I don’t want your liberal guilt
Your shocked alarm at blood long spilt
I truly don’t want your dismay
To matter more than a racist display
What I want when you’re alone
Standing among those blood and bone
Not a defense of my right to BE
But a defense of my right to take a knee
Scour your own heart of stereotype
It sieves through all the “tolerant” hype
I know when you think I’m not enough
When my vocabulary tends to call your bluff
I will know when the racist BS ends
When in absence I am just your “friend”
You’ll understand my anger at a human race
Those who won’t rise above limited base
And you’ll feel easy in the skin you own
Knowing we are ALL simply blood and bone
All working toward a peace un-shattered
Where there is no offense that our lives matter
G. Davis-Feldman ©2019
I am of that age to which some “ladies” don’t generally admit. I am 65 years old and no “lady”. I’ve come a long way from those years when my mother would scold me for unladylike behavior; gum chewing, swearing, wearing mini-skirts, and sloppy bell-bottom pants. I was admonished for any behavior that would have me in motion, speaking my thoughts, and waving my fist in the air. I guess my mother’s wish was that she be the mother of a lady. But that wish came before my dad left her and us. My father left me with the hard fact that it was always a man’s prerogative to leave. I was 16 when I watched my mother dragging home an old typewriter and asking to use my grammar text to practice letter writing – something she did not learn before being taken out of fifth grade to care for her blue-eyed brothers and sisters in the Canadian Maritimes. I fell asleep many nights to the cadence of the old Royal typewriter’s “home row” as mom practiced for the job of receptionist with Los Angeles’ only African-American optometrist at the time. It was a job that would take her from the sweatshops of downtown and provide a sense of dignity she so desperately wanted. It was about that time my mother quit pushing me to be a lady, instead, telling me to stay in school and get a good job so I wouldn’t have to depend on a man to take care of me – “be able to care for yourself.” She was telling me to be, like her, a real woman. I started college in 1969 only to witness events that did not revolve around whether or not I saw myself as a lady. Later, as the only African-American female in my Los Angeles workplace, I was made aware of the prevailing assumptions regarding my collective and gender. Insulting still was the old term “ladylike” often used when I responded with a few well-placed expletives in my defense. I learned that fighting misogynistic attitudes with anger was ‘unladylike’. Eventually, I was able to return the “favors” with a tough, wisecracking demeanor that shielded me in the male-dominated industries in which I worked. It wasn’t long before I realized that being a lady made me vulnerable while being a woman made me strong.
So, on Saturday, January 21st I marched with REAL women who were proud of their pussy-hats. The experience took me back to my days as a student at San Jose State University in northern California when, with my Afro as a halo, I marched against the purveyors of the Vietnam War just as fervently as I marched Saturday against the current war on women. I marched for my older sister who died of breast cancer in 1990 and for the sister of my college roommate who had just succumbed to this dreaded disease; a disease that hunts down women with a criminal, bloodstained accuracy and kills with impunity. But I also marched for the women who voted for Trump and against (in my mind) the best interest of ALL women. I’ve lived long enough to know there is not enough time for blame and finger pointing. The die is cast and everyone, all women and the people we love, will be hurt by the Trump legislation that is coming our way.
So, I marched, I yelled until I was dizzy, waved my fists in the air and hugged my history-making girlfriends in wild abandonment of that outdated
moniker; LADY. I marched as a WOMAN.
In 1974, James Baldwin’s book, If Beale Street Could Talk, was published. About a young couple who find themselves about to be parents when the young man is accused of rape and imprisoned. Baldwin was accused (by some) of sounding too bitter in the writing of “Beale Street…” I have to ask –
How do the disparaged of the times
escape bitterness – escape even its sound –
when innocence dines at a table set
with rotting images –
marinated in vinegar ?
On August 2nd in 1932 American Physicist Carl Anderson discovered the first physical evidence of anti-matter. My heart stutters at the idea at measuring matter – much less what doesn’t. I am transported into last week where I read a NYT piece about a lower west side condo approved for a system of double entry: The condo association provided one door for the owners of the million dollar condos above and another entry for the affordable housing of the merely middle class.
