<![CDATA[ Writer Playwright Actor Model - Bloggons|Third Chapter Blossoms]]>Sat, 04 Nov 2017 03:46:22 -0700Weebly<![CDATA["Late Blooming Lesbian...?"]]>Fri, 06 Dec 2013 05:44:13 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/late-blooming-lesbianAlthough it might appear chic and fashionable to be able to claim this status, I am not a late blooming lesbian, although it might appear so to some who have only known me for the last thirty-five years.  I don’t deny it just because I don’t fancy being part of a trend or a statistic (how idealistically high can one fly?) though that has happened plenty, certainly as a highly educated baby boomer African American woman who married outside her ethnic group to a European American at a time when, as a couple, we drew disapproving stares and taunts from everyone.

Although when such statistical validation is the case, I do take a tremendously foolish pride for something over which I had no real control. And the role of ‘statistic’ will continue as I meander toward my destiny of centenarian along with a multitude of forefront Baby Boomers intent on being standard bearers on all fronts.  Currently I’m an outwardly living lesbian who could not have fathomed doing so forty years ago without feelings of guilt and shame, without experiencing discrimination, repulsion and retribution by others. I ramble…

What, you ask, kicked off this burst of ruminating, reflecting…confessing? Recently, my girlfriend forwarded to me an article from a dear friend of hers called “It’s Never to Late to be a Lesbian”, written by Kira Cochrane and published more than three years ago. Cochrane’s thesis statement was that “More and more women are discovering after years of marriage to men, and having had children, that they are lesbians”. Now, doesn’t that sound like a trendy and fun sort of ‘social movement’ —avant-garde even—whose band wagon is sweeping the ranks for new recruits eager to hop aboard?  Seriously, I found the article quite interesting, provocative even…to witness, the foregoing ‘discourse’. This got me to thinking, for one, about the evolution of human sexuality, a subject that has always courted my fascination. I know. Volumes have been written on it already….

I do cherish any unique aspect of my being and, although I don’t consider myself rebellious,  have never truly felt a need to blend in.  I’ve tended to be a mild-mannered under-the-radar maverick who trots towards conformity when it makes good moral, ethical or righteous sense to me. I was out of the closet—albeit within limited intersecting circles (which included selected family members only)—hundreds of moons ago while in graduate school. I had come out very slowly over a number of years as I groped my way through boyfriends and what amounted to obligatory booty calls until I could no longer abide the fleas. It wasn’t who I was, to lie beneath or sit astride a man’s hips and enjoy it. Eventually, however, I had to reinvent my life (sexuality?) and retreat to the closet in order to enjoy the happiness and benefits of a mainstream heterosexual union…with children.  This provided for a host of friends and acquaintances—from my marriage days spanning nearly three decades—who had no idea that I was a lesbian, not born again but born...  Or was I bisexual? After all, I was married to a man…

In August 2010 at a session billed as “Sexual Fluidity and Late-Blooming Lesbians”, the “American Psychological Association's annual convention in San Diego showcased a range of research” on the subject. Wanting to explore the notion, Christan Moran, a presenting researcher from Southern Connecticut University, suggested that "a heterosexual woman might make a full transition to a singular lesbian identity . . . In other words, they might actually change their sexual orientation."  I recall a ground breaking study hitting the media waves about six years ago, rivaling for attention with the crash of the markets, revealing findings that confirmed the long-suspected sexually fluid nature of women. As research is an ongoing machine feeding ineluctably upon itself (…and others), the study led inevitably to “researchers…[starting] to investigate whether sexuality is [even]more fluid and shifting than [has] often [been]suspected”.  In my opinion, this does not make (feminine) sexuality any less biological or grounded in nature. Just as some expressions of a person’s biology lie dormant until the ‘right’ stimulus sparks some form of manifestation, this aspect of sexuality could well operate in the same manner.  I’m just saying… 

So, just what is a “late blooming lesbian”?  Cochrane describes this phenomenon as  “…women who discover or declare same-sex feelings in their thirties and beyond,”  many after having had children. Since we are presumably wired to know at least from the onset of puberty to whom we are attracted—presumably, again, for the rest of our lives— this appears to be a groundbreaking discovery. 

