Unita Blackwell

I just learned about her today. With the year’s end we mark the passing of those who left gifts for all of us, purchased with their strength. This lady dragged the powers that be kicking and screaming out of their ignorance into the face of justice.

She recognized that the world she was given was not fixed. The Mississippi of her youth, the level of deprivation and oppression, is incomprehensible. And to be uncomprehending of it speaks to what happened because of those like her and to now, with the changes she began. The world she left is not fixed. But it is no longer that.

Her life reminds me that I don’t know these people who worked for us, life in danger, to connect freedom with opportunity. I know the ones you know. For every one we know there are a thousand others like Unita.

Movie review: Roma

“Roma” is remarkable. It starts out loose and you wonder if it will gel. The opening interior shots are shot in wide angle which keys you into a space just this side of a dream. That carries throughout the film as it presents scene after scene containing that odd mixture of rough reality and the truly bizarre that I’ve always loved about Mexico.

Those elements jump out of the corners of the picture frame and always put me through the same process of becoming familiar with those everyday oddities, after which I would repeat the same refrain, “That is so Mexico!”.

This tone is consistent and so artful that it is nearly transparent to the story. The slippery but substantial magic that infuses this great culture supports and enlivens the narrative, supporting it very effectively from the background. The story is heartfelt and powerful, containing the motion from failure to triumph, wounding to healing.

The lead actress, Yalitza Aparicio, is mentioned for an Oscar. She has a natural strength that establishes the pivot point for the story. Her dignity and presence dominate the screen. Her failings and her heroism become ours. And in the process the profile of the indigenous culture she represents is honored and elevated.


We’ve come back around to the season of gratitude. My favorite time of year. This year we have the option to click on a Facebook app which assembles a photo montage to pay tribute to a friend and that’s just fine I guess. But something in the “easy” is awkward. Like giving or receiving an electronic “Thank-you” card that was done with just a click or two. It works from that low level position of minimal effort because hey, don’t we all know that inarticulate and time-pressed feeling? And sometimes it’s nice to be able to send a quick feel good message because it’s one of many other things demanding our attention. But we are still capable of real attention, right?

Anyway, here’s hoping I never lose that ability altogether. And here’s the list of what I’m grateful for. I wrote it the other day. Today I wrote the second part of each one because the first part seemed way too corny.

I am grateful to be a warm blooded person on this planet. Try cold-blooded sometime. Makes you grateful real quick.

I am grateful for friends in my neighborhood who genuinely care enough to listen as I try to express what is important to me. And if you’re just pretending you’re doing it very, very well.

I am grateful that I still have an urge to find a way to give more than I have given. That’s a nice way of saying I’m a slug in this department.

I am grateful that my eyes are not dimmed by age to the point where I no longer see the intense wonder that my youth taught me. Now if my youth would just quit going on sabbatical.

I am grateful that I know one person who joins with me in a promise to stand by and elevate every moment together as a demonstration of shared love. And for not thinking this is all sentimental bullshit.

I am grateful for the wisdom of my body when it knows what is enough. Most of the time.

I am grateful for glorious, unexpected elation that comes when I stop demanding it. But I was really hoping for last Tuesday at three.

I am grateful for the ability to work on something that faith tells me is possible. And for the ability to stop working on something when it all goes to hell.

I am grateful for the quiet peace of a lazy afternoon. Because then I can just space out… I mean “be creative.”

I am grateful because being grateful builds a stronger heart. And I should quit here because I just used “grateful” twice in one sentence.







On Its Head

An item of conversation this year in the Lower Town art community has been the record level of high-end art sales around the world. This fact is usually mentioned with a note of irony since many of us struggle with stagnant or declining sales. The other note is obviously a jealous one since we all know “The Land of High-End Art” exists out there somewhere. To get there seems to require some archetypal journey through Jungian forests of doubt where we meet Joseph Campbell minding the gates. There we will present our art in the form of the perfectly shaped key to fit the lock and which will open the gates where we enter an land filled with rich and exotic Chinese buyers.

The high-end art market was awash with renminbi in 2011. In part, Chinese currency flooded the art market in a reach for cultural legitimacy as it snapped up art with pedigree, both East and West. After a long march of another kind, the success stories of the Chinese economic miracle are now ready to enter the international art market in a frenzy to purchase the talismans of refined taste. I consider myself part of the working class here in America and I thought I had it tough competing. Imagine the outrage you’d feel if that prized Pollack you were eyeing got price-jacked at the Christie’s auction due to another round of nasty Sino-based inflationary pressures.

But give it time. China has its own problems. We thought mucking our way through exposure to international labor markets was rough on our financial picture. China will soon face a billion workers who feel that they deserve a pay increase and better working conditions. A Chinese contestant on a popular reality show where a panel of women interview potential date material said it well. She was offered the opportunity to take a romantic bike ride with an eligible bachelor. Her response shows her to be perfectly in tune with western sensibilities by offering this nugget of capitalist poetry, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bike.”