themselves to a new way of reading visual art, film and literature. And she reaches deeper than thirst.

Now that in between the end points of these two brilliant is the Tongues Afire reading. When I visited the workshop (thank you to all the participants who so gracefully welcomed me), they were working on Manifestas. Here's an excerpt of a manifesta by A. Naomi Jackson, for flava (she's not speaking for the whole group; it's an individual writing piece that mentions the group):

The Tongues Afire collective is a group of women writers creating the change they want to see in the world.

In the face of efforts to deny our collective voice, we stand up not as consumers or shareholders, neither as militants with guns and spears, but as writers motivated by our desire to share the word.

We know we are the ones we have been waiting for, the blossoms whose sweet smell we hope to awaken to.

We believe that the future generation needs our stories. We hope they will be encouraged by knowing that their stories began with ours, and knowing that they do not struggle alone.

And the poet/performer Sandra Ramirez shared a manifesta, with the line: "I measure twice, cut once" in reference to love, relationships and joy. I think that line is beautiful, and telling and powerful and a guide for us in doing this work.

So, I come back to Austin fed - intellectually, culturally and in all other ways - knowing that good things are happening in the world.