Tag Archives: power

trigger warning: election 2016

three wise monkeys

 

It’s nearing the end of October, and the presidential election of 2016 is only a week away. The above image reflects the general attitude of the American people voting for either Clinton or Trump in November – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – then cast your ballot, pull the proverbial trigger, and turn away as the illusion of democracy implodes.

Our votes are as insignificant as our lives to these people, who are very far removed from the actual plight most Americans face. Both Clinton and Trump are multi-millionaires, both have accumulated their wealth through shady business dealings on the unfortunate backs of others. The majority of Americans do not believe that we hold any power, they do not think that change is possible, and although they may bitch and moan about it, they behave as sheep who follow the herd, who are implicit in upholding the status quo, and who shut their eyes and ears and mouths about lofty ideas about change and revolution.

The majority of Americans are overwhelmed with the basic tenets of survival. We wake up each day, work, work, work for the almighty dollar, so we can pay our bills, keep our homes, keep our families healthy, and buy all the things that are supposed to make us happy. Who cares about the planet, or other races and cultures, as long as we are doing okay? We are lambs being led to the slaughter-house. We are a people who have bought into the system for so long, we have become an integral part of it, and we refuse to see it.

When we awaken, we take to the streets, our voices and hearts carried away by visions of how things could be, and we are put down by a militant police force and a divisive, apathetic society. When we awaken, we begin seeing the irreparable cracks of this broken place called America. When we awaken, we refuse to take part in our own undoing.

I’ve written about the rise of third party candidates, who I now prefer to call “alternative party candidates,” as even the connotation of the term “third party” indicates a less-than or inferior position, which is created by the existing two-party system consisting of Republicans and Democrats. I propose new terms – Remocrats and Depublicans – ones that truly speak to the two-sided double-speak of these two parties, which are built on the idea of duality, where neither can exist without the other as it’s opposite, and yet, they are the same.

Remocrats and Depublicans operate in the same way – using fear of the other. These two parties have successfully inculcated the idea that they are the ONLY viable parties in America. Why? They have consistently used “divide and conquer” methods to retain control of the government. They have played the American people as if they are two bitterly opposed sports teams, and you are forced to choose a team.

People hold onto their “party allegiance” much in the same way as their favorite sports team. Win or lose, once they’ve been given a team (usually by family affiliation and socio-economic status), they are in it for life, and will stand behind their “team” no matter what – a flawed analogy, yet only flawed by it’s own design, for this is really how things are.

But … aren’t we free to vote for other parties besides Depublicans and Remocrats? Shhhhhh …. Hush! You must be a child! Alternative parties – how dare you even suggest such a thing! They won’t win, ever! We won’t let them win!! This is America god dammit, and in America, we only want a winner. You know, if you vote for an alternative party – you might as well throw away your vote! I mean, this is only the ILLUSION of democracy – so shut up and get with the program! This is politics! This is no place for idealism!!!

Do you want Trump to win?!? Do you want a reality TV show celebrity and shady business mogul as president, who has no actual political experience? Are you a bigoted, racist, short-sighted, filthy rich, sexist, misogynistic egomaniac? Because that’s what a vote for Trump signifies! You better vote for Clinton – because if you don’t – it’s all YOUR fault that Trump won!

Do you want Clinton to win?!? Do you want more American-based abuse in other countries, more Clinton foundation pay-to-play government schemes, more lies, more pandering? Are you a willfully blind, secretive, filthy rich, pseudo-progressive egomaniac? Because that’s what a vote for Clinton signifies! You better vote for Trump – because if you don’t – it’s all YOUR fault that Clinton won!

It’s at this point that people start crying about Bernie Sanders. Things would have been so different if he were allowed to compete fairly!! Remember the wave of “idealism” that Sanders rode throughout the primaries? You know, that thing we are supposed to forget about in politics? That thing that the DNC ridiculed about Sanders’ supporters? That was real. It was real because idealism IS a part of politics. What was unusual about Sanders is that he rode this wave of idealism throughout the democratic party primary – and not an alternative party.

Remember all the reports during the democratic primaries that spoke directly to fraud and suppression? That was real, too. No one should be surprised when Hillary Clinton wins this election.

But … Hillary Clinton will be the first woman president! Just like Obama was the first black president! In four years, the democrats will most likely roll out some other “first” to pretend that they are forward thinking. Maybe Michelle Obama will run! That way, the Clinton machine can continue the way it has since 1992. Won’t it be wonderful to vote for a woman?! Now is the point that you are supposed to agree, and forget everything you’ve ever heard about what Clinton has done.

