Afternoon On A Train: Pt. 2

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Part 2

 I’ve mused over time whether or not an encounter with Mrs. Roosevelt would have been the same for another teenager, one without my father’s challenges.

That kid may have thought, “Gee, the President’s wife is swell,” and gone merrily on his way. He or she probably wouldn’t have either known or remembered, for example, that in 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Marion Anderson perform at Constitution Hall. My father knew, though. He knew that Mrs. Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in dissent, simultaneously offering a paradoxical puzzle to the public at large: why did Americans damn Hitler but censor Miss Anderson? This difference in awareness of  how America viewed them, how America fought for or against them, might account for another kid, our fictitious second kid, being charmed, perhaps, by meeting Mrs. R. Pleased, but not genuinely touched.

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If Eleanor Roosevelt had suddenly removed a crystal ball from within her satchel and showed my father his future, even he may have been impressed. He’d watch himself prizing open various closed doors, including the unabashedly clannish ones of Braemar Country Club and L.A. Athletic Club, making it possible thereafter for other minorities to join. He’d see himself elected as Chairman of the Board of Governors of said LAAC. The crystal ball would reveal a man chosen as first Chairman ever of the John Wooden Awards, a man invited as part of a Minority Task Force to the White House. My father would see the optimism and open-mindedness he’d fostered his entire life realized in unforeseen and unimagined ways.

 

Many years later,  Eleanor R. was dying, disappointed with the slow progress of social change.

And with reason. Many years later I was born not to my parents but to a white woman and a black man. And while that might have seemed to bode well for change, my biological mother gave me up for adoption, telling the administrators that I was white. This plan failed because as time went on, I grew quite dusky, causing confusion and raising alarms at the orphanage. When I met her 20 years later, my biological mother informed me that she’d thought I would “have a better life” with a white family. I guess she was forgetting that anybody who was adopting children, no matter their background, would have to have been financially secure enough to do so.

Being half-black in a black family was a nonissue. Being loved was paramount. Ironically, the better life my biological mother had wanted for me came easily and unconditionally through people who were not white. But the undeniable fact remains that she automatically discounted blackness as a viable option, even though she had loved and created me with a man of color. That weird disparity, the contradictory concepts of America’s founding, had taken seed, tunneling deep into the country’s psyche and creating a conflicted mindset, a stupefying Rubiks cube, which our nation still grapples with today.

 

By 1962, my father had been practicing dentistry for many years, but blacks wouldn’t be accepted into the National Dental Association until 1963. Eleanor Roosevelt was disappointed.  J. Edgar Hoover postulated that she had “Negro blood” which motivated her “perverse behavior.” The thrill of $3,450 houses and amazingly cheap coffee aside, it was a strange time, indeed, when someone’s altruism could actually be interpreted as hostile or depraved. This was the woman who took the time to speak to my father on a train one afternoon in 1944. It was a different world. But for him the encounter still sings, sustaining its melody for 70 years.  This was due not only to a mutual moment of recognition but also because the subtext brimmed with intention undeniably more expansive than that meeting, that conversation, that moment.

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Which brings me back to the beginning and Octavia Butler’s blurb: Are all humans bigots, or are all bigots human?

Obviously the question isn’t simply aimed at America. Nevertheless, if our country was a quilt, race relations would be the thread that purls its borders. Perhaps the idea of America can be summarized in that blurb not because of a potentially troubling conjecture but instead because of an inherent optimism and potential for open-mindedness. The built-in hope that softens this country’s failings by counteracting with periodic greatness.

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Lately it’s been much more difficult to absorb that optimism as more and more of the police force’s and even many state’s politicians’ MOs have come to light. But if I were to stay on track and finish my thought, just for the sake of argument, in a microcosm, my dad is simply a Boston boy who done good, but in a macrocosm, he and people like him are a representation of that elusive American hope–an ideal that we not only would like to reach but that we need to reach–courage and compassion expanding beyond one afternoon on a train, beyond ourselves, galvanizing us to be more:  More reflective.  More intuitive.  More compassionate. More inclusive. More than we are. More.

More than human.

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WOULD YOU RATHER…with Stacey E. Bryan

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Would you rather….with Stacey Bryan

Please welcome Stacey Bryan, author of Day for Night.

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Stacey was raised in the San Fernando Valley but born in San Francisco, where she left part of her heart. She received a BA in English from UCLA, studying under world-renowned Irish journalist and novelist Brian Moore. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines in New York and L.A., including Ginosko and The Rag. She is currently working on various short stories and the sequel to her novel Day for Night. She lives in “beautiful downtown Burbank,” as Johnny Carson used to say, with her husband who is also a writer.

Connect with Stacey:

Website    Facebook     Twitter    Goodreads

Would You Rather… 
with Stacey E. Bryan

Chips, chocolate or cheese?

Chocolate and cheese are great but too rich. I could shove chips into my mouth for weeks straight and not realize what I was doing until I keeled over from high blood pressure.

