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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Which Side Are You On

 

It has been hard to think these last five days, for me. To string together coherent, relatively connected thought. I haven’t been able to do it. I have found myself crying periodically, or on the verge. Mostly I have felt angry, that’s been the prevalent feeling, and I don’t like feeling that way. It is contrary to my very nature.

I was very fortunate to find myself in Oakland, California last Tuesday, 20161109_124252and for the two days after. I got to watch the election with maybe my closest friend, and another close friend, and some friends of theirs, my wife with her own friends up in Marin. Tuesday night it was disbelief sliding into fear. Wednesday morning I sat with my friend and we both had woken early, unable to sleep, and we both were experiencing physical pain symptoms, and we both had no clue how to proceed, how to go forward, what to do.  He was there when my wife called and I wept on the phone talking about the pain of moving away from people whose hearts have become heavy with anger and hate, even, and cold. Later that afternoon, Wednesday, my friend brought me to a trauma center to sit in a healing group, and I cried some more, and he did too, as did lots of people, taking turns going around the circle, many teachers, not knowing how to talk with their students, parents struggling with conversations with their children. The fear, the Big Fear, the suicidal ideation upon us. Being there helped. But not a lot.

Earlier in the afternoon, before the group, I had taken the BART from Oakland over to Berkeley, at Shattuck, and walked up through the UC Berkeley campus, finding a sit-in in progress in front of Sproul Hall, an echo of more than 50 years  from the time of the quote below, and I sat down on the concrete and stayed there for a while, and that helped too. But not enough.

And before that, even, on my way from the BART to the campus I passed a young Muslim woman sitting on the sidewalk, holding her daughter, a cardboard sign asking for food, and I walked past but then stopped and took out a dollar and went back and gave it to her. The next afternoon, walking with my wife who had been delivered to Oakland for our flight back to Portland, I told her about that incident, and as I did, talking about what I hoped was some degree of kindness and compassion, I also realized that my action was a direct affront to the new world, in fact, a Fuck You Donald Trump, and for me, then, came the realization that I would — and will — take every single opportunity going forward to say and do and feel and act and share Fuck You Donald Trump. (FYDT). That helped more.

My good friend who lives in Costa Rica sent me an email yesterday in which he noted that they were sending in the clowns. I wrote back this morning and said, in addition to the clowns, they were sending in the Nazis. And it brought me back, for the umteenth time the last five days, to the posts I’ve seen on Facebook, many written by friends, and newspaper stories, encouraging everyone now howling at the moon to lighten up, take it easy, tone it down, even, God forbid, give the guy a chance, he’s our President now, we’re all in this together. I can almost picture this group – Bannon, Gingrich, Palin, Giuliani, Ingraham – sitting around in the West Wing saying those very things. Kumbaya.

My friends and others urging restraint and toned down rhetoric and let’s all work together are coming from a place of White Privilege. Easier for them to say. And arrogant. The campaign was never about making America great again. It was about making it White again. Male again. Straight again.

Anyway, taqeykkzceaakupdhis is what I think, this is how I am feeling. Everyday, in anyway possible, my job is to FYDT. I recently read the autobiography of Cesar Chavez – La Causa – and it’s clear that while marches and picketing and lobbying all mattered, mattered a lot, what brought the grape and lettuce growers and their police force and political friends to their knees were the Boycotts. It’s the money, Stupid. I’m going to spend the next few weeks researching which companies and corporations are behind this clear movement toward “alt-right” fascism and do my part to boycott and encourage others to boycott. And I’m going to sit down and stand up and march and howl and, mostly, write, write, write. Not be a silent partner. Not be complicit.

All of my Blog posts for the foreseeable future will be about the ways I personally discover to FYDT.

 


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Who Are Your Friends?

Sitting in the recliner early this morning, with coffee and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”, I got to thinking about the people in my life, and more specifically, the color of the pimageseople in my life. It’s a current topic for thought, what with the incredibly sad events of this last week, and further back in time. Where there has been much discussion and suggestion and confrontation regarding the idea of walking a mile in my shoes.  Regarding that just maybe you, whoever you are, haven’t got a clue what it’s like to live and shop and sell and drive and gather and sing and worship, for that matter, in my shoes.

So I got to thinking about my life, and the people in it, mostly the people currently in it, but back all along the way too. And I thought that I would try to get a little analytical about it, though me and analysis are usually like the Hatfields and McCoys. Anyway, what better place to begin my search for the reality of my people milieu than in that friendliest of friend places of all — Facebook.

As of this morning I have 408 “Friends” on my Facebook page. I italicize the word because, I’m imagining like most people on FB, some of my friends are more like friends I haven’t met yet, in my case other artists and writers, the occasional friend of a friend, people from various locations along the way, etc, etc. I came down into the basement, here, to the computer, found a blank sheet of scrap paper, and began tallying up the exact specifics of just who make up my friends today.

Of my 408 Facebook friends, 20 are black. That works out to just under 5%. If I add in friends of Hispanic heritage, and the artists I’ve befriended along the internet way from Iraq, India, Portugal, and Japan, the total of my so-called non-white friends, I find that a little less than 9% are non-Caucasian — not Honkeys, if that resonates more.

Within the current population of the United States, the number of African-Americans totals 13.2% So I’m nowhere near representative of who my neighbors in the Country are. And speaking of neighbors, if I were to take a walk out my front door the chances are that I am not going to come along and wish a good morning hello to anyone with any color other than white for a face. Or when I sit in my favorite coffee shop.  Or at the local Trader Joe’s. In fact, I’d have to drive way up to NE Portland and North Portland to have a good chance of meeting a person of another race. Specifically, black people make up 6.3% of the Portland, OR population. And most live together.

There’s more. The black population percentage in the entire state of Oregon is 2% — TWO. In my home state of Massachusetts, black people make up 8.1% of the Commonwealth’s population, and in my adopted, wannabe home state of California, the number is 6.2%. By the way, it just might be so low in my current home state of Oregon because Oregon, in its statehood inception, not once but twice passed laws barring any people of a darker color from even moving into the state.

Then I went through my high school yearbook this morning. There were 119 of us in it graduating as the class of 1967 at Wareham High School, and of those 119, 20 — that’s 17% — were children of color. Better — and that’s the right word, the expansive, illuminating word — than any place I’ve noted above. That was us, the Class of ’67, WHS, all God’s children. And I am ever grateful that’s where I grew up, or at least started getting older.

I lived in Oakland, CA for a while, and visited there a couple of months ago. Black lives make up 28% of the current population of Oakland, and all I had to do was walk out my friend Gavin’s front apartment building door to begin my immersion into a world of color, on the sidewalks, at the Whole Foods, around Lake Merritt. Everywhere. And the fact of the matter is I felt energized and stimulated and bigger, even. And grateful.

The title of this blog post, and I wasn’t really writing it about me, is “Who Are Your Friends?” So I’ll ask my white Facebook friends to, right now, take a couple of minutes and tally up your percentages. My guess is that most of you won’t even come up with my sorry percent of 5% of black friends. I’d like to be wrong, but I bet I’m not. I don’t say that as a Yay for me or a Boo for you. I say it because it’s something to think about the next time we, any of us, think we know how it is for someone else, someone who looks different from us, and that you can at least consider that, well, maybe you don’t. Because how much practice are you getting?

Driving while black? – there’s a new phrase appearing in my world. I don’t know what that’s like. Maybe some of my friends can help me understand it a little better. Maybe some of your friends can help you.

If we bother to just talk with each other some more. And listen.