Wednesday, November 29, 2006

open letter from the prez of iran...

to the american people. not the american prez, apparently ahmadinejad has already written to the american prez, an 18-page letter, but bushy never responded.

msnbc is running a poll, asking if folks are interested in what ahmadinejad has to say.

i find the very idea of this poll to be absurd. who wouldn't be interested in what he has to say? the no option states: "his past comments have been too offensive -- and potentially dangerous."

to not find out what he has to say, to choose to remain ignorant, is more dangerous...because no one can pretend that what happens and gets said in the middle east has nothing to do with us in our american homes. not anymore. not after september 11th, and not after losing friends and family in various wars, not after reports of wars. you can assign all these events whatever meaning you want, but it's meaningless.

you can read his letter and agree, or read it and disagree...

but if you never ever read it, then you have to rely on other folks to make up your mind for you. now who wants to let someone else think for them?

exercise your freedom here.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

it's the classic postmodern problem

that's what a woman said coming out of the theater last friday. had gone to see "stranger than fiction," and this was her analysis of the film. yeah, ok, sure. i rolled my eyes when i heard that one. i felt that was a bit heavyhanded, i mean, it's a will ferrell movie. and it was a friday night. and...maybe i just rolled my eyes because i don't know a proper definition of postmodern.

well anyway, went to go see "stranger than fiction" on friday with the family. in general, i'm ambivalent towards comedy as a genre - when it's good, i love it; when it's bad, i loathe it. so on a regular basis, i tend to split the difference and just not care about it. i don't hold comedy to a lower standard than i do anything else in entertainment, and i often find myself disappointed or (even worse) bored. incidentally, i feel the same way about pop music, newspapers, news broadcasts, and radio shows. (i love reading news online, though, and i love good morning america.)

but i really wanted to see "stranger than fiction" because it seemed kinda clever. and overall, i rather enjoyed it. will ferrell played a man who finds deduces, with the help of a nutty professor type (played by dustin hoffman) that he is the main character in a novel. and that the novel ends with his untimely death. so he decides to find the author of the novel, played by emma thompson, and convince her not to kill him.

the laughs i got were not nonstop, but were well-earned. in my opinion, the movie's one failing is that if failed to fully flesh out the rules of the world in which the plot takes place. this could be a grave fault, leading to complete bewilderment, except that everything else was well done. will ferrell was wonderfully subtle, emma thompson's character was surprisingly yet convincingly dark. it was like a comedy, not simply for the point of making one laugh for a few moments, but layered over a very sharp observation the blurry line between comedy and tragedy. in fact, the film points this out explicitly, in a conversation between ferrell's and hoffman's characters. and when ferrell's character goes about trying to determine whether or not the story being narrated about him was, in fact, a comedy or a tragedy, well, i found the evidence for either case to be equally compelling. and the fact that it was art about the process of another art form...i was intrigued. it's a bit tongue in cheek, almost self-referential, but not quite. (if any of this touches on postmodernism, please, someone let me know, and i will revise immediately.)

just for kicks, i decided to check out the film's reviews after i saw it. according to the reviews, i shouldn't have wasted my money on such a failure of a film, for surely it is a flop, its ambitions notwithstanding. hmm. one reviewer even went so far as to suggest that the filmmakers should have "liberated" the romantic comedy that lurked in the subplot, as that would have been more compelling. hmmm, again. i was glad the film didn't liberate its inner rom com, that would have been typical. and besides, if the inner rom com had been liberated the critics would have panned it for being another rom com. i really enjoyed it. and bravo to the filmmakers for trying something a lil different, slightly adventurous.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

now reading...

sonia sanchez once said, courtenay, you need to read more poetry.

i'm currently reading some of caribbean poets, kamau brathwaite's the arrivants and aime cesaire's collected poems. depending on how ambitious i feel, i might pull out derek walcott's omeros. but i have to be feeling really ambitious, omeros is a tome and a half. and i'd like to get my hands a book of martin finding one of those might be a good project.