Bridget Jones, Becky Bloomwood or Carrie Bradshaw?

Carrie Bradshaw of course; she writes for a living! And who’s going to say no to Chris Noth and Baryshnikov types for a roll in the hay?

Wine, beer or vodka?

Beer. In fact, I’d love to go back in time and pop a few with the ancient Egyptians, one of the first civilizations to invent beer, try out their home brew.

Camping or spa vacation?

A combination. Camping with flush toilets and a massage.
P.S.: I almost died hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I became extremely dehydrated and could barely walk.

Water or mountains?

Water, preferably the beach. I often imagine myself like the French Lieutenant’s Woman, standing on the freezing shore in a cape with the wind blowing my hair around in cinematically attractive ways.

Zombies or vampires?

Vampires, because you can reason with them. Before you can get the first, “Please, don’t—“ out of your mouth to a zombie, it’ll  already be munching on your intestines like it’s a free spaghetti dinner.

Dogs or cats?

Cats. Except I’m sort of a traitor because I only like cats that act like dogs. What’s the point of an animal that ignores your existence?

Coke or Pepsi?

Coke. No hint of flatness. With a super fierce bite.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee. Periodically the news announces that coffee causes cancer, then conversely a year later they’ll say coffee can help fight cancer. I drink it during all of its stages, good and bad.

Dine out or take away?

I prefer eating a pizza on the sofa while binge watching “Breaking Bad” and considering the merits of having an underground meth lab.

High heels, sneakers or flip flops?

I broke my toe when I was 13, so I can’t wear many high heels. Sneakers are comfy but I loathe socks. So flip-flops inhabit my Goldilocks zone. I even wear them to work.

Physical Book or ebook?

I used to go to the library every other weekend, then my husband bought me a kindle for my birthday, and I haven’t been to the library in two years!

Paperback or Hardcover?

Just out of sheer laziness, paperbacks because they’re lighter.

Pen or pencil?

Pen. Pencil is too light and tends to rub off. Pencil is for fourth graders!

Mad Men, Downton Abbey or Breaking Bad?

Well, I’ve already answered this one, haven’t I?

Drama or comedy?

Considering the logo of my website is “laughter over tears”, I’ll say comedy. I need endorphins like I need air.

Twilight or Hunger Games?

Only saw the first Twilight movie, couple Hunger Games, but I have to go with Twilight because it’s paranormal. Hunger Games could actually happen, so it’s too depressing to think about.

Lipstick, lipgloss or chapstick?

Cherry flavored chapstick does the trick. I was a tomboy growing up. It’s why I broke my toe and can’t wear high heels.

Facebook or Twiter?

I don’t twat much, as Kathy Griffin says, so I’d have to say Facebook. I’ve got to admit the concept of Twitter confuses the hell out of me.

Plot your entire novel or fly by the seat of your pants?

Plotted it out chapter by chapter, but each chapter itself was kinda “loose” on all the details. So even though I jumped out of the plane without a chute on, I made sure 200 firemen and rescue workers were waiting below to catch me on a giant life net.

Day for Night

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When reality TV star Rae Miller is kicked unceremoniously to the curb by her back-stabbing cast mates, she quickly realizes that revenge fantasies and unemployment are the least of her problems after she witnesses an alien abduction in broad daylight. Worse, after escaping a terrifying almost-abduction herself, Rae succumbs to a sexy Nosferatu’s silky assurances, becoming undead in order to up her alien Ultimate Fighting skills. But even being supernatural can only get her so far. She still needs a job and going back to school wouldn’t be the worst idea ever. And once she figures out why her long-time college friend Rex refuses to have sex with her, she realizes her true nemesis is time.  Life is hard as a 38-to-40-something aspiring actress in L.A. Thank God for Jack Daniel’s and denial.

Available at:

Amazon Barnes & Noble Kindle Nook Kobo 

Afternoon On A Train

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 Part 1

The blurb describing award-winning author Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novel “Fledgling” wraps up by asking a question: Are all humans bigots, or are all bigots human?

Don’t panic yet. Take a deep breath. Smell the optimism in the air.

And here’s a little back story first.

The book my father, Dr. Edward Bryan, and I were supposed to write together was called “I’m Innocent,” a memoir detailing his experiences as the Chief Dental Officer of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Metropolitan Detention Center.  Ala the Shawshank Redemption, a curious universal innocence thrives in the prison system where the inmates affectionately refer to my father as “Dr. No Pain.” That seems like an accomplishment, considering how much dentists tend to be feared and avoided. Of course, my dad has a captive audience with little or no choice but…still. In that situation, it would have been fairly easy not to care.

 Eleanor Roosevelt said something about caring. She said: “We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”

And for her, championing civil rights before it had technically become a cause, decades before Ms. Butler would submit her conundrum, it probably seemed like there were not many who cared. She received lackluster support, if any at all, from her spouse President Roosevelt, managed to incite J. Edgar Hoover’s everlasting ire, and acquired a 4,000-page FBI dossier documenting her philanthropic activities.