Yes, it will be wonderful to vote for a woman! I can’t wait to cast my vote for Jill Stein – a woman with integrity. (oops! another “i” word that, along with idealism, we’ve come to associate in politics as suspect and naive) And guess what, I’m not voting for Clinton OR Trump, not even by default. I’m sick of hearing immature and short-sighted people braying about what they’ve been told that means. I’m voting for the person and the party I think can help bring desperately needed change to this country.

Jill Stein, along with Ajamu Baraka as her running mate, is a strong candidate, with an impeccable record of political activism. The Green Party has a very strong, impressive, and yes, idealistic, platform that I truly believe in – because I know that they truly believe in it, too, and they will work to make these ideals reality. Alternative parties have been marginalized so far and for so long, the American people have been manipulated thus, and they are actually seen by some people as the villains in this, and any, election cycle. And yet, the real villains take center stage.

While I’m ranting about this, I just want to say one other thing: If you are an artist who has made a living by presenting yourself as alternative, risk-taking, and edgy – you have no business vilifying alternative parties and Trump while drawing hearts around Hillary Clinton, and forbidding people to disagree with you because it’s your opinion. This shows an extreme level of cognitive dissonance, and brings the legitimacy of your art into question. The personal is political. Art is political. You have some serious self-reflection to do, as do your supporters.

I am aware that the jig is up, the rig is in, and that we will never really know the true election results, the way that we never really knew just how well Sanders was doing, and the fact that it never mattered anyway. The Democratic Party could have become a party that truly embraced progressive change, instead they were hellbent on a coronation. History will show this was a critical error in judgment – much in the same way that the Republican Party’s support of Trump will be seen as a critical error. The two-party system is dead; they’ve committed political suicide. We will feel the effects of this for many years to come, and the rise that we’ve seen this election cycle of alternative parties will only continue to grow.

I truly believe that, in the words of JFK,  “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution  inevitable.”

If the democratic primaries have shown us anything, they have shown us that the people behind Clinton (big banks, lobbyists, billionaires, corrupt world leaders, the media, etc, etc) will stop at nothing to make her president. Trump is a straw man, set to burn. Alternative parties are routinely denied media coverage. They were denied access to the presidential debates because the committee is run by Depublicans and Remocrats – they were denied a voice and the ability to access millions of people with their message. Yet, people are finding alternative parties through social media and other alternative news outlets, and are supporting them in record numbers.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. Truth and Reality can be difficult to digest. Change is hard. Complacency is easy. In this world, people sometimes make a choice to live in a world of illusion, because to acknowledge truth is too hard. This is why “ignorance is bliss” but “the truth will set you free.” You can view the current two-party system as the blue pill, and alternative parties as the red pill. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” (The Matrix)

Perhaps this election cycle has really come down to this idea put forth by Marianne Williamson:  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Maybe that is why people continue to support our oppressors through the two-party system, and why idealism and integrity have become dirty words in politics. Many people do not really want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes, because it may be uncomfortable, and they want to preserve their illusions.

Nevertheless, many people understand the necessity of change, that revolution is not easy nor comfortable, and it is worth the risk to seek what wonder there is to be found on the other side.

 

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the rise of 3rd party candidates

time for change

 

A political revolution has already been started in America, and people are becoming more awake and aware of their necessary role in fighting for change. With both major party candidates being extremely unpopular, bringing questions of their personal and political ethics to the forefront, the dissatisfaction of the current business-as-usual politics, and the refusal to choose “the lesser of two evils,” more people than ever before are turning to 3rd party candidates as a refreshing and viable alternative.

This election cycle, people are supporting 3rd party candidates in record numbers. The two-party system is a symbol of the polarizing, divisive, either/or mentality that we have grown so accustomed to, which only serves to disconnect us from each other and the world. The two-party system is irreparably broken. Year after year, we are becoming more aware of voting irregularities and outright fraud, as we place our votes with wary consciousness, hoping that our votes count, wanting to believe that our voices matter.

America is a country that actually has more Independent and “No Party” affiliated voters than either Republicans or Democrats; however, two-party politics have long dominated the political arena. If you believe what you have been taught, in both implicit and explicit ways, then you “know” that a 3rd party candidate has a snowball’s chance in hell at being elected president …. But is that really true? This mindset is a carefully constructed manipulation supported by the two-party system as well as the media, in order to discourage ‘outsiders’ from entering the presidential race and also, to discourage the American people for voting for those who do.

