In Focus: What is the Green New Deal?

These days we’re hearing more and more about the Green New Deal and rightfully so.  Given the devastating wildfires along the west coast, which only seem to grow in number and intensity each year in proportion to rising global temperatures, we think that a Green New Deal sounds great right about now. 

But what exactly is it?  What does it entail and is it practical?  We did a little research and were able to iron out some nuts and bolts, say, for your added consideration when casting your vote this year.  So let’s take a look.

The Green New Deal is a congressional resolution, essentially the most comprehensive plan for mitigating climate change and reducing income inequality put to paper by our government so far. 

You can read the official document here.

It was drafted last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, and it takes its name from the New Deal of the 1930s, a series of programs and regulations enacted by President Roosevelt as a means to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. 

It emphasizes that climate change and income inequality are inextricably linked, and that the proposals would cultivate a cleaner environment and create new jobs. 

These proposals include a sweeping national mobilization effort that would be implemented over a ten-year period, one that includes sourcing 100 percent of our power demand from renewable energy and zero-emission resources (e.g. wind, water, solar). 

It calls for the overhaul of our transportation system to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as possible–by investing in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, in affordable and accessible public transit, and in a high-speed rail system.

Additionally, the resolution says it’s the duty of the federal government to provide job training for new workers, particularly those families and communities who currently rely on their jobs in fossil fuels.

 

The Details

But is it feasible?  Can it actually work?  That’s where things seem to get a little tricky.  

Almost 80 percent of America’s power still comes from fossil fuels, a resource that is relatively cheap and plentiful.  Another problem is that the cost of these new initiatives would indeed be expensive, though supporters argue that it’s a cost that would pay for itself in the long run.    

Additionally, as Republicans are equally quick to point out, the Green New Deal would involve a greater government presence in many facets of public life to adequately implement the standards necessary for curbing our greenhouse gas emissions.  In short, it would go against the common instincts and virtues intimately linked with modern American industry, namely less federal regulation and more privatization.  

Now to that point, one might hope that a global pandemic might shift the collective consciousness enough to translate into policy that actually reflects the popular sentiment that we’re all in this together.  After all, when it comes to climate change, that sentiment has never been so true.

The logistical obstacles most often mentioned are the costs and the ten-year timeline.  While the cost of reaching the goals outlined in the resolution would amount in the trillions, the cost of continued inaction would almost certainly amount to trillions more.

While technological experts agree that ten years might be too short a time to achieve the zero-carbon infrastructure outlined, they do agree that 20-25 years is more viable if we get to work now.  

 

Our Take

Something is better than nothing.  While the logistical dilemmas might be valid, specifically whether ten years is too short a time, the simple truth is that we need to try.  

Every time we hear about the threat of climate change–a threat, by the way, that is already here–we naturally begin talking about solutions.  And the solution is basically the same every time, involving each of us making individual sacrifices for a greater more common good.  The Green New Deal is essentially that very realization put to paper and hopefully, ultimately national policy.   

If the fundamental ideas of the Green New Deal seem far-fetched, then it says an awful lot more about us then it does about the ideas themselves.  To throw up our hands and say it’s all a fantasy is to say that we’re incapable of working together to promote the general welfare.

Of course any such notion is nonsense, and a person only needs to look at history to understand why. 

It’s very appropriate that the resolution borrows its name from the New Deal of the Depression.  Then as now, Americans were facing a cataclysmic event that had upended public life for several years, not to mention the looming threat of a second world war.  It begs the question of just how catastrophic things need to get here and now before ordinary people across this land recognize a similar sense of investment in one another.

Despite the logistical issues this new new deal, it’s still the most tangible form of action we have yet realized in addressing climate change through legislation. 

If we cannot succeed in every aspect of it, we might succeed with some if not most of it–and some is most certainly better than none. 

It’s a blueprint, at the very least, a guideline we can follow in the years to come for enacting policy that would provide for a more sustainable environment and equitable society.  Of course that’s no small thing, and we personally put more trust in those who see its value versus those who outrightly dismiss it.

Apocalyptic skies in San Francisco, CA. The lights are still on along the Bay Bridge, which are supposed to turn off after sunrise. Photo by Jessica Christian, San Francisco Chronicle

Portraits of American Music: Bob Dylan

Outside of the various nightclubs in which he’d played throughout the south, few had heard of Robert Johnson in those immediate years following his death.  But that began to change in 1961.   

John Hammond was the head of Columbia Records—the same man who had tried to book Johnson years ago for a bill at Carnegie Hall, only to discover that he’d died just weeks before.  By this time, Hammond already had a few feathers in his cap, having signed the likes of Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to the label.  Now he was overseeing the production and release of King of the Delta Blues Singers, the compilation album featuring those original songs which Johnson recorded inauspiciously some 25 years ago in San Antonio. 

The album would prove to be a monumental influence in the oncoming wave of rock and roll set to sweep the cultural landscape in a couple years. 

One of the first people to hear the record before it was even released was a young artist Hammond had just signed to the label, an unassuming folk-singer mostly known in the Greenwich Village folk revival scene.  

People knew him as the kid who sang Woody Guthrie songs, who talked and dressed like Guthrie, but whatever else John Hammond saw in Bob Dylan seems a bit of a mystery since there were other artists in the neighborhood arguably making a bigger splash at the time. 

Nobody had any real indication that he wrote his own songs.  Not John Hammond nor perhaps even Dylan himself. 

