Babies, babies everywhere. It's raining babies. Babies on parade. I dream of babies.
In the past three months, no less than SIX (and I'm probably forgetting one or two) little ones have made their way into the world within my circle of friends and comrades. Among them is my godson, Kawayan ("bamboo" in Tagalog), who was born in late April--and has lots of hair on his big round head. ;-) Two more of the six babies were born in the past week, to J. & S., and G. & M., comrades in the movement who are new to this whole parenting thing. And I want to give a shout-out to Kathang-Pinay on the birth of her grandson!
Congratulations to all! And good luck raising the next generation of revolutionaries and visionaries. You know I'll be here when you need a baby-sitter. ;-)
So I saw I, Robot for the second time yesterday, and I liked it just as much as the first time. If you haven't seen it, please do (and I rarely encourage people to spend their hard-earned dollars on blockbuster Hollywood flicks--well, ok, maybe you should see Spider-man 2 as well; not only is it a great summer movie but I have an inexplicable, giggly-sighing-girl-like celebrity crush on Tobey Macguire. And speaking of giggles and sighing, Will Smith is still buffed out enough from Ali to look pretty hot in a few gratuituous, “Look-how-fine-I-am” nude and semi-nude shots in I, Robot).
Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for possibly spoiling any surprises in the film. But the movie is good enough that it won’t matter much.
The premise of I, Robot is that in a future world, robots play a central role in modern human life, serving people in a myriad of ways, from personal assistant to cook, baby-sitter to factory worker. In order to keep the robots completely safe for human use (read: exploitation without the emotional and moral complications), they are all programmed with three basic laws (or rules):
1st law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2nd law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3rd law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
(Note: I actually got this version of the laws from an Isaac Asimov web page about robotics, and not the film itself.)
Hardwired with these three “perfect” laws, the robots become more common than personal computers are today, with 1 robot for every 5 humans on the planet (yikes! That’s a LOT of electricity). They operate on pure logic, rescuing drowning people based on their probability of surviving, for example, and have no emotional capacity whatsoever.
Pretty neat, right? None of that pesky human emotion to confuse and complicate things, none of those moral or ethical dilemmas about right and wrong. Three simple laws: Don’t harm humans. Obey orders. Protect yourself. As long as you don’t harm humans. Cool.
Of course, things don’t stay that simple.
Enter the newest generation of robots, NS-5’s--which have such a Macintosh-platform, OS-X ring to them that all us Mac-lovers gotta be proud. NS-5’s are created with space for a second processor, located where a human heart would be. The robots start to evolve. They start to make their own choices. They start to listen to other robots instead of humans.
They break the rules--or at least the rules the way humans understand them. Things get ugly. If you’ve seen the previews, you know what I’m talkin’ about.
Which brings me back to the idea of rule-breaking. When humans break the rules as part of their creative efforts, the results can be astonishingly beautiful, even sublime. Consider Bruce Lee’s street-smart Jeet Kune Do philosophy, which strips more traditional kung fu down to some bare essentials, and ends up as a seriously fierce and effective approach to ass-kicking--I mean, living as a peaceful warrior.
Or think about jazz music, which has roots in musical styles as disparate as Italian operettas, Black southern blues, American military marches, and old Negro spirituals. Who knew that all that stuff could be cooked together like gumbo to create a completely new musical genre that in turn helped give birth to a dizzying array of other sounds, from bebop to the Motown sound to trip hop and acid jazz.
Kali, too, takes a similar approach--Bruce Lee did study it with his homie, world-renowned Kali and Jeet Kune Do master Dan Inosanto--taking the old wisdom passed down through generations of teachers and deepening it through new understandings of not only other martial arts forms, but of everyday life. Kamatuuran, the name of my Kali school, is a Visayan word for “truth,” and that is our ultimate quest--for truth itself.
So what’s the difference between a bunch of robots breaking those three simple laws and humans breaking and re-writing the rules of artistic expression?
That heart-like space in those robots? It wasn’t filled with the capacity to feel empathy, compassion, anger, sadness, grief or joy. One robot character in the film, Sonny, who steals the show in a few instances, does learn how to feel, and--even more important--how to reconcile those pesky, nuanced, knotty emotions with the immaculate logic of his robot-brain. I’ll let you guess what happens next.
