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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Real or Blasphemy

…no one in the New World whose one God is advertised as dead can believe in innumerable gods of another life. Those gods would have to be an anthropomorphic variety of his will. 
I am an insecure creative, which means to me that vulnerability is a necessary tool for good writing. My insecurity comes from abandonment, even as I lived among people who failed to see me. I am grateful though, because without my flaws and past feelings of powerlessness, I would not be able to self truth-tell, today. 

In the process of writing, doubt enters gladly in a questioning, re-questioning, digging, self-discovery garb, a literary flagellation of sorts. The good news is, it is our own insecurity that finally locates certainty, that marches in wielding the machete that quells doubt.

Insecurity also comes from believing deep inside that any artist can create anything. Back to doubt, this questioning and re-questioning, even though Spirit talks in many languages: poetry, prose, fiction, memoir, theater.

I'm interested in rules, and the possibilities hidden within the slips and slides of language, in spite of rules. I want to know the best writers and why, as well as the not so good writers and why.

Our poets and actors would have not only to describe possession, but to enact it, otherwise we would have not art but blasphemy, and blasphemy which has no fear is decoration.
One thing I continue to notice is that the language of African religions is still regarded as other, a kind of exotic rendering, African continental bits dusted on literature, worthy of clamor, but not penetration, value or esteem.

The most disturbing element is when intellectuals perpetuating this fraud are themselves African-American, Americans.

What does exotic mean, and should blasphemy enter the discussion?

Most black children from my day were raised with adages like, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, as in good God, or oh my Lord, and the quick phrased Jesus, if you pricked your finger or stumbled in the jump rope game. 

So now we are entering the “African” phase with our pathetic African carvings, poems and costumes, and our art objects are not sacred vessels placed on altars but goods placed on shelves for the tourist. The romantic darkness which they celebrate is thus another treachery, this time perpetuated by the intellectual.

Perhaps it’s different today. Perhaps sprinkling scripts and poems with catchy  Òṣun and Ẹlégbá phrases, for example, is 
Dancing for Òṣun
groovy because to the offending writer, Òṣun and Ẹlégbá are not quite holy. Maybe imitation holiness has inspired the rise in this kind of irreverence, excused and accepted because of a perceived ancestral privilege infused with schizophrenic-like voice-over schisms. What must writers do then, when the roots of inherited cultural languages are/were enemies? What of creative privilege as relates to sacrilege? What is the root cause, the intention behind a writer's appropriation, sprinkled with the verbose of overdosed cinnamon on French toast?

Ogun Dance with Sakara Drums

Ileke for Ogun
CR Bailey, 2013

…for us Afro-Christians, the naming of [Ògún] estranged him. Ògún was an exotic for us, not a force. We could pretend to enter his power but he would never possess us, for our invocations were not prayer but devices. The actor’s approach could not be catatonic but rational; expository, not receptive. However, Ògún is not a contemplative, [He is] a vengeful force, a power to be purely obeyed. 
Cloth for Ògún
Cathleen Bailey, 2009
Photo by Karen Gregory

Inspiration: What the Twilight Says, Derek Walcott

Friday, October 17, 2014

From Thuggee to Thug

As artists, we work into the pieces, adding, subtracting, setting aside, revisiting, discarding, and proceeding.
--L.K. Ludwig

It is amazing how one thing leads to another. For instance how language turned stagnant becomes obsolete. Conversely, language whose roots are watered, and history celebrated and remembered, allows for the continuation of meaning, sometimes fueled by contemporary unconscious, yet inherited, visualizations and interpretations.

             Barton Lidicé Beneš
Book arts, also known as artist-made-books is realized through creative activities such as cutting, pasting, sewing, painting, stapling (to name a few verbs) and binding to achieve containers that mimic, but stretch beyond, the look of commercially published books. The resulting vessels may include journals, altered books, sketchbooks, three-dimensional pieces and other expressions.

L.K. Ludwig’s Collaborative Art Journals and Shared Visions in Mixed Media documents how book arts, usually a solitary endeavor, lead artists from strictly individual views to community partnerships. Ludwig writes:
What is true about all of these collaborations is that they offered the opportunity to explore a shared vision, to examine a topic from a variety of artistic viewpoints, to work on a common theme with one’s individual artistic style, and to reach out to other artists to create a global community. (Ludwig 8)

One interesting collaboration included in Ludwig’s documentation is called The Capolan Exchange. This group of artists, led by Red Scott, found inspiration for their project in Nick Bantock’s Capolan: Travels of a Vagabond Country Artbox.

