Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blackgirl on Mars Newsletter: December 2014

my dad and his band sometime in another lifetime, port-of-spain, trinidad



Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

― Buddha 

I was blessed to open my email this morning and find this email from my spiritual father, "Puff". "Puff", that's his nickname - knew my father since they were teenagers, back in Trinidad.  Puff entered my life, because unlike my father, he escaped New York and forged a life for himself and his family in Canada. As he says to me, he realized back then that if he wanted to  save himself, he had to leave. The fate of my father reiterates the importance of that sentiment. 

My communication with Puff has been a blessing - I truly feel my father's presence in our conversations, and Puff often serves as a personal portal to the past, filling me in on many wonderful stories and memories of my father. Truly a gift from the ancestors. 

There are many blessings to account for. The world seems as though it is falling apart - there seems to be a wide-spectrum attack on our senses. Heroes are "falling", social media seem to be saturated with further evidence (personally, I don't need anymore stories telling me what I have painfully lived my entire life: that Black life is not worth much in the American society.) Or, as many others have noticed accurately, upon closer attention life itself seems to be under threat - & the sooner we realize how deeply ingrained this relationship is (i.e. the monetary system and the "value" of human life) then I'm afraid, this will not end. 

Many people often protest when I suggest that many of the problems faced in our world has to do with our monetary system. They swat away my visions as "idealist" and "naive" and tell me, "Oh, Lesley, it's human nature." I have been looking into life, politics and humanity ever since I was a child - I kid you not. The argument of human nature, which many take to be the blanket explanation to why things are in such a state right now is a friggin construct!  Also, this idea that this is the way it is and it certainly is better than life as a "savage" has to be challenged.  Read more here:
http://www.filmsforaction.org/news/huntergatherers_and_the_mythology_of_the_market/

Reunited, and it feels so good. 


bgom (us/trinidad) is coming to a theater near you
w/bassist martin olivierre (dk/trinidad)
So pleased to report that the bgom show is scheduled to debut on Sunday March 29 - so mark your calendar. I have been working on this for  years and finally the time is right to release my thoughts/observations/contemplations with a mix of jazz, calypso and verse. Here's a little taste of what we do - but be warned: this was years ago & things change! 


Martin Ollivierre is a bassist who I have been blessed to work with in the past. He has been behind this project from it's inception and I am super stoked to get it moving and to birth it out into the world. It is my response to what is going on, based on what I have experienced - including my recent couple of trips to New York.  Also onboard for direction is Linn Ulekleiv, not only a friend, but amazing director/artist who too has been at my side since this show's inception.  Stay tuned...

Spending time with friends. 

a traditional danish birthday. happy 12th birthday, theo!!!!

Every now again when I feel like I got to get out of copenhagen (if you guessed it by now, yes, i can't stand staying any one place for too long. blame it on a life that has always included a lot of travel, a high sense of genuine curiosity about the world and yeah...you get it).  I met Sune and Sophie when I first arrived to Copenhagen, ages ago. Back then, I was here just for a visit, and I met some amazing people. The great thing about my ex-husband is that through him, I have met some incredible human beings. I don't think I have said that enough - but it's for the memoir I'm working on! 
Back when I first met Sophie, she was living in an apartment in Nørrebro that had a Chinese-newspaper walled kitchen. I loved it and reveals something that I have always loved about her - and that's her creativity. A walk through her home reveals gems of creativity - whether it is her own art or her children's. Her appreciation of art is lovely to be around. Not to mention how open-minded she has always demonstrated herself to be - curious about my perspective, never offended. I truly appreciate that, especially in these times. 
Her husband Sune is as valued a friend to me as she.  His interest and involvement in alternative ideas/health have always offered me solace and a place to exchange ideas and build on them. This time, among other things, we talked about how similar pre-Christian Europe was to many other indigenous cultures the world over and how they too were conquered and colonized - before the power was unleashed upon the rest of the world.  This is the birth of racism- something created to justify the allinihation of other human beings in the name of racial superiority but in the end, really just about profit and capital. Wake up folks. 
Sune's father Hans was also there. Hans is a filmmaker and writer who currently lives in London. I enjoyed my conversations with him and found his interest and reservoir of knowledge inspiring. He told me a lot about Denmark's involvement in the slave trade (which actually, included a monopoly, at some point, of the triangular slave trade). I found his insight to be intriguing and he has certainly encouraged me to study more Danish history.  Some fun facts: the first recognized act of international terror is supposedly when the British forces snuck attack the Royal Danish fleet and then took over world naval supremacy.  Who knew that it was the Danes that the English squashed on her way to the Imperial top? Who'd a figured? 
Hans had me cracking up when he revealed how silly he sometimes feels with his girlfriend. Why? I ask. Well, he explains, she's 41, Japanese and rich. Everytime we go out together, I feel that people are looking at me like I'm some dirty old man & exploiting her! But the joke is, she's the rich one! 

