I'm back (aka "A whole bunch of assholes with the same name")

Dear 16 readers,

It has been awhile. I’ve decided to resurrect this blog, because it seems like such a quaint thing to do in this day and age. I’ll do my best to keep it as earnest as I possibly can muster while the world remains a dumpster fire of racism and misogyny. I’ve disabled comments because of racist trolls. Sorry.

This first entry is a poem that I wrote on the day after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. It is called “A whole bunch of assholes with the same name”

Yours Truly,


Read More


Dear 16 readers, 

I have been negligent in my duties and I've forsaken you for the lure of easier, more image based social media. I also have a very short attention span, so Instagram works. 

I'm not going to make any grand declarations about my forthcoming internet presence. I will most likely remain sporadic and cryptic in my posting, but I will attempt to use this forum to add updates about my creative life as it evolves. 

Bear with me, it's been a tough couple of years. 

Yours Truly, 


You Got It


Dear 13 Readers,

You should know that I was never one of those fainting, crying crazed girls with the big buttons and the t-shirts. My sister was a teenager when they came out, and she kept a watchful eye on my fashion choices. I wasn't allowed to peg my jeans either. It didn't bother me really. I had been reared on Motown, Nina Simone, Michael Jackson... Not to mention all of the live music I got to hear played by my father in university concert halls in Connecticut and late nights at jazz clubs in New York. I knew they were silly, but it was nice to have something in common with the gaggle of blond girls who only just barely started to tolerate my presence in the 4th grade after a two years of ceaseless teasing. Those girls had the buttons, bought the albums, knew the words to all the songs, got their parents to take them to concerts. I would roll my eyes on the inside whenever the songs would come on the radio, but I'd sing along anyway. I knew they were silly, but the part of me that liked a good outsider story thought it was sort of cool that they were white boys who'd got their big break at the Apollo Theater.

You should also know that The New Kids on The Block were from a town that wasn't too far from me. They were Boston kids, and the kind who reminded me of the sweet chubby Sicilian boys next door with the dark hair and blue eyes that I had a crush on. Those boys next door would wash their grandfather's Cadillac every weekend and invite me over to swim in their above ground pool that had a grape arbor hanging over it.  Sometimes my dad would disappear into their basement with their dad and emerge hours later triumphant with a jar of marinara. Those nice chubby boys would sometimes walk me to the bus stop or around the corner to the store for the candies that we all had to hide from the well trained eyes of our mothers.

You should also know that one time those blond girls came over to my house, and I remember them giggling about the boys next door. Look at their greasy hair, they said. I think one of them got held back, at public school, they said. And they giggled some more before we went inside to listen to the New Kids some more.

Yours Truly,



I want to like Patti Smith. Really I do.

My Dearest 10 Readers, I have forsaken you. It has been over a year since my last post. This blog has gone the way of many that have come before it. Big dreams about the radical potential and ease of online presence crash and burn when faced with the realities of having a full time job or just being too unmotivated to write. Also there's this whole Tumblr thing that seems to be all the rage these days. I'm behind the curve apparently.

I'm not going to make any grand promises to myself or anyone else about my new-found commitment to the craft of pithy web presence. I will, however, attempt, in earnest, to share some of what's been running through my head over the last 14 months or so.

The biggest “project” that I’ve taken on has been my move to a small town in the pacific northwest called Olympia, WA. This town is the home of The Evergreen State College, where I am a member of the faculty. It is also the state capitol, the entry-way to the Olympic National Forest, the owner of a fantastic food co-op… And so very much rain. Rain, rain rain. Ugh. I think someone told me that Kurt Cobain wrote that last album up the street from where I live. And then there was all those pissed off white girls screeching…

Ok, that’s not especially earnest. Dammit! On the one hand, this place leaves me more earnest than ever, with its slowed down pace, its plethora of small farmers grinning me down at the market on the weekends, and its total willingness to embrace all sorts of unapologetically weird people into its fold. On the other hand, I am damp for 9 months out of the year and the lack of black people is almost as alarming as the volume of shapeless fleece outerwear. I am often at a loss for nice things to say, even when I’m feeling perfectly happy. Ambivalence is turning out to be a major theme in my interactions.

This was the culmination of one particularly difficult week last spring.

Naima, bashful, with Flyer

It is actually a whole lot more earnest than it seems. I even made a potential set list of my favorite songs by the artists’ pictured, and printed 50 flyers to post around town. They are all sitting in my little office though. I never got up the nerve to put them up. I suppose the rain just kept me from wanting to do much more than make soup and be cranky.

That, my dear 10 Readers, is the start of an honest assessment of my life in Olympia. There’s more to come, I hope.

Yours Truly,


A Long Overdue Love Letter

Dear Philadelphia, I have been trying to come up with a way to write you this letter for a long time, and it has been hard. We were together for 6 years, and I loved you. But towards the end, Philadelphia, things got rough, and I had to leave. But I didn’t want to write you this letter while I was still angry with you. I didn’t want to bad mouth you in public, and I wanted you to know that I don’t blame you for it. You’ve had a hard lot in life, but I respect you because you are resilient, strong, warm and loving to many. I am so lucky to have known you. There is a lot about you to love, and there is a lot that I miss.