Throughout my young adult life I had openly proclaimed that I did not want children because I would not ever do such disservice as to bring any human being into our corrupt and dangerous world. I held firmly to that conviction for nearly a decade and a half from the late nineteen-sixties early into nineteen-seventy-eight when I handed in my dissertation in exchange for a PhD.  Emerging from the exigencies of academic hibernation, my biological clock went off loud and clear. At the age of thirty-one, I emerged dumbfounded, disoriented. The urge, the hunger to reproduce my own genetics was strong enough that I hardly understood it. I found myself desperate to make natural parenthood a factual state of my being. Even so, I figured I had to be bisexual if I could couple and have a baby with a man—because at the time, unless you had the financial means, there was no other way but the ‘natural’ way of reproduction—although I had no idea how that would come about. From straight woman to lesbian to bisexual to lesbian in the course of several decades… In retrospect, I understand how that experience contributes to why I don’t fancy placing labels beneath my mug shot even though I do consider myself a bona fide lesbian, certain there will be no more flip-flopping. Really…?

I stopped having sex with my ex-husband three years before I divorced him, and only after two brutally difficult attempts at excising my existence from his own—I understood what financial securities I was sacrificing and how much I was hurting him—I succeeded in following through with divorce. After being a tax deductable dependent for half my life? “Tu parles!”, as the French would say. I did not experience what Laura Manning did, where “…the intensity of feeling in my relationship with [my ex] overcame and blanketed my desires for women." On the contrary, I found myself daydreaming about same sex partners early on in my 27-year marriage. I loved my husband, just not in ‘that’ way. When I planned and executed my escape, it was not without the rending of heart, soul and flesh. And yet I did it. Not because I wanted to, but because I had no choice.

Dr. Lisa Diamond, professor of psychology and gender studies, has a hunch that the possibility of moving across sexual boundaries increases as people age. Perhaps there is a biological component to that. I pose the question: Does living longer increase the chances of a complete sexual identity change taking place? Does increasing longevity bear upon the prospect of multiple, distinct, and viable sexual identities?  And if so, in what way? Maybe Nature—blindfolded mother of us all and great equalizer—keeps us huffing puffing and laboring under mandate until we’ve done our ostensible duty—procreation, and therefore perpetuation of our species, saving the joys of real intimacy for the end. Hello…?

I’ve been around long enough to remember when gays could be quite defensive when it came to just why we were gay, years before the currently accepted ‘gender rainbow spectrum’. No one wanted to be on a slippery slope and if you weren’t as firmly anchored as heterosexuals who claim that’s the way nature created them, then the possibility of sliding down into the muck and mire of mental illness, degenerateness, immorality, was a most assured outcome. We were offended when anyone suggested it was a choice. So it had to be an all or none situation: We were born either heterosexual or homosexual. As uncountable genetic stops exist between ‘heterosexuality’ and ‘homosexuality’, there are as many people whose gender identity genetic material has fallen, fall , and will continue to fall everywhere along that path.

In the ‘old days’, many gay women denigrated bisexuality, seeing its practitioners as someone who was not able to make up her mind, and no respectful lesbian would have anything to do with a woman who couldn’t commit, someone who slept with the ‘enemy’.  We knew that our natural right to love one another would continue to be fought by church and state. And we tended to stay in the closet—whether that closet was while in the arms of our same sex lover or the asylum of a mainstream and universally recognized heterosexual partnership. That reality was back in the day—and continues to stretch thinner and thinner, hopefully—back when you were either male or female, smart or dumb, a success or failure, black or white, wise or foolish… It appears that science is proving that there is truly no one answer as to why one might be homosexual. Reasons why span their own spectrum from nature to nurture, from no choice to freedom of choice. Why should it matter? It’s okay for it to be dictated by nature/genetic makeup from conception or later in life, or chosen as a considered and informed outcome of a set of life experiences. Why would either path or choice be devalued?