3rd parties are overflowing with people literally trying to change the world. They are idealists, who inherently believe in challenging the status quo. They are also realists, who have had to jump through hoops and work harder than any of us could fathom, just to have the chance to represent the American people. They have the courage of their convictions, and only ask us to have the same. They hold us to a higher standard – to become active and involved, and to work alongside them in creating a future that we want for ourselves, the planet, and the world. 3rd parties inspire and motivate us to question our preconceived notions about government, elections, and our role in the political system. The truth is, with enough support, a 3rd party candidate can win the presidential election.

The system is set up in a way that makes it very difficult for 3rd parties to even enter the presidential race. There are ballot access laws, which require 3rd party candidates to petition each individual state in order to be allowed on the ballot for president. (It is anticipated that both Stein and Johnson will have received ballot access in all 50 states by the election) Next, there is the question of having one’s voice heard. The media has routinely denied 3rd party candidates this exposure. In fact, they have also worked as operatives in reassuring the American people that a 3rd party vote is “a wasted vote” and have psychologically influenced people into thinking that a 3rd party candidate is at best an interloper and a nuisance, and at worst, a spoiler. None of this is true.

The way the two-party system operates is by a “winner-take-all” electoral college system, considered to be an archaic, complex, and problematic method, with each candidate needing to reach a certain number (270) of electoral college votes in order to win the election. There isn’t a national presidential election; there are only individual state elections, and to complicate things a little further, we are not really voting for the president, we are voting for the electors from our respective states who will in turn vote for the president. Electors usually follow the popular vote, but they are not mandated to. Because the number of electors per state is proportional to the amount of delegates they have in the house and senate, there are only 5-7 states who actually determine who the president will be.

It is argued that anything more than two parties would destroy the proportion of numbers, which would lead to confusion and chaos, as no clear winner would emerge. As we have seen in previous elections, the two-party system is not infallible, and there have been times when the president was decided, not by the people, not by the electoral college, but by the supreme court. One could also argue that since the electoral vote, and not the popular vote, is what actually decides the presidency, then the popular vote doesn’t actually matter at all. And if we agree that it is true, how do you think most Americans feel about the idea that their votes don’t count?

Many Americans are demanding change in the way we vote. Ranked Choice Voting and The National Popular Vote have been put forth as measures to change the current system and to give the people’s vote more power. However, the political establishment is terrified of both these measures. According to the National Archive of the U.S. Electoral College, there have been over 700 proposals within the last 200 years to change, reform, or eradicate this system. This fear is evident by those who uphold both major parties. Even in the Republican Party Platform 2016, it is stated that they “oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College. An unconstitutional effort to impose National Popular Vote would be a grave threat to our federal system.” (i.e. it could dismantle the two-party system, give more power to the popular vote, and make it easier for 3rd party candidates to compete and win the presidency)

“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political… And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show him, every day, that there can be no change.” (Wim Wenders)

The more people recognize the truth of this quote, and how the American people have been manipulated through the two-party political system into believing it, the more people will reject what we have been taught, and we will free ourselves from our psychological and political chains by voting 3rd party. It is a natural evolution of our mass consciousness to begin to see 3rd parties as a viable option; it is reflected in the corrupt and broken two-party system and the number of movements within the last few years which have increased in frequency and magnitude, demanding change.

Refusing to vote for the major political party candidates and instead supporting a 3rd party candidate is a powerful step, and a step that millions of people have already taken, and are willing to exercise come November. This election cycle is not about Clinton or Trump. It is also not about Sanders, Stein or Johnson. It is about the American people, standing at the precipice, tested to their breaking point, testing their own strength, and deciding to stand united with 3rd parties against the very system that has been tearing them apart, believing in the power that comes with a new vision, ready to embrace a new world.

 

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This post was also published as an op-ed piece via The Huffington Post!


protect & serve

I have long held fear and distrust towards the police, the very people who are supposed to “protect and serve” the rest of us from … what? ourselves? each other? The connotation has never been exactly clear, especially when it seems that the police are there to protect and serve the very institutions that are holding us down. I wrote about some aspects of my feelings about the police and the nature of their power a few months ago in a previous blog post (police state) in response to increased national/local security and surveillance and the situation in Ferguson in which (yet another) young black man was killed and excessive force used when the police were supposedly occupying the area during protests, “to keep the peace.”

