Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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I Am Not Your Honkey

Obligation.

Please keep this word in mind.

In the last week my wife Susan and I have watched three movies, two in the theaters and one on a DVD at home. The movies were, in order, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and I Am Not Your Negro. Each presents, in its own way, a view of the black experience in these United States of America. You already knew that. Moonlight, clearly, and I Am Not Your Negro, less so, also shine their light on the experience of growing up gay in the USA.

Honkey 1Last night, driving home in the cold Portland rain, having just watched the James Baldwin penned I Am Not Your Negro, Susan and I took turns discussing how we felt about the movie. You’ll have to check with her about her opinion. It will be worth your time. For me, as I sat in the nearly all-white audience in nearly all-white Portland, I was reminded of a thought I had had earlier in the week. Regarding my writing – my fiction. And I explained the connection to my wife as best I could.

I have been trying to market my first published book – “Ring Around the Rosy” – and I have been actively promoting it on Twitter, with, realistically, poor results. In terms of sales anyway. I’d been thinking, earlier in the week, that I was getting very little response from the many LGBTQ and Trans folks I follow on Twitter, and to whom I fairly regularly comment and like and retweet and do all the twitter things to do. Then I had this clarity – why should they? There are no gay or lesbian or trans or questioning characters in my novel. There are characters with what are considered disability – down syndrome (2) and cerebral palsy (1), and as such I have had a some positive response with folks connected to that population, and have sold some books. But, in Rosy, there was and is no gay/lesbian/trans character to be found.

Then I began, the middle of last week, thinking about my second book, currently in what I hope will be its final editing stage and therefore ready for self publishing within the next four to six weeks. That book will be titled “Astoria Strange“, an interwoven collection of 11 stories that live in the genres of supernatural and horror. honkey 4And, lo and behold, narry a LGBTQ character there either. I am neither gay nor trans but this isn’t a case of the admonition to write what you know. It’s me not coming to my writing with what I’ll call “Big Mind.”

Anyway, last night on the drive home I told my wife of the earlier-in-the-week conversation with myself, the smallish “aha” moment, and that sitting in the theater I was feeling that feeling again. James Baldwin’s crystal clear conclusion – the trouble in the United States is race trouble – and it was and is therefore everyone’s responsibility – No, the word was Obligation – it was and is everyone’s obligation to work hard at understanding the other experience. Or else. That was how the movie ended – You have an obligation, white people, to do everything in your power to commit to and thoroughly understand the black experience in America. Or else.

And for me, sitting in the theater, I had the clear awareness that, as a writer – certainly as a Blogger like right now, but as a writer of fiction – I have the obligation to be more expansive, to write with Bigger Mind, to read and study and learn and hang out with and experience and do everything I can do to know more, within the reality of my white skin and heterosexual template, and to get that more-ness into my writing.

It’s my obligation.

I am happy to say, well, it makes me feel better somewhat, that my “Rosy“, within its 14 characters, has three who are black – Marvin, his mom Bonnie, and latecomer Greg. That’s better than no gay, lesbiaJames-Baldwinn, or trans characters. And three characters with disabilities. And that the forthcoming “Astoria Strange” has as one of its primary characters, a black man – Sergeant Rennie Moss. As does my story/novella waiting for me to get back to it – “Bennie’s Berkeley“. Plus, thinking about my obligations, and I shared this with Susan, I am going back into stories in progress, including a collection of short stories and one not yet complete novella, and see where I can be more inclusive, more expansive, more commited to my obligations to help the planet, and in particular help my badly bleeding Country, and to do that the best way I can now, in March of 2017, with my writing. My stories. The stuff of life I sit here and make up out of my imagination and therefore, in a rare instance, have virtually complete control over to create whoever and have them believe and do whatever, whenever they feel like it.

Because it’s my Obligation – capital O – to do my part, to shine my little light, to keep my eyes on the prize, to hold up my sign that says “I Am Somebody (and so are You)” and keep marching to the freedom land.

I’m a writer. I write. I’m a published author. I publish. And I can make a difference.

I might be a straight old(er) white guy, but you know what? I am not your honkey. I can bring Big Mind to my otherwise White writing and do my best to be part of the solution.