Identity and Politics: Calling all reasonable people

I think one of the most valuable lessons I was ever reminded of was by Isaac Julian when I was in college.  He wrote, and I'm paraphrasing here, that you can't tell someone's politics based on their skin color, gender and/or class.  This reminder struck me as something that is actually well worth remembering. I mean, just because you are a person of color, does not mean that you get down with me. I know first hand, because a lot of people, regardless of color - are thinking within the system.  So what I'm saying is this: the media is really polarizing the issues so that we cannot communicate.  We are so polarized right now, there is not even a language to communicate the fears, pain, loss, frustration that many of us, as humans, are feeling.  This further leads to confusion and an inarticulate processing of our emotions.  I met a wise woman in Harlem on my last visit who suggested, "the attack from the media renders us either too angry or speechless. and that's what is wanted. nothing will attach this other than clear articulation." I intend to continue to address these issues in my work. My recent two trips to the States were quite revealing and I saw what is happening now coming a mile away. White and Black Americans are VERY divided. Whether it's stories of white folks not knowing what collards are or my visiting people who claim to be down for the cause in "fabulous" Upstate New York and realizing - you know what? These people ain't trying to diversify...and never have been. You know what America's best kept secret is? Monetary Wealth. Like Angelo telling me back in Rhode Island, in a whisper,  "there are houses here (in Rhode Island!) that have shackles in the basements."  Umhmmm....



Anyway - 

White Boy on Venus

i love this pic! 

here's an unedited excerpt from the interview that is in this month's The Murmur:

Ryan Murdock is white. He is very white. He is so white that he lives in Harlem.  And he knows this. “I knew how to tell stories to white people. I know how to do that.  I worked in media. You know PBS, which is like, very white. I worked at NPR, which is a pretty white audience – I know I can tell a good story.”

He tells me in a recent interview in Christiania’s Børneteatret Jazz Club.  “But the film is reaching lots of non-white people. And it’s great.”

And perhaps this is the crux of the brilliance behind Murdock’s new documentary on the life of Louis Ortiz – otherwise known as the Bronx Obama.  Murdock’s cinematic gaze leaves room for Louis Ortiz to rise – to match and respond to that invisible dialogue that sometimes occur about race in certain social situations. And in this way – something transformative and magical occurs in the film:  the white gaze, usually unbearable for many people of color to watch, is neutralized – thus making the film accessible to all.


It touches upon the very quantum nature of life, offering food for thought regarding issues such as poverty, parenting, race, family, character and not least of all authenticity with a balanced, racial gaze that would not have been possible without the everyday stately presence of Louis Ortiz.  

This is NOT the civil Rights Movement

I won't get into this too much here. Suffice it to say that those who study their history are liberated from the threat of repeating it. 

The other day I had the opportunity to catch up with Zanubia and Maya. They are both former students of mine - both part of my first ever class that I took over when I began my tenure of teaching at Copenhagen Euro School.  They are both 18 now and I am constantly fascinated by the genuine interest many youth have about life and the questions they have. We had a lovely weekend day together, walking from the Østerbro, throughout the city and to Christianshavn. 

It is amazing how many gifts reveal themselves to me.  As a writer, I feel as though my work isn't even halfway about to being complete (of course). There are so many stories coursing through this body and I continue to sit patiently while I untangle them from the vestiges of my heart and weave the tale that I was always meant to tell: a healing tale for humanity. 

The other day I received a text from Madam Ida, "meet me for cocktails."  Now, if I don't dance too much with the spirits these daze, but if it's Ida, I'm usually down for giving it a try because it usually means that when it comes to quality, well, yeah - it's usually the best. 

I was supposed to meet up with Martyn Bone, a professor at the University of Copenhagen.  Martyn, it turns out, was behind the Black Atlantic programme that was held here years ago in recognition of the Black presence here in Denmark. We exchanged emails and a few years later, I was teaching his son English! We've been meaning to get together for years, but alas! Well, we finally did, and I took him along for some cocktails...