His debut album, Bob Dylan, featured mostly traditional songs—some obscure, others well-known—songs that had been covered and performed various times in the clubs and cafes of Greenwich Village, not least of which included House of the Rising Sun, soon to be cemented as a classic by Eric Burdon and the Animals a few years later. 

Even so, the album made very few waves.  Personnel at Columbia were already regarding the kid as Hammond’s folly, as though he were some pet project everybody could overlook in light of Hammond’s already proven success. 

When he listened to his album for the first time, Dylan later confessed, he was highly disturbed and he immediately felt the need to go out and make another record. 

By this time, Hammond had given Dylan a preview of the Robert Johnson album set to be released by Columbia.  And when Dylan heard it, like so many of his contemporaries to follow, he was greatly affected by the sound.  Yet perhaps unlike his contemporaries—especially those blues-obsessed musicians gearing up in the U.K. who were more entranced by Johnson’s guitar playing—Dylan found that he was particularly drawn to the lyrics. 

He describes it best in his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One:

I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction—themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease.  I didn’t have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them.  I thought about Johnson a lot, wondered who his audience could have been.  It’s hard to imagine sharecroppers or plantation field hands at hop joints, relating to songs like these.  You have to wonder if Johnson was playing for an audience that only he could see, one off in the future.


-Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume 1 (2004)

Just how much hearing Johnson’s music influenced the making of Dylan’s next record, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, can only be guessed; but given Dylan’s own words on hearing the music, it seems at the very least that it might have inspired him to start heading in a more authentic and personal direction, that realizing Johnson’s profound originality might have further encouraged him to veer from covering the old folk standards and start getting serious about finding his own voice.

If so, then authenticity began with staying true to the times in which he lived, when the Cold War was at its peak and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.

Unlike his previous record, Freewheelin’ would mostly feature original songs, songs that would quickly establish Dylan as an early voice in the underground folk revival now spreading across America as part of the emerging 1960s counter-culture.

Blowin In the Wind, the album’s anthemic first track would prove to be one of the most celebrated and recognizable songs in Dylan repertoire, and the number of times it was covered in the ensuing months and years would bear testimony to its cultural and social relevance.

Bob Dylan - Columbia Records - New York City - 1963 - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan in the Studio, New York City 1963 by Don Hunstein, © Don Hunstein

Now, for those readers looking to take their first dive into Dylan’s work, it’s difficult to pinpoint any one song or album to start, but I think one place that’s as good as any is The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, because in many ways, it’s his true first album.  Though his previous self-titled debut did feature two original songs including Song for Woody, a tribute to his hero Woody Guthrie; I think Freewheelin’ marks the beginning of Dylan making his own path, taking those real first steps to becoming the artist he was looking to be.

Now of course, as is the case with Robert Johnson and so many of the artists we’ll be talking about in this series, it’s impossible to capture the scope and influence in an artist’s work in one article, so you can be sure we’ll be revisiting Dylan’s music in many more articles to come.

But in closing, for now, and in honor of these two giants of American Music and on that subtle art of conveying strong emotion and images through seemingly subtle means, here’s the opening verse of one of Dylan’s early songs off Freewheelin’, called Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.

It’s one of my personal favorites, and one in which I think the spirit of Robert Johnson looms quite heavily.

Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It’ll never do anyhow
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’ll be travelin’ on
But don’t think twice it’s all right.

Bob Dylan, ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’

 

 

Quick Tips: Photo Albums

As we continue life in quarantine and many of us spend an increasing amount of time at home, you may or may not have slipped into something of a routine or found yourself doing things to keep you busy or your spirits up.

One thing I’ve found particularly worthwhile is going through photos in my phone.

Now bear with me, because I know it sounds strange. Probably because it is. It’s also a simple way of passing the time which, for me, has proven to be a strong mood booster particularly when things around us seem so uncertain these days.

I take a lot of photos. Probably too many. Maybe I’m a nostalgic person, but I think the habit is due more to the fact that I like to celebrate moments. I take the pictures less as an insurance of not forgetting something, and more as a simple tribute to that singular moment in time.

It’s not that my memory isn’t good, I’m just generally a more visual guy and having the image helps me internalize the moment on another level.

In any case, it leaves me with a fair amount of photos, and while organizing them might seem at first like a tedious job—which it sometimes can be—with the right attitude, it can actually be very gratifying.

If you’ve ever gone through old photos with a family member, maybe old printed copies that were stashed away in a closet somewhere that neither of you had seen in a long time, then maybe you see where I’m going.

I know for me, in those moments, I walk away feeling less nostalgic and more grounded. I walk away with a better understanding of where I come from.

So let’s say I’m go through my photos and delete some, ‘favorite’ others, and as I’m going through maybe I’ll create an album and begin sorting them accordingly. All the while, I’m reflecting on past experiences which–in both subtle and obvious ways–naturally made me who I am.

Put more simply, going through our own history is useful for the same reasons it is going through any kind of history. It helps us better understand and appreciate how we got here. It keeps us grounded. Our feet are more firmly rooted with a greater understanding of self.

And so as we navigate the road ahead, and some of us are pushed to limits we never anticipated, remembrance might prove more valuable, and more necessary than we realize.

I Can’t Breathe

By Ren Michael

I’ve been told to believe in equality
but if that’s reality, it’s never been seen
when you see a color before a human being
and feel like a target every step up the street

you ought to stay home, don’t give ‘em the bait
keep away from the windows, they’re no longer safe
if you’re gonna be out, don’t make it too late
how many more years? how long are we gonna wait?