Because not trying to learn more and understand more and be your best at empathizing more means something else – that you’re part of the problem.

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Bread Crumbs

The guy behind the counter was playing jazz when I took my coffee to a chair in the Just Bob Coffee Shop on Alberta in Northe20160916_142455_hdrast Portland last Friday. It was just after two in the afternoon, and while there was the occasional customer lining up at the take-out counter, most of the seats in the shop were empty. Mostly I didn’t hear the jazz music playing, and when it would intrude into my consciousness every once in a while, I’d ignore it. Jazz is not my thing. It’s funny, my non-appreciation of that purely American music form, because it was a favorite of The Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, one of the writers I most revere, and try to borrow from as a writer. He wrote like jazz, these long, often connectedly discombobulated riff of words, sometimes making up new words to suit the flavor of the riff. Like jazz.keruoac

Which isn’t really the point, other than saying I love Kerouac and don’t like jazz.

There was a woman sitting in one of the three stuffed chairs in the shop — I was in another, facing her — and she was reading a paperback book, a softcover to be exact, and squinting my eyes I could see the title of the book was “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” She herself was a black woman, young, maybe mid 30s, and was taking notes in a bound notebook like the one I carried in. Mine was for recording any ideas I could brainstorm for the 11th and final story in my collection of Astoria, Oregon tales. (None happened to arrive while I was there.) So, I shifted tasks, and asked The Universe for ideas for future Blog posts — like this one — and the thought came to me to play detective — Buddy Cushman, Coffee Shop Sleuth — and follow the woman’s book wherever it would lead me.

When I got home, it took quite a while from NE way down to SE where I live, with Friday afternoon city traffic, but it was sunny and hot and I was playing, very loudly, one Tower of Power song after another, so the trip was not only tolerable but, in fact, a wicked blast, rolling, singing, howling, party on wheels (think The 52s “Love Shack” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs ) Anyway, at the computer dr-tatumI googled the book from Just Bob’s and learned it is a highly valued thought piece on race and race identity and relations in the Country, collective experiences and perspectives written by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Georgia. Here is a ten and a half minute review, very thorough and interesting, of the book and its author. It’s worth a look and listen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_l5bO9KZrY&list=PLlFqqfHxQmjOGUX3oN6On3kJW253lUGRx     I now have the book on order from The Multnomah County Library system.

What can be more important than how we live with, and value, each other?

The woman with the book left before me, and I sat there looking at the sun stream through the multiple front windows of the shop. At some point the barista behind the counter changed the music and I instantly recognized the opening descending bass and violins of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know the song, and certainly anyone who grew up in the 60s. I mean, the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.

I was struck, wleft-bankehen “Pretty Ballerina” came on a couple of songs later, about the so-often-highlighted black and whiteness of the world — of the day. The woman and her book, it’s black title, and now a thoroughly ‘white’ sounding pop group from 1965 New York City. After another song I walked up to the counter and asked the guy what exactly he was playing. Turns out it was a “best of” collection by The Left Banke called ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: the Complete Recordings 1966 – 1969’. A
couple of songs , white poppy little things, stood out to me — I’d never heard them, shame on me, especially working in a record store most of those years and holding The Banke’s debut album in my hands many times. So here they are, for your listening enjoyment, and maybe they are long-time favorites. “She May Call You Up Tonight”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSlF2AkrS4   and “Let Go Of You Girl”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=POdiO1xOg-E

Way cool. And maybe all this matters not a wit to anyone but me, Buddy Cushman – Coffee Shop Sleuth. Oh well. And by the way, as Oakland’s Tower of Power — a strong example of what glory we can get when you combine black and white — since they helped me along my way home, I’ll end with one from them. Thanks for showing up.

“So Very Hard To Go”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9BRqGpppJw

tower-of-power-19731


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Scrapheap City

dyst-1
Last Thursday I typed in the last line for my first ever book, a 52,000 word novella titled “Ring Around the Rosy”. What began as a short story for a specific on-line magazine submission request took on a life of its own, and as I strolled past the 7000 word submission limit I knew that the story had something else in mind. I did not know I’d come back to the story, on and then off, for more than a year and a half, but I got to like the characters a lot, and wanted to find how they did with their challenges.