There are those who matter
And those who spend lives in the
Measured existence of anti-matter
They matter not to king, god, and bomb
Certainly not to those entering the golden
Archways living cloud-high quarters
Immeasurable in size and matter
There are those falcons loosed from
the widening gyre of definition
bullets spattered across time and distance
where class and doorways don’t matter
Yesterday I spent the morning volunteering at a local triathlon event – my job was to count the swimmers exiting the lake
Making sure the number agreed with the number of swimmers who went into the lake
I meditated on the necessity of competition in a world awash in “my (fill in the blank) is bigger, better, smarter than your _________”.
I had to remember that I was in a town, home to an ivy-league institution, where competition is a personality cornerstone of those lucky enough to be invited to study at such an institution.
But what of the corralled mass of middle-aged male humanity standing next to me – exuding more testosterone than a Balco Lab? A heady experience for a second – until I remember the time in 10th grade when
I inadvertently entered the boy’s locker room after football practice. The smell of competitive animals doesn’t change –
No matter the age.
Art is a way of confronting life. Getting to the big unruled YES in a country bordered and ruled by no
Most people would die rather than quit the social media form known as Facebook. Yes, I said that, and you’ll get no quantitative research turning living, breathing human beings into numbers from which to draw conclusions for my opening declaration. I speak from five years of experience. Though I did quit Facebook and, as you can see, lived to tell about it. Quitting FB cold turkey was not easy – is not easy. I have been forced to come face-to-face with some personal truths – those two glasses of nice wine truths that slip the dark bonds of one’s heart and make it to the light of the page – this page.
I miss Facebook now, in a calm moment, because I understand the democratic beauty evident in offering everyone a platform from which to put forth ideas. I am sad too because it is the birthday of a dear friend and I can’t show her (and others) how clever I am by sending a picture of a cute birthday cake (purloined from some other site) and telling her to take a “BIG slice of HAPPY.” Personal truth # 1: Until I quit, I never acknowledged those self-aggrandizing Facebook moments (of which there were many). Why did I spend so much time on Facebook in the first place? Surely time could have been better used to complete (more than a few) writing endeavors, listening to lectures, reading novels and book reviews, and attending to my personal blog left unattended with no creative additions from me. Personal truth # 2: I was (am?) a Facebook addict. Many times I had been accused of being addicted to Facebook over my adamant objection to the contrary. I even invoked the addict’s creed, “I can quit anytime I want.” I couldn’t acknowledge any thoughts of addiction as I continued on what had become one of the major slippery slopes of time-wasting elements in my retired life. My thinking became corrupted with all the power afforded me by the Facebook platform (read soapbox). I found myself judging others who would spend entire days on Facebook complaining about their hyper-active, rambunctious kids, messy houses, absent spouses, rowdy students, and rude coworkers. “If they didn’t spend so much time on Facebook maybe their kids wouldn’t act out, their houses would be cleaner, and their spouse would return.” I had dissolved into an opinionated mass of objection and lecture on anything cultural and, especially, anything political. I have used my timeline as an emotional bully pulpit to further my political judgments and set any offending white person straight on their misguided use of cross-cultural expressions. I was an equal opportunity offender; everyone deserved the right to my opinion. It wasn’t long before I started my morning, coffee in hand, at my keyboard attempting to insert some creativity in what should have been, if anything, simple responses. And by the end of three hours I could be found sitting small and emotionally exhausted in my desk chair – having leaked all creative energy in responding to misspelled info-graphics (a pet-peeve that I felt compelled to share with everyone), ignorant politicians, and horrendous, heart-numbing videos that pulled back the curtain on some of the most heinous, inhumane examples of the human species. And there I was – ultimately reduced to railing against the darkness in us all. I knew I was approaching addiction when, in an effort reduce resistance, I culled my list of Facebook friends, jettisoning all those whose politics ran antithetical to my own. (So much for enjoying a diversity of opinion). In-spite-of this culling, I managed to offend – even those people with whom I was in total political affinity. I was hell-bent on getting my opinion across by any means necessary, letting readers know my 60’s & 70’s big-city California job, Compton High School street-cred as I angrily pounded the face of any disagreement with my varied life experience. I was right. Always and forever. It wasn’t long before this anger infested every part of my social discourse on and off Facebook. I was rabid – snapping and biting at any thought of injustice in my self-righteous attempts to single-handedly stamp out ignorance and wickedness. I’m sure I had no pulse until I responded to some bit of backwards wisdom in need of social correction. Many times I lamented that stupid people should not be allowed on Facebook. As a Facebook Goddess (and addict) I could say that. Personal truth # 3: I spent so much time on Facebook because it was a way of feeding my ego. Facebook presents a quick fix for the narcissist in us all. But for me, it afforded undiscriminating recognition of the underappreciated writer within. On Facebook, I’d get my acceptance in small sweet doses administered when unseen hands simply clicked the word “like.” Oh, the power in that word and the time wasted in believing it a code for ‘worthy.’ Personal truth # 4: The fault was not in Facebook but in myself. I failed to see that I am on the same road as every other author aspiring to a book offer. I took a Facebook quick fix that doesn’t quite feed a soul in need of honest feedback. There are no shortcuts to writing and editing. We all deal with the demon of procrastination – a demon strongest when we sit down in front of the blank screen; a demon easily sated with the neat white print embedded in the inviting blue background of my Facebook Log in. Now, all I have to do is sit at my desk and perfectly order those 26 letters at every writer’s disposal – a task not nearly as easy as becoming a Facebook Goddess.