So this a love letter from me, written to you from the kitchen table of my very new and different life in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.

Thank you Philadelphia.

You gave me a beautiful, huge cheap apartment to live in.

You gave me film.

You gave me many crazed and debaucherous nights with some of the funnest, silliest, queerest, wildest people I know.

You gave me confidence in my body, my brown skin, my big hair and my big mouth.

You gave me loud, tough women.

You gave me sweet, tender men.

You gave me more brown and yellow and black people than I’ve ever seen altogether on this side of the Atlantic.

You gave me music in the streets all the time everywhere.

You gave me rolling hills running through the middle of a big city.

You gave me black cowboys riding through North Philly.

You gave me water ice, custard, greasy pizza, Dominican take-out, Amish baked goods, funnel cake, Stewart’s Root Beer and Fink’s Hoagies.

You gave me the Atlantic Ocean warm enough to fall asleep in.

You gave me my first love.

You gave me some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

You radicalized me.

You taught me how to stand up for myself.

You showed me how to stick to my guns.

You made me fight for my health.

You forced me to understand what I need and want out of the world.

I am so grateful to you Philadelphia, and I’m so glad that you’re there taking care of so many of the world’s toughest, strongest, fiercest people.

Yours very truly,


Organizational Strategies of a Chronic Book Collector

Dear 10 readers, I’m writing this entry from the sanctity of my very own little 8x8 home office in Olympia, WA. We arrived at our house last Tuesday but the majority of our stuff didn’t get here until the following Monday morning. We’ve spent the last week acquiring some much-needed new things while waiting (frustrated) for the rest of our things. I must admit that while I complained about having such a small fraction of my wardrobe to choose from, there was something sort of nice about having so little stuff around the house. Now that the house is full of unopened boxes, I’m sort of wishing that I’d been more diligent about abandoning some of my things.

Have I really carried my high school yearbooks around with me this long? But wait, there’s only Sophmore and Senior years. Huh? What happened to the other two?

Which brings me to the central subject of this post.


I’ve started to slowly unpack my books, and as I do so I am struck with the age-old question of “how do I organize them?” I’ve seen many techniques in action. Alphabetical by author and/or title is a popular choice, and certainly practical if you’re a real collector. But I’ve always given up about half way through that ardous process. Organization by color is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but I’m not sure that I’d have any more patience for that endeavor than I would for the alphabetical route. I sometimes end up with loose schemes that are a combination of genre, size, and theme, but somehow anthologies always mess things up: Most of my favorite ones are invested in consciously confounding genre, and the themes and subjects end up going all over the place.

Should I resort to the dewey decimal system? I don’t think my collection warrents that level of detail, and lets not forget that I am too impatient for such things. So what then? Well, as I start negotiating my shelf real estate, I start to notice some trends that have followed me from house to house over the past 10 years. All of my Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler books tend to find themselves together in the box, and thus on the shelf. Kathy Acker tends to be nearby. Ok, those all make some sense. I could make them quasi alphabetical (Acker, Butler, Delaney), but when I put randomly threw Pussy King of the Pirates on the shelf just now I happened to put it next to Blubber by Judy Blume. There was a strange resonance, and I wondered if there could be more esoteric approaches to my schema.

Acker + Blume = Books by and/or about anxious white women. Or perhaps books that made me anxious about white women after reading them.


I could organize them by the time period in my life that they represent for me, or by their read/not read status:

Books I haven’t read since high school.

Books I’ve read over and over every year since high school.

Books I bought in high school but never read.


I did once think about organizing my entire book collection into two large sections. READ and NOT READ. But for some reason that depresses me. I think that’s because my speed and intensity as a reader has diminished significantly over the past several years, even though I collect books at the same rate as I did as a voraciously book hungry child and teenager. I’m not sure what happened. I occasionally blame the internet or cable tv or going to film school. All of these contemporary media driven realities have enabled a short attention span in me (as in many of us), but I’ve been a consummate multi-tasker for as long as I can remember. I used to read books during commercial breaks while eating dinner.

Books have always been a huge part of my life, and as I build this little shrine to my literacy, I’m happy to at least have them here to remind me of my strange habits and particularities as a reader and thinker. Did you know that as a kid I used to make my Dad invent research projects for me so that I could create bibliographies? For fun. This is what I did for fun. I still find bibliography making fun, which is why I teach college for a living. But somehow the intense desire to just read read read has slipped a bit beyond my grasp, and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps I can focus this round of book organization on becoming reacquainted with the patience required to organize them in a way that is pleasing, exciting, and reminds me why they are so special to me.

What else, dear readers, is a chronic book collector to do?

Yours Truly,


And then there were Pasties

Dear 10 readers,

I have neglected this blog for many months as the complex and exhausting process of moving my entire life from one coast to another has rendered my almost completely without creative faculties. However, all is not lost.