Saturday, November 18, 2006


last night, i went to check out a show at the public theater, emergence-see! just so you know my opinion of the show right from the top, it was the truth. a one man show, the brainchild of poet-actor-opera singer-extraordinaire daniel beaty, the fantastical show was about a slave ship that suddenly rises from the hudson river, right in the shadow of the statue of liberty.

beaty examines various reactions to past and present history through the voices of the characters he takes on, but the drama centers mainly around one family: a father, haunted and possibly driven crazy by his past, and his two grown sons who are tryin to figure out who they are in life. the father somehow makes it onboard the ship, and his sons go after him to bring him back to land.

beaty takes on stereotypes head on, but then slips in a subtly subversive note. what's funny, is also touching, what's touching is also absurd. one of the funniest moments in the show: a pseudorasta, a young black man, declares that he is, in fact, a white man. his reasoning has everyone in stitches (when his girlfriend says he should get a job, he decline, because he's actually a rich white man, and he's waiting for the universe to tell that to the bank). but then he slips in some telling questions.

the premise does ask that the audience to suspend its disbelief - a slave ship randomly surfacing from the hudson? all on its own? - but then plays to it. yes, this is strange. many of his characters don't even believe it. but that is the whole point. by the time the sons find their father, one of the sons says to the other, "maybe we're all crazy, and tryin not to show it."

in life, i'm inclined to agree.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

the netflix rundown

i got two movies i was really looking forward to seeing a couple of weeks ago: sylvia and sugar cane alley. i'd never seen sylvia, and it had been years since i saw sugar cane alley, but i remember really enjoying it. sylvia is a biopic about sylvia plath, the literary genius who was also rather unfortunately emotional unstable. love her poetry, and the bell jar was semi-autobiographical fiction brilliance. sugar cane alley is one of the most well known and acclaimed caribbean films, a coming of age story about a young boy growing up in martinique.

too bad neither one of the dvds would play. i tried cleaning them, etc, they just wouldn't play. so i sent them back.

then i got happy endings, broken flowers, and murderball. i liked, but didn't love, happy endings--one of those dark comedy ensemble films telling the separate stories of several dysfunctional characters that eventually all intersect. when it was released to theaters, it was critically well received. have no idea how popular it was. i found it entertaining, but not very compelling or even as terribly unique as the reviewers made it seem. as i was watching it, i constantly was reminded of the last book i read, all aunt hagar's children by edward p. jones: both the movie and jones made a habit of using a lot of foreshadowing, and of telling what would happen to the characters 10, 20, 30 years down the road, long after the action of the story, as the writer/filmmaker is telling us, is concluded. (i know professor mendelson would kill me for writing this paragraph. do not, he always said, fall into the trap of comparing the last 2 things you read.) sent happy endings back and got atl. cuz i'm told i should see it, and i do love t.i.

next i tried really hard to watch murderball, but i found it waaaay too uncomfortable to watch the gentlemen in wheelchairs banging into each other and flipping their chairs over and landing uncomfortably on their faces, necks, etc, in these rugby matches. i had to turn it off after about 20 minutes. so, perhaps i am a punk, but it was too emotionally draining for me to watch. back in the day, when oz was on tv, i also found that too emotionally draining to watch. but i haven't sent the movie back yet, cuz i might give it another try.

and i haven't even attempted to watch broken flowers again. it's a bill murray movie, and i hadn't heard about it in life until i saw it on my friend's netflix queue. the netflix friends feature has provided me a gold mine of film recommendations, so thank you to my netflix friends. anyway, i found myself unable to sit through a bill murray film in the 90s: what about bob? and groundhog day just did absolutely nothing for me. i heard good things about adaptation, but i've never seen it. lost in translation, however i adored. i watched it because i'm a scarlett johansson fan. so i think i'll watch broken flowers and then watch adaptation, too.

and i just thought i'd add that i'm really looking forward to seeing will smith's new movie the pursuit of happyness in theaters, but i'm bitter about the misspelling of happIness in the title. i understand it's all symbolic and whatnot and pertinent to the plot and message of the film, but it irritates me. but i'll see it anyway.


rich admiration

i would like to humbly extend my sincerest congrats to adrienne rich for winning a national book award, the medal for distinguished contribution to american letters.

ms. rich is a brilliant and enduring poet. in fact, this is not the first time she has won a prize from the national book foundation: she won the national book award for poetry in 1974. in (more) fact, she won the yale younger poets prize for her first book of poetry the year she graduated from college.

that's a poetry role model if ever i heard one.


Friday, November 10, 2006

rejection thread (updated)

latest addition at bold at the top. one day, a little poem of mine will find a good print home.

three candles journal
Calabash Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters
ep;phany zine
Tribes Magazine
Mosaic Literary Magazine*
Cave Canem Summer Poetry Fellowship

can't wait to start an acceptance thread!