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I figure anyone who has a 4,000-page FBI dossier on them is either someone I really don’t want to know or someone who’s really worth knowing. Assuming Mrs. Roosevelt to be the latter, that’s probably why, when she took the train one day 70 years ago and met my father, he was deeply affected by their meeting.

But first let’s set the stage a little. Fly back with me. It’s 1944. A 2-pound bag of coffee is 85 cents. Gas goes for 15 cents a gallon. The average house costs $3,450.

Just those three things alone should have your head awhirl, imagining the things you could accomplish with a time machine. Double Indemnity and Gaslight came out that year, the average price of a ticket reaching about 32 cents. Can you imagine today removing $1 from your wallet and buying a ticket to Star Wars? And then receiving change back? The mind boggles.

 

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Fly back with me. My father is a 15-year-old African-American kid living in Boston. His cousin gets him a sandwich boy job working weekends and summers on the Boston to New York train. One afternoon, the usual humdrum routine disappeared, unveiling a moment of magic. Mrs. Roosevelt was on the train. It must have been the equivalent of General MacArthur appearing out of nowhere, his gigantic pipe clamped between his jaws, or today, say, Mick Jagger sauntering into Old Navy while you’re busy folding the jeans.  Not talking about humanitarianism here. Just remarking on pure celebrity factor alone.

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My dad approached the president’s wife: “Excuse me. Aren’t you Mrs. Roosevelt?”  She responded, “Yes, I am. Sit down, young man.” Of course, back in time, in the world that no longer exists, it amazes one to realize that she was completely alone, no security in sight. She wasn’t even riding in the parlor car but chose instead to travel in coach. She asked him if he went to school and where (he matriculated at English High, the first public school in the U.S., which was also a college prep school). Mrs. Roosevelt then told him to believe in the beauty of his dreams and to get an education.

“That is the way,” she told him, “you will help yourself and your people.”

In the movie Anger Management, an African-American man becomes upset with Adam Sandler whom he perceives to have used the alienating phrase of “you people.”

But in the ‘40s, what’s not P.C. today was everyday life back then. And not that she meant anything by it. Well aware of the importance of education, the advice, for dad, must have been a pleasant exclamation point at the end of a sentence he’d already memorized. He recalls giving Mrs. Roosevelt an apple which he didn’t let her pay for. She disembarked at Greenwich, Connecticut, alone, and he never saw her again.

To be continued………….

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Without Apology

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Don’t try to tell me that  writing contests aren’t one of the most maddening and frustrating endeavors a writer can partake in. In the maybe six or seven contests that I’ve entered, I’ve only won one–and that was back in college. Then once, later in life, I made the second cut of a sci-fi contest but didn’t make the final stage. Contests are like a terrible battle. They’re like war.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know about you, but many times when I’d read the winning entries…they just didn’t strike me as anything particularly special that should have won. Yeah, the writing was competent. But for me they didn’t shimmer or shine or puncture or pierce. Yeah, okay, the stories were interesting, somewhat thought-provoking. But for me they didn’t fly apart as if under an intense, invisible pressure and then coalesce again into something powerful. Without warning. Without apology.

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Okay, wait–did I think my stories did all these things? My stories, which never won?

I can’t really answer that question. I only know I wrote with passion or pain or humor or rage. And when the words weren’t flowing, I plucked them, one by one, from out of a dark sea, tiny glowing pebbles, little shiny shells, each one demanding an inordinate amount of attention before either being adopted or tossed back into the churning waves. It seemed like the material that didn’t get picked by judges still appealed to others. So I remained encouraged that I wasn’t actually unearthing ruination and fatuity and imagining that they were precious, sparkling gems.

But as for the winners…I dunno. Not really all that impressed, I gotta say. Except for a few. If it wasn’t for those few, I would even start to believe it was sour grapes on my part. I would have to ask myself, “Are you just jealous? Of the winners? Or those who stand out? Of those who grab the attention? Or those who are probably more talented, more creative, more prolific?” if it wasn’t for those few. At least, for me. The ones I thought had won for a reason, and were well-chosen, and whose pieces I consumed with fervor and admired from afar, like a high school kid with a crush on someone who didn’t even know they was alive.

This is the winner of a flash fiction contest in Ginosko a few years ago. Not one iota of puncutation. And yet I didn’t find myself losing track of what was being said.  I hope it pierces you too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

 

BONE FOLDER

He was sad and angry because his friend had died in a way that made it suicide in everything but name and he sat in a place where they used to drink and talk about Japanese literature and bullshit about work in progress and he thought that his friend might be forgotten which would be unjust because he was part of the resistance whereas the living collaborated and his anger at himself coalesced into action of a sort and he went out and bought tiles and a foam brush and a sheet of acetate and gloves and a mask and fingernail polish remover and a bone folder and he made color copies of a photograph of his dead friend with the right type of ink and he pushed the mirror image button so that the image would not be reversed on transfer and he heated the tiles in the microwave and placed each copy of the photo onto each warm tile face down and coated them with the fingernail polish remover and smoothed them with the bone folder under the acetate and applied the tile sealer to fix the image forever and when he was done he took off the gloves and the mask and left the tiles to dry and he was crying but he did not notice or if he did he thought it was the fumes of the solvent in his eyes and then one night later that week he mixed up a batch of cement and went out and fixed the tiles with the picture of his dead friend to the facades of buildings all across the indifferent city and for the rest of the year he smiled seeing the tiles in secret places or being denounced as vandalism by the authorities.