Currently we are experiencing a social upheaval regarding privacy and how much information purveyors of social media should be privy to. A month ago, I too, entered the argument castigating Facebook and other social media for using information about us in secret ways. But yesterday, as I listened to the radio and arguments pro and con on the use of information that is freely offered up by most users of Facebook, I was reminded of an old Polish saying (yes, from Facebook). I turned the radio off knowing this Facebook argument is “[no longer] my circus – [no longer] my monkeys.
You misunderstood me
Even so – I had not lived long
Enough to be that cynical
Youth is so ignorant of skin and time
My regret came too late
You would have none of it
Lightly touching my fingers telling me
I continued my life
A life of wanting
a bit of your light,
respect, and talent
I spread your words in
Adorning my walls
With your presence
Assigning your life
I remember taking students
To see you
Covered in cowardice
Shrunken & hiding
Amid my own ego
I have thrown down that
Heavy cross of want
Pitched my emotional tent
Against 3rd world needs of mankind
My needs, in spite of sorrows,
Remain of the first
Suffering – true suffering has moved over me
You knew that
The minute I opened my mouth
Your life sails
Dip against the sunset
And the world is suddenly plunged
Powerful, phenomenal woman you
Leaving us one last gift:
Knowledge there will be
A dawn of your possession
In a world where lives can be
Lessons or blessings
Yours was both
Be Well — Ms. Angelou
In 1998 I was “stuck” with western New York’s equivalent of “The Bad News Bears.” A team no one wanted and I, by default (with a son moving up to majors with his father as coach), was left to coach. I can teach life-saving & water safety classes but baseball? All I could picture was me ducking and flailing comically out of the way of a come-backer that was sure to find my front teeth. If only that were the singular tragedy that season. The following essay won the 1999 New York State Teachers 1st prize for journalism and a lovely (unaccepted) job offer. I repost today after going into town and having lunch by the river treated to sights of youth on the water and the haunting sounds of balls being cracked into the outfield behind me. Happy spring.
It would be wonderful to say “Stevie” came to baseball tryouts that first day and dazzled everyone. He didn’t. Stevie showed little talent for the game. Even when he came to that first practice, when it was so cold he had to alternate throwing drills with time in the heated cab of the truck, he knew he had a ways to go to be as good as some of last year’s minor-leaguers. I didn’t see him for three practices and one game after that. I had forgotten what he looked like.
On the day of our second game this very blond, fragile boy walked into the dugout. I responded with my customary “Excuse me,” which was freighted with suspicious overtones. He slowly turned and spoke his name. Then I was glad to see him, because that only made us shy one player. Even so, I knew we had to borrow a player from our opponent’s bench and I silently kissed the thought of winning good-bye as I saw the little, very little fellow stumbling our way from the other dugout. I looked back at my bench and eagerness engulfed the boys and protected them from the slow rain beginning to fall.
Stevie took his place in the outfield. He was safe. Balls seldom get out that far in the minors. His hitting was lackluster, too, but I did make a mental note to get to the pitching machine first and get in the much needed batting practice for everyone. At batting practice he swung too late, too weak. I began to feel that he was in little league for other reasons. His body was there; arms, legs, and head, but not his heart – that was somewhere else.
Our next game was across town. Stevie was there. He quietly took center field. I remember my frustration as a shallow fly-ball caused him and the other 9-year-olds to stare at such a phenomenon in awe. The next inning Stevie was taking a bathroom break when we started closing the gap despite our weak fielding. It was the fourth inning and Stevie’s turn at bat – no Stevie. I made a mental joke about his bathroom break being a complete stop. After making a substitution, I went to investigate.