I don’t care if you’re hip.
I don’t care if you’re woke
I’m not looking to be anyone’s token
I’m so full of rage
I could choke with the pain
I’m looking for a friend
who won’t fade away
like smoke in the rain

how many songs, mantras, manifestos will be written?
you don’t have to leave it to the blowin’ of the wind
we might depend on the poets to express what we know
or say it ourselves in the world that we grow

I gaze outside at that rain breaking ground, and
I won’t abide the same recycled old sounds
I won’t abide fear in my own hometown
Am I ready to lay my destiny down?

Well, I’m done with a discourse of making the rounds.

I don’t claim to know what another man feels
but I have had wounds that never did heal
and you’ll never understand the reason we kneel
until you recognize the wounds as real

I want a country, a home, a creed in which I can believe
A flag and anthem that rings true to me
But I’ve gone too long, unheard and unseen
I’m tired of waiting, and I can’t breathe

Al & Dean: Bleeding and Breathing

Al and Dean are two old friends and neighbors who live across the street from one another. Every so often, they’ll get into a little discussion over things. What follows is one of their more recent conversations.

Dean: Hey Al…

Al: Hey Dean, you’re looking kind of blue.

Dean: You been watching the news?

Al: Yea, sure

Dean: The riots…

Al: Yea well, an innocent man was killed by the police before that.

Dean: I know.

Al: You ought to say something about it.

Dean: What, like the way you do?

Al: No, the way you do.

Dean: I don’t have anything to say, man.

Al: That’s not true. I’ve heard you speak. Granted it was like ten years ago.

Dean: Yep.

Al: You’ve been kind of quiet since.

Dean: Yep. I guess I have.

Al: Why is that? Have you really given it much thought?

Dean: Not that much.

Al: Why do you think?

Dean: I think I’m afraid to admit it.

Al: I’m a friend.

Dean: Yea, I know…

Al: Go ahead.

Dean: You know I’ve always had a problem adding my voice to something that I know to be common sense, an obvious truth. What really could I say? People evidently were failing to grasp that obvious truth anyway, no matter how strong and eloquent people spoke about it, and so I felt like anything I did say wouldn’t make a difference.

And the worst part about it was that I started feeling a little numb to it, to the point that a part of me stopped caring. I even turned a little bitter. For one thing, I figured why should I care about anybody outside my family and friends, anyway? They don’t care about me, and I figured few people in the world actually cared about justice–justice for all people–half as much as they let on anyway. Few people genuinely, sincerely care about a complete stranger.

Al: Well I don’t–

Dean: What they do care more about is being right. They care about shaming and pointing fingers, more than they care about having a real discussion with the other side.

Al: Well, wait a minute. What about those voices on the front lines, the ones you were just talking about, the voices I know you still admire, advocating for social justice–

Dean: And doing so far more powerfully than I ever could. So again, what is the point?

Al: I–

Dean: What is the point beyond reassuring those who already know me that I stand on the side of common sense and decency? What are the chances that my voice really contributes anything of value to the many voices already out there making a difference? Or at least trying their best.

Al: Well, how do you know your voice couldn’t make a difference?

Dean: I know.

Al: Why, because you’re white?

Dean: Well, in the end…what do I really know about the suffering they’re going through?

Al: That might be, but that doesn’t mean don’t say anything at all.

Dean: Ok…but where do you want to draw the line of moral outrage when it comes to the history of this country? Because I tell ya, I think once you start down that path, it becomes hard to stop, or at least harder to draw the line.

Al: Hmm…

Dean: But you know, I’m hesitant to say any more on that last point, even now, because I think the truth of the matter is too frightening for any of one of us to face without falling back into the same…well, the same kind of apathy I experienced.

Al: Right.

Dean: You think I’m a creep?

Al: No I don’t.

Dean: No?

Al: No, and I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. But of course, you’re not right either.

Dean: Ok.

Al: First, I don’t think it’s any big secret that apathy is easier to indulge when you’re white. When the cost of inaction isn’t so directly consequential to you that it could mean your life, or the life of a family member. Black people don’t have that luxury because they experience most directly the consequences of inaction.

Dean: Yea. I agree.

Al: Well, there you see…I got this feeling you’ve already made up your mind about speaking out, before we even started this conversation.

Dean: Yes, I think I have.

Al: Right. I mean, nothing I’ve said so far is anything you don’t already know. George Floyd isn’t the first man to be murdered because of race.

Dean: No, he’s not.

Al: So what’s brought you back to wanting to speak up? What’s brought you back from your apathy?

Dean: I can’t pinpoint one specific cause. I think, for one thing, I needed to listen, and make good use of the time to figure out how I wanted to say certain things before I even said them. There’s a lot of noise out there and it’s only getting louder. And so, I think if you’re going to speak out, you ought to make it count, you know? And to do that, you need to figure out how you effectively carry that message across. It’s worth taking some time to figure that stuff out, otherwise it just blends into everything else and adds to a cacophony of noise, which people get numb to after a while. Anything you say goes unheard, and then you’re back at square one, questioning why you even said anything to begin with.

Al: I see, so practicality was more important than principle.

Dean: Well…yea. I guess so. You think I’m a creep?

Al: Of course not.

Dean: What, you don’t believe me?