In addition rosy-mapto the 7000 word limit, the magazine noted two other story requirements: at least one main character with a disability, physical and/or mental; and the setting for the story had to be one of apocalypse. I believe I met both those requirements, and my story has been sent off to a small group of “Readers” for consideration and feedback. After I’ve received replies from my Readers I’ll begin the process of re-write, and once satisfied, the journey where no W.B. Cushman has gone before — into the world of traditional and on-line publication. I’m excited for it all.

It’s the idea of apocalypse and the potential for some kind of dystopian future that I want to discuss here. It all seems too real these days, that possibility, a Mad Max, Blade Runner, Soylent Green, Children of Men, Matrix of an existence. Our two candidates for President, apparently the best we can do – North Korea’s arrogant and in-yourdyst-6-face nuclear game of the ‘Dozens’ with the world – global religious warfare – honor killings – original inhabitants of this country maced and set upon by dogs for defending sacred tribal lands and the right to drink fresh water  www.youtube.com/watch?v=VADcWANqBp8 — families crushed by eighteen-wheelers in the south of France.

Mon Dieu.

My  “Rosy” story’s wasteland setting is more the result of humankind’s stupidity, not the outcome of hate and fear-monging, gender repression and ethnic cleansing. Who knows where those behaviors, if ongoing, will take us.

Anyway, I offer today a vision, a dystopian vision I guess, of where we may be headed, may in fact, be rushing toward. In pictures and musical words.

First, Australia’s Divinyls – “Back to the Wall”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrBd96o7y4Y

Here, science fiction writer Philip K Dick’s stories, brought to the silver screen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmujN53yNIA

My “Rosy” story is about children. Here’s a scene from ‘Children of Men’, when children no longer exist: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBzWTIexszQ

Or this chilling fudyst-5ture from ‘V For Vendetta’, which doesn’t seem all that improbable:   www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrwTDfdck7I

The Kinks, not like you usually hear them, with this possible dystopia – “Scrapheap City”. Sing it, girls:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuyP-VI_ves

The future. Who does it belong to? What will it bring? In my “Rosy” story, it brings heartbreak and devastation. But there remains some good.

And because there does, I’ll end this piece, a little schizophrenically, on the upside, that maybe there just might be at least a smidge of hope. Because of people.  ’16 Blocks’   www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlQse0lODq0

 


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Dancing Barefoot

I’d like to talk about Patti Smith today, in this space so neglected, so necessary, so personal.

I wish I knePatti 3w Patti Smith better. Her art, her music, her writing, her photographs. Paths of this life in which I myself have ventured, certainly without Patti’s skill and life force and fame and following. But I’ve taken those paths, and my successes are as real as that painting of a cow on the living room wall, the boxes of unsold doo wop CDs on the spare room floor, the photo with my mother of the Atlantic Ocean from the Chatham Light, and all the words piling up within the memory space of this very instrument, on which I now type, stories that await attention in the perpetual heat and with the spiders that grace these basement walls.

I recently had the very good fortune to order a copy of Smith’s “M Train” from the Multnomah Library, and read it straight through , entranced by — as John Gardner describes in his “Art of Fiction” —  the ‘vivid and continuous dream’, the profluence of travel on the journeys with her: from faraway island grave sites to the wreckage of Super Storm Sandy. I followed that book immediately with the National Book Award “Just Kids”, which flat out knocked mPatti 5e over and made me want so badly to go back and do much of my life over again, to become one with , as Kerouac said, “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, the ones who…burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles.” That’s what I wanted reading “Just Kids”, because that is how Patti lived, and continues to live.

While she may be most famous, musically, for “Because the Night”, my first fatimes_squarell into the spell of her musical potion came with “Pissing In the River”, which I heard during the movie “Times Square”. It is a remarkably beautiful and powerful song. When I think of it, hear it in my head, I’m drawn in to all the angst and struggle and the urge to “burn, burn, burn” of young life. Please take a listen and see if you agree:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhDJZm_HyXY&list=FLr7ouFpiNMcW1mERvyEcKaQ&index=1

Then there’s the remarkable song from which I borrowed this post title. Here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcbuG2w0Kzo&list=PLWx9FOPbDxsLKUa1DUobV_qRVTyqstOty&index=3

Patti’s two years older than me. We shared some times, separately, but we shared some times. It’s taken me longer than it should have, way, way longer, to get to know her better. The way she navigated through, and in the process, influenced the world we shared, miles apart. And now I’m better for it.