sugar hill: home of the queen of the black literary experience


Holmen's Kanal #7 is what Pravda was, at least for me, back in the day.  Let me rewind a bit. Pravda, which I believe is still in existence on the Bowery, is it? Well, back in the mid-90s my beloved Marie D. Brown, with/for whom I worked, introduced me and a host of other young aspiring literary folk to Pravda, where her partner Mckinley (RIP) worked. Now McKinley, originally from Tennessee, was not only, along with partner in crime Henry - was the meanest cocktail maker in downtown Manhattan. I cannot explain how many inter-generation/cultural/intellectual exchanges took place upstairs in the cigar room, between generous doses of chocolate and melon martinis. It was a privilege to have insight into this downtown, literary world, one that I and myself would never have had access to, if it were not for Marie's insistence on reciprocity: the idea of an energetic flow that when balanced with giving and receiving, generates a life force that keeps communities together. 
As many of you know, the last few trips I've made to New York, I have been fortunate enough to stay in Marie's home.  
In the evenings we would usually find ourselves sitting in her living room - and Marie would always be willing to answer my questions about the general atmosphere regarding race in America. 
Marie, a veteran of the book publishing industry, was recruited in the 60s, during the Civil Rights Era, to diversify the book publishing industry. A Supreme Court ruling forced the industry to produce books that encompassed the diverse nature of the American populace. 
Marie reminds me that when she started in book publishing - women were not allowed to wear pants. Through these talks I learned that many from the Civil Rights Movement were slowly realizing that while things may have appeared to greatly improve for African Americans, when you look at the numbers, very little seems to have changed, and whatever changes that were managed to implemented, were usually eroded at some point or another.
Blacknuss Books & other Relics 

This will explain the current situation in the U.S. -- during my stay in Harlem, it was hard to ignore the changing tone of the streets. A visit with Sharifa Rhodes Pitts, author of Harlem is Nowhere (click here for an amazing Vogue interview) at her Blacknuss Books & other Relics (which at the time was an outdoor bookstore (on the sidewalk) in Harlem but has since moved to the Studio Museum in Harlem  (btw, I know all this because of my mentor Marie D. Brown who introduced me to the work of Rhodes Pitts along with most everything else I talk/write about literary) reflects the changes that Harlem is undergoing, with a fancy restaurant, replete with hipsters and all occupying what used to be the Black Liberation Book Store.   The night I arrived a young man lost his life on the corner (5 shots to the back) and the delicate trapeze-like walk between the haves and the haves-nots seem to only be getting more strained. 

Anyway, I have all these recent experiences in my pocket when I go over to meet my friend. The cocktail bar is nice. The drinks, divine. It's not too long before the conversation revolves around race, with a young Danish man citing a movie scene in an attempt to "learn" me, I suppose, that if I am too passionate about my purpose, I will not get all the cows. 
I don't want all the cows, I tell him. I don't want any. This is not a narrative about conquest. 
Another one reveals, "Yes, but Lesley, I just don't think of you as a Black artist." Now, I'm going to offer the spoiler that I do genuinely like these people. And I'm thankful for my recent trips to New York, otherwise I would have pulled my friggin hair out. 
Anyway, the conversation, which I have heard before, devolves to, "Well, I think you would be much more effective (translate monetarily successful) if you didn't talk about race too much!" I couldn't even get mad. At this point, I can only laugh. 
Luckily for me I was in the company of a sympathetic soul - who actually got offended on my behalf. "How do you put up with it?" He asked, although white, well acquainted with the racial denial that is so rampant in the halls of the elite.  I smile.   I've finally realized that I will only focus the ones who want to get it, the ones who are willing to put ego aside and untie this Gordian knot of race that has been cast upon us.  
What was interesting with my conversation with the young Danish guy, is that he immediately took on the position that he had the answer to the race problem: You had to just stop being so darn passionate!  Otherwise, you won't get the cows! See, cause if the bull was chill, he would realize that hey, he not only could get one cow he can get them all! Now tell me, what kind of bullshit narrative is that? No pun intended. And how ironic the symbology is a bull - given the very monetary nuance this metaphor could have. 

#Iwillbreathe. 

Radicalism + Art = Freedom? 


sun at ferguson photo by ryan reagin

sun at ferguson photo ryan reagin


In other news, the self-proclaimed fugitivist Preach R. Sun has made it to the media of the 1% with his Crucifiction of Kneeling Man (Ferguson, Performance, Action). Sun, whose work I have been following since its inception, is a self-described fugitivist -- and believes in the political potency of performance art, something we discussed at length during my visit to the States last winter. While the Fugitivist is hesitant to call himself a performance artist, he is excited about the possibilities inherent in the art form and its potential to shape social change.  Take for example performance last March at Gray Zone for International Performance Art in Kingston, NY. In one of his scenes, he places 21 crosses with names like Martin, Bell, Davis and Sipp – all young male victims of state-condoned executions.  Interestingly enough, many at the performance, all white, were not familiar with the names, or the incidents.  Clearly there is room for dialogue and an exchange of information of experiences and perspectives, and clearly there is a need for more spaces in which to do so, across social, ethnic, racial and national lines. 

If you are interested in the potential power of art and politics I encourage you to check out Sun's work  The Liberation Project . If you want to get a whiff of what Sun speaks about, here's one of his latest Facebook posts regarding the day of silence on social media: 

WAKE UP SLAVES... THE REVOLUTION IS CALLING!!!
I WILL NOT BLACKOUT MY FACEBOOK PAGE TODAY. I WILL NOT BE PARTICIPATING IN YOUR COLLECTIVE ACT OF SILENCE. I WILL NOT BE TAKING HOODIE PICS OR ANY OF THAT OTHER CONTRIVED SYMBOLIC BULLSHIT! I WILL NOT BE SILENT! THE DEAD DO NOT NEED OUR SILENCE, THEY HAVE BEEN SILENCED! THE DEAD NEED OUR VOICES, THEY NEED OUR COURAGE, OUR OUTRAGE. THEY NEED, OUR CONJURING AND EVOCATION… THEY NEED REVOLUTION!
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!
YOUR SILENCE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU.