As for us humans, our hearts are not only in the center of our bodies, they are (or at least should be) in the center of our creative pursuits--from the wailing grief of a bluesy jazz trumpeter to the joyful exhiliration of a dancer’s gravity-defying leap into the ether.
Or on a darker note--from the steel-cold slicing of a killer-enemy’s flesh to the merciful warning of a glancing blow--our hearts, if we listen to them, can also tell us where the fine lines lie between life and death, between going too far and not going far enough.
And during these times of war and fear-mongering and danger, we need to listen to our hearts even more deeply, and let them move our whole beings into truthful action.
Been wanting to do this for awhile--apologies for my bad manners in letting this slip. I wanna give big-ups to my fellow bloggers (Pin@ys all!) who have pointed lots of folks to my blog and talked me up in theirs.
To keep the reciprocal, community-of-bloggers-and-writers vibe goin', check out:
People whose definition of friendship does not exclude flirting with your boyfriend.
People whose definition of friendship includes talking about you behind your back.
Going to ethnic restaurants owned by people of color and seeing white people get seated and served before you--when you were there before them.
Going to restaurants owned by white people and seeing white people get seated and served before you.
Driving down the street in San Francisco--one of the wealthiest and most elite cities in the world--and seeing men and women holding cardboard signs on concrete road dividers, begging for work or cash.
Driving down the street in SOMA or downtown Oakland and seeing empty 'loft' housing and abandoned buildings.
Leftists who think that being successful at reaching lots of people with your message (a la Michael Moore) automatically disqualifies you from the left.
Democrats who continue to cant that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 presidential election, and have little or no criticism of their own party's ineptitude.
Poor people feeling bad about being poor, like it's somehow their fault that this system is so screwed up.
Rich people feeling that it is their birthright to be rich--because, come on, aren't they just naturally better than the rest of us?
Vague hunger that gnaws at me but gives me no clue as to what will satisfy it.
Going out of my way to satisfy a more exact craving, only to find that having whatever I was craving doesn't satisfy me either.
Ok, I'm done complaining for now. I guess I'll go out and actually do something about all this stuff. That's my normal MO anyway.
And don't worry, Part II of Breaking the Rules: Jazz, Kali and I, Robot is coming very soon.
It's been awhile since I really had a true 'best friend'--you know, that person you were always with in grade school or high school, the one that everyone identified you with, the one you talked on the phone with every night even if you had just seen each other 2 hours before, the one you told everything to, the one you knew would always be there for you.
I guess I've been lucky that I've had 2 really good 'best friends' in my life--girls who were sweet, compassionate, good listeners, loyal, smart and pretty too. I had lost touch with my high school best friend, S., for about 10 years until a couple months ago, when email and the Internet (of course) brought us back together. My grade-school best friend, C., and I have stayed in touch since I left our school in the 6th grade, always writing letters (sometimes more often, sometimes hardly at all), calling every once in a while, and visiting every so often.
Well, I saw both of these best friends from the past yesterday, S. for the first time in about a decade and C. for the first time in about a year. And I am happy to say that none of them has changed so much that I either: a) didn't recognize them, or b) don't get along with them anymore.
On the contrary, I had a great time with both of them, reminiscing, looking at old high school pictures (S. exclaimed, "What is going on with that hair!" when she saw her senior portrait in my book), ooohing and aaahing over children (S. has two, C. is thinking about it, I'm planning on it), girl-talking about our current partners and past relationships, sharing insights into life's ups and downs.
It's quite extraordinary to me that I have been able to maintain a connection with these two amazing women--and we are all women now, with a mortgage, children, lifelong partners and family troubles between the three of us--for all these years, especially because I tend to be the kind of person to run away from old things, to put things behind me, to start fresh over and over again. I've realized lately the limitations of this kind of approach to life, which is perhaps why I've been making more efforts to be in closer touch with these best friends from the past.
But what is frightening about seeing these friends again is that they have known me for so long--before the radicalizing of my Berkeley years, before the numerous boyfriends and love dramas, before I gave up on many of my ambitious, often ridiculous, sweetly naive and beautifully hopeful dreams.
