Entries from November 2003 ↓

I Am Thankful for Family

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. Somehow it has managed to escape the over commercialization of Christmas, the faux good cheer of New Year’s Eve, depressing loneliness of St. Valentine’s Day and all the nauseating patriotism wrapped around July 4th, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and any other day commemorating a war or a dead president.

Thanksgiving is the three F’s, food, family and football (ok, maybe some of you only care about two, but you get the point). You travel, or people travel to you, and you sit around in each other’s company eating and hopefully having a good time. That’s the plan anyway.

This year, in addition to myself, one of my brothers and his family came up from Baltimore to make the trip home. I got to spend time with his three kids, all teenagers or getting there. The oldest is off to college next year, he thinks to study engineering like his father, and is considering schools like Columbia, Duke and Princeton. Grade-wise he can go anywhere he likes, but my brother winces at the price tags of those schools. He better earn scholarships.

The middle child, two years younger than his brother, is in full teenager mode. Prone to sleeping, eating and general indifference about most things, he’s still finding himself. Bright but as yet unfocused. He’ll get there.

Their youngest child is the only female in our next generation but she keeps up with her brothers even despite a broken leg. Crutches and all she tagged along where ever they went and doesn’t take to being picked on.

So the time away was generally pleasant and benign, until Friday around midday. Then Dad had a seizure. He has had these mini-strokes before, in fact another time previously when I was home in July. We had to rush him to the hospital then where he stayed for three days under observation.

This time he had come out of the bathroom disoriented and confused. He’s 82 and has Alzheimer’s, so that is not that unusual, but then he began to slump over and my brother and I helped him to a chair. That’s when he went slack and passed out. My brother tried to revive him but he was unresponsive for quite awhile, perhaps five minutes in all. You know how you try to maintain a calm demeanor, when inside you’re just scared shitless? Well this was one of those moments. The entire episode seemed to be going in slow motion.

I called 911 who immediately dispatched paramedics who arrived while we were still on the phone. Providing oxygen, they were able to resuscitate him and he became somewhat more alert, but they insisted he be taken to the hospital. Mom rode along in the ambulance, and I drove down shortly afterwards.

Unlike in July when the wait seemed interminably long and he was anxious and irritable the whole time, he got prompt treatment and maintained his spirits. They did a variety of tests and X-rays to check heart and brain functions. Ultimately a CAT scan turned up blood in the brain, and his own physician recommended he be kept overnight. I’m compressing seven and a half hours into a few sentences, but after he was admitted and settled in his room, he was actually quite alert. We fed him and tried to get him oriented, but when we tried to leave he tried to follow us, so the nurse has him in a jacket with straps that tie him to the bed. I hope that doesn’t upset him.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, I give thanks to the fact that I have had an opportunity to spend another holiday with my family, all of whom I love very much, and I cherish how ever many more times like this we have together.

Best laid plans…

When I left for the office Wednesday, I had my bag packed for getting out of town. I was only going in to scan in, do some perfunctory duties, mail some letters, get my travel money, then hop a train for upstate. I managed to do all of that and slid out the office around 11:00. Two and a half hours later I was at my parent’s place, where I’ll be until the weekend.

I had it in my head I was gonna get time while I’m here to update the blog. Some of those sections off to the right there are a bit dated and that’s been bugging me. The freakin’ Giants lost again Monday night, and I was gonna write about that, as well as share some political thoughts.

But that’s not gonna happen. More family will be coming in Thursday. It’s almost 1:00 am as I write this and I have a cake to make. I’ll also do the table decorations, and there are just too many things to help out with.

So basically, I posted this to keep this thing current and to wish everyone a safe and enjoyable holiday.


Searching for Social Alternatives, Part II

I was looking for a peg to hang this next segment on when Karsh handed it to me. I read his entry and it suddenly became clear. Were talking about taking personal responsibility for our own happiness. If existing social structures arent working, we have to seek out or invent new ones to get what we want.

The goal is to put ourselves in situations where the opportunity to meet people and form meaningful relationships can take place. As I alluded to in an earlier entry, which was illustrated so well in Karshs experience, many Black gay men see every new man they meet as either a potential lover or a sex partner, completely closing themselves off to the possibility of simply making a new friend.

I contend it is out of friendships that deeper relationships form, and the chief problem with our existing social systems is that they inhibit the formation of these types of associations.

In the typical bar/club setting, people of disparate interests inhabit the same space with the hope they will find others with whom they share things in common. This can result in time spent talking to people with whom we have little in common while ignoring others based on factors like physical appearance. Expectations and anxiety levels can be high, with low success rates.

I suggest we create environments where we know going in we enjoy the same interests. Clubs centered around our hobbies. Informal and more casual by nature, the focus is on enjoyment of the activity, so that even if you dont meet that special someone, you still have fun doing something you like in a group setting. A place where friendships can be established.

Im not suggesting we reinvent the wheel either. What follows are activities that other people are already doing. They may not have penetrated the social consciousness of some of us however.

For instance, earlier this year EJ and I were among a group of people who went sky diving for the first time. Next spring we will undoubtedly do it again. So we might create a group of guys who go after their solo jump certification and then jump regularly.

There are many Black gay men who appreciate spectator as well as participatory sports, from bike clubs, to scuba diving, skiing, camping, gun clubs and many more. For those into watching sports, groups could be formed to get together at a sports bar, or tickets purchased to live games. Every sports team offers group rates that could be utilized.