The Black Messiah

m interviewing d'angelo back in '97


In honor of D'Angelo's much anticipated released album, Black Messiah and it's ancestral timing, I'm reposting this pic from my girl Margarita : that's me with yours truly in the chair.

Cuban Conspiracy

The moment that I heard about what seems to be the reconciliatory moves of the U.S. towards Cuba I knew what was up.  If you want to know what really happened in Cuba, and I'm not talking about from the point of view of the many Cubans who live in the States, I'm talking about the Cubans who didn't have money or racial privilege on their side, read Jules R. Benjamin's The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution. 

After you read that and realize that somewhere among these seeming good tidings, they are after Assata Shakur. And that, my dear fellow human beings, is something to educate yourself about. For it is only after you do so, that you will perhaps get closer to what is truly at stake here. 

Geeky Knitting


Finally, a very special shout-out to the Geeky Knitters Crew: words can't explain how magical it feels to be reconnected with all of you. Having this venture in my life and sharing it with you all strengthens me and I feel very blessed to have you all in my life: Sarah, Shabana, Aleena Nina, Deena & Debbie. Let's continue to encourage each other on this journey! 

farvel + thanks for reading, 
the lab

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Darkness & Light

carvel amager (my favorite tree in the hood). 
Nina happens to know a lot of fun facts about Hans Christian Andersen which I have been enjoying learning. One of them is that he believed it was the artist's duty to go into the darkness to shine light - a metaphor I appreciate lately. Aside from the usual Scandinavian lack of light to contend with, I can also relate to this on a spiritual level of late.
Having said this, I must admit that I have been feeling much sadness lately. It's almost as though I feel the pain of the world - for on close inspection I do have all that I need: my health, thank you very much, knock on wood. I've ventured into the world of Facebook again, hoping that it will facilitate my friendships/network but again I grow weary.  The news is despondent, we are divided, heroes fall, voices rise, some are stifled.
Today has been declared a day of Anger in many cities throughout the world. Denmark held its own version today, which I attended at the beginning.
Anger is an interesting word - especially when it comes to its use in our community and even our society on a larger scale. Anger has been rendered useless: it gets in the way of rational thought, we learn. But I never understood how we could feel an emotion that had no use, no function. Surely anger can be constructive? Is it possible to channel one's anger into something good? Transform it? At this point, I think the whole world needs to take a time-out. We've all done enough. I think it's time we make some (herbal) tea and start figuring out how we're going to move away from this mess. And the only way that can be accomplished is by our directing our consciousness to healing - from the inside out, from the land to the skies.
I have a profound feeling that the level of sadness I feel is that of earth's.  We are all brothers and sisters on this planet, but have been so divided. We need to create a common narrative, an inclusive narrative, otherwise we will perish. Fear not the fate of the earth, for she always balances. What is it that is clenching itself around the world, making us all feel that we can't breathe? For it is so many of us, world over, who suffer under the never-ending attack on our consciousness.
Turn off all televisions. Unplug the computer. Turn off all phones. How radical will that be?
farvel,
Lesley-Ann

Sundevedsgade, Where it all began... 1999

This is the street where it all began...

That's a picture of a mural on the street where I first lived when I moved to Copenhagen. It's in the neighborhood called Vesterbro - which means West Bridge - and when I had arrived Copenhagen was in the throes of a program entitled "City Renewal". This meant that the STATE went in and upgraded many apartments (even privately owned) rendering many apartments many times its worth by the end. Many ended up with a lot of money in their hands but what it did inevitably mean is that housing went up even more in what was already one of the most expensive cities to live in the world.
In those days - this was the early 2000's - my little family lived on the 5th floor (no elevator) in a small but beautiful apartment that was not equipped with hot water and a shower.  This is how I entered motherhood - and every time I wanted to bitch and moan I would think about the women who came before me in Trinidad who did not have the modern conveniences that so many of us take for granted these days.
I was by this neighborhood the other day and it has changed much, although there are some landmarks that have remained untouched. There is Cafe Hoeg's and Bang & Jensen's -- cafes that have managed to remain open since my days there. There is R - whom many call the mayor of Vesterbro, who walks around and depending on his mood and who you are will call you out in the street. He's been doing that since I lived there - except when I lived there he was friendly and now when he sees me there is a disconnect there that I cannot bridge. In fact, the last time I saw him, he barged past me and called me the "N" word, despite my warm greeting. Funnily enough I did not get upset - he is of color himself but was raised here. I know not what his struggles are.
There is a march taking place in Copenhagen. Stay tuned & I will keep you posted. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

geeky knitters club is keeping me going...

