Monday, April 24, 2017

I’m not an Academic, I only Play one on the Weekends

Some things I just can’t process.  I may think I need to step back, or re-experience it, or talk it out.  But in the end, some things I just cannot process.  This conference was one of those things.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the past ten years. ---This is what law school does, prepares you to sit in overly air-conditioned rooms, staring at poorly designed slides on giant screens, collecting all sorts of branded bits and bobbles.  It’s practically baked into the profession by regulatory authorities that require you to stay re-educated by trading several hours of your time each year for bad wi-fi and stale bagels.---But this conference was different for me.  This was the first time I was attending an “academic” conference.  No continuing legal education credit on offer here.  No mix of practitioners in with the academics.  This was a wholly different animal; and to make matters worse, it was multi-disciplinary.

There were a lot of big words I couldn’t follow.  Words I knew the meanings of on their own; were they to be on a vocabulary quiz, I could match the definitions to them.  But strung together in long sentences with little words in between, I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything.  But even the bits I could understand left me feeling like the sentence ended with a semi-colon.  A complete thought, yes.  But, so?

The conference was called Race+IP.  People talked about race.  People talked about IP.  Some people even talked about both.  Some things seemed obvious, some over-simplified, some as though they were searching for racism, and others as though they were racializing a much broader oppression.  A lot of things seemed like there was no there there.  And I was lost.

‘The music industry is terrible to black folks.’  The examples given: that Pharrell lost to the Marvin Gaye estate, that Lil Wayne was owed $10 million by Cash Money, that Clyde Stubblefield’s creative products were owned by James Brown.  Somehow irrelevant that all the advantage-takers in those scenarios are also black.  And brushed away as a side note that the the music industry is terrible to anyone not already in power, that it entrenches the existing power structure and fights long and hard to further entrench, re-entrench, forever entrench that structure.  It is true that the power structure includes few blacks.  But racializing the inequities of the system leaves out all the others who cannot benefit, all the others who may want to fight.  Shrinking the size of an army does not help win the war.

Then there was this session about how Cadillac is a black brand.  (I did not know this, but it might explain why at least once a month a 50-year black man asks if Chester is for sale.)  GM was apparently upset about the association between the Caddy and black entertainers in the 50s and 60s.  Really, brand owners were racist?  How shocking.  This is nothing new, nor anything old.   But what does this have to do with IP, other than that brands are IP?  I didn’t get it.  I must have zoned out and missed something.

Add on top of the confusion a bad head cold, an atmosphere of self-aggrandizement with West coast-style Liberal assumptions, and horrible weather, and well, this wasn’t the best first-time experience of this sort of thing.  Perhaps I’ll leave these conferences to the real academics.  I think I prefer being a lawyer.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Africa

WP_20170414_115Africa is raw.  Tangible, raw life.  Every box, every line we draw in the West is washed away in a cloud of red dust.  Africa is freedom.  Freedom of the truest sort where life is burrowed so deeply into the very essence of the world that one becomes the expanse of the deep blue sky, breathes the heavy deep rustling of the large mango tree leaves, is powered by the strength of the ancient volcanic rocks that dot the landscape like hoards of mythical sleeping beasts, and wears that deep red dirt that creeps into every nook and cranny of every being and everything.  Distinctions between seeming opposites, such as indoor and outdoor, disappear altogether.  Everything comes from the earth in ways in which one cannot help but be acutely aware.  Water pulled from the earth, dinner roaming the earth, the sun being the best and most reliable light of all.  The earth is yours and you are the earth’s.  And everyone moves together in it, all a part of it.  What appears to be narrow two-lane roads become four or five or six lanes as pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, three-wheel scooters, cars and lumbering lorries surge together, sweeping between and past and among each other.  People cut through when they have a chance and make way when others need room in a gracefully understanding manner one would never see in places where people feel entitled to whatever bit of road they’re on as though it belongs to them and only them simple because they are there.  Life has not had the living sanitized out of it.  Numbness cannot survive.  Alertness, awareness, oneness with everything around you is a must.  But such exertion is not exhausting; it is invigorating.  It is living.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Don't Do Drugs


“Don’t do drugs.” A high-schooler behind me said it to her friend when the commotion started.  “Don’t do drugs.”  A mom said it to her young child as they climbed off the bus with the first exodus of people.  “Don’t do drugs.”  A man said it to whoever happened to be within ear shot as we all moved down the sidewalk to board the approaching bus.  “Don’t do drugs.”  I think I heard that phrase uttered more tonight than in the entire 1980s combined.

I was sitting on the bus minding my own business, reading about verb usage in United Nations Conferences of the Parties decisions as I am apt to do these days during my commute, when a voice yelled out, “Don’t touch me!”