Since then, a grand jury dismissed charges against the police officer who killed Michael Brown. There have been protests and riots and people taking about everything from police brutality to institutional racism to white privilege. But the fact remains: the police officer was not charged with murder – even though he shot and killed an unarmed young person. He was not charged because he is a police officer. Many people feel that he was not charged because the person he killed was a young black male. There can be no doubt that there is a disproportionate number of young black men killed by the police. But this is not solely a race issue; this is an issue that affects every person who comes into contact with the police, no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or socio-economic status is.

When I heard that the police officer was not charged for the obvious crime of killing another living person, I was upset. I was not alone. I remember cooking dinner and talking with my children about what had happened. My 16 year old daughter said, with all the innocence of a child, “But mom, he shot the kid like 7 times. He killed him. Why wasn’t he charged?” I shook my head. I took a deep breath. I told her that he should have been charged. I said, “if they convicted him of murder, the system would basically be hanging themselves.”

We discussed the fact that if a person is driving and hits someone, accidentally killing them – the driver is always held accountable. I heard about a very recent case of which had the defense pleading for vehicular manslaughter instead of the murder charge that the prosecution was almost sure to get by the jury, based on the high level of alcohol in the driver’s system. The driver was drunk. The driver didn’t mean to kill anyone. But that didn’t matter – the driver had committed a crime by killing another person, and even if it was accidental, that person would have to “pay.” That is what Americans call justice.

However, if that exact scenario occurred and the driver was a police officer, it is very likely that the police officer would not be charged with anything. A police officer can shoot with intent to kill, and they do, and they consistently are not charged with abusing their power. Police officers make mistakes. But they are never held accountable for their mistakes, because doing so would flaw a system built on the idea that “father knows best.” Police officers are the law. We are a society of abused children afraid to go against our parents. We are told that it is a bad world and we need to be protected. We are told that if we step out of line, we will be punished.

The police, much like the government, controls people with fear. This is inculcated and ingrained. A police officer’s abuse of power is not only permissible, it is implicitly accepted. We accept it. What other choice do we have? We are gaslighted into submission. We are taught from an early age to follow rules and not question authority. We want to believe that the police are there to help us, not hurt us. We want to believe that they are there to protect us, not protect the system against us.  Just the idea that police officers carry guns and other weapons visibly and refer to everyday people as “civilians” separates them from the rest of society and denotes an unequal power balance. But when “civilians” are required to concede all rights to the police, who watches the watchmen?

When people find out that I have had numerous run-ins with the police, they are often surprised. Why? I’m a “white” (Italian-American) female. I’m not a “trouble maker.” I’m educated. I’m quiet, reserved, even shy. Yet, that hasn’t afforded me the “white privilege” that some people seem to consider comes along with having light colored skin. I was never assaulted. I was never even formally charged with anything. I have no police record, but I have been arrested multiple times. For a long time I wondered why I had such bad luck with the police. But I no longer consider luck having anything to do with it.

The first time I was arrested, I was 19 years old. I had gone to visit a friend in upstate New York, where he was going to college. After I brought my bag to his house, he decided to show me around the small college town. We went to an area where there were several abandoned factories. We peeked into one of the buildings where of the windows were broken. Feeling adventurous, we decided to take a look inside. The door was unlocked. We walked right in. However, it was completely empty inside. There wasn’t much to see, so we decided to leave. But when we went to leave, my friend noticed a few cop cars outside, so we hesitated by the door. A few seconds later, we heard a booming voice, “come out with your hands up.” As if we were in a movie. We looked at each other in shock. We didn’t move. Or even breathe, I think. Within another few minutes, a police dog came bounding in. The dog ran past my friend and attacked me. The police came in right after, and we were separated, handcuffed, and brought to the station.

The police seemed disappointed that the dog did not bite clean through my coat and made me give it to them so they could inspect the material, but they congratulated the dog for attacking me. I was brought to every officer in the station so they could view the bite on my arm and how nicely placed it was. Then I was put in a holding pen unlike anything I’ve ever been in afterwards – for hours. It was like a small closet and very dark. I could not extend my arms, which gives an idea as to how small it was. The one window was a tiny square at the very top of the door which only let in a sliver of light. I could see long black streaks on the door, and imagined that at some point, someone had kicked at the door violently to be let out. There was no phone call. There was no miranda rights. No one in the world knew where I was, besides my friend, who was in his own kind of hell in one of the prison cells. I cried uselessly.