We have no shortage of artists in our ranks, of every discipline. The artist salon has historically been a place of socialization and support in our community. We have writers of poetry and prose, visual artists, singers, rappers, dancers, actors, filmmakers. We can harness that creativity to build spaces where people perform or present for artistic and personal benefit.

For those who are patrons of the arts, almost every live theatre in the country offers group discounts to performances. This is an excellent way to see great shows in the company of friends.

Across the country, book lovers form clubs to share their love of literature with one another, and this could be another alternative setting. Similarly clubs have formed for men who cook, investors, and those who enjoy dining out. If youre reading this you obviously have access to a computer, and computer user groups can be another way to bring people together.

More people are traveling on vacation and taking cruises than ever before. There are Black-owned services to cater to this audience as well.

Many of us are active in our communities, interested in ways to give back. In almost every city there are organizations that need Black men as volunteers, mentors and adult role models. There is nothing wrong with turning community service into an opportunity for personal fulfillment. The same can be said for participating in political causes.

I present these as suggestions. It is not the end all list. Hopefully it will spur further discussion and real movement towards attaining the kind of social outlets that will allow us to get what we want.

Creating new options will not come easily, and no one should be deluded into thinking change will happen overnight. You have to start slow, build a base–usually a handful of committed members–market the hell out of it, continue to meet regularly, and commit to the long haul.

This is niche marketing, appealing to a select few who have the same interests. You may not see hundreds of people, but you may see a more diverse group where singles and couples and people of differing generations–maybe even women and straight folks(!)–may want to interact.

Those are some of my ideas. What do you think?

Dance Class

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Reading about dance is never quite as satisfying as seeing it in person. I can tell you what I saw and how impressed I was, but trust me, you really had to be there.

That is even more accurate when attempting to describe the virtuoso performances of the Garth Fagan Dance company, who just concluded a fourteen show run at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

The internationally renowned Rochester, New York-based company, now in its 33rd season, danced pieces from their illustrious past and treated audiences to the World Premiere of a new work, DanceCollageForRomie, in tribute to visual artist Romare Bearden.

Members of the Fagan troupe include dancers who were there at the beginning as well as young up-and-comers just a year into their tenure. But all of them are extraordinarily gifted and grounded in the technical aspects of various dance forms, while able to translate the singularly unique and innovative style of Garth Fagan in profound and breathtaking ways.

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Fagan draws heavily on Afro-Caribbean influences, in addition to ballet and modern, to create his own idiom, and it is a style that delights the senses.

The opening piece on the evening I saw them was from their repertory, Griot New York, which debuted in 1991 and has the company dancing to original music composed and arranged by Wynton Marsalis. The first of three segments to that piece, City Court Dance, was delightful and upbeat, colorful and rhythmic, featuring veteran member Norwood Pennewell and Nicolette Depass paired in a sort of recital-meets-dance-club set to a jazz beat, before being joined by the rest of the company. The two returned in the third set, Spring Yaounde, which was more subtle, graceful and physically demonstrative of traditional ballet.

DanceCollageForRomie evoked the feel and tone of the artist himself. Bearden worked mostly in collage and this dance was a patchwork of various images, sounds, and dance styles. In colorful costumes highlighted with quilt-like bits of fabric that collectively accented the lighting and dancers’ skin tones, they moved to music equally diverse, ranging from Dmitri Shostakovich to Villa-Lobos to “Jelly Roll” Morton. Tall and physically graceful Chris Morrison was memorable in Conjur Man, the third of three sets to the Bearden series.

The final dance, Translation Transition, first performed a year ago, gave several company members opportunity to shine. In the first of three sets to that piece, Guy Thorne, Pennewell and Depass dance. Against music by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Thorne, who is one of the newest members, is all swagger, sexiness and youthful bravado in modern movements. Pennewell follows with limber hips, shoulders, arms and legs that stretch in ways no one should be able but which he does with amazing dexterity. Lanky and supple Depass stretches her long arms and legs in fluid moves, reaching for the sky and holding positions for ungodly lengths of time. They were all amazing.

Garth Fagan Dance will continue to tour through the end of the year and into 2004.

Fleeting Fame

Before American Idol, even before Star Search, young, talented actors, singers and dancers dreamed of show business stardom. Countless more far less talented wannabes hoped that they too would somehow catch a break. Many of them were influenced by a 1980 motion picture called Fame about a group of similarly ambitious students at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts.

One of that film’s most memorable stars, Gene Anthony Ray, has passed at age 41. Gene Anthony Ray2.jpg

For those of us who were young and star struck ourselves, his portrayal of the brash, street smart, raw dancing talent Leroy Johnson, was one that resonated on different levels. He was one of “us” in many ways. Fierce when some fool questioned a Black kid from Harlem pursuing a dance career. Hungry and eager to prove himself when others questioned his abilities.

Ray’s on-screen persona–he played the character in both the movie and subsequent television series–was not very far from his real life. He grew up in Harlem and had no dance training when he auditioned and won the part. In fact he had been kicked out of the real high school depicted in the film because it was too disciplined for him. But he didn’t let that stop him.

Fame would be the high point of his career however. He toured with cast members from the show in a musical review, and did a television special about the tour. Earlier this year, he appeared in a documentary, “Fame Remember My Name” that reunited the cast. In between, were appearances in one or two forgettable pictures and tv series.

Although Ray was HIV positive, he died of complications from a stroke he suffered in June.