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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Yo Honkies, Blame This Guy

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If I were sitting in a coffee shop, and someone came and sat at my table and said this to me – “Black Lives Matter” – I’m pretty sure what would fall from my lips, without thinking about it, would be one of these statements: Yes. Of course. Of course they do. No kidding. No shit. Duh.

It’s a given. If I didn’t know why it was being said I’d figure that the person making the statement, the black person, probably knew why it was important to make it more than my pale self. One thing I do know – hearing it wouldn’t make me angry.

But it has obviously made a lot of people angry in the country, and if you watch the news and read the news and look at posts on social media, etc., etc., etc., it clear that it’s made a lot of people really, really angry. And really angry, to be clear and factual, long before the senseless, horrifying murders of the policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge this last week. Long before that.

The question, or a question, then, is what is it about those three words that make so many people, most of them Caucasian, so frazzled and discombobulated and flat out pissed?

What if we had never heard those three words, had that statement burned into our collective mind, but instead, on the news and on social media, began hearing people say this – Italian Lives Matter? Would the response have been the same? Would yours? Or would it have been one of mine listed above? — No shit. How about Japanese Lives Matter? Especially remembering the earthquake and the tsunami and the terrible, terrible loss of life. Do Japanese Lives Matter?

I’m from Massachusetts, originally, so how about Irish Lives Matter? Or Portuguese Lives Matter? Would those make you pissed?

Now I could throw out there that Syrian Lives Matter, and seeing on the aforementioned news/internet the heartbreaking tragedy of war and trauma and homelessness I think you’d probably agree, even if it feels a tiny bit weirder, that, yeah, Syrian Lives Matter.

But Black Lives Matter? Somehow that’s been something else, the response to it. It has initially and loudly generated this response – All Lives Matter. As if the two statements don’t coexist. Donald Trump has been a big cheerleader for All Lives Matter. Of course Mr. Trump said a few months back that if he had his way he would kill the families of terrorists. The wives and grandparents and kids. I guess it’s All Lives Matter usually. Pretty much all the time. Mostly.

It hasn’t always been this reactive/angry way. George Harrison said the Lives of Bangladesh Mattered. Willie Nelson and Neil Young said Farmer’s Lives Mattered. Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and lots of others said that African Kids Mattered, remember www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9BNoNFKCBI and no one yelled out All Kids Matter! Different peoples needed help to bring their lives back to an even playing field, just that, no better no worse, and no one got angry about it. People, in fact, asked “What can I do?”

Who knows what it’s like to turn on the aforementioned news, week after week, and watch someone of your color die in a most distressing way, in a way that seems entirely wrong, not real, not the same. If the “Don’t taze me, Bro” goof at the Florida University had been black, would that have played out the same? In an isolated part of the campus? At night? Just think about South Carolina. Dylann Roof, murderer of nine Charleston Church goers, American citizens, was taken into custody with pretty much kid gloves. Tim Scott, one of two Republican South Carolina United States Senators, a black man, described being stopped while driving to the US Senate seven different times.

“I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than just being yourself,” Scott said in a powerful floor speech reflecting upon the killings of police and by police that have shaken the nation. He implored colleagues to “recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another … does not mean it does not exist.”

Or as Bono said, in the Bob Geldof Christmas song, “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.”

Do people of this country have a right to talk about their experience of day to day life, and death, in this country? You’re damn right they do. I believe that’s made pretty clear in the First Amendment.

And to my white Caucasian Honkey sisters and brothers. Black Lives Matter? — The guy up there in the picture started it.


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Now What?

 

Some 15 years or so ago I was in a meeting when a guy I hadn’t seen for years came in and, when it was his turn, had an outburst of anger and victimization and rage and futility and most of the other emotions falling under the purview of “pissed”. When the meeting ended I walked over to him, and before he could offer his haven’t seen you in a long time greetings, I said this to him: “Now what?”