Later, I was fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Again, this process took hours. I was questioned about my piercings, my tattoos, my short black hair. I was asked if I was a devil worshiper, and if I had any knowledge of satanic rituals happening behind the abandoned building – even though I had been in the town for less than an hour before the arrest. They asked the same questions over and over again, and I gave the same answers. About 8 hours after our initial arrest, we were set free. We had a summons to appear in court. We were both being charged with 3rd degree burglary. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and he picked up a case of beer. Later, we went to a rave and dropped acid. It just didn’t seem real. The reality of it all hit when I had to speak with a lawyer – the town’s public defender. I was being charged with a felony. After a couple of months, all the charges against us were dropped.

After that incident, I had other incidents. There was the time I was picked up in the city for smoking weed, handcuffed and thrown into the back of an unmarked van by “undercover” police, which was a terrifying experience. I was in college at the time and again no one knew where I was. I missed class; I was held in a van for hours. I was never read any rights. I had the panicky thought that maybe I was just being abducted by two people who flashed a badge. Were they really cops? They weren’t even dressed as cops. At first there were only a few of us, but slowly they stopped to ambush and pick up others. When the van was filled, we went to the precinct, where we were held for processing, then released. There was some legal issue with the way they had arrested us, so no charges were filed.

Another time, I went for a walk after work with a friend. We went into a park after dark, which is technically considered trespassing because the parks around here “close” after dark. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t paid a parking ticket that I received in Manhattan about a year prior. A warrant was out for my arrest. So not only was I arrested for trespassing, I was held in the police station overnight, waiting for the police from NYC to come and pick me up. I was handcuffed to a chair for over 6 hours in the middle of the room, the only female in a room of men, as if I were a window dressing. A police officer removed my pony tail holder and fluffed out my hair. When I protested, he said that I was not allowed to have my hair in a pony tail. They asked me personal questions about my love life. I didn’t answer. They said I was “a bad girl” and “uncooperative.”

In the morning, a new shift arrived and was surprised to see me there. I was shipped to the basement of the old courthouse a few towns away, to wait in a cell for the NYC police. When the NYC police finally arrived, they said “the cops out here must be real dicks to keep you overnight for this.” They brought me straight to the courthouse in Manhattan, where I met with a public defender and told her what happened. I stood in front of a judge. Again, all charges were dropped. I had spent over 10 hours in police custody. For what?

All of my contact with the police has been negative. Even just being pulled over by cops while driving has had weird repercussions for me. How could I forget the cop who pulled me over for having a brake light out? Then again a few days later. Then again, a few days after that, even though I had fixed the light, just to say “I keep seeing you on the road, I almost feel like we’re dating” (I changed my route home from work after that and never saw him again). Juxtaposed with this, how could I forget my friend whose dad was a cop, who constantly was being pulled over for speeding? All she had to say was, “do you know my dad?” and every time, every cop let her go without a ticket.

Because of these early experiences, for most of my adult life I have tried to avoid any kind of conflict with the police. I “stay on the right side of the law.” I follow all traffic laws. If a cop is behind me on the road, I will turn at the nearest opportunity. I have never encountered a police officer without feeling some kind of anxiety, and I think this is the case for most people. Because even if you aren’t doing anything truly wrong, the police are at liberty to take away your most basic freedoms at a moment’s notice. Because they can. And they do.

If I were a black man instead of a white woman, my experiences with the police would look very different. Most likely, I would have dealt with underlying racism and unmitigated violence. As a woman, I have dealt with underlying sexism and implied violence. Neither one of these is okay. Neither one of these scenarios should be acceptable. And there are so many other scenarios that I’m not even getting into here. What if I wasn’t poor? What if I was married? What if I was a different race? What if I was openly gay? What if I had been older? What if I was a man? Would I have been handcuffed to a chair for over 6 hours then for a bullshit reason? All of these factors – race, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economics – are social constructs. They are divisive constructs. The fact is and always will be that people are people. We are all here, together, trying to do the best we can. We are taught that difference is bad. We are pulled apart into so many different pieces, we can’t get it together; it’s divide and conquer. It’s so sad.

Today another police officer was not charged in the death of another unarmed black man. There is video footage of the police officer using such excessive physical force on Eric Garner that he killed him. Still, the officer was not held accountable. After what happened in Ferguson just last week, it feels like a slap across the face of society. We cannot allow this to happen any longer.