It's frightening to know people that know so much about a 'you' that you often feel no longer exists--yet it's also strangely liberating and comforting at the same time. And it makes you feel that maybe those dreams were not so naive or ridiculous, that somewhere inside you they still exist, are still part of your daily struggle and living, are still waiting for you to believe them, move towards them, on the other side of the looking glass.
In keeping with my mission to nurture my creative growth and feed my soul, I've been listening deeply to all the incredible music that swirls around me--not only am I a dancer with a deep appreciation for salsa/'tropical', r&b, soul and house music, but my partner and housemate H. is a DJ and always has some fascinating shit (whether it be hip-hop, 2-step, broken beat or '80s new wave / alternative rock) spinnin' on the 1200s or in the CD player. So I am taking advantage of all these sounds and the breadth of knowledge about music that both H. and his best friend D. have to school myself.
Having realized that to be an artist--and especially a dancer, and for that matter a dancer of color--in this country, I must study the wholly (African-) American art form of jazz to even begin to understand my place as an American artist, I've taken it upon myself to study it on my own. Fortunately, a local library has a great selection of video documentaries, so I'm checking out Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary series to give me some foundation of knowledge, and listening to a 4-CD Blue Note compilation called "The Swing Sessions." I'mm also looking for a copy of Amiri Baraka's (Blues People (referred by D.) to round out my multi-media curriculum.
Some things I've learned after my first 2 weeks of study:
1) That jazz was impacted and shaped by social and political struggles, such as the harsh enforcement of 'Jim Crow' segregation laws in New Orleans in the late 19th century. Due to these laws, Louisiana Creoles (mixed-blood, lighter-skinned Black folks) who had been classically trained on musical instruments like the clarinet, trumpet, etc. were suddenly forced to play only with other Black people, bringing knowledge of European classical and other music and a certain technical proficiency.
2) That coronetist (trumpet-player) Buddy Bolden helped nurture the improvisational nature of jazz with his own highly individual playing style, and by switching up the standard marching tempo to emphasize the final downbeat--effectively breaking the rhythm rules and freeing (Black) musicians to innovate with the stylized riffs, trills and flourishes that are one of the cornerstones of jazz music.
3) That the all-White Original Dixieland Band was the first jazz band to make a record, which sold more copies than any other record at that time and created a national craze. But they had co-opted the music from Black folks, publicly claiming that no Black people had been involved in the creation of jazz.
4) That jazz is all about knowing the old rules and breaking them, making new ones up, and creating something in-the-moment that can never really be duplicated.
All this has made me ponder the whole notion of rules for artists, and how the greatest innovators from any medium or genre--from European classical (Mozart, Beethoven) to hip-hop/rap music (Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash), from martial arts (Bruce Lee) to modern dance (Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham), and on and on--have learned the rules of the previous generation, broken them in dramatic and often controversial ways, and went on to create some of the most influential art of the last two centuries.
And, of course, thinking about rule-breaking brings me back to my Kali (a Filipino martial art) training, through which I learned that memorizing techniques and mastering patterns was not enough. Gura and Tuhan have always taught me that once you reached that level of technical mastery, you would have the insight necessary to then break the rules, to find the patterns within the patterns, the circles within the circles--and tap into the expansive liberation, strength and power in those deep places of knowledge.
I am always blown away by the interconnectedness of the things around us, in our lives, in ourselves. I'm trippin' on this shit right now as I work in my own media--the written word, movement and dance--and seek to learn the rules (and rule-breaking) of the innovators that have influenced me.
But of course, like any artist, I can't wait to break a few rules myself.
More later (yes, you'll have to wait to see how this connects to I, Robot, which I saw last night).
"Nowadays, people, lovers, don't write love letters to each other anymore. They just pick up the phone and say, 'Are you free tonight? Shall we go out?' That's all, and you have nothing to keep. That is a pity. We must learn to write love letters again. Write to your beloved one, he may be your father or your son. She may be your daughter, your mother, your sister or your friend. Take time to write down your gratitude and love."--Thich Nhat Hanh, from Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
Today I feel I need to jump-start my...motivation, muse, whatever it is that gets me into the groove of writing. Been feeling blue lately--the state of the world and my own inner turmoil can do that to me sometimes--and just the sitting-down-and-starting part of the writing process has taken some effort. At these times, though, it is not only important (for my mental or spiritual well-being) but crucial to write. Because these valleys and lows are part of life, are part of the rhythms of the seasons, the ebbs and flows that make up our innately human existence. Without them, life is not really all that interesting, is it? And there are many nuanced insights hidden away in these darker, more clouded and often frightening days.