*though they have rejected me, their rejection messages were rather gently and nicely worded.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

when women pursue justice

is a fabulous mural on the side of building in bed stuy. it's bright, it's beautiful, it recently won a mural prize, it features a diverse cast of characters: angela davis, harriet tubman, elizabeth cady stanton, dolores huerta, audre lorde, many more. all of the women stood for something, this mural equates what they stood for with justice, but the most interesting part about it is that all of these women all stood for different things. justice, it appears, is a many-faceted thing.

the photo above is from the mural was a project of artmakers nyc, and it was completed a little over a year ago, in october 2005. brava for public art! this mural, in more ways than one, places itself in a longstanding tradition of visual resistance. it's not just decoration, making things look pretty. this is also public memory, because i certainly don't recall reading about angela davis or audre lorde in the history books in school, and it might be easy to forget what contributions they have made in their respective fields. many artists collaborated on the mural, and they picked the women they wanted to represent, so i would shy away from saying that the piece has a singular message. but the women who painted this also stood for something, and i admire that. the closeup below is from the artmakers website

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smile? for a free song, sure

so, i opened up the itunes music store today, and i saw that the free download of the week is lily allen's song, smile. i'd never heard of lily allen, and most of the time i don't even bother with the free download, but i decided to give it a listen.

and i really like it. for all those people who have ever gotten a call from a flame that ran away, and that flame is oh so lonely...and you get a guilty little kick out of that person's loneliness. it happens. something like schadenfreude, folks.

the itunes folks say, "it's one our favorite pop tunes we've heard in ages." i agree. and it's free. get at it.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

dear ms. tyra banks, i...

...think you are great. honest. i really love top model. i've watched since day 1, and eva was my favorite, and i loved naima, and danielle, and i thought yoanna was absolutely beautiful. and when i was little, and i was skinny and tall for my age, and i promised to be super tall adult, people encouraged me to be you when i grew up.

i am so glad you are doing what you want to do with your life. i loved you in higher learning. you were a unique and talented model. retiring from one wildly successful career at a vastly young age to pursue another. ms. banks, i'm proud of you. and you said you wanted to get a talk show, and you went out and got one. hats off to you.

but the other morning, i saw you on good morning america, one of my favorite shows, talking about an episode of said talk show where you would be investigating modeling scams, schemes that promise to make models of impressionable young women, but that really only exploit them. you have said that exposing these schemes was your personal crusade, and i think you could really be the one to do just that. if anybody knows about making it in the modeling world, surely, that would be you.

but then i learned more about the epsiode and it's set up for accomplishing your purpose. and it profoundly saddened me. apparently, you set up your own fake scheme, hired a fake photographer and makeup artist, solicited hopeful models, and brought them down to a fake photo shoot to see what would transpire.

apparently, some of these young women went so far as to get naked for this phony photo session. and then you came in and told them it was fake and asked them why they did it.

here's my take: this "investigative action" did not expose modeling scams. it was a modeling scam. i can't say you didn't set up the hopefuls for a real shot at a real agency, because i didn't get to see the entire episode. i was at work, and i have no video recording device, so i am relying on what i heard you say on gma and on what i have read on your website. i can only hope you did something to make up for their lost time. and i as think your heart is in the right place, and as i think you are sincere in your efforts, i am pretty sure you did something for them. i can't imagine otherwise. putting on this experiment in this manner, you became that same scam you are crusading against. then you used that footage, footage of these young women being duped, possibly nakedly, for your television show. i can't help but think that that was not a good setup. nor did it expose scams, it did not expose the scam artists, it did not expose their lechery, it exposed the vulnerability and gullibility of the girls you want to protect.

and i also can't help but think about the first episode of this season of top model, wherein you asked the semifinalist to stand for a nude, outdoor photo shoot before the final competition even began. is that much different from asking for them to get naked for an open call? i know that top model is an actual and legitimate competition, but you congratulated the girls on the talk show who refused to take off their clothes just because a photographer asked them to. but girls have been eliminated from the competition on top model for just the same reason. is it a double standard?

it's a harsh, cruel world out there, and young women need to be prepared. might i suggest that a better investigative model might have been to send a trained, professional model, or actor, into an actual modeling scam setup and taped that? then no one innocent (and perhaps naive) aspiring model has to be embarassed on television, and you don't have to do anything to compensate for their hurt.

just a thought. i'm not an investigative reporter either, but i thought i'd make the suggestion.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

single black female, addicted to retail

...thanks kanye west for writing a line that so accurately describes me.

since i lacked funds to feed my retail addiction this weekend, i went and checked out the black style now exhibit at the museum of the city of new york yesterday.

