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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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.


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I’m the Eggman, You’re the Walrus

I got to thinking the other morning, after reading some of Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”, about how 20140817_090403different we all are. And I got to thinking, actually it was more wondering, how that happens. How we get that way. That’s what I was wondering.

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Ring a bell? The sentiment expressed that there is some real degree of sameness among us. Within us. But really? Is that really the case? “We are all together” is the case. Can’t help it, we’re all stuck on the same planet. But beyond that?

Nature versus nurture. The age old question, is one more important than the other in determining who you are, who you become, why you become who you become, who I am, who I became, how I got to be – well – me? Nature, I guess genes and chromosomes and all that. Nurture, my parents sent me to bed with no dinner, my parents spanked me – or didn’t spank me – I grew up in a small town, near the ocean, racially mixed, filled with tourists. I grew up in a housing project in a large Midwestern city, racially mixed. I grew up in a housing project in South Boston, absolutely no racial mixing, or in a town north of Boston that had maybe three “black families” and all I knew about black people is what my parents and my friends told me, taught me. I had grandparents who loved me, always told me I was a gift, a bundle of joy, my grandparents were dead when I was born. I had a single mother who worked 14 hours a day, who always told me I was a blessing, a bundle of life, I had two parents living in an estate north of New York City who didn’t really tell me anything, excepting that money changes everything.

How did I get to be me? How did you get to be you? How is it that people I consider very close friends, some from all the way back to grade school, some I met in college, some I got sober with and got my life back with and shared secrets with – how is it that we can watch a news cast and have 180 degree differences on what that means for us, how it speaks to us, why it confirms yet again that things are the way they are, that things don’t change, that we get it. And after we watch the news we run over to the corner of the living room and grab our sign that says “always say hooray for our side” and rush out the front door and out into the streets, saying “See. Told ya.”

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To You Five In Massachusetts

From my Morning Pages

I realized, sitting in the recliner just recently, that today is Thursday and 20140817_090403I have a blog post due. This in addition to my commitment to write and complete a first draft for my college final – which, it turns out, will earn me no grade but a sense of satisfaction, adventure accomplished – due early next week. And I have no post ready for publication.

Not that I have a vast readership, in fact perhaps not a readership greater than five. But I vowed – to myself – that I would post a new blog every Thursday, and I have so far with the occasional Wednesday and Friday necessity-driven publication, and as keeping goal-related promises and vows to myself has not exactly been a strength over all these years, it feels important now. Really important.

All of which means I need to come up with something to say, and as it is just past seven am, and say within the next five or six hours. (You have to figure who, in fact, are your potential five readers and in what time zone do they live and when people are more likely to be looking at Facebook – where I announce my new blog post – and so for me and my goal for maximum exposure, that is somewhere around 2 – 2:30 pm. Pacific Standard Time.) – (I could live out here in Portland, in the West, on the west coast for the next 25 years and still have most of my faithful connections and friends and devoted readers be from three hours ago, back over there in the East, and mostly in Massachusetts.)

So, geography and time zones and personal living history notwithstanding, I need to get busy and try to come up with a post that is at once witty and engaging and unique. In fact the potential range of subjects is endless primarily because anything I write and post, even if it lacks any wit or any degree of engagement with my likely Massachusetts reader, will be unique. No one else could have written it but me.

I could write that it’s pouring outside now, and romantic as rainfall may be described, I’m sick of it, sick of the Portland rain. Or write how I attended my last Portland State University class yesterday and felt sad and proud and wildly stimulated even knowing I will, as an “adult learner”, receive no grade. But I remain committed to writing my final, a new short story with at least two drafts included, to be turned in by next Wednesday, and as I have planned all week to do that today and then re-write on Saturday, and as I have only recently realized I have a blog post due today, in a few hours, and do not have the strength or intelligence to write engagingly about the ongoing racial sickness and sadness in our Country – I’ll just use this

 


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A Plague On All Our Houses

For the most part, I believe, I have refrained from offering up my opinion about current events in this blog space. Yes, I have here and there, hoping that nurses will someday be allowed to run the planet; Emma Watson’s he/she campaign; everything being broken with the political world. But generally I have confined my wanderings to the issues of childhood and all its adventures and self awareness and personal growth and running after and leaping for the goals you choose, those kinds of things. Not so much current as eternal.

So I am d2014-11-25T23-58-31-466Z--1280x720.nbcnews-fp-520-320is-inclined to write something as combustible and potentially inflaming and on its best day as heated as the issue of racial relations and racial status and the ins and outs and day to day comings and goings of the different races in this country of ours. But I find myself here, at my keyboard, tilting in that direction. This on the day after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri.

I saw this posted on Twitter late last night: “The no indictment is cause for white people to be enraged and black people to be terrified.” I thought about it when I read it and I was reminded – if I even need a reminder – that it is impossible for me to know the experience of being a black person in The United States. I mention this tweet and my reminder not so much to make any kind of statement about the decision reached but about old man river, who just keeps rolling along. I have an opinion about right and wrong and the ways things are and really good friends of mine and family members have, for the most part, the exact opposite opinion. I love them regardless of their opinion, and I believe, vice versa. And yet saying “it is what it is” just isn’t enough.