Not the most unusual thing for a rather crowded bus at rush hour.  My passing thought was probably something along the lines of “it’s good she’s standing up for herself.”  But the yelling continued.  “Stop touching me!  Don’t touch me!”  Over and over.  By this point, everyone on the bus was looking, and it was clear no one was touching her.  The woman was sitting in the sideways seats at the front of the bus yelling into the bus in general.

But that changed.  She turned to the man on the seat adjacent to hers and started yelling directly at him.  "Don't touch me!"  He tried calmly saying he wasn’t touching her, a few times.  She kept yelling and started getting up in his face.  Then he got agitated.  “Stop touching me!”  “Stop spitting on me!”  “Don’t touch me!”  “I’m not touching you; don’t spit on me.”

And then the threats.  From her, all from her.  She’d spewed a few into the air before, before she turned on this man, but now they were clearly all directed at him.  They  both stood up.  I don’t know who stood up first, but she started swinging.  He put his hands up, trying to block her punches.  Some guys from the back of the bus yelled, “Don’t hit that woman."  "You can’t hit no woman.”  The man was trying to duck, but there was nowhere to go on the crowded bus.  The bus driver tried to get them both of the bus.  The man backed out, the lady still swinging at him, while he voiced the inequity of his having to leave the bus.

The woman sat down briefly.  Then she jumped up and raged down the aisle towards a young lady who was standing near the back door, looking at her phone, not paying no mind to any of the ruckus.  The lady saw the woman coming and froze in shock.  A man in a construction safety vest jumped up immediately in between the two, blocking the woman’s arms from coming down on the surprised lady.

The man in the safety vest backed the woman up a bit, but she started to send jabs into his gut and swing for his shoulders.  A third gentleman jumped up and tried to pin the woman’s flailing arms.  She fell to the bus floor, both guys going down with her.  They wrestled her off the bus as passengers off-loaded themselves by the back door.

Soon, half the bus was empty, the bus driver was outside with the woman, the two men who’d gotten her off the bus and the man she’d first attacked.  The other passengers mulled around on the sidewalk at the back of the bus, waiting for the next bus.

Those of us on the bus waited a bit.  The driver came back on, but he didn’t sit down.  He pulled a bright green safety vest out from behind his chair, put it on and calmly stepped back off the bus.  The woman was still yelling outside.  Someone hollered that another bus had arrived.  The rest of us streamed off the bus to trade our immobilized one for one that might actually get us to our destinations.
And then we saw why the driver hadn’t come back in, why he got his safety vest, why we weren’t going anywhere.  The woman had thrown herself under the front of the bus, directly in front of the right tire.  She was lying there, in the road, a limb flung on the muddy curb, yelling about how WMATA (the transit agency) better give her something.  The bus driver just stood nearby, nonchalant, waiting patiently.

The rest of us moseyed on down to the arriving bus.  “She spit on me and my daughter,” the man who was first attacked.  “I’m just trying to get to work,” the guy who helped get her off the bus.  “How she gonna hold everyone up like that?” a lady dragging a stroller up the steps of the bus.  “Don’t do drugs,” somebody, to someone, to everyone.
Just another commute home in DC.

Monday, January 23, 2017

After


I thought going to the service would make things better, ease the cold dull pain inside.  Instead, it tore open a wide giant gash and poured the burning salt of reality into the wound.  My cheeks burn as that salt oozes from my body in tears.  My soul burns as that salt drips into a stalactite dagger of anger that I didn’t know I could have, that I become all the angrier for having.  For someone whose entire life was full of love and giving and perseverance, these are the wrong emotions to have, the wrong emotions to be left with, sadness and anger.  But they are here, and they are real.  And I do not know how to make them go away without distraction and time.

When are memories not enough?  When are they ever enough?  The best memories exist to be re-lived, and when they cannot be recreated, they must be retold.  I want to tell stories; I want to hear stories.  But how, and where, and who?  I do not know in what way to begin.

The stories I remember, the ones I could tell, I cannot tell them well.  They would quickly turn into inside jokes, and she would not like that.  She was all about inclusion, always about making sure no one was left out.  She passed that trait on to her children.  And, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.  I am going to miss her so much, but I am very glad the best parts of her live on in them and in everyone whose lives she touched.

She gave us the gift of her light, and more importantly, she showed us how to share our own.  Mine’s hiding under a bushel of anger and sadness right now.  She wouldn’t like that, but she’d understand.  And she’d probably tell me to light that bushel on fire and let the glow burn even brighter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hide and Don't Seek


I missed my legs.  I have them; they’re attached to me.  But, I was feeling like I hadn’t seen them in a while and I missed them.  It’s winterseason of warm and woolly.  I’ve been wearing knit tights, long skirtssometimes ankle-lengthand NineWest wedge boots that don’t set off the metal detectors at work.  I missed my stilettos.  And my legs.  The clip clip that punctuates the air and the lines that punctuate the space.