– Jason Price Everett

 

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Beautiful Fantasy: Spartan Justice for All

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Where do I begin? Did I love the movie “300”? Yes. Was it based in reality? Somewhat. Here and there. Just put a little Wite-out on the ugly parts and blow up the good parts by 1,000.

Well, it’s kinda like how, over time, certain people and/or events become…let’s say…changed from what actually happened or who they actually were, and all of this becomes viewed, in time, through a distorted lens that’s only telling part of the story. Yeah, yeah, history is written by the victors. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Examples? No problem. Two that stand out in my mind are the Rhodes Scholarship and Margaret Sanger. When one thinks of a Rhodes Scholar and the associated scholarship, one generally conjures up benign brainiacs, geeks and nerds of Mensa or Jeopardy! qualifications, whose brains are bigger, synapses fire faster, or maybe are simply gifted in the retention of trivia and facts.

The scholarship, however, is named after British mining magnate and South African politician Cecil John Rhodes, the founder of the De Beers diamond firm, a corporation which enjoyed a global  monopoly for many generations of exploiting/raping natural South African resources while treating its workers as much, much, much less than human. As the creator of the 1913 Natives Land Act, Rhodes’ brainchild would limit the areas of the country that black Africans were allowed (less than 10%) and this, along with altering voting laws, helped pave the road for apartheid.

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In the meantime, Planned Parenthood is still going strong today. I don’t think the average person even knows about Margaret Sanger when they think of Planned Parenthood. I know I didn’t. But when you hear about the “founder” of Planned Parenthood, you’re probably inclined to think, “Oh, what a forward-thinking lady. What a maverick!” since she was engaging in the struggle for women’s rights back in the ‘20s.

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A couple of years ago, Ms. Sanger was named one of Time magazine’s “20 Most Influential Americans of All Time.” But considering what the founder of Planned Parenthood contributed to the eugenics movement, it gives one pause, does it not?  Eugenics?! you say.

Yes. Eugenics!

In 1939 Sanger wrote in a letter to Clarence Gable: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.

It was nice of her to lend a caveat to her ultimate goal which was, most likely, not to exterminate blacks, but to definitely keep them from having more than an acceptable amount of babies, whatever that number may have been, as was evidenced in a video recently unearthed from 1947 of the intrepid defender of all womankind—ahem—I mean defender of most of—some of—the appropriate women—of Ms. Sanger demanding no more babies for 10 years in developing countries.

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So back to “300.”  Back to Sparta.

No one more than I loves the expression on Gerard Butler’s face as he’s proclaiming, “This is Sparta!”

But what’s the low-down on Sparta behind the cinematic majesty?

Well, it’s common knowledge these days that the Spartans were slave-owners, dominating who were probably the original inhabitants of Laconia (the area surrounding the Spartan capital). Although this population, called helots, greatly outnumbered the Spartans, an iron heel was kept firmly ground on their collective neck to keep them down.

Spartans, during their early training, did not have to go out into the snow and kill giant wolves as much as they were required to perform the equivalent of today’s gang drive-by in order to gain warrior status within the ranks. So instead of the lyrical representation of the half-naked boy facing down a wild animal, a more realistic scene in “300” would have been a testosterone-crazed 13-year-old shadowing an unarmed helot on his or her way to market in a rite known as the Crypteia, jumping said clueless person, and probably slitting their throat on the spot.

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Portrayed as a freedom-loving culture in the movie and in popular media today, what they actually only valued was their own freedom. Certainly not that of the helots.

And let’s take a look at Ephialtes, who betrays the Greeks by disclosing the location of a secret goat path to the Persians. Ephialtes is changed from a local Malian of sound body into a Spartan outcast, outrageously disfigured and later outrageously vengeful toward Leonidas and the warriors. Aside from the fact that Ephialtes was the leader of radical democrats in Athens and whose reforms prepared the way for the final development of Athenian democracy, his character is demoted to monster-like proportions in both body and mind, along with the general representation of the Persians as twisted creatures, malformed and debauched, offering up an endless supply of gigantic stampeding beasts and horrific ogres to do their fighting for them.

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Oh, well. It made for good drama in the movie.

At the end, in history, the Spartans knew they were gonna die. And they stayed. Graciously, they volunteered their own slaves. I can just see the Spartan warrior going, “Yes, and Thesius will remain behind also,” while Thesius does a double-take and drops the cape he was trying to mend in the dull light of a bloody sunset.