Over the years sincdownloade then, when we have managed contact in person or through email or over the phone, those two words have invariably found their way into the conversation. Usually on his part. It’s something we ask each other, ask ourselves, remind ourselves – Okay, there’s all that, so Now what?

The phrase came to me this morning, early, in the recliner, thinking about Nice, France and France again and again and everywhere else over the planet where horror and humanity gone wrong has paid its hope-draining visits these last many years. Now what?

I honestly gave some time in my head early last night, looking at but not really watching the news, to thinking dark thoughts, dystopian thoughts, those of an Enraged New World, where whole groups of people are scrutinized for the good of everyone else. I woke up and found myself in bad company, in fantasy bed with the likes of Newt Gingrich, certainly not wanting to be racial or racist in any way  – not in any way – just wanting a world where anyone is safe to go anywhere anytime, to rejoice in the sweet gift of life, and its promises of love and kinship and wonder and starting a business and chasing bliss and fresh breezes blowing along a tree-lined avenue.

Then this morning I had the thought that if I were 16 or 17 years old when I woke today, my desired career path would be as an agent with the FBI, with the CIA, with Homeland Security, with Interpol, with MI6, with la Surete, or something else, something better, like the agency Tom Cruise worked for in Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report”. Where you get to see the crimes before they happen. Where you get to see someone getting into a large white truck in the hills above the ocean front in Nice, where you get to see into his head and see his thoughts, his intentions. And stop them before they happen. That would be good.

But I’m not 17 and that’s not real and the fact is the only real thing for me, right now, is not knowing what to do. Being left with only this – “Now what?”

It’s ironic. My intention for my next post in this blog, a few days ago, was to write about another agency, another grouping of initials. This one – VISTA. I wanted to write about VISTA, Volunteers In Service To America, that hands-on, hope-affirming government created and funded agency around, doing good right here in The United States, back when I was growing up, way back even before I saw my friend walk into that meeting. Back in the 60s and 70s. And an idea growing in my head about bringing VISTA back, now, and turning its attention on the racial and economic opportunity  and general kindness issues we find ourselves facing right here. But now look. I’m all up in my head with the FBI and the French DST and Philip K. Dick’s Pre-Crime Police. VISTA pushed over into the corner.

Some days. Some days it’s really hard. It’s hard to feel helpless, and afraid. My wife Susan is in San Diego now, visiting her parents, and I cannot think of how many times in the last three days I have told her to stay safe. I said it more urgently this morning. Stay safe.

I don’t believe God or The Great Spirit or Higher Power or whatever you want to call it, I don’t believe we were allowed to come into existence on this beautiful planet just to be scared. Always scared. Or to be forever heart-broken. I don’t believe that for a minute. But this morning, sitting here, I’m not sure what to do about it. So I’m left with Now What.

Now what?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Where’s Michael Jackson When You Need Him?

Early in the recliner, quarter past six or so, drinking coffee and reading a book of essays by Aldous Huxley just the other morning, a solution to the ongoing problem of racial relations in our country flashed in my mind. I want to write about that now, in addition to a number of related thoughts that have floated through my eclectic head since then. I’m going to ask The New England Patriots football team Tom Bradyto Dont+Hightower+Philadelphia+Eagles+v+New+England+-9o5BGTijL6lhelp me out here. And also a couple of young guys from the world of music.

But first, a fun quiz. Of the two young men pictured here, both New England Patriot football players, who do you believe is more likely to be stopped by the police driving through town? (See answer below.)

So, here’s my idea, you know, how to fix things. It’s a two-part plan. The first part will take only a few thousand people to work. Part two will require a few more, probably 250 million. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let me start with this premise: there are unequal justice opportunities for members of different races in the United States. Maybe you believe that or maybe you are a practicing ostrich – with your head buried deep in the sand – and don’t. But for the sake of this blog post, let’s say you do. (Spoiler alert – remember the fun quiz?) Recent widely and rightly publicized events in this country have brought this question – which has actually been a current and legitimate question for about 300 years now – to the forefront of our national, and hopefully personal, attention. You can believe what you want about Michael Brown and Eric Garner as people and still agree that the question of how justice is meted out in this country has been raised again, in a more than 15 minutes of fame way. There is a spotlight on our legal system, and all kinds of things – behaviors and interventions and mindsets and assumptions and consequences and accountability – all of that and more is right here, right now. Just turn on the TV.