my bandit dress 

today i'm off to meet with the geeky knitter's club - and i'm looking forward to it. my plan is to start knitting with the kids at my former place of employment, and hopefully that will get started by next week. right now i'm finishing up my first icelandic sweater. i can't wait to put it on. i'm convinced that once this sweater is complete it will be the sweater that takes me through the completion of my book.
my book. sigh. the good news is i am definitely closer to the voice of the work - although i have written a complete draft, the voice is a bit distant. it's mine, but too - scholarly? at times. i'm not like that all the time. not to say that i come off as scholarly, but i have and do read a lot of highfaluting stuff sometimes and that has a way of seeping into my language - as well as other things as well. see how sophisticated i am? using words like "stuff" and "things". i have such a command of the english language...
i have two pieces in the murmur this month which i'll see later today at the library. i did a piece about a caribbean christmas and then the other on my interview with louis ortiz and ryan murdock - the obama impersonator and director of the documentary bronx obama. i hope they like it. it's such an important film that delivers a very potent message that is necessary right now. i'm still struggling with my pieces about race and the states and here in denmark. there's so much to say but i want to be responsible with my execution of it. it's important that the right notes are hit - high notes, healing notes - and sometimes it's a bit challenging to hit given some of the goings-on around the world which seem to absorb a lot of my energy when i investigate.
i've been wondering about the internet a lot lately. i just got back on fb after being off a few years and i was reminded very quickly why i chose to get off in the first place. one has to be really conscious in filtering the many messages that pop up on one's feed. it's amazing how vulnerable we all are when we face our computers -
 i remember when i was a child living in the trinidad, writing letters to various friends and pen pals. There was something more soothing about that act, about awaiting a letter, receiving it, opening it, reading it. Taking your time and writing back. Sending it off - I have hundreds of letters in a basement somewhere in Brooklyn that tell stories of fathers who have been born again, sisters who stay in touch and friends eager to tell you the latest gossip on the block on Ocean.
but writing letters have become difficult. i have attempted to maintain contact via snail mail, but often find it challenging to keep a flow going.
there are a lot of visions of myself that i have that i will start speaking because it speaks to something very dear to me- and that is making my life more simple. i do see a time when i don't have to be on the computer every day, neither my phone. i want to explore how the quality of my life will change when i move more in that direction. right now everything seems to be too much. whether it's the fb feed i often get sucked into (the writing these days on the internet is amazing & i'm digging the personal essays). and that's cool - because i want to know what other writers are thinking about, how they are thinking about it and writing about. that's what i want to do all day - but it has to be in the world of books.
i read an article the other day where it was stated that women were usually diagnosed with ADHD in their 30s and 40s. i have my ideas about ADHD, but i also know from experience and teaching, that the symptoms are real. a few years ago, i noticed that i was displaying some of the symptoms and found that the less i interact with social media, the more focused i tend to be on the jobs i have in real time to accomplish. i remember the last conversation i had with my friend, a writer, who told me that he never works at home because if he did, he'd never get anything done. "I'd be on the internet all day," he told me, laughing. his book is coming out in a couple of months.
not to mention the general dis-ease one can experience from the sheer act of living so very far away from home. i know that i chose to live here. i know why i did. i liked the pace. there are good and cool people here. but that doesn't meant that it makes being a sea away from your folks any easier. people ask me all the time what it's like living in another country and it's everything. it's wonderful on some days and others it's shitty. sometimes i feel great about it. sometimes i don't.
there are a lot of things going on right now and that have been going on that needs our attention. Our awareness. the most valuable tool we have in our possession is our time and our consciousness. how we choose to use it is the difference in the direction we take as human beings.
i have had a very privileged life. but i've also seen my share of pain. like many others. the reason i write is because when i was a child and felt extremely powerless: whether it was from getting "licks" from my father (that Trinidadian ritual of beating your child, a remnant of slavery, but many don't like to talk about that) or seeing/experiencing the general violence that was around me (shoot-outs, incarcerations) i vowed that i would let the world know what many children around the world experience every day. every day. every day. every day.
this is not about race. it's not about class. it's not about money. but these three things have a way of growing in and around each other that it appears to be a Gordian knot of some kind - but we must dig into it and untangle the lies that keep us apart from each other. sometimes the distances can be political sometimes the distances can manifest between friends, family.
so this is what my work has always been about. throughout the years i have written much - and now i will start sending it out into the world. stay tuned for more adventures of blackgirl on mars...

thanks for reading,
lesley-ann

Thursday, November 27, 2014

the humble Guinea Fowl & lime disease...

could the guinea fowl be the best protection against lime disease?