In the end, Spartan bravery isn’t in question. It looks like they had that in spades. But the circumstances that allow such a society to live and thrive, on one level at least, contaminate everything else that happens afterwards, don’t they?

Like the questionable “honor” of being dubbed a Rhodes Scholar.

Like the much, much less than egalitarian principles of an overly esteemed Margaret Sanger.

Like the founding of the United States with a constitution stating that “all men are created equal” except…it was really only men. And really only a certain type of man. And look where we are today due to that ignoble beginning…

It’s nicer to stick with fantasy sometimes. So for now I’ll sink back into the glory of “300” with its chiseled stomachs and call for honor, swirling with empathy and altruism for all the innocents and worthy of the world. Truly a beautiful idea. Really a wonderful, captivating fantasy.

 

 

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FEATURED MULTIRACIAL INDIVIDUAL: MEET STACEY E. BRYAN

Thank you to Jen, Kourtney, Amal and Jenn and Swirl Nation for featuring me in their  multiracial individual interview! Their website is unique and fascinating, in my opinion, drawing opinions and observations and relevant information from a cornucopia of multiracial folk with interesting and varied backgrounds. Visit them here!

http://www.swirlnationblog.com/

WHAT MIX ARE YOU?

White: Austrian; Mediterranean: Greek. Creole black; some Native American (not sure which tribe) and white (not sure from where).

WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?

Burbank, California

IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?

Much more diverse than it used to be. Burbank is where Johnny Carson had his show and Bette Davis used to live. That old-school Hollywood population has dwindled, making way for many other types.

WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?

I was born in San Francisco and grew up in Oakland until I was around 5. Oakland was definitely more diverse than the San Fernando Valley where we moved to when I was 6. The new neighborhood was not diverse in the least. I think it was 95% white. My family was the only black family living there. I say black because although I’m mixed, I was adopted into a black family. That’s why the information I have about my Creole black half is spotty. Most of the kids in the L.A. neighborhood were nice, but my brother and I did not really fit in.

 

HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?

I will have double answers in some of these, due to my adoption. My adoptive parents, who are black, met in San Francisco when they were teenagers, through mutual friends. My biological parents met at Berkeley while they were going to school.

 

WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?

The initial obstacle lay with my biological parents. Apart from their youth, I think the other primary reason I was given up for adoption was because I was mixed race and my biological mother didn’t receive the support from her family that she otherwise would have received.

 

HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING MULTIRACIAL?

I fit into my adoptive extended family seamlessly, because although they’re black, they’re also very mixed. It wouldn’t have mattered if they weren’t mixed or didn’t look mixed, like my parents; I was fully accepted and loved as if I were their blood.

 

DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?

Since my adoptive family was black, what I remember most was we ate lots of soul food: greens and grits and black-eyed peas, and jambalaya, etc. I don’t remember any particular traditions or cultural events taking place.

When I met my biological mother, she introduced me to Greek food, which I had never had before. Her father was Greek and her mother was Austrian.

 

WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?

No foreign languages were spoken.

 

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?

Since food is the most vivid memory, I have to say I enjoyed that the most. I remember a lot of smooth jazz and the blues playing during parties, so that’s a very fond memory. There were no overt religious beliefs that I can recall, although my adoptive father is a strict Catholic. Nobody in the extended family seemed to be very religious. But then again, they were all on my mother’s side from San Francisco, and my father was from Boston. It seems like the San Fran folks were all sort of Avant-garde while Dad’s Boston side were more God-fearing!

FEATURED MULTIRACIAL INDIVIDUAL: MEET STACEY E. BRYAN via Swirl Nation Blog

WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS? 

My brother and I had a set of books as children concerning various historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King. My mother took us to see plays like A Chorus Line and Raisin In the Sun equally. I don’t remember her doing anything special to *teach* me about white people. Maybe she thought we were already surrounded by white people (in our neighborhood) had white friends, went to school with white people, and learned about mostly white people in history and other school topics already. So *being white* and what it meant to be white wasn’t a mystery.

 

DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?

Race did come up fairly often because my brother and I were often in settings where we were the only ones of our kind; he was a black kid at a Catholic school, and I was a mixed kid at the same school. Kids used to call him Oreo. Later when my hair grew longer, kids said I had “witch hair.” My parents’ overall message was that people were just people but that some people looked at skin color more than others. We were supposed to “ignore the ignorant.” But, of course, it wasn’t always easy to do. My mother thought that, in the future, when everyone “looked like me” racism would be greatly diminished.

FEATURED MULTIRACIAL INDIVIDUAL: MEET STACEY E. BRYAN via Swirl Nation Blog

DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?

This is a funny question for me, because I started out from childhood through my 20s saying I was black. That’s who had raised me, and that’s who I identified with. I distinctly remember being in first grade, in the Catholic school where they called my brother an Oreo, and somehow another girl and I started talking about my grandmother, and I recall proudly saying, “My grandmother is from Africa.” My grandmother wasn’t from Africa, not directly, at least, but I said it almost as if daring the girl to refute it somehow. By the time I was through my 20s, I had gotten so many confused looks and was so sick of explaining myself, I started saying I was “half black.” I realized years later that I was saying “half black,” and not “half white,” too, because of buried resentment against my white biological mother who gave me away. Nowadays I just say I’m mixed race.