Says Scott, “I mean, a vagabond country of people with odd traditions, costumes and history. It seemed perfect for art concepts and stories,” (Ludwig 91).

I, too, was intrigued. Not by wrongly attributed “vagabond” that really means tramp, drifter, beggar; oddity; or the notion of costume, but by this tingling sensation of other, those cultures and belief systems that stand out as different from usual or common.

Nick Bantock’s Capolan is packaged as an artbox, replete with commemorative booklet, postcards and stamps, and was commissioned by the Postmaster General of Capolan to commemorate the country’s 650th anniversary. The resulting artbox is beautiful. What I found most intriguing is Capolan history.
The Black Death demolished half the population of Europe…many people who fled from the ravages of the plague found themselves roaming the countryside…one such group, the predominantly female survivors of a plague-decimated Lubeckian village, encountered…a band of aesthetes, scholars and holy men recently cast out of Egypt for their eccentric beliefs…within a few years the valley had become the home to many a distinctive looking child. (Bantock 12)

This new culture named themselves the Capolanians, “after Mikal Capolan, the longest surviving of the original holy men. . .” The Capolanians are subjected to continued cultural and religious persecution. The initial attack, by a group of Moravian mercenaries, provoked and established the Capolanian nomadic reality that lead them from “Poland to Danzig, from the Adriatic to the China Sea and back again, west to Spain, east to Switzerland, across to the United States, and finally back to the European heartland…” (Bantock 13).

As to inherited unconscious visualization, as well as etymology and heroes, in 1709, as Capolanians traveled through India, they found themselves being attacked by a group of Thuggees. 

Atta Dijjo, realizing the precarious nature of the rope bridge used in their escape, “grasped the two halves of the separating bridge…As his people clambered over him to safety…” (Bantock 25).


Here we have Atta Dijjo, “fondly known as Atta Boy,” and Thuggees, often referred to as “history’s most notorious and deadly criminal cult.”

In 1967 the Capolanians, in response to “political and existential pressure” removed themselves and the nation of Capolan from all maps so that they are subjected to “fickleness of nationalistic intolerance” no longer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Celebration of Children's Books

Sometimes jewels are hidden in common places, like Family Dollar, where I found a 4-movie DVD that included Honeydripper (Danny Glover, Charles Dutton & Vondie Curtis; written, directed and edited by John Sayles); Sophie and the Moonhanger (Lynn Witfield, Patricia Richardson); Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad (Courtney B. Vance, Tim Reid, Glynn Turman; written by Diana Braithwaite, Nancy Trites Botkin & Peter Mohan); and NightJohn (Lorraine Toussant, Allison Jones, Beau Bridges; teleplay by Bill Cain, based on the book by Gary Paulsen).

Honeydripper is the classic what we need is a good musician for this juke joint, story. The action is slow, somewhat predictable, but Danny Glover and Charles Dutton command stage and screen. In that regard, Honeydripper kept my interest, though I thought the production would be best suited for theater.

Sophie and the Moonhanger is the stereotypical story of the southern white woman/black woman best friend relationship, even though the black woman is the nanny and maid. The black woman provides the experiences by which the white woman can choose the moral high ground, and in so doing, makes the story hers. Lynn Whitfield is always good. I do like Patricia Richardson, also.

Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad is that story; the plot is in the title. What makes this film a little different is Courtney Vance who, although still a slave and riding with his master to catch and return runaways, in the end, chooses differently. In that regard, the film was refreshing because of a more honest representation of this slave man and the twist and turns he chooses.

NightJohn is the one I really want to write about, because this post is a celebration of children's books. The book, NightJohn, was written by one of my favorite authors, Gary Paulsen. The film introduces Allison Jones, who plays the lead role, Sarny, a young girl whose hunger for learning makes her realize that reading also leads to critical thinking. In the end and although punishment abounds, Sarny unravels difficulty and sets up a trick bag for the white slave owners. Everyone should read this book. Gary Paulsen writes mainly children’s books, but he tells good stories, and does not write for specific age groups (although publishers provide age group appropriate notations). Other books I enjoyed by Gary Paulsen are:

  1. Dog Song, a mystical journey for a young Inuit boy bored with the life his community as come to accept.
  2. How Angel Petterson Got His Wings, I laughed.
  3. Harris and Me, I laughed and cried.
  4. The Hatchet series (including Brian’s Hunt, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Winter)
  5. The Beet Fields, Memories of a Sixteenth Summer (autobiographical)
  6. The Crossing, and
  7. The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West. From the Forward of this book, Paulsen writes:
Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Hole in the Wall Gang were a group of train and bank robbers. Because of Hollywood, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, they’ve become known as raffish, almost lovable scoundrels…[but, they] were criminals…stole cattle and horses. They were thugs who attacked unarmed men and innocent women and children.
 The Forward continues:
Bass Reeves
He…was the most successful federal marshal in the history of the United States. He [rode] alone into hideouts containing whole gangs of fugitives to get his man. In these attempts he was the target of hundreds of rounds of gunfire. His hat and clothes were riddled with bullets, his horses were killed…rifles shot to pieces…Miraculously he was never wounded. His name was Bass Reeves. He was an African American.

The following is a list of my other favorite children's books, which include:

Ellen Tebbits, by Beverly Cleary. I read Cleary’s books as a child growing up in the 1950’s. My granddaughter, Renae, read Cleary as well. That time gap speaks to Cleary’s timelessness.

Behind the Mountains, by Edwidge Danticat. I am particularly fond of Danticat’s prose, her emphasis on language and how people marked as “other” find solutions.

The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings and John Henrik Clarke

Daydreamers, by Tom Feelings and Eloise Greenfield

You Don't Even Know Me: Stories and Poems About Boys, by Sharon G. Flake

Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, by Eloise Greenfield

Happy to Be Nappy, by bell hooks (poetry)

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, by Wynton Marsalis. Here is Marsalis celebrating jazz greats and poetic form.

Mirandy and Brother Wind, by Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney. This is the book that got my grandson, Marc, interested in reading.

Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold

The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling (I'm a big fan, what can I say. If you have not tackled this series yet, a great way to begin is audio books. The narrator, Jim Dale, is the best. After a while, you're not listening to the "he said" and "she said" because his characterizations tell you who's speaking.)

Small Steps, by Louis Sachar is sequel to the book and movie, Holes. This book continues with Armpit’s story, his new friend Ginny and former friend X-ray.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein

The Minstrel’s Melody, by Eleanora Tate

I think this post may be ongoing. There are so many other books I'm thinking about, but I have forgotten titles and authors. I broke that profound rule: write down your favorite authors and titles.

I hope you will read some of these book and share with the young people in your families.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

America Celebrates Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell (1900 - 1949)
This year marks the 75th celebration of the film, Gone With the Wind, an adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel. 

The University of Texas at Austin is presenting an exhibit titled The Making of Gone With The Wind (September 2014 – January 2015). The exhibit covers movie rights, the search for Scarlet, fan mail, hair/make-up and costumes. From the online exhibit:
Gone With The Wind was an unparalleled film production at the time of its 1939 release. It was the longest American sound film of its time, one of the first major films shot in Technicolor, and the highest-grossing film for 27 years following its release. The film's producer, David O. Selznick, was rigorous about production aesthetics. He required extensive research from his employees on Civil War fashion, including clothing, hair, and makeup. Selznick expected sensational costumes and vibrant appearances.

In 1999, Leonard J. Leff, writing for the Atlantic, wrote an extensive article about Gone With the Wind. His article covers David O. Selznick, the word nigger, The Pittsburgh Courier, The NAACP, and screenwriter, Sidney Howard, who in a letter to Margaret Mitchell wrote of her black characters: 
. . .the best written darkies, I do believe, in all literature. They are the only ones I have ever read which seemed to come through uncolored by white patronising. . . , 
as well as Mitchell’s written language, including the description of her character, Big Sam: 
. . .his watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled, and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gambolings of a mastiff.

Controversy surrounded the making of the film. Earl Morris, the motion picture editor for the Pittsburgh Courier wrote articles in 1938 about Hollywood’s indifference to non-white actors. The book, Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement, edited by Danielle L. McGuire, documents some of Morris’ articles including, Hollywood Ignores Black Americans; Hollywood Overlooking Sepia Goldmine; Major Film Companies Must Recognize the Negro; and Should Negroes Ban White Motion Pictures.

Morris wrote editorials in the Pittsburgh Courier demeaning the film, and was appalled by the certain use of the “hate word,” and, says Steve Wilson, curator of the University of Texas exhibit: 
Selznick ultimately decided to take that word out of the script....And I think it's really important that Selznick took that word out, because if it had stayed, I think we would be so embarrassed and offended by it that we would not be watching that movie now. We wouldn't be here talking about it today. (NPR
However, removing the word nigger from the script proved complicated and transitioned through many considerations. For example: 
The movie industry's censors ruled only that nigger should not be put in the mouth of white people…[and to] give some consideration to the use of the word darkies…Selznick agreed…certainly, he thought, the black characters could use nigger among themselves. (Leff) 
In the end, darkies and inferiors remained. Nigger was out.