The last couple of times I visited the States, I was fortunate enough to visit Willow, New York. Willow is a small town not too far from Woodstock, New York.  It's a gorgeous Upstate town, with rivers and mountain views and no shortage of wildlife. Bears apparently, are not uncommon here.
Lime disease seems to also be quite common in these parts as well. It seems that every other person I bumped into would eventually break down and tell you either a story of their lime infection, or someone close to them, in their family.  Lime disease doesn't sound fun - and if you live anywhere near the woods and deers, chances are there are deer ticks, and if you have deer ticks, well - if you get bit by an infected lice then you can get lime disease.
Does that mean that being out in nature is absolutely out of the question? Well, interestingly enough the person I was visiting has some guinea hens.  These birds are beautiful - they mate for life and the feathers - black with white dots- are magnificent.  Their owner lovingly tends to them despite the complaints from her neighbors. Why?
These birds eat deer ticks. Years ago, when it was learned that guinea hens do this, the owner did not hesitate to get these hens. And today, knock on wood, unlike so many of her neighbors, she is lime-free.

Right on to those who balance nature with nature.

farvel,
the lab

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thankful

me and toshi, early- mid 2000s.
williamsburgh, brooklyn


I don't know why I go so fast. My mind seems to dart around from thought to thought, action to action. If I am not too careful, life manages to flash by with my barely noticing the everyday miracles, acts of kindness.
Where do I start? I can say it all started with the woman who hired me at Copenhagen International School so many years ago. And I could tell you about the eye-opening experiences and the lovely international staff I encountered there. There was the sassy Suzanne, originally from Ireland, Lesley from Scotland and Audrey from Scotland. Together we formed the administrative staff.  These women, as were so many others who worked at that school, phenomenal everyday people.  I could tell you about the time before this where I biked around Hellerup with 4 year-old Kai in the bike seat, going from grand big house to grand big house, tutoring 5th grade German girls or Junior High girls from China. Or I can tell you about the other school where I was head-hunted to teach Middle School English, and how awesome that was as well. About taking my 7th grade class to Amsterdam...or I can tell you about the newspaper I'm now writing for and how it's related to the job I had so many years ago or about Charlotte Andersen, a Special Education specialist who wrote a handbook for parents and teachers who work with children diagnosed with ADHD and how I translated this phenomenal book which can be read over the weekend and how I want to get it to an English speaking audience and how cool Charlotte has been and continues to be. I can tell you about going by my former place of employment yesterday to tutor the grade 8s and how Oscar, Anisa, Hafsah and Bilal interviewed me, asking me questions about America and racism and I receive so much love and hugs from the kids and staff and I experience the result of 16 years of being here and am thankful to all the people letting me know that hey Lesley- we love you.

farvel,
the lab


Monday, November 17, 2014

On the Spiritual Timing of Projects

valentina from brooklyn, harlem 2014

After teaching I decided to work at home for a year translating, proofing and editing. I managed to get enough work to get by - and the projects ranged from anything from television scripts to  academic books on Ancient Sumerian Goddesses and such. I'm not kidding.
I enjoy the work - but in order to secure a steady income you have to really put yourself out there. The last few years have seen a more socially quiet me - and it is something that I feel I must honor in order to maintain my balance. So I trust.
One of the dreams I've always had since moving to Denmark was finding a way to connect what I did in New York with the talent here. When I lived in New York, I worked with Marie Brown, a literary agent who works with such luminaries such as Faith Ringgold and the great Dorothy Dandridge biographer, Donald Bogle. I garnered a wealth of stories being under the tutelage of Marie - and most of all I learned a lot about the business of publishing and American history, particularly where race is involved.  Marie was recruited by Double Day in the 60s. At the time she was a teacher in Philadelphia. But after a congressional hearing was held challenging the lack of diversity in book publishing,  an initiative was sparked to recruit employees who would have historically not have access to these jobs. This was what was behind the great surge of Black literature in the 60s and 70s and Marie was responsible for ushering  many of these books from idea to publication, or had some hand in it's birth.
So when I came to Copenhagen, one of the bridges I wanted to construct was one connecting Danish talent with New York City channels. In the past 15 years I have been here, I have witnessed how Denmark has prefigured positively in the dominant media.  There is an interest in all things Scandinavian which of course translates into a market.
One of the books that found itself on my desk is a riveting account of a man who spent 20 years in the Church of Scientology here in Copenhagen, Denmark. There are a few things that are particularly interesting in this account. The first thing you ought to know is that Scientology's European Headquarters is stationed in Copenhagen. The second thing is that the author, Robert Dam, managed to reach pretty high up in the organization, so he has access that is not available to just anyone. The third aspect to this story is Robert himself.  Robert is the type of narrator that you trust to follow, although he is doing something you might not have ever considered doing before: And that is join Scientology.
For all of the  many experiences I have had in my life I have consciously avoided any engagement with Scientology. I'm not saying that I've never been friends with Scientologists, I'm just saying that of the few things I knew that I would never under any uncertain terms want to do, walking into a Scientology building and taking that test was one of them. But this Robert Dam character is likable. You trust his extreme confidence in a system that promises this ardent student of life a way to better understanding and navigating life. Suddenly, you relax in the presence of Robert's account and allow him to take the lead, realizing that there is no better hero to this story than him.
So I have this amazing book, called The Defector in English - and it would make me really happy to see it published in English! I reconnected with Robert tonight and was impressed, once again, with his patience and approach to life. Right now there's more to this project under production, and I look forward to experiencing a resurgence of interest in this project.
farvel!
the lab

