It’s hard to say which I’ve been losing more of: my courage to write or my will to write. I can’t say it’s a lack of ideas, although writer’s block doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of ideas. In all my life, I’ve never been unable to generate ideas; my head is constantly filled with them. While overload of ideas might be a problem, I’m not sure that the case with me at this time. Thinking it over, I’ve narrowed it down to lack of courage and lack of willpower. They are subtle, but there are differences.

Courage is easier to define. It’s having the balls not just to write whatever comes to mind, damn the critics—both inner and outer—but also the balls to do it regularly. It’s not the same courage that it takes to put on a uniform, pick up a gun, and fight for your country; it’s the courage to put thoughts to paper or posts to prevent countries from going to war. That and every bit of sentiment and emotion from there on down. Willpower is the practice itself. It’s the daily effort to stare down a blank page or screen until your eyes bleed or you start writing, whichever comes first. The more often you do it the easier it gets and the more reflexive it becomes.

Mine has always been a struggle between courage and will. There are days I have the time and abililty to write, but my inner voices have me silenced. Other days I know exactly what to say, but get swamped, exhausted, distracted, or all three at once. The end result is the same: months without any writing output and occasionally forced to produce on a deadline. And all that while writing becomes fearful, less instinctive, and less productive.

It’s not effortless to write this, but it’s not easy. This isn’t what I should be writing now, but it’s what I can put out now. I’ve been underusing muscles, not only in the gym, but in my mind. My knees are bothering me, but that can be healed with rest and physical therapy. My stagnation is bothering, but the only way to fix that is to write a little bit at a time. Hopefully I can heal myself, body and mind, eventually.

Gifts to the Stranger

December 1, 2016

Sorry. I didn’t realize “Giving Tuesday” had become an actual thing. Maybe it’s because it’s tacked onto the end of a long weekend—Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—of hyped consumerism run amok in different forms that it gets lost. Strangely that seems to be the only way to attract attention to philanthropy; we should always be giving of ourselves. But that’s a rant for a different blog. This one’s about Christmas giving.

A few years ago, I was near rock bottom. I had no money, some part-time work, some unemployment checks, was spending all the rest of my time looking for work, while still being a weekend father, and fending off attacks from my daughter’s mom to make this Christmas bigger and better than the last one as it has to be every year and expects me to pay for it all. At the time, I used to make slide productions of my daughter over the previous year in photographs set to music. But with all that was happening, I had no energy, time, or working equipment to do it. What I did was this: I wrote everyone to say that I had no money for myself much less for gifts to buy and/or mail to everyone, and because I couldn’t give anything I wanted nothing in return. Instead I took a page from my friend Reverend Hank Peirce (who got it from another minister) and asked my friends to please donate some money to their choice of a number of worthy causes (e.g. Doctors Without Borders, ACLU, Oxfam, etc). They could do it in my name or their own, but they should give to help others as more befitting the season. Do something nice instead of scrounging for perfect gifts.

This year I have a better part-time job, am a full time single father, have a decent cushion of funds (barring any serious emergencies) and am less panicked about the holiday. However with the way this year has gone and how events are turning out that are beyond our control, there are many who feel as scared as I was then (if for different reasons). So this year, I’m reaching back to that time to do something good. The gift I will be giving out are donations to charitable organizations—here and abroad—that help make life safer and possible for those who need it. I ask that if you wish to give a gift to me, donate to one of the groups listed below. It can be as little or as much as you want, but give to help others.

I was very proud of Sophia when she asked, quite sincerely, “it it’s Jesus’ birthday, why are we getting gifts?” It showed me that a lot of what I taught her had sunk in. With that in mind, remember that this season is about generosity to others and sharing with those in need. There are a lot of needy people out there, but the people generous spirit outnumber the needy. So give freely and make this a great holiday for you and yours, as well as the stranger whomever they are.