Margaret Mitchell proved to be as complicated as the removal of the word nigger. In a letter to Kay Brown, Selznick's New York representative, Mitchell wanted: 
Three hundred massed Negro singers standing on Miss Pittypat's lawn waving their arms and singing Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home,' while Rhett drives up with the wagon. (Leff) 
Another interesting figure is Susan Myrick, hired as the dialect coach whose mission was to teach black actors how to speak like "the middle Georgia Negro of befo-de-wah days." 

On Butterfly McQueen, Myrick commented, she is "nigger through and through."

Butterfly McQueen (1911 - 1995)


Read the full article, Gone With the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics, by Leonard J. Leff, The Atlantic Online, December 1999.

For perspective, rent Robert Townsend’s 1987 film, Hollywood Shuffle, a satirical (yet accurate) look at the relationship between Hollywood and nonwhite actors, Hollywood’s requirement that black actors perform according to Hollywood’s definition of "black," and the modern, classroom educated, condescending, slave character hidden in title, rank and status, without decision making power.

Visit The Making of Gone With The Wind, the Ransom Center, University of Texas, at Austin through January 2015.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Beginning Tarot, Level I

Radiant Rider-Waite Deck
Beginning Tarot, Level I (BTLI), is an introductory course into the magic of Tarot. Not hocus/pocus magic, rather, the intelligent release of mystery through scholarship, intuition and meditation. Participants realize destiny, and gain insight into charting individual goals.

Using both the original and Radiant Rider-Waite Decks, students will investigate each Card, its meanings, gradations and distinctions. The ultimate goal is that participants observe and understand how these elements converge into a cohesive conversation or Reading.

BTLI is hands-on. We will:
  • touch all 78 Cards,
  • observe and practice one reading per class,
  • play with Celtic Cross and Four Card Spreads,
  • discuss care and feeding of our Cards,
  • explore Spirit Table meaning and construction,
  • understand card placement before and after Readings, and
  • consider divination protocol. 

BTLI begins January 2015 and class dates are January 10, 17, 31; 
February 14, 28; and March 14, 21, 28.

We will meet eight (8) Saturdays at my Pittsburgh 
studio from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Class size is limited to eight (8) students.
Snacks and beverages provided.

Tuition is $160, with full payment due at registration. 
Payment receipt confirms registration.

Refund Policy 
No refunds after January 10, 2015.
Missed classes are non-refundable.

Materials and Location 
Class syllabus, supply list, directions and phone 
number provided after payment. 

If there are questions or concerns not addressed here,
please email me at [mailcrb10 at gmail dot com]

Radiant Rider-Waite Deck

The "fool" or uninitiated steps into the unknown. He has packed light, oblivious to the warnings of his trusty dog, waves crashing, and his precarious next step. He holds one bloom, yet, the sun shines at his back. What will his future hold?

Mystery: the skills, lore, or practices peculiar to a particular activity or group, and regarded as the special province of initiates.

[From Latin and Greek: secret rite, an initiate, to close the eyes]

Radiant Rider-Waite Deck

I look forward to meeting you so that I can encourage your journey into mystery.

Register Here

Margaret Maynard -- Lela Bennett Richardson
About The Instructor
I am Cathleen Richardson Bailey, Olóbàtálá (priest of Ọbàtálá), initiated into the Yorùbá/Lùkùmí spiritual tradition as Ala Ofun (the white cloth of Ọbàtálá)
on July 7, 2001.

My maternal grandmother, Margaret Maynard (1856-1942), was born a slave in Fitzgerald Georgia. She became a HooDoo worker and spiritualist.

My paternal grandmother, Lela Bennett Richardson (1800's - 1958), was a spiritualist and Tarot Card Reader. Her business card is faded. The address and phone number look to be 517 West 146 Street, Apartment 5A, Harlem, New York, TO 2-8799.

I inherited my grandmothers' gifts. My grandmothers encourage and teach me through vision, dreams and whispers.

I love HooDoo, respect its flavor, necessity and ritual. I have been studying and reading Tarot cards for 14 years. Yorùbá/Lùkùmí saved my life and sanity.

Although separate and apart, and each practiced alone and in their own time, all of these spiritual entities define me, make me better.

Ephesians 6-13: Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.