Life Lesson

“Life is cheap and Death is free.” -Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings


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Self Discovery 

When I was a child, I didn’t know I was poor until I met rich people.

I didn’t know I was black until I met white people. 

I didn’t know I was kind until I met those who were cruel. 

I didn’t know I was smart until I met dumb people. 

I didn’t know I was creative until I met those who were unimaginative. 

I didn’t know I was funny until I met people with no sense of humor. 

Today, my daughter is six months old. 

She doesn’t know what she is… 

yet. 

America First!

Although the United States only accounts for 5% of the world’s population, it produced 76% of the world’s serial killers in the 20th century.  The 1980’s was the most prolific decade for “first kills” of serial killers in 100 years. Don’t let politicians convince you that we don’t make anything in America anymore. #jobcreators

The 1000 Day MFA

The 1000 Day MFA is a do-it-yourself program for autodidacts who want to become better writers.  I found it on www.whatisplot.com and it’s based on Ray Bradbury’s advice to writers. If you’re interested in the craft of writing, I encourage you to check it out.  Over the course of 1000 days (approximately 3 years), you will:

  • Read a short story, poem and an essay everyday.
  • Read at least one book every month.
  • Write a short story every week.
  • Watch three movies a week.

I’m trying to be a better writer so I’ve been giving this a shot in 2017.  I’m busy, just like everyone else, and I don’t get through it all every day or every week but I still try. I substitute episodes of a TV show for the three movies/week requirement and sometimes I read more of one category than the other in a given week.  I figured that in a do-it-yourself program I can do-what-I-want and make it work for me.  The key is just to do as much as you can and get better. Here’s what I read and watched this week of Feb 20-26, 2017.  

Short Stories

“Ladies Lunch” by Lore Segal

“The Toughest Indian In the World” by Sherman Alexie

“A Dream of Men” by Mary Gaitskill

“The Prarie Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld

“From the Fifteenth District” by Mavis Gallant

“Seven” by Edwidge Danticat

Poetry

If We Must Die by Claude McKay

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Dope by Amiri Baraka

We Have Been Believers by Margaret Walker

Everytime it Rains by Nikki Giovanni

Mother’s Habits by Nikki Giovanni

Essays

“Is This Hygge?” by Susanna Wolff

“Americanisms” by Adam Gopnik

Books

Between The World and Me by Tahenisi Coates

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

March Book -Three, a Graphic Novel by John Lewis

Watching

All The President’s Men (1976)

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (PBS)

Writing

I wrote a story called “The Rabbit Boogey-man” for Story Collider at the Atlanta Science Festival.

I’m working on a longer piece of fiction with the working title The Monster In The Mountain.  Not sure yet if it’s a novel yet.

 

The Appointment in Samarra, as retold by W. Somerset Maugham

(The Speaker is Death)

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?

That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Resistance and Fundamentalism (The War of Art by Steven Pressfield)

RESISTANCE AND FUNDAMENTALISM 

The artist and the fundamentalist both confront 
the same issue, the mystery of their existence as 
individuals. Each asks the same questions: Who am I? 
Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? 

At more primitive stages of evolution, humanity didn't 
have to deal with such questions. In the states of savagery, of 
barbarism, in nomadic culture, medieval society, in the tribe 
and the clan, one's position was fixed by the commandments 
of the community. It was only with the advent of modernity 
(starting with the ancient Greeks), with the birth of freedom 
and of the individual, that such matters ascended to the fore. 

These are not easy questions. Who am I? Why am I here? 
They're not easy because the human being isn't wired to 
function as an individual. We're wired tribally, to act as part 
of a group. Our psyches are programmed by millions of 
years of hunter- gatherer evolution. We know what the clan 
is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What 
we don't know is how to be alone. We don't know how 
to be free individuals. 

The artist and the fundamentalist arise from societies at 
differing stages of development. The artist is the advanced 
model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough 
excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. 
The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He 
is lucky. He was born in the right place. He has a core of self- 
confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress 
and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, 
however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world. 

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, 
humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out 
there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The 
word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, 
be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx. 

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the 
conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning 
ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as 
Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captiv- 
ity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the 
American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the 
Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. 
In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish 
without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic 
fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair 
and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal. 

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. 
The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individ- 
ual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of 
the tribe and the clan, the village and the family. 
It is the state of modern life. 

The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered 
individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot 
stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he 
retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory 
days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and 
himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to 
basics. To fundamentals. 

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is 
no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that 
the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is 
inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he 
builds, his schools and networks of organization, are 
dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself. 

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for 
the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to 
which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the 
artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He 
experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the 
fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce 
him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with 
Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that 
the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented 
strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of 
their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to 
ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven? The fundamentalist 
hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of 
Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson 
from his power. 

To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamen- 
talist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred 
texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the 
process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks 
forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks 
backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he 
and all have fallen. 

The humanist believes that humankind, as indi- 
viduals, is called upon to co-create the world with God. 
This is why he values human life so highly. In his view, 
things do progress, life does evolve; each individual 
has value, at least potentially, in advancing this cause. 
The fundamentalist cannot conceive of this. In his 
society, dissent is not just crime but apostasy; it is heresy, 
transgression against God Himself. 

When fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age. 
Yet still I can't condemn one who is drawn to this philosophy. 
I consider my own inner journey, the advantages I've had of 
education, affluence, family support, health, and the blind 
good luck to be born American, and still I have learned to 
exist as an autonomous individual, if indeed I have, only by 
a whisker, and at a cost I would hate to have to reckon up. 

It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. 
The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe. 
Certainly I wouldn't be writing this book, on this subject, if 
living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as 
Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual 
is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those 
who will not govern themselves are condemned to find 
masters to govern over them.

In the year 2017…

My brother is buying a new house in St. Louis and ran across this gem in the HOA by laws. THEY ONLY PUT A FUCKING LINE THROUGH IT instead of deleting it entirely! There’s no better metaphor for racial history in the U.S.A. #pictureworth1000words