I headed around the dugout just in time to meet his mom and dad who were already on their way back with a very shaken little boy. He had been locked in the portable john that sits on the other side of the playground. Turning the ring-shaped latch to the locked position is a common prank, I was told when I complained. I came back to the dugout to see Stevie huddled in the corner shivering in spite of the 75 degree weather. I told him he could get back into the game after this inning, and he looked at me with tears brimming in his large blue eyes and asked if he could sit out the rest of the game. He was different; unlike the others who would probably have shrugged off the incident and jumped at the chance to play. Not Stevie.
I wish I could say I remember what he said when, later, he came out to tell me about something in his life. I remember him standing there happy to have his mom’s sweatshirt on and flapping the over-sized sleeves. I do remember that was the only time I saw him smile.
The last time I saw Stevie was team picture day. I see him clearly, now, next to his mom with his head in her lap as the other Yankees run amok. I see myself, too, cranky as ever, trying to get eleven 9- and 10-year-olds to hold together in line at 6 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. The remainder of that week is a blur. Just bits and pieces stay afloat; obtuse, emotional flotsam.
The phone call came Friday night from a friend with news of the terrible accident involving a 9-year-old in my valley and concern that my son be affected by the news. I heard the name, last name only, so many out there it can’t be THE one. I remember my call to the hospital, and the surprise of the emergency room nurse and her emphatic “No!” when I asked if anyone of that name had come in this afternoon. I waited, hoping against hope and losing track of time. I made a promise to myself to hug Stevie the next day at our game. I went to bed thinking of how I was going to explain the hug and special attention. At 11:30 that night the call came. I wouldn’t have to explain. Stevie was dead … killed when a tractor-mounted mower backed over him. I thought of his fragile body. My dreams that short night ended with the sight of Stevie huddled in the corner of the dugout, shivering from the pain and fear of the dark. I cried most of the day – for Stevie, his mom and dad, his brother, for me and every time I made a call to tell the other team parents of our canceled game and the reason.
I met with my team the following Monday. With Tuesday being a game day, I could not go on with life as usual until there was some acknowledgment with the team of Stevie’s tragedy. A counselor, friend and colleague offered to come and speak to the team and possibly help them with grief. I should be used to this grief. But I am not. So, I could only hope that my friend could do for my team what she did for me that Saturday when I called desperately needing comfort and help.
My team was there, and as we sought the cool shade around the practice field, I knew things would be OK. The tentative smiles of the kids and the smiles strained with sadness of the moms and dads spoke of the need to “DO” and the tools with which to accomplish this task. My friend was wonderful, beautiful in her approach. She came with handouts: “How Tos: for parents who deal with children and tragedy.” Grateful, parents snapped up the papers as they listened to their young suggest ideas for a personal memorial to their teammate. Adult tears were ever-brimming as it became apparent these young people were taking that important first step in grief management. They had been given a platform from which to address their sorrow. Plans were set; the stage would be taken, exits would be made and, however sadly, life would move on.
Stevie’s funeral was 11 o’clock that Tuesday morning. Tuesday evening found the ballpark full of parents and players alike, hearts heavy with the knowledge of why the flag was at half-staff. The ceremony began. The stadium announcer proclaimed the game dedicated to the memory of Stevie and invited all the little leaguers in the park to come to the ballfield. A hat and jersey with Stevie’s number was placed at home plate. Someone on the team said “… Stevie’s home now.” The pledge was spoken as two team members unfolded a banner reading “Angels like you are precious and few.” A brand new bat engraved with Stevie’s number was presented to the team. And finally, the messages taped to helium balloons held in the right hand of each team member were released on the count of “1, 2, 3 STEVIE.” A song was playing: “… if I am not there in the morning … remember me …” My team’s faces were shiny with tears, yet held high and smiling at the sight of a dozen Yankee-blue balloons moving further and further into the stratosphere. I looked at my son, and the sons and daughters of others and I beheld a beauty indescribable.
Oh, if life could imitate art we would have seen, that radiant Tuesday evening, Stevie, receiving his wings in some heavenly arena flooded with light. Even as we left a hole in our lineup indicating no player (visible) in center field, we should have known we would win. Fly-balls – shallow or deep, it didn’t matter – hung in the air, giving my team all the “awe-time” they needed before, yes, God willing, Stevie caught the ball.