As most of you know, (since 1/2 of you are members of my immediate family) I somehow managed to convinced my long term love, Kristina, to move with my from Philadelphia, PA to Olympia, WA. While we know that Olympia has many amazing things to offer (including gainful employment!), there are a variety of things that make us nervous about smallish town life. As lifelong East Coast girls, and great lovers of city life, this move will be something of a culture shock. But we're doing it. Earnestly.

And in the spirit of ritual and transition, we decided to mark our passage across the great United States of America by commemorating some of its natural and cultural wonders in the best way that utilizes our creative gifts and highlights our love for random factoids and kitsch.

Presenting "Pasties Across the Statsies!"

The idea came to me in a flash when I was trying to figure out a way to convince Kristina to drive across country instead of flying. I knew that if we had a project and task to make the hours in the car more bearable, she might go for it. I also knew that she would enjoy an opportunity to show off her crafting and pasty making skills. Oh yeah, and her tits.

We've chosen a series of locations along our route, but we're also leaving ourselves time and space to make changes and additions to our plan.


We've learned a whole lot on this trip so far. For one thing, we've learned that it is really easy to get partially naked in public places without people noticing. We've also learned that when you go on a road trip in the middle of the summer and during a recession, there is lots and lots of road work and detours. And most importantly we learned that fiber-filled road snacks are the secret to road trip success.

I Win! (And So Can You?)

To my very dear 7 readers, I have some amazing news.

I have scored my dream job at the Evergreen State College in Olympia WA. I'll be teaching experimental and non-fiction film and video at a fantastic little public liberal arts college. It's an interdisciplinary college so that means that I get to teach across methodologies and with faculty in a variety of fields. The people are great, the campus is beautiful, and the opportunities for growth are fantastic. Like I said, my dream job. So dreamy in fact that I still periodically check the job boards because I haven't totally convinced myself that it's real.

I'm moving far away from everything I've ever known here on the dirty old East Coast, which is such an adventure for me in so many ways. I am happy, scared, thrilled, nervous, amazed and generally impressed with myself and the universe for this amazing opportunity.

I'm inspired to write a little something about this whole issue of getting ones foot in the academia door based on an interesting post written by this illustrious Julie Levin Russo last year when she landed her first academic job. She muses brilliantly on the strange culture industry that is academia and the challenges faced by young/new scholars. Her conclusions are astutely based in an analysis of how class privilege dictates ones relative ability to "make it" in academia. I couldn't agree more with her conclusions, and I recommend you read her thoughts on this and more over at her blog.

I am, of course, in a slightly different category as an artist navigating academia. In some ways us artists have an advantage, at least in terms of our mindset. As an artist, I've long since given up on the idea that what I produce is anything but a commodity to be traded in one of various cultural marketplaces. We all do it, one way or another. We go on tour, we get commissions, we audition for commercials, we get design gigs on the side, we teach, we beg, we borrow, we steal. Depending on our educations, privileges, and inclinations, some of us end up in Academia. I am one such person.

Some background: I grew up around educators and academics and artists, so my inclination towards this field was somewhat predisposed. There was a moment in college when I thought I'd rebel and become a corporate lawyer or get an MBA, but I figured I'd rather not actually be able to pay off my student loans, so I stuck with art. My father is an artist and scholar working in academia, so its really kind of the family business.

There is a somewhat long and convoluted story that accounts for how I ended up getting an MFA in Film in 2008, which I won't bother to tell right now. But I did it, and then I needed to become employed. Before and during graduate school, I had a variety of jobs, in fields savory and unsavory that paid my bills and kept me in good stories to make art about. After graduate school I decided to really "go for it" and focused all of my energy on doing that wonderfully absurd hustle known as: Being an Adjunct.

And all of the stories you've heard about it are true. I've worked at 4 different colleges and high school media programs in the last 2 years, often all at the same time, and still made less than I did with one job as an Administrative Assistant before graduate school. I had no job security, no health benefits, almost no formal career development or supervisory support, and little to no collegiality. More than anything, I had a general sense that I was a disposable commodity in the minds of the administration(s) of the school(s) I worked for. As in, if I walked away angrily, I could be easily replaced. And now that I'm leaving this life behind, I will be, by people who are just as (and often more so) qualified and hard working.

Also, I loved it. I happen to love teaching. I happen to think it is fulfilling, exciting, and fun. It's a creative job with lots of flexibility and autonomy. It's a job that connects you to people while they are exploring ideas and dreams, which is dreamy. I came to appreciate the fact that my life changed all the time. With a total lack of job security came new people, new places, and new challenges all the time. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Now, my ability to find joy in this crazy lifestyle was facilitated largely by the stability provided by living with my consistently employed partner of five years in a house with a tiny mortgage. She works for a company that provides domestic partner benefits, and she had faith (thanks love!) in my ability to eventually come out with a better job. (Class privileges come in many many forms, yes they do.) So, I built my CV, both in teaching and in my art practice. I worked on projects new and old, updated my website, kept up my contacts with other artists, did activist work with organizations that I cared about, got to spend time with my family, and managed to live a pretty good life. I had time to go on the academic job market 2 years in a row, applying to around 40 jobs that resulted in 7 phone interviews and 5 campus interviews. There were close calls, near misses, bad fits, and tragic outcomes. My anxiety was in constant overdrive, and my therapist worked hard for her sliding scale fee. And then about 3 weeks ago I got a phone call over dinner with a fellow hard working artist. We were actually in the midst of talking about how badly I wanted this job at Evergreen. And then I got it. And now everything changes.

