Sunday, March 8, 2015

leaving before the rains come

Before I give my latest recommendations, I'll say something about myself, because I know almost everyone who reads this blog knows me personally and doesn't just come here for recommendations for stuff to read and see. I'm finding it harder and harder to write about myself on the internet though. Ever since I went off Facebook, 2 1/2 years ago, I've been on the slow slide to privacy. And I find that the more privacy I have, the more I want. This is so surprising to me.

Last night I went to a fashion show here in Sitka. A fashion show, the kind with a runway. I took my camera, thinking I'd take photos to share online with my friends--since, after all, 99% of my friends live far away. But as I sat there at the fashion show, watching all the models walk the runway, I kept forgetting to take pictures. When it would suddenly occur to me again that I had a camera, I'd feel amazed at how different my internal reality is from what it was, say, four or five years ago. I remember how, when I was on Facebook, I'd experience my experiences in terms of status updates. At any given moment of my life, I was aware of a potential audience.

The awareness of a potential audience isn't wholly gone, but it's mostly gone. And in fact, in most of my life these days, I don't have any audience or witnesses whatsoever. Since I left Ariel's--almost exactly six months ago--I've had big fields of solitary time to roam around in. And even at Ariel's house, I had so much more solitude than most people I know. Yes, I was responsible for Ariel, but we spent most of our evenings just in each other's company, and that was pretty quiet company.

It's not just solitude right now. I went with a friend to the fashion show last night. I'm part of a writer's group that meets every other week, and I had a friend for dinner on Friday night, and I talk to family and friends on the phone. But, at a time in life when most of my peers are busy raising children and visiting with the parents of their children's friends, and are generally busy, that doesn't seem to be the story I'm living.

Here are two recommendations.

Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller. It's a beautiful, riveting memoir about Alexandra's divorce from her husband of 20 years.

"Fruitvale Station" is a movie about the last day of Oscar Grant's life. Oscar Grant was a young, black man who was shot and killed in an Oakland BART station in 2009. He was unarmed, lying on the floor of the station with his arms pinned behind his back. Oscar Grant, as he is portrayed by Michael B. Jordan (who's been one of my favorite actors since he played in "The Wire") in the movie, reminds me so much of the young men who were my students in Oakland. Same culture, same context and language. To say that the movie is painful to watch is an understatement in the extreme. But I think that, especially for people who don't have contact with black culture, and/or urban black culture, it's an important movie to see. I think that the movie might come across as an overly rosy portrayal of a young man who "sold weed" and had a prison record. And it probably is a little overly rosy. But not so much as to be untrue. I think that so often people outside urban culture, or white people in general, have this image of what they think a "black person who deals drugs" is, or they think they know who a black man who'd been in prison could be and could not be. And what I want to say about the movie is that the young, urban (and I don't mean "urban" as code for "black"; I really do mean people who live in the city...because I know a lot of people who live in small towns, and boy is the culture different) culture I see portrayed looks to me exactly how young, urban culture looked to me when I rode the BART trains all around the Bay, and when I went into corner stores, and when I taught college a few miles away from where Oscar was shot. It's a culture that I think looks confusing and scary to a lot of white people, especially non-urban white people, for lots of different reasons. A lot of those reasons are insidious. The deep, deep ways racism is entrenched in the American system. And some of those reasons are just actual cultural differences. So many misunderstandings happen in the gaps between cultures.

Here's my point. I think that a lot of white people I know would see a movie like "Fruitvale Station" and they'd think to themselves, even if they didn't say it out loud, "I doubt that Oscar Grant was really that likable in real life. Because likable people don't get shot for no reason." And I just want to say: that simply is not true. It's not true. It's not true. I also want to say: even if Oscar Grant was utterly unlikable, even if he was a relational idiot who alienated everyone in his life, that doesn't mean he deserves to be shot, or even harmed. Being a jerk doesn't mean you deserve to be shot. Having a prison record doesn't mean you deserve to be shot. Selling marijuana doesn't mean you deserve to be shot. The crazy thing is that I feel like I need to actually state those things. That is the really, really crazy, fucked up thing. I feel like I need to actually say, "Being a jerk doesn't mean you deserve to be shot," because I have met so many white people who don't really believe that, not when we're talking about black people.

I'm sorry to end the post this way. May Oscar Grant be resting in peace. May his daughter be well, and may her life be full and long. May his family somehow, somehow have peace.

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