Al: I do believe you. I just think it’s an interesting admission. I don’t know that I agree, but I do understand where you’re coming from.

Dean: I’m just still a little mixed up about where to start now.

Al: I’ve got some ideas.

Dean: Let’s hear it.

Al: Ok. First thing is to stop being guilty over being white. I’m not saying that you are, but just in case you are, don’t be, because in the end, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Dean: Well let’s say I was a little guilty. Can you blame me?

Al: Yes I can blame you. It’s the way you were born, so get the fuck over it. Nobody cares. You mentioned before, “What do I really know about the suffering they’re going through?” The answer is “Little to nothing.” But all of us, to some extent, are limited by the sphere of our own life experiences, and we have far less control over that, I think, than we could ever know. The control we do have begins in our ability to listen and empathize. So listen to people. Really listen, so you can truly begin to empathize.

Dean: I have been.

Al: Yes, but not exactly the way you should be, at least it doesn’t sound that way. It’s gonna be hard to keep listening and internalizing the problems of the world if you’re so busy punishing yourself and feeling guilty all the time. Especially when you’re already a good person. Guilt won’t do anything but inhibit you, so drop it. In the meantime, remember that being white does still enable you, for now, with a greater privilege and political advantage in improving our world, so use it.

Dean: Yea. I hear ya.

Al: Alright?

Dean: Right.

Al: Now, the most fundamental thing to remember is that there ultimately is no them or they. Never has been, never will be. Those are distinctions of our own creation, illusions which have led to humanity’s suffering instead of its progress. So I think it’s important to recognize that black people are not them or they. No matter how much we’ve convinced ourselves otherwise…in the end, there is only us. Our society and history tells a different story, of course, but if a behavior is learned, then it can be unlearned, at least enough to make a lasting difference in our institutions.

Dean: Yea…

Al: When I look at any ‘people’, that is, any community in the world, I see them as my people. First and foremost. And they’re my people because they’re people. This is the most fundamental and universal truth.

Dean: Right.

Al: Second, they are American. My countrymen and women. And as such, an attack on them is an attack on me. That is what a country is, and if it isn’t…then it needs to be.

The riots we see are a result of these basic truths being denied for hundreds of years in what is essentially a violation against nature. And the violence will continue so long as people are denied the basic freedom to be what they are, so long as humanity is kept from living in its rightful state before nature, or if you think this way, before God. Living as equals, each serving his or her own vital role in one life-force that is humanity.

Dean: That’s heavy man.

Al: Yea but it’s really simple.

Dean: So you say…

Al: Begin by unlearning the biases we’ve been taught from our friends, family and media. Divorce yourself from prejudice and recognize the act not as political correctness, but as mere reality.

Dean: How do I do that?

Al: Well I think everybody has to find their own way. Some might turn to books and other resources, while others might consult alternative perspectives elsewhere. For others still, maybe people like you, the decision itself might be enough. Again, everybody is coming from their own specific experience and perspective.  I mean, I think it’s important to remember that outside the laws of physics there is no objective reality, only perception and our ability to interpret data as constructive or destructive. To that point, for thousands of years, we’ve experimented with prejudice and the conclusion is that it’s destructive.

Dean: Agreed.

Al: We are responsible for the world we create, so let’s start by creating a sustainable one, by recognizing that we are all equally human, as equally flawed as we are capable of creating something of beauty and of lasting value.

Dean: Then what?

Al: Then we roll up our sleeves and get to work. If there’s someone in your life who harbors their own prejudices, remember that those prejudices are taught. So they can be untaught. Don’t be so quick to condemn that person or judge them, otherwise that person’s ego is going to step in the way and dig them deeper into their beliefs. The same applies to someone who fell into the same apathy you experienced. The conversation might be uncomfortable, but that’s part of doing the work. Simply speak, and stand up for what you believe. You can be respectful and firm at the same time. You may not convince them, at least not that day. But you will have achieved one thing at least, in the name of decency and creating a better world.

Dean: What’s that?

Al: You weren’t silent.

____

Resources to Take Action

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

Short Story: The Rain

A short story, which recalls a conversation between Jose Anselmo de la Cruz and Jude Moonlight, on the day Hurricane Irma hit the coast of Florida.

The rain was beating down hard. I heard it coming down mercilessly as the wind howled outside. We sat in the garage, in the dark, our faces glowing in dim candlelight. Through the door, back down the hallway I heard whispers, and the sound of someone laughing. Maybe they were still playing cards. I heard another cracking and fizzing sound. Someone opening another can of beer.

It was only three o’clock in the afternoon, but it felt like three in the morning. I think most of us had lost all track of time by now. Except for Anselmo. He sat there in front of me still, looking somewhere past me, over my head, as though listening for the slightest change in weather, communicating with it in some strange way. He sat relaxed in his chair, smoking his pipe.

I was starting to feel a little high, but not too much. Whenever I smoked, I never got too high. I had a feeling Anselmo was the same way.

“Some storm,” he said.

“Yea. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

“How old are you?”

“23.”

“23. Yea, so you weren’t alive for Andrew.”

“No, I missed that one.”

“Feels like just yesterday. That was the year after I arrived. We had an apartment in Kendall then.”

“What happened?”

Anselmo laughed to himself a bit and kept quiet. He smiled and let out a long sigh before speaking again.

“My wife and I hunkered down in the bathroom. Next morning, when we stepped outside the door…well, we found ourselves outside, looking right through where the wall and part of the roof used to be.”