 

DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?

When I was dating, the last thing I looked at was race. I’ve gone out with every color under the sun. My husband (who is very *private* and didn’t want any pictures of him included, unfortunately) is Latino. His parents are from the Dominican Republic. His skin tone is much darker than mine. In fact, when I first met him, I thought he was black. But I knew he was mixed with something. I just had no idea what.

 

WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?

Being mixed to me simply means that two people whose DNA manifested in them in different ways got together and had a child. It makes it harder for people to put a label on me, but it also causes confusion. But in the end it makes me feel very connected to the world, having DNA that comes from so many different places. I think most people who have been in America for a long time are mixed, even if it isn’t readily apparent, or they don’t know it. It’s too bad that they don’t know it, or accept it, because our country would be a very different place.

 

DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?

I’ve had a few mixed friends, two of whom were a half-Filipina woman and a half-Japanese man. The interesting difference between them was the half-Filipina woman was happy with who she was and how the world saw her. The half-Japanese man identified with being viewed as a minority and acknowledged the oppression and alienation that so readily can come from that. Maybe it had to do with the woman being female and pretty and not having the same concerns as an ethnic male. Ethnic women aren’t under the same pressures as ethnic men in our society. But I do think it’s a form of denial if an ethnic person believes they are completely free from those pressures.

 

ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?

I feel like people who haven’t lived on a day-to-day basis under the kind of stress that comes with being constantly judged and often treated a certain way by appearance alone usually respond with denial, rationalizations, and out-right misdirected anger. That constant, repeated response annoys me to no end, but I know it comes largely out of a lack of real, goal-oriented, educated discussion. There are old hurts and long-held angers on both sides. I also am wounded by black women who make contemptuous faces at either me or my husband when we’re out together, obviously concluding that either I’m white or my husband only likes like-skinned women.  The irony in this position is that my husband was not accepted at all by the black community he grew up in in East New York. In fact, girls that were attracted to him, upon discovering that he was Latino, would then reject him. Often kids would chant, “Rice and beans, rice and beans,” in order to get under his skin. So the black women who appear to be annoyed at what they see as a cliché of a black man with a white woman are annoyed with an illusion, because he’s not even what they traditionally go for. But all of it’s an illusion, anyway. Holding on to the same old thoughts, feelings, and ideas have gotten us nowhere and will continue to get us nowhere.

 

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?

Like I said above, my mother thought that if everyone got mixed enough and it was harder to stick labels on folks that racism would diminish greatly. But I’ve had discussions with people who believe the “paper bag rule” will just come into effect. So as the population gets more and more mixed, the new level of undesired status will become “anyone who’s darker than a paper bag” and on like that. So I’m not sure what the answer is, as long as a certain trend of thought continues. The trend has to be destroyed so that healing can begin. I guess my dream is for people to start thinking out of the box where race is concerned. Staying in the box is keeping us all prisoner.

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ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?

I’m very passionate about this topic, as you can see. I’m a writer, and I’ve addressed this issue sporadically, but probably not enough, and not in a really big way. I actually just had a book come out in June. It’s a paranormal comedy called Day for Night, and although I’m proud of it for what it is, part of me wishes I’d written the next “Invisible Man,” or something equally as weighty. However, even though it’s a comedy involving aliens and vampires, my main character, Rae, is a mixed woman (who’s also facing ageism and never says her age out loud, something I’ve adopted in real life for the time being) and I do talk about race here and there throughout the novel.

Well, the story takes place in Los Angeles, so it would be impossible not to mention race relations! I’m hopeful for the future, though. I do believe people would rather get along than war against one another. I do believe mutual understanding and compassion will come. But it’ll take time and, I think, some creativity.


You can follow Stacey on her Facebook Author Page / Goodreads / Website / Twitter

 

 

Sci-Fi or Terrifying Prophecy?

“Demolition Man” from the early ‘90s wasn’t just an action adventure/ sci-fi comedy starring Stallone, Snipes and Bullock. It was an oracle in movie form, a prophetic finger pointing toward certain roads we were traipsing down which, in retrospect, we did end up traversing: enthusiastically, merrily, and blindly, in my opinion.

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The more benign predictions included Tablets, instructional videos (like YouTube), self-driving cars, GPS. Well, as benign as technology can be, considering the more we depend on machines for our everyday existence, the more our self-reliance, patience, and even empathy shrinks in direct relational contrast.

Maybe fostering that change in temperament and diminished thought processes has contributed to the slow takeover of the more malevolent predictions of Demolition Man, namely these things, as spelled out by Sandra Bullock’s character in one scene:

“Ah, smoking is not good for you, and it’s been deemed that anything not good for you is bad; hence, illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat…Bad language, chocolate, gasoline, uneducational toys and anything spicy. Abortion is also illegal, but then again so is pregnancy if you don’t have a license.”

