BLISS

Love begets Love. When I found out that I was pregnant, I saw a constellation of stars. It was as though I had a window into cosmic bliss, experiencing joy like I never knew existed. Whatever my shortcomings as a parent, my son was wanted, loved, and the source of the greatest joy and grace I’d experienced. If I have in any way become a better person, it is because of him.

He was always his own person: a kind, protective, funny, and serious little soul. He is that rare person who can be completely in the moment and who always knew when he was in a good time and always expressed gratitude. Precocious, often wise, occasionally harsh, always supportive, he remains the person who can make me laugh to tears and of whom I am most proud. He has become a man I am happy to know and glad to consider a friend as well as a good son and great family man.

When he walked down the aisle to marry his most beloved, uniting our families, and lovingly accompanied by my own dear father, I thought I would burst with happiness. As I turned to see the generations of both families and felt my Mother’s blessing, I knew that indeed, the Circle was unbroken.

It has been a wonder to watch them grow as individuals and become even closer as a couple over the years. They had suffered quietly for years, using every means possible to sustain a pregnancy, always having their dreams dashed. They carried that sadness with grace until finally being advised to give up.

I didn’t, and I made ceremony at home, entreating my ancestors and hers. Earlier, they had joined me on a fieldwork trip, where the most respected elders chastised me for having only one child, but then took my boy aside and blessed him. Magical thinking? Yes, but I held the hope that the charms or just the way that people eventually relax after letting go of disappointment sometimes results in a “miracle.” Meanwhile, we looked into adoption and other options, knowing that any child that came to us would be OUR child, wanted and loved.

A few months later, I asked my son -a tv producer- to film an event I was chairing at the college where I taught, and he agreed. It was rare at that point for us to be able to get together outside of regular family visits, so I was especially happy to have a few hours with my son and to show him off to my colleagues. After setting up the cameras and staging areas, he suggested we take a break before the activities started and people poured in. Sitting in the dark and quiet auditorium, he put his arm around me and pulled something out of his duffle, saying he wanted me to see something and handing me what looked like a photograph. It was a sonogram of his daughter, my granddaughter, somehow already resembling her Dad at this early stage.

If I thought the heavens opened when he was conceived, I can tell you that the entire universe sang at that moment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have wept from pure, uncontainable joy, and that moment is the most memorable. My serious, often somber child, was lit up like a million Christmas trees, Times Square at night, and the Aurora Borealis in spring. For the next several months (and ever since) I was to see the deep dimples he has when smiling, every single day.

I’m here to tell you that Life presents us with many opportunities and occasions for happiness. When I conceived and again when it was confirmed, I experienced unexpected joy. My life has not been an easy one and joy was not my companion, so its visits were always special, appreciated, and noted. I didn’t know that anything could make me happier than my own child had, but I’m here to tell you that the joy of seeing my child’s happiness made my heart open up a whole new chamber. I went back into the gala in a haze of joy, my face swollen from the happy tears we’d shared and my brain on autopilot for the rest of that wonderful night.

And then she was born, and again, my joy was for their joy: my son and the beautiful soul he’d brought into our lives through love and marriage, the woman who made him aspire to greatness, and laugh, who brought out his silly side, and for whom he felt pride and gratitude. This beautiful couple were finally graced with the child they so wanted and who had- artiste that she is- built up this tremendous anticipation before gracing us with her presence on the stage of Life. Our little star was born and my heart was overwhelmed with love for this person who made my children so happy.

But then somehow, my heart expanded even further as this little blissball grew, and I loved her for herself, this shining, bright eyed wonder whose face danced with aspects of everyone I’d loved in my family, along with features from her gorgeous mother. And as she has grown, new heart chambers have emerged to accommodate my Bliss, as well as heart rooms for all of the new friends and family who’ve come into our lives because of this once tiny seed of love.

So that’s it. I just wanted to say that Love is real. It’s precious and fine and often illusive and illusionary because we humans are basically assholes with legs who tend to miss our own good times or screw them up by trying to capture, control, or otherwise change what is. It’s painful in its absence and wrenching in loss. But sometimes (perhaps as a reward for good deeds but likely for no particular reason at all) we are *blessed* with Love, true and abiding. I think that we are never exactly “deserving” as it’s popularly put, but we are graced with it and made better by it and we should cherish it. Always.

And so for me, each and every year that I live, this date is the Second Day of Bliss and Gratitude and I give thanks for my gifts of Love, from the bottom of my now endlessly expanding heart.