“Oh man.”

“Yea, you’re telling me. That was some scary shit.”

He laughed again.

Welcome to Florida,” he continued. “I’m surprised we even stuck around afterward, not that we really had anywhere else to go.”

“What kept you here?”

“We hadn’t been overly fond of Houston or New Jersey, and my wife’s family had all moved down here too. So after the storm, we just moved in with her sister for a bit until we found another apartment. Besides, what the hell, I’ve been dodging hurricanes my whole life. I remember when I was a boy, we had quite a few. Seemed like every summer we’d have one or two, at least.”

“In Cuba?”

He nodded.

“That’s what you get living in the tropics,” he said. “But still, even in Jersey, we had to deal with one. Hurricane Belle, I think it was called. 1976. I’d been living there for three years.”

“You’ve got a good memory.”

“I give it a lot of exercise.”

“Do you think a lot about Cuba? Your memories there?”

His face darkened a little as his eyes shot down to the floor. For a second, I regretted asking the question.

“Well, sometimes I do, sure. Of course. I think about the mountains. The beaches. I miss the streets. The people. Hell, I miss just about everything but the politics. I miss the feeling of writing and at the same time knowing, or at least thinking it was going to make some kind of difference, outside of me getting thrown in jail.”

“Do you ever think about writing anymore?”

Anselmo was quiet for a long time before he shook his head.

“No. No, I don’t think I…No, I don’t. I don’t think I ever will. Just never really got that desire again.

“Yea.”

“For one thing, when I arrived in New Jersey, I barely spoke any English. I learned quickly enough, but by the time I had, I was already keeping busy with other things. My family for one thing. My day job, another. Just blending in, I guess. I got real deep into history. American history. I’ve always believed the most patriotic thing a person can do is study the history of their country. It’s the best way to throughly understand it’s character. You can better assess the present and more intelligently influence it’s future.”

“I’ve always liked history.”

“Yea?”

“Yea, I mean, I never really thought of it the way you just put it, or really thought twice at all about why I even liked it, though what you said makes a whole lot of sense.”

Anselmo smiled. “What part of history do you enjoy?”

“The revolutionary generation I think. You know, from 1776 to the first years after the drafting of the constitution.”

“Sure.”

“I’m not exactly sure why…”

“You know, when I think about the founding of this…republic,” he said. “I see a group of highly flawed, yet intelligent men with a vision. They’re so close it, they can touch it. They hold it right in their hands, you know what I mean? Like some raw orb born right out of the soil, strikingly beautiful for having lived so long in the earth and the mud. But it’s hot. It’s way too hot for them to handle, so they hurl it across a vast wilderness.

“Anyway, I think we, as in subsequent generations, we’ve been looking for it ever since, forgetting a little bit more each day what it even looked like, but we add our own experiences to it as a way of filling in the gaps, for better or worse. Though, in the back of our mind, we know we’ll never quite get there in the end.

“But that doesn’t matter. I think as long as we remember where we come from—enough to hold it close and study it, talk about it, shake hands with it, write and sing about it even—and we do it with a lens wide enough to cover our sins as well as our triumphs…then we’ll survive. But I think remembrance is key. Without that, we’re truly lost. We might as well be swinging in the dark.”

I shuffled in my chair. It was all a little hard to believe. I was thinking about the rioting in the streets I’d witnessed just days before.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Well, I’ve seen a lot of violence lately that doesn’t leave me feeling so optimistic.”

“Yea those clips I saw on the news were pretty disturbing.”

“I’ve had mixed feelings about whether it was all necessary.”

“I see.”

“What do you think?”

“Well…I’ve got mixed feelings on riots, or at least revolutions in general, but I favor them if they’re carried out effectively.”

“Seems like a sensible view.”

“–Though easier said than done.”

“–Even if that revolution is carried out violently?”

Anselmo seemed to think long and hard about the question before speaking again.

“I don’t celebrate violence as a means of action and I never will, for the mere reason that we so often feel it’s even necessary in order to be heard, and create the world we want to see. That, in and of itself is a tragedy.

“However, while I don’t celebrate violence, I do accept why people resort to it as a course of action; and I can’t altogether disagree with its usefulness in calling attention to the problems in our society.

“Now, with respect to recent events…let’s say a business owner’s store gets destroyed by people rioting in the streets. He or she has every right to be angry and resentful. I don’t judge them for it. Yet at the same time, I cannot judge the people who destroyed it either. Their anger is real and is the result of being overlooked and unheard.

“Now, in a situation like this, I think both sides are essentially right. But it’s always been difficult for us to accept that sort of complication. We are used to viewing things in a binary way. We’ve always been more comfortable with black and white. One side being right, and one side being wrong. It’s less messy for us that way. Easier to understand.

“Of course, that’s never been the nature of reality. Some thing’s cannot be labeled so neatly. In situations like these, then, it’s less a question of who is right and who is wrong, and more a question of addressing the root causes of why the whole thing happened to begin with.

“Until the root, systemic causes are addressed, we cannot expect peace.”

“Right,” I said. “But in this case, that root cause is racism.”

“You bet. Something intimately tied to the history of this country.”