In her own voice, this is an interview with Amy Goodman at Democracy Now, where words are music, and a musician makes music with a pen. www.youtube.com/watch?v=TseiQePbDpo

This weekly blog likes to conclude with these words – Save the Planet. Here’s one more Patti Smith song, about doing just that:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPR-HyGj2d0

Patti 7

Thank you Patti.

#savetheplanet


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Fear and Hoping From the Basement – Storytelling

This is my today story. My Sunday story. But, first a brief note on everyday.

I get up at 5:30 a.m., my wife turning off the alarm and, she tells me, touching the warm spot where I have been in the bed. I drag on some clothes, go to the bathroom and splash water on my face, then head downstairs. There is a straight-back, dining-room chair I have placed in the middle of the living room the night before, and for the next 13 to 25 minutes I sit in the chair, the goal being to meditate, and think about a whole bunch of whatever it is that shows up today. When I’m done I go turn on the coffee, while waiting I usually go outside and look at the sunrise or lingering darkness in the winter, then I take the first of my two cups of coffee to the pinkish, mauve-colored recliner I bought for $40 (delivery included) on Craigslist when I first moved to Portland seven and a half years ago. Reclining there, I read something I consider to fall beneath the broad umbrella of ‘spiritual’.blog pic

Now today. Sunday. I read from three books that I checked out at the library yesterday – actually I checked out five, but two cups of coffee only go so far. This morning I read the ‘Introductions‘ to these three: “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron; “Bagombo Snuff Box” by Kurt Vonnegut; and “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg. Last night I’d brought upstairs “Maps and Legends” by Michael Chabon to the other recliner in tkurt-vonneguthe house, the blue one that belonged to my mother Irene and was gifted to me when she died 11 years ago, and which I have dragged across the length of these United States three times since then. I began reading the first story (there is no Introduction) of the Chabon book about 10:45, but between the smothering heat on the second floor and the length of a long day the words began dancing before my eyes, and I quickly gave it up and went in to sleep , no covers, beside my already sleeping wife.

I checked these particular books out yesterday – the fifth being “The Pocket Muse, Endless Inspiration” by Monica Wood – because my step-daughter Marie and I are heading off on our second annual “Writer’s Retreat” next Sunday foIMG_6634r four days, to a cottage partially owned by Marie’s Dad (meaning we get a big discount)  which sits not four hundred yards from the Pacific, to write stories (and in my case edit already written stories). The five books, which are all coming along, will serve as anchors and inspirers and rectangular muses and anything else they wish to be, and we will write in timed writing periods throughout the days and take long walks on the fabulous beach and deal with my cooking and watch DVDs we bring (with my fave “Super 8”   www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRQQCKS7go   among them).

Because writers we are, and writing is what we do. I’m an artist – as is Marie – and I have a brand new Artist Web Page ( www.buddycushmanfineart.com ), and I go on long walks and have a long career in human services and administration and even an original music CD to my name. Yet, after all the meanderings and dead ends and geographical cures and flights of fancy that make up the 67 plus years of my life through this morning, I’m a teller of stories first and foremost. A story teller. Hence the writers retreat. Hence the blog. Hence the telegraph avelibrary.

And then there’s this.  A musical story by The Stories for the song of the week:    www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxZL9L6YWc        And here is author Michael Chabon talking about my favorite book of his, “Telegraph Ave” and the 1970s:     www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvgjhwuxKeE       And, lastly, here the wondrous Kurt Vonnegut takes a minute and a half to explain his “Eight Rules” for writing a story.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmVcIhnvSx8

I ‘d like to mention these books as well – Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way” – as having profound influence on my storytelling life.

My Monday blog appearing Sunday this week, just because.

Do you have a story to tell?