“In Vain I Tried To Tell You”

  • (Originally published 9/28/19)
  • Ok, I’m still in my first “Years of I told you so” and too many things have been sticking in my craw and must come out now even though it’ll make no difference to youz because people just sit around wringing their hands and intellectualizing rather than doing anything. However, it will make me feel better and maybe decrease that lump in my craw. Yeah, unfriend me, tomorrow’s a new year anyhow 🤷🏽‍♀️ (Shana Tovah, btw.)
  • 1. I told everyone that he was illiterate in 2015, 2016, 2017. Actually illiterate, not merely unread. Ya’ll thought that just couldn’t be, that you knew better. Phht!
  • 2. Other NYers and I told folks that he ran a criminal enterprise & was mobbed up. Blank stares.
  • 3. In vain I tried to tell anyone who would listen that he doesn’t pay debts, is petty, small minded, and vengeful, and likely suffering-no, making US suffer- the effects of tertiary syphilis/dementia. Ya’ll thought that was exaggeration. Tchp.
  • 4. I told you that there are two reasons Repubs/Congress wouldn’t ditch him:
  • A. They’re getting rich(er)
  • B. A number of them were connected to improprieties and therefore subject to pressure
  • 5. Americans are passive and afraid to challenge authorities because most of them buy into the false hope that they can become part of the upper class. (I blame the dismantling of class awareness in the 80s that included Reagonomics/trickledown theory, the media promotion of shows like Lifestyles of The Rich & Famous, and the Martha Stewartfication of the household & centering of malls & mall mentality over traditional downtown areas, but that’s a whole other book you’ll have to purchase)
  • 6. Told ya that he was a racist and lier. Reminded people of The Central Park Five & his connections to Roy Cohen.
  • 7. We ALL told yuz that he was a bad businessman, but the idiots who watched tv and had for years been bamboozled into the idea of corporate salvation shut their eyes and ears and loudly hummed a tune that the piper wrote. (And yes, that makes you children or rats)
  • 8. Word to the at-least-not-terminally-stupid: if a candidate isn’t supported in their home state, ya probably shouldn’t trust them. Just sayin’. 🤷🏽‍♀️
  • 9. Oh yeah, remember when I told you that I thought Rudy wanted revenge and to take him down and everybody laughed at my “foolishness”?
  • So, don’t like my presentation? But guess what? I’m right.
  • Told ya!
  • Toni Morrison, Our Greatest US American Writer

    I think it might annoy her that I cannot fully explain the profound effect that each of her books has had on me. How to explain that Beloved resonated so strongly that I experienced a form of PTSD, reading and digesting it by chapters or partial chapters so that it took months to read it all. I knew those ghosts so intimately that I wondered how it could be that she was “singing my life with her words.” Could it really be only a coincidence that my childhood address was 124? I admit that I’ve never seen the movie and never will because I have no interest in anyone else’s interpretation of this awakening.

    Through her and a host of other (mostly) Black women writers, I came to a more nuanced, often cuttingly sharp understanding of our connectedness through our shared histories and humanity. She read and spoke my heart when she posited that we are always interesting; that love is complex and sacred; that we must write and speak our own stories.

    This is my favorite Toni Morrison book, (if one can even choose among her painfully exquisite offerings to the world) and when I met her at Sarah Lawrence College in 1988, she challenged me about “why” in a way that no one previously had interrogated me about anything I thought or felt. She quietly confronted me, right in front of the group of students who were invited to meet her, requiring that I shine a ruthless eye on my thoughts and feelings and not settle for the easy or false enlightenment, nor write before I better understood how my perceptions were influenced by personal and US history. She noted that for an intelligent woman and aspiring writer to do less was moral cowardice. She forced me to reckon with what courage- from the heart-really means. It hurt. I grew.

    I wish that I had a photo of that encounter, and perhaps there is one somewhere in the bowels of my college’s photo archives. I would love to see her piercing eyes sending the strength of her words straight into my soul. I’d love to see my body’s presentation of the shock and awe that I remember feeling. I wonder if the lens captured any of the depth of those relatively short minutes of a brief, deeply meaningful encounter that continues to inform and inspire me. Having been raised in the art of bodily self control, I’d bet that only my widened eyes conveyed any of what felt like an hours long police interrogation under bright lights. Perhaps an auric reader might have seen my soul shift to a new level of maturity. Maybe the other people present noticed that I staggered away in shock, but I doubt it, because Toni Morrison skewered me without leaving a mark or any trace of blood. She entered through my skull and went straight to the heart, like an expert charcutier, cutting away the fat and dross, leaving my generally loquacious inner voice with not a blessed word to say, but a whole lot of reckoning to do. It was years later that I understood that by being provocative, she was also asking to be challenged, not just venerated.