i really thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. while some folks would find the fascination with fashion to be merely superficial, it's funny how well fashion documents the cares and concerns of an era. magazine covers from the 50s and 60s featuring black women models who somehow had to obscure their blackness - hats and scarves completely covering their hair (naomi sims on fashions of the times), hands covering their noses and mouths (donyale luna on vogue). how very telling for the era.

another interesting aside: i always knew about bayard rustin's politics and civil rights activities, but i had no idea he had an extensive collection of canes and clothing from around the world.

it was equally interesting to read about the social impact of fashion phenomena that i am familiar with firsthand: cross colors, karl kani, fubu. i loved how music played into the exhibit, i found myself walking around singing along to chaka khan & rufus (tell me something good), and when the exhibit moved toward an exploration of hip hop music, song lyrics were prominently posted alongside the clothes: run dmc's "my adidas," nelly's "air force ones," cash money millionaires' "bling bling," and, yes, kanye west's "all falls down," from which i borrow the title of this post.

this might be nitpicky, and maybe it isn't, but i wish they'd styled the mannequins a bit better. this was an exhibition about fashion, so i'd think the mannequins should be impeccably styled. instead, the some of the outfits themselves seemed ill considered, as if someone had simply called up mecca and said give us an outfit, any outfit, any size. i also wish there was more about shoes...they had authentic manolo blahnik timbs, and a display case with 6 pairs of sneakers (of the ones i remember, they had some adidas shelltoes, the wu-tang clan dunks, a pair of vintage puma clydes, and a new pair of reebok classics)...i wish it hadn't ended on what it proclaimed "the universal uniform of hip hop," a white tee, a pair of jees, a fitted hat, and a pair of timbs...that was a bit of a letdown ending. they definitely should have had more than a passing mention of hair, one of the most consistently provocative and loaded topics in black style. but hey, they don't have room for everything.

and at the end, i bought a book by the fabulous women of sistahs of harlem, the t-shirt makeover, a book of instructions for de- and re-constructing t-shirts. i love a good, cut up t-shirt.

and since we're on the subject of fashion and style, check out kelis talkin about her thoughts on the subject. kelis is pretty fabulous in life. and i hear she's coming out with a clothing line...


Thursday, November 02, 2006

in memory of encyclopedia

obviousy, i love books. this is for the aristocracy of all books. if amiri baraka can write in memory of radio, i can write in memory of the encyclopedia.

true story time: as a kid, we had 3 sets of encyclopedia. i used to read through them, obviously not cover to cover, but just sit there and read articles. i loved those books: hard, textured leather covers, small text on perfect sheets of paper, distinctive coloring bands, their absolute order, their codified history.

encyclopedia's helped me develop my first sense of history. chocolate, buffalo, the west indies, christmas: i read all kinds of articles about things that interested me, and the fact that there was a distinguish book that bound all this info together made it seem seamless, and important. there was a wonderful finality about the encyclopedia.

and then: a new year brought a new additions to the encyclopedia. what a wonderful time to put things in perspective, to decide what from the previous year or years would be important to us moving forward into the next year, and whatever that might bring to us. the encyclopedia - it was fact incarnate.

and then: encarta. encarta killed the encyclopedia. microsoft encarta, that cd rom program that contained all of the information some shelves full of lovely encyclopedia books contained. that cd rom that took up so little space, and could easily be carried with you, and so brilliantly pointed up all of the flaws of the encyclopedia sets. those sets of encyclopedias to which i had become so attached.

these are some of the encyclopedia's flaws: there is nothing liberté égalité fraternité about the set of bound encyclopedias. either you have the money to buy a set, and keep buying sets if you value staying informed, or you do not. and of course, the old adage that history is written by the victors is perhaps never so true anywhere as in the encyclopedia - it being so intimidating, so expensive, its utter sense of finality, leaves no room for the non-victors to have a say. there was little rival to the encyclopedia. to be honest, i never really thought of the encyclopedia as such as status symbol. it really was. i loved the encyclopedia for its big words, obscure topics, and neat packets of information. because it made me feel like there was a lot to learn, not that because it made me feel important. there was a lot to learn, but the fact remained that there were only so many volumes to a set. you could, actually, read it all. and come to a point where you had mastered one year of history.

encarta: after awhile, you could even get encarta online, and that had oodles of brand spanking new information. i'll go out on a limb and say that with encarta, history was being written literally as it was being written. so there was no selectivity, no time for review, no time for perspective on what was actually important and what turned out to be not so important. in the long run. there was no more long run. there was only a short sprint to be the first to get the latest info into the hand of the masses.