This discursive bit of exposition has been both a personal response to the article and commentary on certain points made within. Both were thoughtfully monitored. One of the study’s subjects “…thought she was the only married woman ever to have fallen in love with another woman”. Such naivety is difficult to understand in this day and age. You need only to plug into the information highway and search for answers. However, this woman learned it by accidentally stumbling upon and reading Strock’s book...not by experience, personal or removed to any degree. Married Women Who Love Women prevented this woman from committing suicide. What came to my mind was how much we can learn simply by reading. In Book Savvy, which I’ve read recently, Cynthia L. Katona makes a strong case for reading for knowledge of oneself as well as of the world, and it doesn’t have to come from science journals, history textbooks, or encyclopedias.

Two final thoughts: Answers to some of my questions might have come and gone, but some questions can never be revisited too often. And, just as Sara Lawrence Lightfoot’s The Third Chapter reveals, living longer makes many things unforeseen possible.

<![CDATA[Serena "LeBrawn" Williams]]>Fri, 21 Jun 2013 18:52:28 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/serena-lebrawn-williamsThe mature and savvy Serena Williams has done what her younger tennis colleague, Sloane Stephens, did before her - put her foot in her mouth.  It didn't feel that way when it happened, I'm guessing.  It never does.  But if God isn't watching, the media is.  Especially in this day and age where we all carry the potential—in our electronic DNA—to join the ranks of the rankest media conduits—the paparazzi—with our omnipresent personal cameras on our cellphones, iPads, tablets, etc.  But I digress...

We all have uncensored moments—Geez we have a lot in common as human animals!—but some cause more collateral damage than others.  If the timeline of the Rolling Stone interview was adhered to in the written article, the vulnerable moment came deep into the interview. Often, at the end of such, one has more than relaxed into a bubble of false security that expands from the moment the recording device is first set in motion, and either forgets or ignores to self-monitor.  Journalists have tricks of the trade up their sleeves (Noooo!) and are known on occasion to play unfairly in the scoop game, especially in this day of the information autobahn where real scoops are practically non-existent.  Could it be considered a kidney punch or low blow to have published that part of her interview?  After all , there was plenty to write about without.

I speculated in a recent blog post that Ms. Stephens, unaccustomed to the limelight and attention lavished on her after she knocked Serena out of the Australian Open in the quarter finals this past January, simply naïvely and unguardedly spoke her mind in an interview, and for which she paid the price.  "Serena was beaten by the beautiful and - for sports writers -conveniently back Sloane Stephens, leading tennis commentators to call her the "New Serena", is the way Stephen Rodrick put it in The Rolling Stone.  It is more than interesting how the media made much ado about the upset whereas little was said about Serena's injured ankle during that match.  Might that be called 'stacking the deck'?

The controversy had Sloane Stephens stating that, among other things, Kim Clijsters and not Serena Willliams was her favorite tennis player and role model, indicating, as well, that an angry and frustrated Serena unfollowed her on Twitter and sent out a tweet to her own followers in which she wrote, "I made you".  It was generally assumed that the comment was meant for Sloane Stephens.  

With all due respect for the 'truth', I went straight to the source, as my understanding was that the Rolling Stone interview of the sixteen-time Grand Slam champion was a lengthy one. The meaning of nearly all phenomena, no matter the nature, is determined—if the possibility even exists—by the context from which it arises.  

The article is indeed lengthy and some of it flattered Serena Williams while it revealed a hard truth about our society's myopic view of beauty (I wrote another blog post on the lucrative industry of the making and selling of feminine 'Beauty' and its skewed, artificially constructed standards). 

"Serena is the number-one tennis player in the world. Maria Sharapova is the number-two tennis player in the world. Sharapova is tall, white and blond, and, because of that, makes more money in endorsements than Serena, who is black, beautiful and built like one of those monster trucks that crushes Volkswagens at sports arenas. Sharapova has not beaten Serena in nine years...  The chasm between Serena and the rest of women's tennis is as vast and broad as the space between Ryan Lochte's ears." (This analogy, I must confess, is lost on me.)

Stephen Rodrick writes, after spending the morning and afternoon following Serena around during the interview: "We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV – two high school football players raped a drunk 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. 'Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously, I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different.'"  Whoa!!!  