So, I put on nude stockings and my strappy black & white stilettosand I quickly remember why I’d stopped.

Except, I’m not sure I knew that’s why I stopped when I stopped.  But now, now I’m sure.  After the first starethe stare I tried to move behind but the staring eyes were attached to a rotating neck and a twistable torso.  After the first car horn and rolling down window I quickly turned away from as though my back cannot hear beep-beep.  After the first attempt at a “hey there” met with a curt “hello.”  I knew.  I hated this.

This, this drives me into piles of woollies and clunky wedge boots, even as I give myself other excuses: it’s cold outside; it’s cold inside; I don’t want to take my shoes off to go into work; my favorite coworker is amused when I look ridiculous.  Plenty of excuses, legitimate reasons perhaps, but excuses all the same.  The truth is, I’m hiding.  Hiding my body from the world just as I did when I was 13.  Except then, I hid it because people didn’t like it; now I hide it because they do.

Big t-shirts, 18-sizes too big if they’ve could’ve been.  Drowning.  “Hey, goldenrail, what’s flatter, you or a board?”  A sinking log.  The Heckle brothers living up to their family name.  I just wanted to get home, to walk down the sidewalk without yells from across the street.  I just want to get home, to walk down the sidewalk without yells from across the street.  Why is this always too much to ask?

Always too much, unless I’m hiding.

I nearly started to cry, realizing how much of my life I’ve spent hiding.  I hate it.

And tomorrow, I will hide.

Monday, January 16, 2017

But I don't wanna say goodbye


It’s 1am.  I should be asleep.  But I’m not. My mind is busy, playing through memories.  Playing through memories that I don’t want to be old or forgotten, unable to be duplicated, unable to be replicated, replayed, relived.

As I’ve gotten older, I feel like death has become less real to me.  It should be the other way around, where death is more real than when I was child in a world where magic existed.  I think it’s because the people leaving are people I don’t see daily, or even regularly.  It’s easy to forget they’re not there, wherever they usually are, until you see someone or hear a voice or a laugh, and for a split second, you think it’s someone you know and love and care about.  And then you remember.  You remember it cannot be them, they are gone.  Or maybe it actually is them, in those moments, a fleeting, twinkling, dancing, laughing moment to say hello, to say “remember me?”, to say “remember me.”

I almost had one of those moments today.  On my plane.  A voice, a voice I almost knew.  But the news was still too raw to be caught in a foolish forgetful hope.  Yet that timber, that tone, while uttering some other words I didn’t hear, still said, “remember me.”  And now I lie here, awake in the dark, obeying the command, remembering.

It is that shining gleam in her eyes when her daughter was crowned Junior Miss that makes the tears flow hardest.  She was so very, very proud.  Always proud of her children, their achievements, her own children and those of us she’d welcomed in with open arms and southern hospitality.
It is her insistence, against her eleven-year old daughter’s attempts to assert “friend-girl” as a thing and three teenagers’ clear awkwardness, that it was so wonderful for her son to have his girlfriends over for dinner that brings choked-up giggles spilling from my throat, morphing into sobs and back to giggles again.  Sobs.  Giggles. Sobs.  Sobs.
It is knowing she’s cheering loudest and hardest from the stands, waving a pompom and hooting and hollering as we snap our horns down that makes me feel a warm giant hug though surrounded by thin air alone in my cold apartment. 
It is that broad, joyful smile that makes the corners of my mouth turn up to smile back even as my lip quivers and my heart crinkles into the deepest frown. 
It is plates of eggs and bacon, folding chairs on lawns, red pew cushions, and a big blue easy chair that unleash a booming, echoing, “so, what’s going on with you?” bouncing around inside my head, waiting for an answer. 
And it is realisticness compounded with a firm resolve that reminds me that within my memories of this wonderful woman lies a superhero’s capethose who believe can do anything.  Even while acknowledging the mountains that need to be climbed along the way, the hurdles that need to be jumped, and the rivers that need to be crossed.  “Well, there may be a big mountain and eight lions on this path, but I think there’s a real possibility he can do this if he just...”  That was so often her attitude; it may be tough, but there's a way.  And of course, she always had plenty of input on what that way was, too.

It doesn’t matter that the station agent gave us a schedule and we’ve been standing on the platform watching the train come in; I’m still mad it arrived.  Mad it didn’t delay more.  Mad it was even on its way already.  It’s always too soon when people you love go, but sometimes, it really is too soon.

So. I’ll let the memories play, until life goes on enough to bring one of those twinkling moments.  And then, I will obey.  I will remember her.