Click the name to go to their website:

ACLU

Standing Rock Sioux/NoDAPL

Southern Poverty Law Center

Planned Parenthood

Doctors Without Borders

Black and Pink

Heifer International

Oxfam

Amnesty International

This past Sunday I had the honor to be a major part of the Martin Luther King Service at our church.  I did a sermon about King last year the week after MLK day, kind of extending the holiday, but this was my first time to be a part of the MLK church service. I got to read a lot of poetry–Langston Hughes and a Javon Johnson slam piece (which was AWESOME!)–but I also did something in tandem with the minister to talk about racial identities and privilege. Read interspersed was so revealing and hit home for a lot of people. I will try to get permission to use her portion as well, but for now I really wanted to post what I had written for my stuff. Was very exciting getting this together.


I am adopted and claim all the nationalities of all my parents.

I am Colombian, African, some South American Indian, Puerto Rican, and Jewish of Russian/Polish descent.
Some of these are known and sure, others are best assessments from forms I can gather.
Like many people of color, I can only trace my ancestry so far before the trail runs cold.

I am a Native New Yorker born and bred from 25 years in three of the five boroughs of the city.
My parents—my father a Catholic and my mother a Jew—married in a Unitarian Church and I was raised in the religion all my life, a rarity in this denomination.
I went to a private Quaker school for grade school and a public art school for high school.

My parents were both highly educated people.
My father had a Doctorate in Romance Languages and was tenured at Queens College where he taught in the Romance Languages department, mainly Portuguese, for most of his adult life.
My mother got her Masters of Divinity in Religious Philosophy from Union Theological Seminary, but never used her degree in her career.
She worked in rape crisis centers in the 1970s, for the New York Board of Health in the 1980s and eventually municipal union District 37 from where she retired.
My younger sister, also adopted, is the only sibling I have and the only one of the nuclear family without a college degree.
I myself have two degrees—a Bachelor’s and a Masters—and have taught adult education ed at colleges.
But you would never know this by my appearance.

I am a product of 1970s and 80s New York culture and politics, of latch key kids, of divorced parents, of too much TV, of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, of the changeover from comic books to Graphic Novels, of AIDS marches and homeless protests, of worn down Beatles albums and Broadway soundtracks.
My upbringing was middle class and somewhat fortunate, but because of my skin color it can never be called privileged.

I know this because when I look at the records of my birth parents—both Colombian—they listed themselves as “White”; yet when I look at my hands, I know they were not. They considered themselves white because in that society, you are “less than” if you are colored. But when my mother came here to put me up for adoption, she was noted as Hispanic.

Because I am a person of color:

    • While I know I’ve always been hired based on my ability, I can never be 100% sure ethnicity was a consideration.
    • While I know I’ve never not been chosen for a job because of my race, I can never be 100% sure.
    • When asked to speak publicly, I know it will be based on my ability and knowledge, but I can never be 100% sure if it’s not to speak on behalf of my entire race.
    • I have been followed around by security in store in a neighborhood I lived in for years.
    • People automatically assume I speak Spanish (I don’t and know very little of it)
    • I still struggle to find quality representations of my life in TV, movies, and entertainment.
    • When talking one-on-one about influences on my art, people are surprised when not every person mentioned is of color.
    • When talking in a group about influences on my art, I have to include artists of color because they will otherwise not be represented or recognized.
    • I have to teach my daughter to be aware of how systemic racism can affect her in addition to how gender inequality can affect her, both for her own protection.
    • I do not always feel “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

There are great things about my heritage and culture to show, but not given the privilege to accept or reject all the negative aspects of them—deserved or undeserved.
I am multi-racial and multi-ethnic, and racism affects my spirit.

In fifth grade I took an English class in science fiction. While we read a complete anthology of great sci-fi writers, the only story I still remember vividly to this day was “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury. I’m not sure if it was the story and its construction, the use of language to create wonderful imagery, or the wicked twist on the title at the end, I just loved that story. Bradbury is still one of those authors that I think of when you say the words “Science fiction”. More than that he was an inspiration to writing. I was a kid who wanted to do everything and here was an author that wrote about doing anything and everything. He also wrote everything–short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, teleplays, memoirs and essays. He’d written in almost every form you could think of and he did it well. He was original, disciplined, imaginative and daringly creative. His contemporaries were among the heaviest hitters of their time — Asimov, Vonnegut, Ellison, Heinlein, Serling — and they all are influential. Bradbury was a craftsman and an artist and now he is gone. Dead of a stroke at age 91.

Rest in Peace Ray Bradbury. You are sorely missed.