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shout out to The Scandinavian School of Design


egypt rising (barcelona, 2012)

st.hans gade 

A couple of weeks ago went it felt like things couldn't get any worse, I received a pretty lovely invitation.
My friend Ida - whom I've known since my days in New York - has her own graphic design company now.  Her partner Mia, who is familiar with my work via Ida, invited me to submit 12 pieces of prose/poetry for a class she would be conducting at the Scandinavian School of Design. Mia once saw my Bandit Queen Press project and instantly got it.

 The invitation lifted my spirits and definitely helped in keeping things perspective.

A couple of weeks later (last Tuesday), I went by her office to see how the students decided to lay out each of the individual texts.  I loved every one of them! And most importantly of all, it kept my writing alive for me in during a pretty challenging time. Every artist can appreciate that! Thank you Mia & all the students who worked on the work of Lesley-Ann Brown aka Blackgirl on Mars aka Trinidad Balbirsingh...more to come...

farvel,
Lesley-Ann 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bronx Obama

Blackgirl on Mars meets Bronx Obama
in Copenhagen


One of the things that I love about life, is that sometimes when you take a chance- interesting things happen. Okay, every time you take a chance, interesting things happen - but sometimes the interesting can be a little too interesting, uncomfortable, like finding yourself sitting in the middle of a shoot-out in a basement party in Brooklyn (that's another story). It is not that kind of interesting I'm talking about. I'm talking about the type of interesting that opens up portals of positivity, personal power, hope and inspiration. As human beings, we have the potential to truly touch each other in these ways. You know that feeling - a warm smile from a stranger, a helpful hand reaching for the dropped bag.  Someone running after you with an item you may have dropped a block down the street. The point is, you never know what unlimited potential there is  that awaits you if you don't go out there.
I hopped on my bike this morning and decided to go for a ride through the many little tree-dotted roads that are available for such a thing here in Copenhagen.  Access to Mother Nature is but a hop skip and a jump from one's self-imposed exile in the land of happy.  There is happiness here, and I will find it! So off like Don Quixote seeking his fair maiden, I take off, my bike Rocinante - as the Knight in Search of the Holy Happiness.
It is not too cold and there is a grey filter that colors all.  The pale yellows and blues and browns of buildings offer a gentle relief to this foggy veil.  I am master on my bike and cycle down the back roads of Christiania, past the tree-lined lake, the foliage that has begun to make its annual retreat from green to brown, the sky that is revealed as a result of the falling leaves. It is quiet because it is morning and there are not a lot of people. In times like this I enjoy this city - it is like having a huge backyard to yourself. It's not difficult to find these pockets of time where the streets seem to be devoid of life due to the rigidness of intellectual time and financial expectations.
I make my way to a local cafe and take a seat outside. I can't decide where I want to open my computer up and begin work.  As I berate myself with indecisiveness I see David.
David is this cat from New Orleans - a trumpet player - and he's been here at least as long as I have.  The funny thing is, David and I hung out about 10 years ago but as time unwound itself into our current future, we haven't had the opportunity to catch up. So David, an amazing trumpet player by the way - and big Clark Terry fan as well - and I started to chat and catch up. We sat in this hole in the wall where beers are open at 9 in the morning and many seem to be in a pre-coffee/hash haze. It's cozy because there are an array of characters you just don't see very often: the hobo-looking types, the down-on-their luck, skid-row types. Peppered by the presence of normality from those who dare to tread its beer-stained floors. Opposite me sat a surly young man who blew smoke in my face as if he were some taunting dragon and in a rush for air, David and I make it outside.
It's not cold at all if you are dressed for the weather. As they say in Denmark, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I am usually prepared as I am not too genetically far from biologically requiring warmth to function.  Simpler said: My melanin be jonesin'.
Suddenly someone from behind us asks, "Do you mind if I join you?" We turn around and who's there sitting behind us but someone who really looks like President Obama - especially when he takes his hat off.
Picture Obama if he was Boricua - straight up. Louis Ortiz was rocking his thick gold chain, baseball shirt and white sneakers Bronx style topped with the perfect brown leather jacket that declared not least of all, to the world "44th President".
Louis Ortiz is in town to promote the documentary he is starring in entitled Bronx Obama, directed by Ryan Murdoch.  I'm off to interview him later today and hear more about his adventures from unemployed single father in the Bronx to impersonating one of the most famous individuals on the planet. And just how does Bronx Obama use his power? Guess we're going to find out after that interview...
farvel,
the lab