“I saw a storefront owner get his whole shop destroyed. I knew him. He seemed like a good guy–”

“I’m sure he was. But that really is a basic universal truth seen in action, isn’t it? Right before our eyes. The truth being that we cannot isolate ourselves any longer from racism and hate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person. If you’re a good person, you’re still vulnerable. The problems of the world will still, sooner or later, come crashing through your window. It’s a testament to the fact that racism is not merely their problem, that is, the problem of any one community. In fact, it’s never been their problem. It’s our problem, one that all of us need to finally own.”

“Ok, so let’s say we own it. Then what do we do?”

“We destroy it.”

“How?”

“By standing up for it’s opposite, and by facing the people who need to be faced. Not online, but by actually facing them. By talking to them, and communicating the truth of our cause in whichever way will most effectively convince them.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“If necessary, we must be ready to defend ourselves and those who need more immediate defending. But never stop trying to speak up, to stand up for the right thing. Communicate always with compassion and basic respect. Violence, ultimately, is a failure of communication.”

“Yea well…sometimes communication just fails.”

“Yes, sometimes it does. But we’ve always had a hand in it’s failure, most specifically when good people do nothing.”

“Yea. I guess that’s pretty true.”

“Yea. It is. So do something. Now.”

canyons at dawn

by Ren Michael

stepping out
from the canyons at dawn
the pain of the world’s
left him humbled and strong
before a breeze
most familiar
and yet brand-new,
he breathes in the view
receiving rhythm and tune

rising from the river
like the birth of the blues
between the symphonic currents
of the beautiful Danube

go with it, friend
and embrace the flow
as you remember again
the things you’ve always known

and never be afraid
for we are one
heart and soul
we’re the bull in the rain,

with a new world to grow

 

Breakfast in Vicksburg

I reached Vicksburg late in the morning, after four days on the road.  It’s known as a historical site of the Civil War, but I knew it as Willie Dixon’s hometown.

The cafe stood on the north end of Washington Street. I sat down and ordered a cup of coffee, a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a slice of tomato.  That’s my favorite breakfast, and that morning I found myself looking for anything familiar, anything that felt close to home. I even missed the morning paper, but then I figured I was probably better without it, at least for today.

During that point in March, we weren’t in full quarantine mode and businesses like this one were still allowing people to come in. About five or six were sitting inside when I arrived, a few gathered around a coffee table in cozy armchairs chatting like any ordinary day, which was fine by me. It was nice to see a little civilization again, especially when I considered that it might be one of the last times for a while.

I don’t think any of us had come to accept how dire things would get in just a few more days. At this point, the consensus was just wash your hands and eat well. Keep the immune system up. Social distancing hadn’t become a thing yet.

Still the feeling of not knowing exactly when I’d be back hit me a little harder than usual, and not just because of everything happening in the rest of the world.

This wasn’t my first visit to Mississippi, nor the second or third. I’d always driven through from California to Florida or vice-versa over the years. One time, only a few years prior, I’d stopped along Highway 61 en route to New Orleans from Nashville and slept just a few steps away from the bank of the river. That was in Rosedale, maybe a hundred miles to the north of Vicksburg.

I wrote a little in my notebook, then finished breakfast and walked upstairs toward what they called the Attic. I heard the faint sound of a piano playing, growing louder as I reached the second floor.

I stood in a vast gallery of vibrant colors, rare antiques and a few old recycled instruments; local art seemingly paying tribute to the town and it’s rich musical heritage.

The man who ran the place sat in his chair and welcomed me in, reminding me to let him know if I had any questions. He sat beside a record player. The vinyl jacket placed beside it. The sounds of the piano came in only a little scratchy, but still clear. Arthur Rubinstein playing Beethoven sonatas.

Much like central Europe, where so many well-known composers lived and worked, Mississippi was the home-state for an equal number of extraordinary American musicians in the early twentieth century. And so like with central Europe, its tempting to wonder at first whether there was something in the water at that time in history.

Here they were now, looking out at me through canvas portraits or old black and white photographs. Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, B.B. King, Albert King, Willie Dixon, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bukka White, Skip James, and John Lee Hooker. All born in Mississippi.

I hadn’t visited many places in the state like this, places that so visibly recognized it’s history. Maybe that’s because there weren’t too many to begin with, at least no big avenues or bustling boulevards remotely close to the iconic and tourist-jammed sites like Broadway in Nashville, Beale Street in Memphis or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

In Mississippi, there were grave sites. A few hidden plaques. A famed highway. Crossroads. And then, there was the river.

I left the gallery and made my way back outside. I turned off Washington and down Grove Street, along the slope that dips sharply down toward the river. Docked on it’s bank stood an old steamboat gleaming in white beneath the afternoon sun. It was empty and left unattended. It looked almost abandoned like a ghost ship that wasn’t supposed to be there, hiding in plain sight. There it lie, some quiet reminder of days long past.

Except they didn’t feel past at all. For me, the past was never really past. I looked out over the river which always has a funny way of reminding me of these things, typically when I need the reminder most. Maybe that’s why I always come back to it. Maybe there is something in the water.

Here the connection between the land and the music is far easier to trace than it might be in the case of Central Europe. For one thing, the origins of the blues lead back to life on the plantation before the Civil War, to the slaves who worked from sunup to sundown, who sang as a way of not simply passing time, but as a critical means of holding onto the humanity they might have otherwise lost.

They had no formal musical instruction, no understanding of theory at all. Still the music sounded as beautiful as anything ever composed under hours of intense professional or academic scrutiny, something that underscores the nature of creativity and how much is informed by human experience over theory, how it may come as much from sheer necessity as intention, if not more so.