I never ever have to do the adjunct hustle again. If I'm savvy and committed in this job, I have the opportunity to stay there for a long time which means continual fulfilling work in a place that will support my creativity and teaching ability. I get to take summers off to work on my own art practice (and personal well being.) I get to be one of the "chosen few." There are lots of artists who have no desire to be in academia, and even more who will never have access to its comforts regardless of their personal inclinations. I'm not going to attempt any deep contemplation on the deeply complex class issues that impact artists more broadly in this little missive.  I feel more equipped to consider the fact that even for those of us who have the privilege and desire to commit ourselves to the false meritocracy that is academia, eyes wide open and willing to do it just for the sake of creativity, inquiry and exploration... Even for us, this system is fundamentally flawed. I'm not saying that I didn't work hard or that I don't deserve to be where I am. I didn't lie, cheat, or steal to get this job. But this isn't a simple equation of smarts + experience + dedication + education + talent = job. Like every other person trying to survive capitalism I had to find the right way to sell the commodity that is ME, and enter into an industry that is barely willing to acknowledge the fact that it is, in fact, an industry!

As cultural producers and service providers in colleges and universities, academics are workers (of a peculiar  and highly privileged sort, no doubt, but workers nonetheless.), and it behooves us to continually evaluate our labor, evaluate our relationships to management, strengthen our relationships to other workers within our industry and in all industries, and work hard to remind ourselves and everyone around us of the structural inequities that impact our ability to work with dignity and fairness. I'm writing this as a reminder to myself that I have "moved up in the world," but that I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking "well, that's just how it's done." In addition to the lie of meritocracy, academics of all stripes, and perhaps artists in particular, participate in the lie that it's ok to let junior scholars and artists put up with this mess because we had to put up with it! Graduate school, post-graduate school, and junior scholar status is like a 10 year long hazing ritual for the overly educated. What are the implications for academia if it continues on in this way? What does it mean for undergraduates, future scholars, and the production of new knowledge and art in academia if only the strongest (and most class privileged) can survive? Does it have to be this way?

So my dear 7 readers, what are the alternatives? I am here as an artist in academia because I actually do believe in art and education for its own sake. I believe that it is important and worthwhile, and I believe that it is worth investing my time, energy and smarts in, despite all its flaws. Maybe the 8 of us can come up some ideas on how to make it better, for everyone.

Yours Truly,


What happened to all the food?

My dear 6 readers (I just found out today that there's another one, and in Olympia Washington of all places! Awesome!), I've gotten a bit behind with my food posting, and while I'd like to blame my camera (sorta true) I actually just have to blame my total lack of discipline (more true) I fully intend on getting back on the bandwagon, especially since I've been totally inspired by some interesting fat positive media out there. One thing that everyone in the world, and especially the 6 of you, should know about, is Fat Dinosty. Erin Remick is a complete and total genius living in Portland, OR. She makes various kinds of media, but I'm especially in love with this amazingly cute and funny project about cute fat animals trying to live and love outside of ridiculous body fascism.


I also recently received the first issue of Eat Me: Queer Food Porn. It is really funny, smart and hot. While I have made occasionally cynical comments on the resurgence of 'zines as a form (I recognize that they have contemporary relevance, but I can't help but wonder if there's some sort of strange early 90s nostalgia going on, which I'm generally suspicious of), they do suit my increasingly short attention span. Also, this one has recipes. Yum.

Ok, this has made me resolve to get back into it. I'll fight the good fight! I will photograph my food!

Yours Most Truly


Light to Dark

This morning (ok afternoon) I made my favorite breakfast of poached eggs, toast and sliced pink grapefruit. This is a meal that always feels robust and nurturing. There are food groups. The day can be started correctly. So even though this was a somewhat lazy day, it still felt like a substantial day.

I felt so inspired by my breakfast in fact, that I decided to go for a swim. Now, my dear three readers, contrary to popular belief, writing a blog about ones art and being an adjunct at a state university doesn't actually pay all that well. So instead of swimming in the indoor pool in my mansion, I downloaded a free 2 week pass to a place called Aquahab and Aquatic Fitness Center. While there I swam some laps in the Olympic sized pool (heated to 85 thanks very much), and then soaked in the gigantic whirlpool for a while. I showered and dried myself off in the sauna listening to middle aged ladies discuss their compulsions for chocolate, gambling and booze. I felt right at home.