When I was driving home from work, I heard the news on the radio, and I was just shocked. How many times does this have to happen? How many people have to suffer from the abusive hands of the police? How long can people go on and on and on hoping and waiting for things to get better, without actually doing anything to make them better? What will it take for people to say … “Your problem is also my problem. Your fight is my fight. We are in this together. We will fight this together. We will protect and serve each other, because we are all brothers and sisters in humanity.” Police brutality and these systematic abuses of power tread on very dangerous territory which affect us all.

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

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artist privilege

Artists have a unique position in our society. They are the dreamers, the visionaries, the gifted. The service they provide has no true rate of pay. Art touches the heart, opens the mind, and nourishes the soul. There is no set path, no rule book. There are artists who are rich and famous. There are artists who are “starving.” There are artists who care nothing for commercial success, and create art for “art’s sake.” The idea of success is largely defined by the artist’s concept of what that means, by the community at large, and by future generations. Art is an ever growing, changing, and evolving journey.

But some artists are also narcissistic, egotistic, selfish, myopic, amoralistic, and even dangerous people. Recently, a fellow editor and writer posed an interesting question. She said that she had accepted work blind, but when the names were revealed, she recognized the name of a man who had been openly accused by several different women in a specific writing community for attacking and abusing them. The work was good. The work had been accepted. But the person … she wondered if she should rescind the acceptance. She was searching the line where the person and the art meet.

It is a shaky territory – the idea of artist privilege, the separation between the art and the person, the self-perception of some artists, and the allowances we sometimes make for people because they are artists.

Sometimes our society raises the art above the person, and the person becomes infallible; they can do no wrong. Other times, a person is openly condemned because of their behavior and actions. Nothing will save the person, not even their art, and society will condemn them by withdrawing their artistic support. Some artists feel a sense of privilege themselves. They feel that their status as an artist elevates them above other people; they are not subject to the same laws and mores as the rest of the society. People with a sense of artistic privilege rely on people to still accept them artistically when they engage negative/hurtful/dangerous actions and behaviors in their personal life.

Many people do not disassociate the person from the art. If the person is considered to be a great artist, many people naturally think that he or she must be a great person.

When it was revealed that the popular sci-fi/fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley knew that her husband was abusing their daughter and other children, and was complicit in allowing it, people reacted very strongly. The author was not alive when these facts came to public knowledge, but that did not stop the backlash or the consequences. Apparently, there were people who knew what was going on in Bradley’s personal life, but they did not speak out and the knowledge was ignored/suppressed because she was such a popular author. When this was revealed, many people swiftly withdrew their artistic support. They do not want to celebrate her. They do not want to read her books. They do not want to share her books with their children, or with future generations of readers. Jim C. Hines discusses some of these ideas in his essay “Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.” He provides a list of relevant links for a balanced view, then says:

“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author. I disagree … Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? … We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.”

Or from popular culture. I’m thinking of Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, OJ Simpson, Robert Wagner, Michael Jackson, Roman Polanski, Richard Pryor, Robert Blake, Jerry Lee Lewis … All of these artists have had major scandals with degrees of artist privilege when the questionable behavior in their personal lives crossed a line in the public eye.

For working artists and the “not-so-rich-and-famous,” the behavior and actions underlying artist privilege are more subtly expressed. Many people ignore/excuse their character flaws because they like the art these people create. As long as these people keep making art that others like, they have a wide berth in how they act and behave in their communities. However, it is worth noting that the reputations of each of these artists has suffered. The times in which their personal behavior was questionable have left a subtle but definite ripple effect in how their art is received.

I think that our art is inexorably tied to who we are, and who we are is inexorably tied to the world. The last danger of artist privilege is the idea that the artist is unconnected to the baseness of the world, and lives within the self-important I, without regard to the true privilege that it is to have the time, economic means, space, and ability to make art in the first place. This is the “ivory tower” of artist privilege.

Art is not only an act of creation; it is a journey through process into a product. The artist is a medium through which our individual/collective dreams, thoughts, ideas, and visions are translated, interpreted, and then given back to the world. Art is more than the creation of a single person. Once we give our art to the world, it is processed by other people, which gives the art a deeper, wider meaning and context. In a sense, once we give our art to the world, it is no longer ours. Our life, our person, is always ours. It is in the beat of our hearts, the blood running through our veins, the eyes that open and close. The artist has an expiration date, so to speak. The work of an artist does not conform to the same sense of time. That is true artist privilege.