Well, this musing does offer harsh criticism of the young girl's behavior and her upbringing; at the same time, it appears to make contradictory statements by starting out asserting that she does not blame the girl...but...  I mean, in a sense the girl was lucky, when you consider that there are degrees of 'misfortune'.  It could have been much worse.  She could have been raped with several penises, beaten and/or left for dead as has been the case with so many women...and men too.  Consider the young college woman in India who was brutally assaulted, beaten, raped multiple times by multiple rapists, and then thrown on the roadside to perish.  She did die later from her wounds.  Or the three-year-old New Delhi girl who was raped and suffered massive injuries as a result.

The sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys, whose identities have not been protected from the public, were sentenced to juvenile jail until they turn twenty-one.  Given what they did, is this too harsh a sentence for presumed first time offenders?  The question, whatever side we fall on —and there are those who line up on both sides of the issue—has to be posed.  Does the fact that they were sentenced to 'juvenile jail' mitigate the seriousness of being incarcerated?  Does it offset the horrific experience of being a possibly virgin victim of rape?

The Rolling Stone interview provided opportunity for plenty of scathing backlash from readers spanning the spectrum, from making excuses for the tennis diva to excoriating her for her total lack of humanity towards the sixteen-year-old rape victim, calling her a bully on and off the courts.  Someone else suggested that perhaps she was just thinking out loud.  After all, she was in a nail salon basking in the attentive care of mani/pedicurists, recovering from a morning of court practice and strenuous workout at the gym.  I believe Serena was truly baffled, though there are those who think that her statement of apology was weak and insincere and..gee whiz...flawed, when those looking to find fault infer that what she didn't say was that the older you are the less horrific the rape because you are not as likely to be a virgin...uh, if she was.  

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame. I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.” 

Now, doesn't that sound more like someone who's had time to give it some thought?  (Maybe she went a wee overboard...?)  I mean, I wonder had she been on The Tonight Show in Jay Leno's hot seat would she have made such unrehearsed and insensitive remarks as reported in her interview.  

Sloane Stephens was being honest—and transparent—in her interview, for which she later apologized.  She'd said, however, what she felt and thought.  Any apology after that does not erase the fact that she believed at the time what she stated.  Following the same logic, Serena's musings were probably fairly close to what she really subscribes to, given, as has been pointed out, her Jehovah's Witness upbringing.  Well, that's off topic, but it's great fun ruminating about it.

While chewing the cud seems to be front and center in this post, who other than myself finds it strangely disturbing that in the Rust Belt Red State of West Virginia, two high school boys, one European American and the other African American, would act in solidarity to commit a sexual crime against what appears to be a European American female?  Do sports and potential star athletes wield that much clout?  Is this some sick sign of 'progress'?  Or, once again, is it all about the media?

Anyway, many thanks, Serena, for stirring my sleeping muse from her nap, however brutally you tickled my funny bone.
<![CDATA[PC or "Personally Correct"]]>Sun, 02 Jun 2013 07:59:00 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/pc-or-personally-correctIn service to my coming out as a committed writer in search of a meaningful career, I experienced a setback moment approximately a week ago after certain comments were made regarding a 'byte' I posted to my professional Facebook page.  I thought long enough and hard enough—just short of talking myself out of it—before posting it.  It was a bold move done in the spirit of artistic freedom, in the hope of generating discussion.  The critique, meant to be constructive, was a behind the scenes one that unintentionally punched me square in the viscera.  So, again, I asked myself this old familiar question: Does an artist—a writer, in my case—have a right to any and all attitudes, perceived or real, when it comes to certain sensitive and potentially explosive subject matters, that might cause hurt, pain, misunderstanding? Are we permitted to use loaded language/imagery, or controversial or inflammatory words in the service of our art?