When I got back to my house, I decided to bake my world famous rosemary-olive oil-balsamic-salt-pepper chicken legs. However, about 5 minutes after I put the chicken in the oven, all the lights on my block went out. My stove is gas, but the pilots are electric. I couldn't figure a way to light my stove, so instead of baked chicken, I had non-battered fried chicken. It was difficult to figure out when the chicken was done since I had all of 5 candles to light the entire dining room and kitchen. But it made for a nice picture.

Yours Truly


This is downright pornographic

I seem to be getting better at this whole food photography thing. This meal was delicious, but it looks even more so in these pictures. Poached Eggs, Goat Cheese Grits, Kale Sauteed with Shallots, Sliced Tomato. The tomato was actually a late addition to the plate. I've found that my desire for color in my compositions is doing wonders for the vitamin content of my meals. Yummy.

Yours Truly


Chop Chomp Chop

I seared this center cut, bone-in pork chop with a combination of canola and sesame oil, and then sauteed sliced almonds and chopped pears in the same pan. The pears and almonds went over greens that I drizzled with a bit more sesame oil and seasoned rice vinegar. This is a rare meal that I make just for one because Kristina doesn't eat mammals. Her loss.

Breakfast of Champions

Dear Readers, For those of you who know me well in the real world, you won't be surprised to find out that I rarely see the day before 9am, so the fact that I was up at 7am this morning to make breakfast for my special lady friend is quite the feat. I have gotten into the habit of photographing almost every meal that I make, and this morning was no exception.

Toast, Eggs Over Hard, Tomato, Grapfruit Half, Tea in a Pink Cup. This particular meal is one of my favorites, though I haven't indulged in quite a while, mostly because grapefruits are somewhat expensive to come by. The eggs are over hard, which my lady friend didn't appreciate so much, but made me quite happy. The photograph is pretty good, don't you think? I think I've got the whole DIY food design thing down pretty well. Doesn't it all look so casual, yet perfect, yet appropriately rough around the edges? Yep, just like everything else in my life.

The photograph doesn't show that I attempted to read a conversation between Miranda July and James Franco in the Panorama Book Review over that meal. While I am not afraid to admit that I think they are both swell, I found the article far too precious on so little sleep. (Like, we get it. You're artists and you dropped out of college and you're quirky because you're artists. Oops Naima, that's really snarky. I'm supposed to be all earnest and stuff here.)

Anyway, I made it half way through the article before I decided to start editing the photos I've been taking. I'd like to be a really diligent performance artist or whatever and show you how exhaustive my work has been, but I really only want to show you the ones that came out well. Because, you know, I like things that are pretty.

This one of strawberries was taken on Boxing Day, Jan 26, and was one of the first that I took. I discovered early on that my kitchen, while small and often dirty, is a pretty good place for taking photos during the daytime. The light is quite nice. This meal is sliced strawberries with plain yogurt, quinoa, and maple syrup.

I got the idea to start photographing my cooking during a fit of creativity brought about by the fever and clausterphobia while I spent 10 days sick in bed with an ear infection that wouldn't die. Some of the ideas that I jotted down during those late night sweaty revelations were entirely horrible, but this one is pretty good. I like making food, and I like taking pictures. This is by no means original. I also like looking at pictures of food, especially on the internet. There is also another project in the works related to this that may be more original, but I'm feeling content with the simplicity of joining the ranks of online food enthusiasts.

The baked acorn squash was part of a dinner that I cooked for me, the lady friend, and two friends who came over for a "double date." I'm not used to such things, so I went all out with the cooking. Also on the menu was: Baked Tilapia, Beet and Greens Tossed Salad, Hoppin' John (minus the pork), and Portuguese Green Wine. I think we had ice cream for dessert. The baked pear in the middle is covered in cinnamon and garnished with plain yogurt and maple syrup. Winter makes me want to bake. Last but not least are my famous chocolate chip coconut peanut butter cookies. Winter makes me want to bake a lot.

So dear readers, please enjoy the fruits of my labor and stay tuned for more.

Yours Truly,


A Burst of Color Asked to Carry So Much

I showed my History of Race and Ethnicity in US Cinema class Six Degrees of Separation towards the end of this semester. I saw this film when it first came out, or very soon after, as a teenager. I understood it on a deep and visceral level, as it accounted the story of a fraudulently affluent young black man who found his way into the worlds of wealth white New Yorker's by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. More than that, he affected the tone, gestures, poise and intellect of a black person who lived as both insider and outsider to worlds of privilege. I identified strongly with this message, and with the central character, but found myself strangely angry with the film.  It seemed that while Will Smith's character, Paul, had extraordinary power over the white characters who took him in, he was ultimately just a tool of the narrative. I remember having a similar anger when I read my first post-modern novel Thomas Pynchon's V., around the same time. The title character is a mysterious dark-skinned woman/entity who means so much to so many people; an exotic foil fulfilling all necessary sexual and intellectual needs for the distraught white characters who so deeply crave connection to the visceral, to creation, to the "real." I remember reading it in my prep school dorm room (yes, I'm that girl), loving the eloquence and complexity of the prose so much that I couldn't put it down at 3am, but periodically throwing the book across the room as my only possible reaction to my frustration with its profound symbolic exploitation of dark-skinned figures. In Six Degrees, Paul is a charismatic, young, gay black man, who predictably disappears and is presumed dead by the final act of the film, which leads to an (unnamed, it's an art film after all) epiphany on the part of the central character, Ouisa, played by Stockard Channing. Paul, like so many black characters before and after him, is the catalyst and vessel of change and learning for the white characters around him, rather than someone who is able to achieve viable change for or within himself. They chase him, learn from him, take comfort in and learn lessons from his dark and mysterious wisdom...