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Geeky Knitters Club

geeky knitters club inaugural session

One of the activities that I certainly enjoy most is knitting. If my life was unfettered to this system and allowed to beat its natural course, it would sound like this: Knit, read, write, knit, read write, knit read, write with a little bit of talking and eating here and there.
I learned to knit when I was pregnant and instantly fell in love with every aspect of it: from the needles to the various yarns, the colors, textures, the patterns, the free-style potential. The calm it offers my oftentimes much too hectic mind.  I love untangling skeins of yarn, and have spent many hours in silent meditation, even using pins and needles to unravel the finest of yarn. Yes, the love runs that deep.
I know that two of my foremothers earned their living through lace-making and oftentimes I find myself contemplating their lives: one in Trinidad, with a life of horse carts on a cocoa plantation, and the other in Canada- far away from home, only to succumb, family legend has it, to the draft - an interesting reference to the cold and perhaps racism.

One of the highlights in my recent trip to New York was being able to knit a blanket for the lovely Mia Pearl, a hat for Brook and Marie and a scarf for Clemenza (plus fingerless gloves which will be done soon!) One of the things I was resolved to do upon my return to Denmark and "project create new life" was to start a knitting group.

Saying I want to do something and actually doing it, can unfortunately become a complicated affair in the world of real life. While shielding off energetic attacks from the world of capital, I have to admit that even I grow weary. But I did it. And I couldn't have done it without them. Who is them?

I started my stint in education in Denmark at Copenhagen International School.  I met an amazing community of people there. In fact, I don't think I've ever expressed on this blog how cool many of the people I met there and worked with, be it teachers, staff and parents, have been and are.  It was while working at CIS that I wrote my first volume of poetry The Organist's Daughter . I can't even begin to list the many people there who I could honestly say I feel I have had some meaningful exchange with while working there - and lucky for me, I got to meet up with a few of them last evening.

When I first timidly suggested on fb the creation of a knitting group a couple of weeks ago, I was curious as to who would respond. I mean, do people really have time to get tighter and knit? Although Denmark has a strong knitting culture and knitting groups abound, I haven't been able to get my act together to venture to one of the many yarn stores or library events. But I knew my next chapter of life in Copenhagen had to have something organized around yarn to ensure my happiness. Something along the lines of living life one stitch at a time kind of thing.

The group of women who responded and ended up meeting last night could not have better. There was Debbie M. who was kind enough to host the event in her cozy apartment.  Debbie was one of the first to respond to my call for yarn. Then there was Deena. Deena is from Hawaii and we've been hanging out for many years now.  I learn a lot about Hawaiin culture from Deena and together we have shared many a laugh and have supported each other's tenure here in Denmark, so very far away from home. Deena is an extraordinary storyteller whose stories are bejeweled with characters from the Filipines, Hawaii and Los Angeles.  Then there was Sarah - Sarah and I used to work together in a 3rd grade classroom, where she was the class teacher and I was the personal support of an extra-ordinay young boy named Brendan. This was about 10 years ago. Brendan was this rosy cheeked, dark-haired Irish-American boy who had an excellent musical ear and found sitting still to be akin to torture. It was one of the best jobs I ever had the chance to experience- hanging out with a kid whose perspective on life was so outside of the box was a treat for me.  Sarah and I shared many laughs and cultivated a deep and mutual respect for each other. It's because of Sarah that I am familiar with the northern English town of Wigan and her antics of growing up there in the 80s & 90s. Not only that, Sarah is perhaps one of the funniest women that I know.  While she was cracking me up last night I couldn't help but wonder, why has it taken me this long to get together with her? Two seconds with her is enough to get your stomach muscles going and you immediately begin to feel how silly taking anything too seriously can be.  Then there was Shabana and her lovely daughter A.  I first met Shabana many years ago when we were both studying Danish. I loved her from day one - her positivity and pro-activity in the midst of navigating life in Denmark was always a reason for my respect and adoration.  Aleena, her daughter, is 9 years old, and she was the perfect accompaniment to our evening.   It was super fun having her - and I look forward to knitting more bringing more kids on board. What I love about knitting with kids is to experience how eager they are to teach and help each other. It's a brilliant example of cooperative learning at its best. Another aspect about teaching knitting (or gardening, or building or any other hands-on, holistically engaging exercise) is that the kids LOVE to do it and so teaching it is a BREEZE.  The students learn quickly about patience, follow-through, and the reward of bringing something to completion.  Nina, my friend from the airplane, was also an eager participant and thanks to all these wonderful women (and young lady) - the Geeky Knitters Club has become a reality!
Here's to a winter full of yarn, laughter, healing and creativity!
farvel,
the lab





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