Shortly before that incident, I became aware of the controversy surrounding American tennis' latest female hopeful.  In a publicized interview, Sloane Stephens, rising star, dared to criticize Serena Williams, currently number one female tennis player in the world and fifteen times Grand Slam trophy snatcher with a total of fifty-one career titles.  Sloane has three titles but no Grand Slam—yet—and to get there she has to play and beat the big dogs.  At nineteen years of age and ranked number twenty-nine at the time, she beat Serena in the quarterfinals at the Australia Open this past January, one of the four major tournaments (Grand Slams), the other three being the French Open, aka Roland Garros, England's Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Towards the beginning of the third set, a frustrated Serena was lead to destroy her racket in a temper tantrum.  Sloane did not go on to win the title but she snatched it away from Serena who had been blazing a trail, and put it into the hands of the Belorussian, Victoria Azarenka.     

After her upset win, the twenty-year-old Sloane says Serena stopped speaking to her altogether, sent out a tweet saying "I made you", leaving little doubt in most minds who the target of that tweet was, and then 'unfollowed' her on Twitter.  Sloane caught a great deal of flack from media sages, and cyber fanatics who have nothing better to do than tweet like twits every fissure in a moment they find.  "Whatever you say is going to get blown out of proportion," is what Martina Navratilova had to say.  Maybe I should have provided some context for my Facebook posting, suggested my well-meaning critic—who experienced her own gut  reaction—so that readers could understand better where I was coming from, that I wasn't being "flippant" about the horrific history of slavery in this country.   

Pundit or player?  Scholar or artist?  Is history sacred?  Is art untouchable?  Are pop icons and superstars off limits if we don't share their status?  I spent a lot of time trying to get a handle on the myriad thoughts and feelings that sprung into my head like wildflowers after a wet rain, surfacing around these two disparate occurrences (Sloane's experience and mine), resulting in even more questions to myself:  When does an artist not be true to herself, keep her voice in check, in favor of not appearing sacrilegious? Just putting the questions to page kicks up pesky issues, like shaking a rug out the window dislodges inert particles of existence disturbed into motion. 

I have a tendency to philosophize (which can get in the way of making a point, and the one I'm trying to make here is already evasive enough):  It is human nature to reduce complexities to manageable dualities.  Simplify with contradictions.  Build on binaries.  Make clear decisions based on opposites.  Male or female.  Black or white.  Sane or insane.  Rich or poor. Awareness of the vast expanses existing between two poles becomes mired with the ease of pretending they don't exist because it's easier to deal with extremes, to become polarized, to define something—and ourselves—by what it/we are not.  Crossroads happen, creating murky spaces. Lines blur and bleed.  I also have a tendency to free write, a natural urge, and a tool that many writers use to get their juices flowing.  Both—waxing philosophical and writing off the top—are different manifestations of the same voice.

There it is again.  Voice.  I wrote about it in a recent blog post.  Voice cannot be circumvented. Voice is who you are when you choose to express yourself.

The one sure thing that Sloane and I have in common, aside from being African American women, is we both spoke out.  Each used her voice to say what was on her mind at a given moment under a certain set of circumstances.  

Bill Macatee, sports broadcaster for the French Open, describes Sloane as "bubbly and unfiltered".  This is why she is liked, he explained, for her freshness.  I would add that with that freshness comes a certain political naïveté.  The Williams sisters have many detractors—and Serena is not always 'warm and fuzzy'—among whom you'll find plenty of black people who, among other things, don't like that the sisters are currently dating non African American men.  But they also have a huge support base and following, a great deal of status and respect, and have paid their dues many times over, from being discriminated against on the courts (the blatantly wrong line call in Jennifer Capriati's favor during the 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinals that handed the match to Capriati over Serena), to the murder of their sister, serious injuries, a pulmonary embolism that had Serena believing she would not live much longer, and Venus' diagnosis of Sjorgren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes fatigue, and drying of tear ducts and salivary glands.  

Putting words into the young players' mouths, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Jon Wertheim, commented that "...you don't want us to be oatmeal.  You want us to have color.." And when they do they get taken to task for it.  "You want to be out there.  You want to be open and candid...", he said.  Now Sloane is criticized for being "robotic" in her interviews, practicing circumspection, wary of putting her foot into her mouth again and incurring even greater disdain from mountaintop dwellers.  She has jumped back in line, censored for now. The lesson learned is not to say what she is thinking.  In all fairness, this rule of thumb applies to everyone to some extent, and certainly until you learn how to say what's on your mind without pulling the pillars down around you.