He is the epitome of the Magical Negro.

Now, arguably, John Guare is making some level of commentary on this very phenomena within the film (and in the play on which the screenplay is based), by attributing Paul's sublime manipulative powers to his ability to recognize the white guilt of his wealthy white targets. It is not an accident that he chooses Sidney Poitier to impersonate. As Ouisa points out, Paul's father isn't just any movie star, he is Sidney Poitier, "Barrier breaker of the '50s and '60s." He is the son of Sidney Poitier, a man with such poise, such grace, and such quiet rage. He is always in control, until someone pushes him just a little too far. He is always well dressed, well spoken, tough, stoic, intense, searing, and always ALWAYS so incredibly dignified.

Soon enough, my dear 5 readers, I'm going to embark on a project of watching every single Sidney Poitier film I can get my hands on, chronologically, from Now Way Out 1950 to The Jackel 1997. I've had a quiet obsession with Mr. Poitier for quite a while, so I figure now it is time to make it a bit louder.

Sidney Poitier originates so many things, and I can do nothing but marvel at his star image. From a distance, I've imagined him to be something of the original Magical Negro (or at least of the Civil Rights Era), as he fulfills so many extraordinary needs for his audience and white co-stars, but does so with this constant sense of quiet frustration. Interestingly enough, his Oscar Winning performance for Lillies of the Field came out in the same year as Pynchon's V., 1963, when my parents were teenagers struggling to become the kind of intellectually well heeled black folk who could send their daughter to prep school on scholarship 30 years later so that she could have the profound opportunity to throw a Thomas Pynchon book across the room.

Naturally, this makes me want to look closer at Mr. Poitier.

I worry constantly (not just in this project, in everything I invent) about creating my own Magical Negros. I need mythic figures to carry meaning for me just like everyone else. I've imbued sexless drifters with magical wisdom to central characters. Granted, the first and last time I did this overtly, it was in the form of a giant purple hippopotamus named George, and thankfully no-one ever saw that play. I'm trying to look closely at this phenomena, but I sometimes fear that I'll just become more clever in ability to exploit. As I chase down Sidney Poitier, I will try not to cast him as the placeholder in my need for emotional or spiritual wish fulfillment. Our Sidney is more than just a placeholder.

This weekend I finally saw the film, Children of Men. This dystopian action/road movie stars Clive Owen as a sort of "everyman" named Theo who gets dragged into a quest to protect and transport a young woman named Kee to safety in 2019 Britain. The particular apocalypse that's slowly bubbling around the characters has been brought about by global infertility (of unknown origins) that has caused mass chaos and civil unrest. Britain has one of the only functioning governments, and refugees are flooding borders constantly seeking safe haven, only to be placed in jails and atrociously violent refugee camps. Kee, a refugee from an unamed part of Africa, turns out to be pregnant, and her unborn child represents incredible power, hope and possibility for the future. The ensuing story is deftly told, and one can't help but notice that virtuosity of director Alfonso Cuarón's use of long-takes in complex action sequences. He is a very very clever exploiter.

For you see, one can't help but notice that Kee is an extraordinary example of the Magical Negro. She's literally carrying everyone's hopes and dreams in her belly. She thankfully doesn't die or disappear at the end of the film, and she does manage to have some personal will distinct from the needs of those around her. She doesn't impart too much magical wisdom, though that role is generally given to the males of the Magical Negro species. Men impart and occasionally heal or protect. Women are vessels, and often unknown carriers of their magic.

But I digress. The point I'm making here is that Kee isn't a particularly egregious example of the Magical Negro. She's no Michael Clark Duncan in The Green Mile, or Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost or Morgan Freeman in almost every role he's had in the last 20 years (other than his Black Detectives, 'cus that's a whole different story.) The Green Mile actually had me laughing through most of the film, despite the fact that it's largely a melodrama, because Michael Clark Duncan's John Coffey is such a Magical Negro that he has the power to literally remove the suffering from a white man's penis with his beautiful black bare hands. He teaches them all such wonderful things about themselves. And he saves a little white girl if memory serves.

And then he dies.

Luckily for me, Sidney Poitier is neither dead nor actually Magical, though I have as much chance of meeting him as I have of curing all of my weird middle class black kid anxieties just by watching his movies.