The question is, what will get done about it? Is it today’s front page news but buried on page 12 tomorrow? Will something else, say apocalyptic weather, take its place. There is always that chance, it is often how we roll, and if that becomes the case all the opportunities that raise their hand during crisis, especially crisis of heart-breaking and stunning sadness, will be missed, and we will not have grown yet one more time. Which brings me to part one of my solution. I respectfully suggest that every person of color on a professional sports team in our country refuse to suit up and show up, refuse to play even one more second of his or her chosen sport, until the leadership of the country – national, regional, local – calls for a time out and establishes vast community conferences, with free food, in which — and here’s part two — those 250 million or so residents of our country participate. And the deal is that we don’t do anything else until we figure out how to turn the country around and begin moving in the real direction of life, liberty, and justice for all. It might take a couple of weeks of sitting and talking together, really talking, but it won’t be that hard to figure out – really – it won’t be. There just needs to be the will. The collective will. And I guarantee that if every person of color stops playing sports until it gets figured out, the will will come.

You know why? Here’s another question. How many people in our country who have deep-seated and questionable views about how one person should be treated versus another, are sports fans? Live and die for sports? “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts during warmups are a start, but the super rich and super racist ultimately chuckle over those feeble efforts toward justice. But stop playing the games. Stop playing all the games. Permanently. It’ll work. Believe it.

My sophomore year in college I had a black kid from my high school as a roommate. When I told my mother – bless her soul – before the school year, she asked me why I had to live with him. My Mom was not a racist. But she had some old fashioned ideas. At the end of that school year my Mom asked me, one day, why I couldn’t be more like him. My black roommate. This after she got to know him. It’s like Mos Def kept telling Bruce Willis in “16 Blocks” – “people can change”. That same kid with whom I roomed, who always had it way way more together than me, was encouraged to look into a technical school after graduation by one of our esteemed high school counselors, while I was encouraged to go to college. Sad and stupid.Elvis-elvis-presley-36015244-596-596Michael-Jackson-michael-jackson-19665848-1000-1280

Which brings me to these two cats. You know them. A southerner and a northerner, both wildly successful and downright agents of change in the world of music. Nothing was ever the same again after they both showed up. Brothers from another mother. One of them sang this: “Take a look at you and me, are we too blind to see? Do we simply turn our heads and look the other way?” The other this: “I said if you’re thinking of being my brother, it don’t matter if your black or white.”

Remember this? www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkkLUP-gm4Q “Don’t taze me bro.” Did Eric Garner struggle like this? No. He just didn’t breathe, cause he couldn’t. Is justice delivered the same way to one and all?  Are things even in this country? Will it change? Will it change if everything other than the National Hockey League shuts down? Because all those people that everyone cheers so wildly for are, well, a different color. And they don’t want to miss their games. You don’t want to miss your games. So, yeah, I’ll go and sit and talk with them for a while. Will it?   You damn skippy.

Here’s another thing. I have a great marketing idea. A get rich scheme for sure. I am creating a line of dolls, actually only two dolls. Both of the dolls will be those kind that have a string on the back that you can pull. When you pull the string of the first doll he will yell the “F-Bomb” on national TV, over and over again. Pull the string on the other and he will be stopped and frisked, over and over again. Pretty much anywhere.  I call them Tom and Dont’a.  And there’s the answer to the quiz.

By the way, up top are Tom Brady and Dont’a Hightower of the New England Patriots, left to right, and down here are Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, singers up there in heaven.

“If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make that change.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=PivWY9wn5ps

We can fix this. No more games.