I grew up listening to my parents album copy of “West Side Story”. The Jets, The Sharks; Tony and Maria. It remains one of my favorite albums. A song that always reached out to me was “There’s A Place For Us”. Because it’s a song of hope. And it doesn’t even matter if it is misguided hope, one of it’s singers killed by the story’s end. Because it is talking, in lovely music, about hope. That’s what counts. Someday…..some way…..things can change. People can change. Maybe even the haters. Maybe.

So I watch the news and mourn with the best of them when the protests largely by the people who have one more reason to be terrified turn to looting and destruction and burning. I think of Jimi Hendrix singing, “Baby, why you burn your brother’s house down?”. Not Louie Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World”, because right then and there I don’t say that to myself. Even if I want to.

I think about the three members of The Portland, Oregon police department who covered their badges yesterday afternoon with papers that said “I’m Darren Wilson” and I wonder when does loyalty go too far? Just like people defending Michael Brown’s step-father after he began shouting “burn this bitch” when the verdict was announced. Maybe it is just the same as it ever was: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” That’s cool. Band of brothers right? Of course the Jets go on to sing in that song that “Every Puerto Rican’s a lousy chicken.” Less of a “there’s a place for us” in that.

Everyone says hooray for their side – Jets/Sharks; Republicans/Democrats; Cowboys/Indians; Montagues and Capulets. And the Prince rides in and yells “A plague on both your houses.” And maybe that’s the deal, maybe that is how it goes, maybe black kids get shot and people burn businesses and reporters get gassed and guys kidnap women and jail them in their basements and white kids shoot up their classmates and tell you why they don’t like Mondays, and maybe there is a plague on all the houses and in fact everything is broken, and at the end of the day, those two kids who looked different but loved each other were just being silly when they sang that there is a place for us.

But I hope not.

I saw something else on Twitter late last night. Something like, “You want to help, donate here.” It was a post for the website of the “Ferguson Municipal Public Library”. The public library in Ferguson, Missouri that was staying open when the schools were closing so that kids in their town would have somewhere to go. Never mind the fact that it is a library. I don’t know about you but I cannot imagine my life without a library. Free books. Free entertainment. Free fantastic journeys. Rows and aisles and stacks of wonder and magic and opinion and, yes, escape. From the TV images. For a while.

So I remembered that when I woke up this morning and found that post on Twitter again and clicked the PayPal button and donated $5 to the library system in Ferguson. And when I received the receipt for my donation back in my email I moved it to my folder marked “Important Business”. Not much, a little more than 1/20th of my remaining income for the month. But something.

“Someday, we’ll find a new way of living.” That’s what white Tony sings to Puerto Rican Maria. It didn’t work out for them. It’s not working out so well in Ferguson. Or most anywhere else. But it could. It can. Just maybe not today.


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Crisis and Opportunity

Long ago, maybe it was a September, I sat in a training at a youth program in Waltham, Massachusetts and heard this: that theGood Morning Iris 002 Chinese character for the word “crisis” is the same character for the word “opportunity”. I have since read that this is somewhat wishful thinking on Western trainers and speakers parts – that a more realistic interpretation of that particular character is this: “meeting a critical point”. It is to these two possibilities that I want to speak. We have arrived at a critical point, we, us, here in the United States of America. And, if we pay enough attention, there most certainly are opportunities.

I grew up in a small town in the East – Wareham, Massachusetts – close by the Atlantic Ocean. Sixteen miles from New Bedford, 50 miles from Boston, 70 odd miles to the tip of Cape Cod and the very end of the country. Our country. According to a 1984 census report, approximately 33% of the 12,000 or so of us living in Wareham identified as black Americans. Many were from the Cape Verde Islands, the country of Portugal providing transportation of sorts over to New Bedford and out from there, towards the Cape, into Wareham. When I look at my high school yearbook, which I just did, I see 119 photos of graduates, and 20 of those photos are of black faces. This was the make-up of my high school class, this was the color of my hometown, and I have always considered myself very fortunate, enriched, blessed even, by those truths.

Not to sound like the old cliché “some of my best friends are black”, but, in fact, some of my best friends were black. Sixth-grade girlfriend. Community College roomate. Fellow partiers. It would be a lie to say that there was never a racial comment, or trouble between groups, or constant hanging out with one another in Wareham. But there was the day in, day out, year in, year out we all live here togetherness. A naturalness. So it was, head in the sand or not, shocking to me a few years later when, at Salem State College, I watched a charged, angry, determined backlash to an effort by students from Roxbury and Dorchester and Jamaica Plain to form the Black Students Union. The student government turned them down. The boys dorm continued with it’s annual “slave auction” rite. These were kids from Beverly and Danvers and Tewksbury and Peabody and all those other North Shore and western suburbs in which nearly no black families, families of color, lived. The only things those kids knew about different people was what they told each other, or heard from their parents, or thought they understood from books and movies.

My father was a gentle guy. More than most men, virtually no aggressive behaviors or thoughts ever. It wasn’t his nature. He judged everyone on how they treated him and each other. In fact, when my father died in 1980, the Director of the Wareham Municipal Maintenance Deprtment – a black man – said my father was his best friend. I bring up my father not in terms of race relations, but in regard to domestic violence. He and my mother argued and fought, a lot sometimes, but never physically, never even close to that. I don’t know when I first had any awareness, even, of domestic violence as a universal problem – men beating women – certainly way, way later than I did of racism. In some very clear, to me, ways I have paid a price for having a father who was absolutely not physical or aggressive. But not in any way related to domestic abuse.

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