Artists need to be cognizant.

Art does not have a life of its own. An artist’s person will always shadow his or her work. Art has power, but that power comes from the art itself, not from the person creating it. There should be appreciation, not hero worship. There should be acceptance, not blind following. The world does not owe the artist anything. Yet, the artist does owe something to the world. Some artists abuse the power they find through art. Other artists try to harness that power and find a way to give it back to the world in positive ways. Consider Maya Angelou. Her life – I’d say even more than her work – has made her one of the most inspiring and beloved artists of our time.

Today I want to share a poem that I feel speaks directly to the idea of art and artist privilege. This poem is by Ruth Forman, and I’ve loved this poem for a long time, ever since I first read it in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint – an overall excellent book!

 *

Poetry Should Ride the Bus
by Ruth Forman

poetry should hopscotch in a polka dot dress
wheel cartwheels
n hold your hand
when you walk past the yellow crackhouse

poetry should dress in fine plum linen suits
n not be so educated that it don’t stop in
every now n then to sit on the porch
and talk about the comins and goins of the world

poetry should ride the bus
in a fat woman’s Safeway bag
between the greens n chicken wings
to be served with Tuesday’s dinner

poetry should drop by a sweet potato pie
ask about the grandchildren
n sit through a whole photo album
on a orange plastic covered La-Z-Boy with no place to go

poetry should sing red revolution love songs
that massage your scalp
and bring hope to your blood
when you think you’re too old to fight

yeah
poetry should whisper electric blue magic
all the years of your life
never forgettin to look you in the soul
every once in a while
n smile.

*


reading series 4.2

michelle at open mic 810

 

Recently, I read some of my poems as part of the Boundless Tales Reading Series in Queens, New York. It was a wonderful night! It was great to meet local writers and spend the evening with an open, friendly and supportive community of people.

It is always an interesting experience to read one’s work aloud to an audience. For an intrinsically shy person, it is also an act of courage. It is an experience in moving outside of oneself, expanding one’s comfort zone.

The earliest experiences I had reading aloud was at school, which I think is true for most people. I always loved reading, and I always read very well, but when I had to read out loud in class, my voice was too quiet.

I was quiet in general. I hated attracting attention and I certainly didn’t want to be the center of attention. In school, I was studious but I didn’t raise my  hand or talk in class. I was shy. I liked to observe. I liked to read. I liked to be inside my head. I didn’t think of my introversion as a bad thing, but I became well aware that others did. Teachers, my parents, relatives, peers, the world it seemed – either could not or would not – hear me. I spoke and they would admonish me: “Speak louder!” and inside, I would want to die.

(Later, in one of my earliest undergraduate poetry workshops, I had written a poem which contained a line to the effect of  “I have a quiet voice” and the professor had underlined the line and commented next to it “The voice in this poem is LOUD!!!” In my young writer’s mind, that comment affected me like a revolution.)

I can honestly say that it wasn’t until I took creative writing classes that I spoke in class and raised my hand and offered my opinions and read my work aloud. I had to push myself to do it. I blushed furiously the entire time. But I just stumbled forward. No one asked me to talk louder or to read louder. No one had a problem hearing me at all. I think that is part of what makes a writing workshop a sacred space; everyone listens, everyone is heard.

A reading can imbue that sacred space feeling. But at a reading, there are microphones! At a reading, you are standing in front of an audience! They don’t necessarily know you or your work! They are all listening to you! They are all looking at you! They are all judging you!

And yet, you are there. You are there because you wanted to be there. You are there because you think you have something to give, if only to yourself. You are so vulnerable. Your life, your heart, your soul is spilling from your lips. Your breath, your words, your voice is filling the space with sound.

It’s surreal.

Afterwards, a rush of applause and you take your seat, slowly returning to yourself. You did it! You are strong, stronger than you thought. You are triumphant! (You are also riding a sort of adrenaline high lol)

But seriously, there is something very special about reading one’s work to an audience. For writers like myself, we want our work to be read. I don’t need to stand in front of an audience. It’s not in my comfort zone. In fact, I love the idea that my “audience” engages my work privately.

When I first went to an open mic several years ago, I … well, it was not something I sought out. I was dating someone who came by this particular open mic by a random series of coincidences. After his experience there, he was insistent that I would love it and he had to take me there! He wanted to take me on an official date – into Manhattan for dinner and this open mic.