    She was indeed a gift, a blessing, a razor sharp sword: the voice of the Ancestors reuniting us with our natural selves, providing the medicines for our long healing.

    Thank you, Ms. Morrison for the love. May you rest in the peace and power that you so richly deserve.

    Farewell, Johnny Clegg

    Johnny Clegg’s music marked a very special period in my life and has connected me to lifelong friends. I was saddened to learn of his death at the relatively young age of 66.
    I’d been introduced to his story and music with Juluka during my first year of graduate philosophy at Rutgers by my classmate and friend, Sarah.
    Later, when I transferred to anthropology at UVA, my very first outing in Charlottesville was to a Johnny Clegg concert. Sarah was visiting, and we were thrilled to be able to catch them at small venue like Trax. I was new to the area and anthropology, missing my NY/NJ life, and ready for good music and the good vibes Savuka invoked among fans.
    My expectations went awry as this happy outing was where I was also embroiled in my first and only barroom fight. As Johnny and Savuka sang about racial harmony and peace, I found myself fighting off a humongous, belligerently drunk blond woman who tried to push us out of our front row spaces.
    In one of the more surreal moments of my adult life, I watched as the band’s eyes grew larger and two bouncers moved toward us. After a series of flirtatious moves with a member of Savuka, I also watched helplessly as my friend’s hopes of hanging out with the band went down in flames. It was a memorable night for us and for years afterwards, I harbored a hope of running into Mr. Clegg and explaining to him why my face seemed familiar.
    Living in married graduate student housing and later renting a house in the Fifeville section, I played hostess to an assortment of wonderful students and locals and dancing to Savuka was pretty much a daily ritual. Dances learned from Donna Graham at Chihamba were adapted to Johnny Clegg songs. Friends courted loved ones to Dela and African Dreams, we invoked Third World Child , One Human One Vote, Warsaw 1943, and other political numbers as we waged our own battles against racial, class, and gender discrimination. The music was part of the fabric of our lives and we considered Johnny to have been “a white boy anthropologist who made good: a man who tried to live his values in difficult times, insisting on recognizing the humanity of all people and being willing to face being banned for his antiracist work. Honorable.
    Asking forgiveness for my poor Zulu, with a sad heart and gratitude for the music I say:
    Ukuhlonipha abafileyo; Ukuphumula emandleni.
    Respect to the Dead;
    Rest in Power

    In Remembrance

    I was fortunate enough to have had my father in my life for a little more than fifty years. My Dad was the kind of father who would get down on the floor to play with his kids. He did Cossack dances around the house, sang sad and silly songs, told really funny and really corny jokes, brought us bubble gum at the end of his work week, and played rag time piano. He struggled with us (certainly me) through math classes, taught us all to play poker, box, and skip rope. He taught my sister and me to waltz, and retained Victorian-like, romantic ideas and attitudes of courtliness and honor.

    My Pop was fiercely clannish in the best sense, hard working, athletic, and tenacious. He dreamed of having a Kennedyesque compound, with all of his family and other loved ones close, sharing, helping, and protecting each other. When I was very small, before he could afford a car during the hours the bus didn’t run, he walked back and forth between Jersey City and his job in Bayonne (5 miles each way.) Providing for, and keeping his family together was central to his being.

    He seldom attended church but held strong beliefs about honoring parents and holding God in awe. He taught me to always fight fairly and never throw the first punch, a stance that cost me dearly during the street fights of my childhood. He was mostly self-taught and retained a positivist belief in self and home improvement, remaining active until he was about ninety.

    I was completely devoted to him as a child and thought he was the most brilliant man alive with his adherence to scientific method and home-made chemistry lab. He taught me to believe that I was smart and could learn/teach myself anything into which I was willing to put time and energy. As a teen, we struggled because of my difficulties with algebra and developing interest in boys, but he was always protective: a reasonable and considerate father, and I always knew that he loved me even when I thought he didn’t understand me.