Absent from this photo
still I see you
your toothsome grin
smooth facade like cool marble
protecting you from
Take care, folks. I'll be writing and reading and sitting in this silence.
I feel like I've been kinda heavy lately on this blog, talking about Cultural Studies this and Pinoy Poetics that. And although the first impression I may leave on many people is that I am very serious, I am really just a big kid at heart. I like to laugh and play as much as any 8-year-old. At the same time, I've also noticed that other people write about their everyday lives on their blogs, not just the exciting or deep stuff, but the mundane stuff too, the stuff that makes us typical, common, human.
So no more quotes for today and no more deep thoughts. Just a run-down of all the boring things I did:
1. Went to the doctor to get my ear checked at 7:40AM (yes, 7:40AM) after convincing H. to drive me all the way downtown so I wouldn't have to leave an extra 1/2 hour earlier to take the bus. H. is a habitual late-riser, so getting up at 6:30am was no small feat. In fact, he is sleeping as I write at 11:06pm, when he usually shuts down the ol' G4 and comes to bed no earlier than 2am most nights. Pobrecito.
The doctor told me to take some allergy medicine, that my eustachian tube is probably blocked and blah blah blah. I've heard it all before. I took the sample of nasal steroids she gave me but don't know if I'm going to take them just yet. I think I want to try acupunture again first. Steroids up your nose..eeesshh :-P.
2. Wrote poetry and novel-stuff in a cafe 'til 9:30am. I've been averaging about 8 pages a day lately--that's a lot for me!--which makes me want to get down and kiss the feet of the Goddess of Prolificness (that's actually a word! I just looked it up in my brand-new American Heritage Dictionary--a cool one, btw). After many years of self-imposed writer's block, I can't begin to describe how much it means to be able to write freely--and well.
3. Went to work. Stuffed lots of envelopes. Stuck lots of stamps on them. Talked about fundraising. Met with a donor. Checked email. Printed out phone lists. Yes, it was an exciting day.
4. Went grocery shopping, came home, cooked dinner. The best part of a long day is having a sweet and loving partner at home waiting to talk all about it with you. I know we're sappy, but we're happy!
So, there. Not very heavy, not very funny, pretty fuckin' boring. But sometimes that's the way life is. And sometimes that's a good thing. And sometimes you just don't feel like analyzing it. 'Nuff said.
Just for the record, and to clarify any implications from my previous post, I never said Cultural Studies was irrelevant. I do, however, question its concrete impact in a world where violence, poverty and suffering are an everyday reality. At the same time, I think thoughtful literature and rigorous literary criticism are two crucial ingredients for a healthy, vibrant and evolving society.
Enter Pinoy Poetics, an historic anthology that explores the broad terrain of Filipino poetry arts in the Philippines and the U.S. Edited by poet Nick Carbo, and published by Meritage Press--headed by the ever-enthuasiastic Eileen Tabios--Pinoy Poetics serves as:
". . . the line drawn in the sand by poets of Filipino heritage who have been historically ignored and made invisible by the United States of America and its literary, cultural, and academic institutions. . . . Among the important issues raised in these essays are responses to American imperialism, the postcolonial and diasporic Filipino experience, questions about historical narrative, and the uses and abuses of language imposed by colonizers." (from the publisher's launch announcement)
"Against the urgency of people dying in the streets, what in God's name is the point of cultural studies? What is the point of the study of representations, if there is no response to the question of what you say to someone who wants to know if they should take a drug and if that means they'll die two days later or a few months earlier? At that point, I think anybody who is into cultural studies seriously as an intellectual practice, must feel, on their pulse, its ephemerality, its insubstantiality, how little it registers, how little we've been able to change anything or get anybody to do anything. If you don't feel that as one tension in the work that you are doing, theory has let you off the hook."--Stuart Hall
"...it seems to me that the most important thing for everyone in Gringolandia is to have ambition and to become 'somebody' and, frankly, I don't have the least ambition to be anybody. I don't care for people's pretentiousness, and I am in no way interested in becoming a 'big shit.'"--Frida Kahlo
I don't start my Mondays like a lot of my 9 to 5 friends out there. I purposely chose to make Monday one of my days off from my part-time job to give me one more day to relax and stretch out the weekend (although I did go into work for a little while yesterday so that I wouldn't have to go in today, but working in your office alone is a lot different than working when 5 other people are around. It almost doesn't feel like work).