The style, as well as the songs themselves were passed on from the slaves to their descendants, through Reconstruction and Jim Crow south, and with every generation the songs, though thematically growing more varied and complex, remained as true to the basic form as it does today.

Though its themes never avoid the harsh realities of life, such as the pain of body or spirit, poverty, jealousy or death itself, the blues frequently acknowledges love, redemption, friendship, travel and hope. Even in the case of those songs of loss–and there are many of them–the very act of singing the songs was and remains an act of survival, a means of recognizing what must be recognized before it can be overcome.

When the train left the station, it had two lights on behind
When the train left the station, it had two lights on behind
The blue light was my baby, and the red light was my mind
-Robert Johnson, “Love In Vain”

Any form of expression that acknowledges life with such a wide and sober lens is bound to stand the test of time, and rightfully so, because it’s language is universal and deeply relatable, it’s music as raw and recognizable as the forces of nature and the land itself.

For me, no other music achieves this as completely as the blues. It is more honest and unique to the history of America than anything else I know, so timeless that it feels elemental. When I hear it, I hear those who’ve come before and those who will follow. I hear the river. I can feel it flowing as gently as it has done for millennia, and will continue to do for generations to come.

It’s significance is made all the more poignant by the fact of its origin, that it was created by the same men and women who built so much of the country as we know it today, who literally laid down it’s foundations.

It’s part of a long tradition intimately tied to the history and character of this land. It is American Music. I remember that every time I play it, and every time I sing.

Somehow, through the strange and uncertain times that lie ahead, it would would help anchor me in a way few things ever could. And though some time has passed since that quiet afternoon by the river, I’m still there.

I never really left.

Issue #4
Q&Co.

P.S. Here’s a playlist
we made for your listening pleasure
Our selection of personal favorites in the blues
We hope you enjoy.

Quarantining Solo

We’re all in a similar situation right now regardless of where we are in the world. Stay at home orders are in place, we’re practicing social distancing and patiently waiting for the world to get back to some form of normalcy.

In the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, which can be scary and even physically difficult for me, I’m here to admit that, after seven weeks into self-isolation, when I thought I was totally fine and could handle it all alone, I had a debilitating panic attack. 

Let me preface by saying I’ve never had a panic attack or anything remotely close to one before.  I have even judged others for saying they’ve had one because I never understood the severity of it until now.  It was, by far, the scariest day of my life.  

I’ll spare you the play-by-play details of the experience and sum it up for you like this:

After beginning to feel out of breath while driving, I pulled over to try and slow it down. Then, all at once, I couldn’t control my breathing at all, my heart was pounding harder and faster than I’ve ever felt, my vision began to blur and I could barely feel my body.

For the first time in my life, I thought, “something is terribly wrong and I might be dying.” I began to think about my life, all the people I love the most, my dog waiting for me at home,  that this might be the end and that I was going to be found alone in my car on Vermont Ave. 

Clearly that was not the case, and I later understood the reality of what had happened. I suffered a panic attack.

Thankfully, my boss was nearby and was able to drive me home where I proceeded to stay on the couch for the rest of the day, feeling completely drained and weak. 

This is all difficult for me to admit, and I honestly didn’t really take time to process much of the experience until the next day, after some much needed rest.

For one thing, I’ve always considered myself the “strong friend.” The person my loved ones can seek out to fill their cup, to consult for advice, to whom they can vent whenever they’re going through a bad time.

Even now, with the stress of a global pandemic changing our lives, I’ve had friends and family tell me how “brave” and “strong” I am to be handling everything on my own, but I never really felt like it was that big of a deal.

“I’m fine,” I thought.  “I can handle this, I’m strong and independent and this is all temporary anyway.”

Though this whole experience was definitely a surprise for me, it’s not too hard to understand why it happened. I realize now that I’ve been overburdened and stretched so far thin that my body just broke down. I’ve been doing this whole quarantine alone for the last seven weeks, separated from my partner, my family and my closest friends.  In the midst of these uncertain times, I’m still working full-time, maintaining a home, taking care of my dog and still trying to take care of myself and my own mental health. Reality check, I DON’T GOT THIS LIKE I THOUGHT I DID.

It pains me to admit that I can’t handle it all, that I can’t be superwoman all the time, that maybe sometimes I have to say, “I need help, I need support.” Being in quarantine alone–that is, with no other person or people to be alone with–is really hard.  So now, I realize how essential human contact is for someone like me. I love to love on my people.  I love hugging and holding hands and being held and cuddling and affection and who knew that not touching a single person for over seven weeks for the first time in my 32 years of life would push me over the edge?! Definitely not me. 

Me in ‘Park Avenue’ at Arches National Park, Utah

So now what? What did I learn from this experience that might keep it from happening again?

Well first off, I had an extremely vulnerable conversation with my partner. I opened up to him emotionally in a way I’ve always been too afraid to do, and I immediately felt an immense weight lift from my shoulders.  As obvious as it may seem, I am not quite as infallible as I thought, and simply admitting this fear both to myself and to my loved ones has alleviated that self-inflicted judgmental pressure, the kind that says I need to have everything under control at all times. Ironically enough, admitting that is actually allowing me to take more control than before. I can look at my situation far more objectively, and give myself the break I didn’t know I needed. 