Yours Truly


When Research Becomes Dangerous

For the last few years I've had that iconic image of a man sitting in his basement apartment illuminated by 1369 light bulbs from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I have been thinking about ways to interpret that image or use it as a jumping off point for some new work. Still pre-occupied, as I am, with using (or else losing?) my hard earned skills as a photographer and cinematographer, my first thought was to stage the image in some way, and then take a photograph or make some sort of short film. Alas, someone smarter and more famous than I has already done so.

Moments like these inevitably make me curse my ignorance when it comes to contemporary art (apparently Jeff Wall is famous), and cause me to massively doubt my ability to avoid being derivative. Which is funny, given that the project inherently asks for such scrutiny as a remake/re-rendering of one of the most famous works of African-American literature.

Today while doing my research, I didn't give up entirely, though my pluck seems to have diminished. I'm not surprised or overly annoyed that I'm so sensitive to such things. I'm a young, struggling artist and while wide fame and fortune aren't my largest goals, I do have to consider my work in relationship to those working in similar fields. I'm more bothered by the fact that I've started to think about potential project in the context of how they might seem to people who might hire me to teach. Again, I'm not naive; I know that this matters. But academics are a small corner of my already miniscule audience, and if I'm going to focus outward in any way, it seems more pragmatic to think about my creative, political, social, personal and academic circles as a whole.

But even as I read this, I'm struck by this whole concept of "audience." What do I need from an audience? Validation? Press? Feedback? Funding? Love?

Not to worry my five whole readers. I haven't given up hope. I'm just trying to gently nudge myself out of this creative slump that I seem to have entered since leaving the not-so-gentle embrace of graduate school. I think that the only way to do this is to get over myself and just keep making things.

Easier said than done.

Yours Truly


Let Us Give Thanks

Ah, Thanksgiving. Another U.S. holiday celebrating mass slaughter, filled with made up traditions (it was duck not turkey), and grotesque consumer tie-ins. I've always thought that the term Black Friday derived from the various plagues given to indigenous people after eating with the colonists. Apparently the term was an invention of the Philadelphia Police in the mid 1960s to describe all of the traffic and chaos in Center City. Leave it the Philadelphia Police to come up with all the best stuff. However, my dear readers (there are now 5 of you! That's something to be thankful for!) Thanksgiving is the only one of the thoroughly imperialist/quasi-Christian holidays that my family has ever had any use for. There was the occasional trip to see Fourth of July fireworks on the Charles River when we lived in Cambridge, but I always just forget about Columbus day until it comes up and bites me on the ass. I don't recall anyone trying to convince me that Santa was actually real, or that our lives were especially influenced by the birth of Jesus.

But as a child, Thanksgiving often involved a trip to see relatives or a big dinner with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, and pie. We're sweet potato people, not pumpkin people. And we prefer talking and maybe going to the movies to watching football. We thank each other for our blessings for the year, which include good health, proximity to loved ones, creative abundance, and many moments of pure joy.

Our gathering will be small. Just me, my mother, my great-aunt, my sister, my niece and my girlfriend at my mother's 2 bedroom flat in Cambridge. My mom will do most of the cooking, and it will be good. After major turkey take-in, the girlfriend and I might go to a movie. Over the rest of the weekend we'll visit my father in Somerville and we'll visit my girlfriend's family in Rhode Island. There will likely be some sort of minor family drama to observe/participate in through a haze of white wine. My niece will be overwhelmed to meet her "cousins," my girlfriend's 6 nieces and nephews. I will make the sweet potato pie, from my grandmother's recipe.

Have you noticed the snide tone melt away, my 5 whole readers?

Yes, me too.

Yours Truly Naima

In a way, we're all String Theorists.

In the last six months or so, I've heard the following phrase several times from several different people, and it has made me thoroughly cranky: "In a way, we're all Artists." Now, all three of you reading know that my art practice features a mix of more rarified, highly skilled pieces and things that explicitly reject the idea of art as something created outside ones everyday existence. The three of you may also know that in the realm of "media arts" I'm thoroughly interested in understanding the impact of various institutional modes of creation and how they shape/are shaped by the creative people around them. As in, I'm just as amazed by YouTube celebrities as I am by Julie Dash as I am by Peter Greenaway as I am by Kara Walker delving into film and video in her recent work.

I'm also invested in debunking the notion of "artist" as a category reserved for cultural elites (I am in this category, so this is a tricky thing to debunk), and those who otherwise have "time to kill" while normal people are stuck getting real jobs. And I'm often exhausted by reminding myself and others that ideas of "good art," bad art," "fine art," "political art," "trained art," "outsider art," "community art," "conceptual art," "craft," etc etc are entirely coded by class, access and cultural hegemony. Each of these modes of cultural production has their own sets of institutional norms and practices, and are impacted by the flow of capital and aesthetic/political position relative to the cultural elite.

And yet, when I hear people say "Well, we're all 'artists' in our way," I get annoyed.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I'm trying to pay off my art school loans on a working artists' salary, (actually, on an art teacher's salary, because most artists actually get to also be at least three other things in order to stay afloat). But the statement "We're All Artists" feels so disingenuous at times, especially when I hear it from people who have well-paying, middle class/upper middle class jobs in specialized fields that require their own type of training and experience. What would happen if I was talking to a civil rights lawyer about their work and said, "Well, we're all Civil Rights Lawyers, in our way, right?" or "We're all Labor Organizers in our way" or what about "We're all Cardiologists, in our way"?