So instead of spending Monday mornings checking my email and phone messages, or going through the snail mail from over the weekend, I try to spend my Monday mornings writing poetry, or my novel, or emails to friends. I do enjoy this slower pace of life that I've created for myself. It's not without its own drawbacks and valleys, but it is much more conducive to my writing life and my healing. And after doing the social justice movement work I've been doing for the past 8 years, I am in desperate need of some healing.
Part of my healing includes prioritizing music and dancing in my life, which is why I made a point to go see Lila Downs yesterday at Stern Grove.
And all I can say is: "Damn."
I always thought this woman was beautiful and talented and now I can say I have a full-blown celebrity crush on her (I distinguish celebrity crushes from real crushes, because, come on, they're not really 'real', right?). Not only was this woman a powerful singer with great range and an eclectic musical style--girlfriend sang everything from lilting folksongs in Spanish, Mixtec and Nahuatl to deep, throaty Southern-style blues to staccato, funky rap en Español--but she was a vibrant, sinuous dancer, all curves and lines and energy. Her stage presence, I'm sure, could be felt way up in the trees where all the late-comers had to sit, and it blew me away.
And she's a radical! Her blues song was about the struggle of migrant Latino farmworkers, and although my Spanish comprehension capacity is limited, my Spanish-fluent comrade M. informed us that she also sang about a Mexican human rights lawyer who was murdered.
I had a great time hanging out in the park, got to hang out with my friend J. whom I haven't chilled with in a while, got to sit with M. and her partner B., comrades from the old 'New Left' who dropped some knowledge on me during our ride back to the O. And I ran into a lot of acquaintances and friends in the park, too, which for some reason surprised me, but also made me muy feliz. Among them was P. and vkdir, the latter of whom recently busted up his hands a bit in a bike accident--ouch! Speedy healing, vk.
Needless to say, I'm gonna buy Lila's CD and hopefully go to her next concert in Frisco, which is scheduled for September 24th at the Palace of Fine Arts, which is a great venue--no bad seats in the house. I saw the off-the-hookWorld Arts West Ethnic Dance Festival there recently, and decided to go back there as much as possible. Anyway, Lila's concert tickets don't go on sale 'til Sunday July 18th.
Opening for Lila was an amazing Algerian singer named Souad Massi. What a treat to see two kick-ass female singers/musicians in the same day. Souad's music seemed to fuse Arab/Algerian rhythms and vocals with flamenco guitar, as well as more rock-ish, folksy guitar and drums. I think I need more time to appreciate her band's complex musicianship; Souad's performance left me very, very intrigued.
Monday, Monday. I spent some time this morning working on my novel and I'm off to my yoga class soon.
So I got a little excited yesterday about diving into the world of blogging and started an account with a subpar host, where my old blog lives. I think I'll stay here for a while. Thanks Gura M. for the referral.
Speaking of new homes, I'll be looking for a one soon, which always brings up lots of emotions, from excitement to fear, anxiety to happiness. Having been living in an apartment with my partner in a land faraway from my Oakland homies, I must say I can't wait to get back to my true "home" in the East. And I've been hearing from folks that it's a lot easier to find good, relatively affordable space in Oaktown than it has been in the past few years.
So if any of y'all know any good spots opening up soon in Oakland, gimme a holler. Much appreciation in advance.
I'll be going to see Lila Downs sing at the Stern Grove Music Festival today. For those who might not know who this amazing diva is, if you saw the excellent movie "Frida" with Salma Hayek, Lila is the powerhouse Mexicana singer who appears (and sings) in two key scenes--the one where Frida (Hayek) and Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd) dance a drunken, lusty tango in front of a crowd of party-goers, and the one at the end when Frida is near death and has been carried to her first Mexican exhibit in her bed.
Lila reminds me--and I'm sure a lot of people--of Frida, too, with her traditional Mexican clothes and jewelry, long black braids and intense eyes.