A key to self empowerment is admitting your weaknesses. When you face a fear or personal judgment head-on, you remove its power over you. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but, “what you resist, persists,” and if there’s one lesson I can take from this whole thing, it’s to quit the resistance, let go of expectations and learn to surrender. 

We’re all in this together, so ask for that help when you need it, set those boundaries that give you a break; and for goodness sake, listen to the cues your body is giving you. 

Going forward, I know I will.

 

Issue #4
Q&Co.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triumph of the Imagination

Now that we’ve been in this lockdown for nearly two months I find myself wanting to get back to another world, one that I manifest through sheer will and can fully inhabit, maybe even share with others. I’m kidding, sort of. I’m just a humble writer with a humble new magazine. But I can understand the impulse.

It was the guiding impulse of Walt Disney’s life and career, according to biographer Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

Inscribed in it’s opening pages is an excerpt from William Blake–one of our favorite poets–whose words hint as to where the rest of the book is going.

I must create a system
or be enslaved by another man’s;
I will not reason and compare:
my business is to create.

William Blake
“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

I don’t mean to spoil the ending, but Disney succeeded. I’m sure you knew it by looking at everything today that bears his name. Disney, the man who launched a groundbreaking animation studio that revolutionized motion pictures. Disney, who created a theme park that continues to dramatically influence American culture, for better or worse.

A sympathetic view might say that his creative legacy and the force of his imagination inspired the imagination and creativity in countless generations to come all around the world, while critics might insist that the legacy of his films, the parks and merchandise only glorify some childlike escapism, a tacky sentimentality and gross materialism.

I can’t lend much to the discussion either way, one that most people might have anticipated before even reading the book. How a person connects to the films and theme parks is their own business.  I only finished the book with a renewed perspective on a man far more complicated than I realized.

What I never expected to learn was how many times he failed. How ridden with obstacles, and miseries and all sorts of horrible anxieties that long road became, the road to his own utopia, the road that ultimately never ended.

Throughout the book I found myself revisiting one question in particular. One that I think is essential in understanding the nature of success itself, specifically in this country. To what degree did his achievements rest on the ingenuity of other people?

It’s the gray area of his life and career that proved the most compelling for me. The relationship between the big idea and the details. The back-and-forth from which, it turns out, most of his problems arose.

I wondered if he ever missed the old days when he started in mixed animation and live-action shorts, and only needed a small crew and a couple of friends to stand in front of the camera.

His talent was more in coming up with ideas, and less about the smaller details on how to realize them. Of course those details played the most decisive role in getting the task done, and so naturally a far greater deal of credit is owed to those with whom he surrounded himself.

Still, the more heads in the room, the more problems arose; and it wasn’t long before he suffered one of the most devastating disappointments in his career following the studio’s loss of it’s first original character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the rights for which were lost during a contract dispute with Universal Studios.

Walt standing in front of the Animation Building, the creative hub of the studio.

It’s worth noting that, shortly thereafter, Disney and chief animator Ub Iwerks created a new character that launched Disney and his studio to international fame and served as the creative foundation from which everything would follow.

Yet from that point on, he had a harder time trusting people, which only grew following the labor strike in the early 1940s, shortly after the success of Snow White and the subsequent financial losses incurred from Pinocchio and Fantasia, cemented as classics today despite nearly bankrupting the studio at the time.

It survived but was never the same. For a brief moment before the strike, the studio had served as the closest thing to Walt’s very own creative utopia, a community of visionaries operating at the intersection of art and technology, constructing worlds that broadened the public imagination and provided a psychological, emotional, even transcendent experience for anyone willing, if not just for the artist themselves.

Following years of creative stagnancy, Disneyland was the first project to resurrect that old vision. As he once did with the animation studio, he could regard it as a perpetual work in progress, something that was both a creation in itself and a workshop for continued ideas.

Creation was the guiding impulse of his life; and so by that measure, on a core level at least, Disney was an artist, first and foremost. While the scope of his creative vision is arguably unparalleled, his greatest successes seem equally linked to his ability to manage and lead other creative people in seeing that vision realized.

Walt introducing EPCOT for a promotional film

Shortly after the park’s completion and enormous success, he started planning a second and far more ambitious project that would serve as the apotheosis of his creative energies.

Where Disneyland had become the quintessential amusement park, this would serve as the quintessential city. The Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. Unlike the theme park and most of the innovations bearing his name, EPCOT would form a fuller synthesis between his own imagination and the real world, an environmentally sustainable community, free of pollution where people would actually be able to live and work harmoniously.

It would break down the long-standing walls between the fantasy worlds he helped create and reality, and challenge the long-standing critique that he was more preoccupied with escaping our world, rather than changing it.

Walt’s own sketch of the EPCOT project

An artist can stay true to their vision and hope others relate to it, but of course they have little control over that in the end. Disney learned as much through frequent creative disappointments that likely sobered his own perspective on the matter.

He passed away before EPCOT was ever approved, and today what stands in its place is a much smaller version of what he envisioned, a theme park only hinting at the community he had in mind.

One might dream ’till the cows come home, but when it comes to the big ones, it takes communicating to others, appreciating and counting on them to help make it happen. Recognizing the stake one person has in the other.

We could guess how well Disney understood that in the end. My guess is that he knew it, and that through every failure and subsequent success, he was always working on it.

I also think it’s no small thing how EPCOT as he saw it, represents that idea more directly than anything else he ever put to paper.

I hope someday we’ll see it realized.

Issue #4
Q&Co.