When I was living in Brooklyn in the early ‘90s, I first heard the phrase parents were implementing with their kids: “Use your words.” There was a story about a child having a tantrum, and in the midst of it, grabbed his mother’s hand and bit down on her finger so hard, he drew blood. Her only response to the over-the-top, hostile and violent behavior of her child was to bend down, look into his eyes and say, “Use your words.”

Today if your child bites down on your finger hard enough to draw blood and you have the normal reaction of screaming, jerking your finger out of his mouth, then whirling him around and spanking him….you could actually be arrested for “child abuse.” That is, if an armchair conservative with Tea Party sensibilities and an unshakeable disbelief in evolution is quick enough to pull out their cell phone and, drawing on a ‘50s-style McCarthyistic sense of righteousness, call the police.

In “Demolition Man”, Stallone is reawakened into a futuristic L.A. which has been reformed and renovated into a Disney-like crime-free utopia, similar to the “faux” Times Square Giuliani created during his tenure in New York, along with the “gentrification” of many other neighborhoods and areas, which actually means, of course, that he pushed as many low income and/or ethnic people out as possible, and then spray-painted glitter over graffiti and century-old bricks, paving the way for Starbucks and Sephora to take center stage.

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At one point during the movie, Sandra Bullock and Benjamin Bratt start singing the Armour Hotdogs song because jingles are part of the popular entertainment. Their child-like behavior was a prophetic shoe-in for the eternal adolescence that people in general seemed to be mired in today. Nothing else can explain the popularity of the Kardashians, Snooki, The Housewives, Survivor, or the myriad other reality TV shows featuring full-grown adults talking about nothing, doing nothing, and behaving as if they’re 20 years old. Behavior which has become fully accepted! It’s not like 45 is the new 35. 45 is the new 18. And I think it all stems from those kids in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, who only got a “firm talking to” after they had chewed one of their parents’ fingers off!

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With intelligence rapidly plummeting and maturity being delayed for decades, it’s no wonder the Nanny State has blossomed into a full-fledged oligarchy starring the well-known and nameless corporations that direct every inch of our reality. If you think that the helmet laws and seatbelt laws and the tax on cigarettes and now sugary drinks are rules and regulations meant to help you, please take a moment to think again.

Nobody cares about you. Nobody cares if you smoke or get fat or fly through the windshield of your car when you smash into a tree. It’s an oligarchy. An oligarchy that cares about business, and what bigger business is there than insurance companies? Insurance companies  definitely do not want to pay for your rehabilitation after you crack your skull open on a motorcycle because you weren’t wearing a helmet. They do not want to pay for surgery and/or medication after a lifetime of junk food consumption and obesity issues.

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It definitely looks like Demolition Man was cued into something, like the guy that wrote Future Shock, Alvin Toffler, was the co-writer or something. Like maybe they had been there when the kid bit down on his mother’s finger until it bled and watched in amazement as she talked to him in a calm voice instead of a normal reaction of smacking him hard on his rear and screaming into his face, “DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT TO MOMMY AGAIN!”

Because I think if that had happened, the normal thing, and not this new, scary, Big Brother nee Nanny State, we-are-sheep-tell-us-what-to-do-keep-making-mindless-entertainment-tell-us-what-to-eat-make-smoking-illegal-although-booze-and-cars-and-fracking-aren’t-and-let’s-not-even-get-into-cops-murdering-unarmed-black-men-and-arrested-minorities-to-keep-the-privitazation-of-prisons-alive society never would have happened.

And “Demolition Man” would have remained a charming, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi adventure instead of a template for what was to come. And the reality we are living in now.

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Where Thunder Goes When It Dies

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One of the best days of my life when I was a kid was the day I discovered Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Reading that story was like gorging yourself at a buffet, except you could keep eating and eating and never get full, and the words and rhythms and sentences each tasted different, smelled different, felt different.

Ray Bradbury made a big impression on me, opening that fascinating door into writing and ideas. How did people come up with these stories? How did these people–writers–concoct this five-course meal made of vowels and syllables that often left you more sated than actual food?

 

Oh, what strange wonderful clocks women are. They nest in Time. They make the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity. They live inside the gift, know power, accept, and need not mention it…How men envy and often hate these warm clocks, these wives, who know they will live forever.

 

I’m not sure what I was thinking at 11 or 12 years old reading about “the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity.” But I knew something was happening; I was slipping, sliding down a hill with no beginning or end, just a continuous falling sensation, plummeting into a world of ideas and images, sometimes crystal clear, sometimes just out of reach of understanding.

And what about turning normal, everyday insomnia into a thing of poetic beauty:

Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning, there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three A.M.! Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out. The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry.

I loved the metaphors and stream of consciousness musings:

Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?

And deep feelings that had only gently brushed past but had yet to penetrate expressed so succinctly:

Somewhere in him, a shadow turned mournfully over. You had to run with a night like this so the sadness could not hurt.