more info is available to more people. wikipedia anyone? another true story: i often find myself reading wikipedia in the same way i used to read the encyclopedia as a kid. when i hear of a news event, i often look up the related topics on wikipedia, and all the details are already there. no waiting. no new editions. no shelf space, not even a cd rom this time around. so democratic, few filters...just a glut of information, so much informatin, still taking me to the place where i want to know more and more and more...but sometimes it's overwhelming. with the encyclopedia, i kinda felt like i could actually conquer it. all of it. with all wikipedia, i know i can't. i read it though. i turn to it daily.

but with wikipedia, i don't get to feel the contrast between textured leather covers and smooth pages between my busy, itchy, knowledge hungry fingers.

thanks to my good friend brandi for making me think deeply about the demise of the encyclopedia.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

the token: & i feel that

i had wanted to post this yesterday, but i was experiencing tech difficulties.

yesterday, i was watching good morning america (i always watch good morning america) and chris cuomo (i love chris cuomo's presence on my tv in the morning) did a segment interviewing mr. devon sherwood.

mr. sherwood is the lone black member of the duke university lacrosse team. the interview centered, of course, around the infamous rape scandal. chris cuomo asked him questions, and mr. sherwood, did his best to give his personal slant on how hard and trying the situation was, how conflicted he felt, how he received threats and whatnot, and i thought, ha: he's the token negro. he's the public token. don't i know how that feels?

token, not just because he's the lone black person on the team. but because he now got his opportunity to represent the black voice on the scandal. apparently, in the early days, mr. sherwood declined to comment or be interviewed about the case. i can understand that. in my contemporary civilization class, i skipped the day we discussed w.e.b. dubois's souls of black folks. i remembered how i felt when we discussed bartolome de las casas, and everyone praised his analysis of the injustice and immorality of the attempt to enslave the native americans of latin america. and i remember how i felt about the fact that neither the reading or the class discussion touched on the fact that he, after this brilliant analysis, went on to advocate for the slavery of the african.

i remembered further back. i remembered a music class in 8th grade. my elementary school was big on interdisciplinary learning, and in 8th grade, along with writing our theses, we studied the civil war in every class. and my music teacher decided to teach some civil war era songs, and in the middle of class he singled me out (courtenay) and asked me if i knew what a mammy was. cuz one of the songs we were gonna sing talked about mammy.

i was a token. i remember malcolm x wrote about tokens in his autobiography, and he was not complimentary. but i can say, at least the tokens of malcolm's era got to be first. he called them, negro firsts. the first negro nurse at such and such hospital, the first negro executive at such and such company. i don't get to be first, i get to be: "affirmative action candidate number 927346, how does the black community feel about this? today? do you identify with this? is the color line still the problem?" that's why i skipped w.e.b. dubois day in class. (and mr. dubois gets to be a token in life and in legacy, since his book is the only book by a black author that is required in the core curriculum at my esteemed university.)

well, i feel like the color line is still a problem, but it's not the only problem. it's not the only way that we get to be tokens. when we have to talk about being a woman in the workplace, we are tokens. or about being asian. or about this or that or blah blah blah, and while, of course, cross cultural dialogue (no matter how you define culture or cultural identity) is important, the line between genuine dialogue and succombing to the ease and convenience of tokenism is blurry.

the problem with tokenism: it holds hands with complaceny. yes, we have a woman, a black person, and asian, a latino, a muslim, a jew, etc. we've done our part. this person tells us what we need to know, and we don't need to know anything else. if this person agrees with us, then we are good people. if this person disagrees, this person tells us what we need to do to fix the problem, and then we are good people. but, it's all such gloss. for instance: mr. sherwood talked about receiving threats. yeah, ok, he received threats. the whole team received threats. are his threats different because he is black? or are they the same, cuz he's a member of a team?

to put it another way. i identify myself as black and a woman. i can speak for my pov as a black woman, but i cannot speak for black women. i dunno if mr. sherwood felt as though he were being singled out as a token. maybe he didn't. but proust had his madeleines (which triggered a string of memories for him) and i had this interview on gma.

who wants to bear the burden of being the voice of an entire group? and how dangerous is it if we get used to thinking one voice speaks for a people? how bout if we shift the paradigm? i propose we just be voices, voices you can agree with or disagree with for many many reasons.

i can only say what i would have done if a national news program came to me and asked me to speak on a subject that teeters uncomfortably on the edge pandering to tokenism. i would have gone on playing lacrosse and i would have gone on declining interviews. just like i skipped that class.

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