    We played piano duets, watched science fiction movies, played simple games of chess, discussed politics and art and music and science and architecture. He taught me how to order at a restaurant if I was alone- a seemingly small thing-but for a shy girl, a gift that allowed me to travel independently. I was taught how to use tools and treat them with respect, to change a tire, and some basic plumbing. He often called me “pixilated”, recognizing that I was dancing to a song unheard by others, and he did his best to prepare me for the practical world he knew would invade my artistic, sometimes dreamy world. He was a bit less successful in this than in other endeavors, but his love continues to shore me up as I dance gingerly through an often harsh reality.

    He was a good man and it is my sincere pleasure to wish all of the good fathers and fathers-to- be a wonderful and Happy Father’s Day today.

    Student Debt

    When considering student debt, people seem not to understand that the average person starting graduate school is a nearly 40 year old woman. There are far fewer grants for grad school than scholarships for undergrads, so most people take out loans. In fact, even in colleges now, “student aid packages” are predominantly based on loans unlike any others. They cannot be claimed in bankruptcy proceedings and the current administration has almost completely eliminated debt forgiveness proceedings for teachers and other public servants who were eligible for debt release after ten years of service and payments.

    Given the age of most graduate students, many are likely to have children and are often single parents trying to return to the workforce or improve their earning power, but those earnings are often unlikely to allow them to pay off those relatively high interest debts and support families through their education. Heaven forbid that they also incur medical loans or try to purchase a house rather than pay continually increasing rents!

    Historically, debt forgiveness is not a slippery slope into anything other than boosting the economy, in spite of the histrionics I see in comments regarding Elizabeth Warren’s recently stated platform. (And no, I’m not crazy about her or anyone else right now, but her platform isn’t far fetched and is in fact, in line with many of the world’s wealthy, “developed” nations)

    So the REAL questions should be:

    Why are education costs in the US such that only the wealthy can afford to be educated?

    Second to that is why do Americans allow their hard earned tax dollars to be used to forgive the debts of banks and multinationals, but fight to maintain their own positions as indentured workers?

    Why do so many Americans fight against union benefits that help every worker rather than fighting for their own ability to bargain?

    And why does a country that’s falling behind in education undervalue liberal arts? We had one of the best educational systems in the world when those subjects were part of the general curriculum, including at the best technology colleges, such as MIT. It’s pretty simple: if I can read, write, and have a decent grasp of critical thinking, math and science, I can pretty much learn everything else (given an aptitude and willingness to work) and communicate with others across disciplines.

    Sadly, I have some ideas about the above “whys” but I can only hope that I’m wrong because if I’m right, it means that too many Americans are stupid, mean spirited, and ignorant about how the systems under which they spend their lives actually work, or their real positions within society.

    As working people we have more in common with one another than we do with the 2% richest or even the legislators who are supposed to represent our interests but too often use their political terms to enrich themselves at our expense. We don’t have to like each other or agree on everything, but we sure as heck need to stop fighting each other in ways that keep us all down.

    Stop acting like crabs in a barrel, people. Raise each other up: in that way, everybody benefits.

    You Don’t Speak For My Clan Mothers

    Although published in 2017, I just came upon “‘Anthropology is a white colonialist project’ can’t be the end of the conversation” by Ghassan Hage, and found myself once again interrogating the anger that welled up from the core of my “Native Anthropologist” being.

    I find the ending to this otherwise interesting and useful article entirely problematic. Identifying anthro as a tribe, while common, also serves as a way to justify exclusionary behaviors and perpetuate rights of inheritance/inclusion to those who “err” but “respect their elders.” No, I don’t have to accept all of those horrid, racist, misogynist dead guys as my Ancestors. They did not bring me to this discipline, nor do they sustain me. They are not sources of inquiry for me, and most serve only as object lessons for what not to do in anthropology or life.

    In my mind this “tribal” fall back position seems akin to the recent eulogizing of a soft spoken leader who also contributed to the deaths of thousands from AIDS, waged a racist campaign, and promoted international wars, both secret and direct. Maybe he was nice to the very narrowly restricted group of people who knew him, but his policies brought suffering and death to many, and it is his professional being I am here to judge. So too, I see no reason to buy into the toleration of problematic figures in anthropology.

    I do believe that anthropology (and even governments) can be decolonized, but not by falling back on worn out tropes and pre-emptive forgiveness, and not by continuing to tip toe around that which is unforgivable.

    The bottom line is that unlike our lineal/blood families, we are not born to this “tribe”, we choose it. And that makes all the difference.

    https://mediadiversified.org/2017/09/04/anthropology-is-a-white-colonialist-project-cant-be-the-end-of-the-conversation/