I get that there is artistry and creativity in everything that we do, but I also feel protective of those of us who bust our asses on the daily to operate as artists. In capitalism, most artists are expected/have to more or less give their work away. There are a few who become art stars, receiving critical and financial success within one of the various art markets. But most of us essentially create work in the interest of being able to continue to make more work. Our labor is vastly devalued, regardless of whether we've received specialized training, had lives of privilege, or feel entitled to the word "artist" in the first place. And unfortunately this model is just as prevalent (if not more so) within progressive circles. How many times have we heard people talk smack about the amount that artists charge for their work, or about having "sold out" by getting a contract with a major record label or film studio? Or how often do we, as people interested in social justice, expect our artists to only speak from a very specific polemical political position, or to otherwise justify their existence by the work's ability to be commodified by the movement?

So yeah, it feels like a slap in the face to hear that everyone/anyone gets to be what I've (and many many many others, who have had even fewer tangible markers of success than I have) fought tooth and nail every day to become.

And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because in the interest of making a decent living, I'm using the creativity and artistry of teaching as my main source of actual income, and this work takes up more of my time than I'd like to admit.

So tell me, my three dear readers. Am I just being a snob with a chip on her shoulder, or should I start to find ways to address this issue among my peers?

Yours Truly, Naima

Teaching, Learning, (Making A) Living

There's an article today in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Adjunct Awareness Week at Temple University. The actions are organized by the Adjunct Organizing Committee. I am theoretically a part of this organization. As in, I'm an adjunct at Temple University, and I am interested in fair labor practices, and I'm on the email list. However, I haven't been to an action or a meeting in for as long as I can remember. I get pangs of guilt every time I hear about the paltry protests, because I know that this matters, and that I am as frustrated as many of my peers about the poor working conditions. But it's a total Catch-22, because going to those meetings and seeing those protests can almost make me feel even worse, because they are so poorly attended. It is hard to make the case that Adjuncts are demanding better conditions when only (according to the Inquirer article) 10 people show up to the protest. Cue the guilt. For those of you who don't know, as an Adjunct, I have no job security, no benefits, very little access to professional development, no office, no real support from my department, and the pay is well... BAD. I do it because I happen to like it, and because, frankly, even though I've applied like hell to all manner of other full time positions, this is what I've got going on in this economy. I don't think I'm alone in this particular scenario. So I'm well aware that as an adjunct there are, in fact, very poor working conditions and I know that the University depends on my willingness to work for cheap to maintain its bottom line. The confusing irony, of course, is that while more and more adjuncts are hired to teach, and more and more lay-offs of full time staff occur, tuition keeps going up and up. Read that Chronicle article I linked to in this paragraph. The author explains this stuff way better than I do.

But I digress. I'm concerned with why I, and perhaps other Adjuncts, find it hard to get involved in organizing for better pay and benefits withing our chosen profession. For one thing, I think that there' s a certain complacency built into this system. People enter the land of the "Adjunct' with the expectation that they will move on to something bigger and better eventually (that's certainly what goes through my head), and so getting involved in organizing for better pay and benefits feels sort of problematic/a waste of time. Part of the reason that this system of grossly underpaying large portions of the teaching workforce at a University stays in place is that many of us see it as a necessary evil or stepping stone. Our professors and peers with full time positions all did it, and then found better jobs, so why make a fuss? Of course, many of them got those jobs (and are holding on to them for dear life!) before the current over-crowding of the academic marketplace with highly qualified candidates.

I also wonder if we Adjuncts, who are largely people with advanced degrees (MAs, MFAs, PhDs, etc) find it difficult to think of themselves as "workers." I know that I often internally cringe when I talk about the problems involved with my jobs (yes, multiple, as is the case with most Adjuncts, unless they are independently wealthy). On the one hand I was raised as a good quasi-socialist progressive type who sees the essential flaws in capitalism, supports unions, abhors the treatment of the poor and working class people in our economy, and thus (with requisite middle-class guilt) wonders how I can in good conscience put my over-educated, culturally privileged self into the same category. I know, I know. This analysis is rife with problems, but I think there's something to it! I imagine that many adjuncts have a similar mix of political left-ness, class privilege and (thus) guilt about their position in the world. And I think that my "guilt" may also be a mask for not WANTING to align myself with whatever f*cked up stereotype I have about people involved in labor unions. My family, supposedly, ascended beyond "worker" status, onto become full fledged intellectuals, artists, activists even! And so now, even though I'm nominally employed, and other members of my immediate family are unemployed, underemployed, riddled with debt, facing evictions, etc, I can't help wonder how my ambivalence towards taking part in Temple's organizing is related to my sense of shame in having all this amazing cultural capital, but very little actual capital to show for it.

What should I do my 3 dear readers? Yours Truly, Naima