 

I can only hope, somewhere in my life, I can construct one sentence as beautiful as Ray Bradbury’s or approach the poetry of his writing.

As I got older I realized how much he had touched me, insinuating some invisible code into my memory that punched back through in moments when I needed it most. But I wonder about that road he wandered, how far down it he went, how far away from it I still am.

I want to wander that road, too, hear what he heard, hold it in my hand, transform it into something billowing softly across the road, a story like a gauzy curtain tossed by a warm wind, a sentence that holds the shadow at bay, a rhythm that reveals in every aching breath and clenching woe where thunder goes when it dies.

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The Silence Where the Voice Was

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A weird thing happened today. I thought, “I should call mom and tell her about that.” And then I remembered, “Oh, yeah. Can’t do that.” She left the world at the start of 2012.

I guess it’s actually not that odd. People probably go through that all the time after a loved one passes on. It’s like experiencing “phantom limb” but with a person who’s gone instead of a missing leg or arm.

My mother wasn’t young. She was 83. Her actual passing, while not tragic, still surfed along on the tail end of a tragic situation which I won’t go into today.

There’s always more to say and there’s never enough time. We stopped speaking for a year, at one point, but then got together again to resolve our issues. I feel lucky. Many people never do.

But there’s always more to say. And there’s never enough time.

There’s always more memories you want to share, more laughs you want to have, and you can’t because there’s a new silence that stretches out where their voice used to be and there’s a dim ache that never gets worse but never quite goes away either.

I wrote this poem for my mom ten years ago. Recently I found it, framed, in the bookcase in her’s and Dad’s bedroom.

 

Poem to my mother

 

used to wish for better communication

but realize what we have will do

am grateful beyond words

for the life you’ve helped me achieve

used to wish we understood one another better

but figure no one can know anyone’s heart

completely

could wish for a different mother and you

could wish for a different daughter

but we are what we are

and we’ve come this far

 

 

can’t imagine your sacrifices

hope the regrets are minimal

thank you for making them

can’t hope to repay you

but will keep trying as long as I can

can’t say thank you and hope that

that’s enough

but will keep saying it as long as

you’re around

 

 

thank you for understanding

thank you for not understanding

thank you for your anger

thank you for your forgiveness

thank you for your worry

thank you for my childhood

thank you for holding on

thank you for letting go

thank you for doing your best

thank you for being my mother

 

I think she would be happy about my book coming out, too, even though it wasn’t the romances she thought I should be writing. It’s on a promo sale for a few days for 99 cents! She would love that too. She loved a good deal.

 

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The Unseeming Connection Between Horror and Poetry

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When a story starts out, “You know he’s the one who made your beloved niece disappear,” how could you not want to keep reading?

The first line of The Button Bin in Mike Allen’s collection of horror stories, “Unseaming,” is enough to raise the hair on your arms and the back of your neck. Allen, already well known as an editor and writer of speculative poetry, delivered “Unseaming” several years ago in all its luscious, spine-tingling dread and horror. I had no idea it existed until a member of my writer’s group mentioned it.

I want you to do something right now.

Just imagine standing in front of a window.

Then a brick appears in your hand.

What happens now?

You throw the brick through the window.

Glass shatters, showering you with glittering shards.

Now you step forward, your tennis shoes crunching on the random scattered pieces.

And what do you do now?

You press up close to the ragged, gaping hole where the brick went through.

You put your hand out and begin to lower it directly down toward a distinctly jagged piece jutting at a crazy angle out into the open air, aiming it closer and closer to that tender, sensitive point between your thumb and forefinger….

That, in my opinion, is what it’s like to read “Unseaming.”

 

If the elegant, serrated, melodic writing isn’t enough, then maybe the bizarre, mind-bending tales, often with an unexpected twist, will do the trick.

For example, enter the mind of a grieving woman:

Soon she heard nothing else. An absence of music, an opposite of laughter, as if a throat sculpted pure mourning, emitted waves that drained away power and life as they washed over whatever they touched.

If horror can be born somehow of lyricism, Mike Allen accomplishes that. And expect nightmares of all types: real and self-made. In one story, a hiker witnesses this:

The monster ascended the far side of the gully on legs like arched lighting, climbing into the murk at heart-wrenching speed.

I don’t know about you, but whose knees wouldn’t buckle just at the thought of seeing something like that? And then the other type of monstrosity declares this in the bookend of the collection:

To you I am a shriveled lump, but I speak with pride when I tell you that I’m a self-made monster, a Mandelbrot set, a Koch curve, a Menger sponge, and inside I have no boundaries.

It’s not so easy to find a book of horror, in my opinion, that opines the state of heightened primordial sociopathy approaching omnipotence in such deliberate language peppered with an alarming and passionate undertone.

As an added point of intrigue, his second collection of horror, “The Spider Tapestries,” came out just a few months ago, March of this year.

Enjoy these stories.

But be careful with that brick and the glass.

Don’t cut yourself….too deep.

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