He told me to bring something to read, so I brought a poem of mine. I had some experience reading from my workshop classes, and I had been to some readings as a guest. But I really didn’t know what to expect at an open mic. I put my name in, and I was called dead last.

As the night progressed, I became increasingly nervous. I was completely out of my element. I was not a performer. I was not a performance poet. I was not a spoken word artist. I was a writer.

My friend had been called to do his set about half-way through the night. And it was a fabulous open mic! I did love it. We were there until almost 3 am, and they were just hitting the reserve list. My friend wanted to go. We were both tired, we had an hour drive back home, we had work in the morning. He asked if it was okay that we leave.

“It’s okay,” I said.

Okay?! I was relieved. The nagging fear and anxiety in the back of my mind that had followed me all night, briefly surfacing at times to remind me that I, too, would be standing at that microphone in front of that audience suddenly dissipated.

“Let me just use the bathroom and we’ll go.”

I heard the host calling the names of those on the reserve list. And after each name, it was discovered that the person had left. Then … “is Michelle still here?” I stilled with fear. I was still in the bathroom! I was leaving! Fuck!

There was a knock on the door. I took a deep breath.

“Be right out!” I called, my heart ready to burst through my chest.

Then I heard singing. First my name-song which quickly morphed into another song – “you’ve lost that loving feeling” – I still don’t know why. But I opened the door to find the house guitarist, another musician, and my friend serenading me. The guys handed me the microphone and led me to the stage. I had no choice but to go on.

All I remember is that I stood as close to the back wall as possible. I felt literally backed up against that wall. The light was bright and blinding and I couldn’t actually see the audience very well. My voice sounded so loud in the microphone. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely hold the paper. I read eight lines.

But reading those eight lines changed me.

It wasn’t the open mic, or my friend, or any other factor that night. It was what I struggled with within myself that changed me. I had all the confidence in the world about that poem. I loved that poem. I wasn’t concerned about that poem. But the action of reading it to an audience brought my work into another realm – one that was more immediate, more temporal, and more confrontational.

Since that time, it’s been significantly easier to read my work aloud to an audience. I think that practicing and going to places like open mics and participating in readings had a lot to do with increasing my comfort level. But the most important part of what has made it easier for me has been my mind-set.

I feel that writing sometimes can set you apart from the world. I know that extroverted writers exist, but I’m speaking for myself and other introverted writers. And with my natural tendencies, I don’t really mind being a little distant from the world. I don’t mind spending long hours alone, writing. I like being alone! I don’t care that I might not speak to people for days, except through writing or daily exchanges. I don’t thrive on contact with many other people, and events and large groups often make me feel anxious.

These aspects to myself may have helped make me a good writer, but I also think that by confronting these aspects to myself, I am trying to be a better writer. Writing is about overcoming fear and moving outside your comfort zone. It’s believing in your self and your work. And sometimes, it’s standing in front of an audience saying, “I believe I have something to give through  my writing.” At a reading, I am there, first and foremost, to share my work. Because I think that it is worth sharing.

That is very powerful.

As part of this reading series, I wanted to share the poems I read at the reading! But in the course of writing this post, I decided that I would rather share the full poem – the one I read eight lines from, the first time I went to an open mic. The above photo was taken a couple of months after that experience.

The poem is called “Astronavigation” and it was published in Issue Six of Bare Hands Poetry. As an audio companion to the publication, Bare Hands also created a site on soundcloud. I will share that link too! Click here to read/listen to Astronavigation.

x


the tower

The Tower

 
He says he wants me to love him
from a distance, from a safe and secure
place. He wants me bound and locked
in a tower, my beauty a flower opening
only for his delight, his pleasure.

I don’t know what to say anymore,
words fail, fall and trip, stumble
into walls devoid of meaning, rejected
language hurt and wounded, naked
nouns and verbs stripped, leaving
only sounds and syllables, suspended
between thought and action

He hides his treasures, and I am his
dusty jewel, buried deep in the tangled
forest, lost in the labyrinth of a tortured
mind. Where is he? Not here, not here.
He leaves me no light, and no exit.

I fall deeper and deeper into world
upon world, my desire to create anew
his blurry figure rushes into the abyss
and I wait upon him, wait for him
to find a light in the darkness
I am patient as the morning star
burning, waiting for the break of day

I say: here is a story, once upon a time
and weave my long hair into braids.