My Facebook posting got little attention but I pulled it anyway.  The visceral response was too strong to ignore.  It settled in for days.  I had taken a calculated, sober risk, to the extent of deciding I wanted to post on my recent 'professional' page rather than my 'fun' page which has been around years longer.  In my opinion, nothing is taken seriously in terms of art on the 'fun' page.  There is way to much going on and, as one Facebook friend recently posted, some people just need to keep a journal.  My posting was a creative inspiration and I thought it belonged on my 'professional' page.

Midweek I began to understand what I was feeling.  Shame.  It wasn't the only emotion, but it was the strongest.  It felt like the time I was told as a young girl of eight or nine to go put on a shirt because I was getting too large to go bare-chested.  It was a hot summer Sunday in San Antonio and I was twirling like a spinning top with my brothers who were also naked from the waist up.  Our chests all looked pretty much identical, but because I was a girl, there was something different about it that I could not see, something that placed a burden on me as a female.  I was made to feel that I had done something wrong because it could lead to other things happening, ugly things, that it was in my control to prevent.  I had done something morally wrong that I did not understand but which had a profound effect on me.  

Shame is a powerful emotion.  Toni Morrison writes about shame.  It is what distorts and deflects the life of her character, Frank, in Home:  "How he had covered his guilt and shame with big-time mourning for his dead buddies.  Day and night he held on to that suffering because it let him off the hook...  Now the hook was deep inside his chest and nothing would dislodge it."

When we allow ourselves to feel shame, we are viewing ourselves through a moral lens.  A powerful lens of inordinate magnitude and power.  When we are marked at a very early age with shame, a trigger later in life can cause it to manifest, often disproportionately so to the trigger.  I'm not a psychologist; I have lived this.  I felt shame that I might have crossed some unspeakable and invisible boundary, that I'd made an awful mistake without knowing it, even after much contemplation.  How would I ever know or be able to trust my instincts ever again?

Taking a chance and succeeding means surviving the risk.  I didn't.  Not this time.

Sloane is toughening up and so am I.

To say or not to say?  That is, however, still the question... 
<![CDATA[The gift of inspiration]]>Sun, 19 May 2013 16:24:32 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/the-gift-of-inspiration1Kim Coles' one woman show, "Oh, But wait...There's More" was more than I expected.  I went to see it for two primary reasons.  First, I remembered Kim Coles from "In Living Color", but especially from "Living Single", and recalled appreciating her sense of humor, her delivery, and her timing.  Second, I'm particularly interested in the one woman/man theatrical genre because I've had my own project in the works for a number of years (side-by-side with all my other creative writing undertakings!) and particularly since having seen Brian Copeland's "Not a Genuine Black Man" in 2004 which I thought was outstanding.  Longer ago in the 90s when I saw Anna Deveare Smith perform in her "Twilight:Los Angeles" one woman show, I was daunted.  I literally sat on the edge of my seat throughout, mouth hanging open, completely consumed by the experience.  Unfortunately, feeling daunted goes beyond being inspired.  Powerhouse talents like Ms. Deveare Smith simply blow all the rest of us wannabes out the water.

But we are all capable of rising to our own brand of greatness, with a not so magical formula—believing in ourselves and giving it our all.  We have to bring the 'gifts' to the table.  Too often, however, someone falls short of this mandate.

So, in my opinion, Rhodessa Jones' one woman show fell short.  The title, "The Resurrection of SHE", single-handedly raised high my expectations.  Even the dramatic opening—two men descending the center aisle at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco, solemnly bearing the effigy of a female body on a stretcher headed for the funeral pyre (a real spectacle in the truest theatrical sense of the word)—whetted the appetite for a transformative experience. It never happened.  I sat throughout the show, front row center, unmoved, waiting for that magic moment.  I stayed past the intermission because I assumed it would get better.  Niet.  There seemed to have been a lack of coherence and continuity and, in the end, I couldn't figure out what I was to take away from the experience. 

Perhaps on some level I'm comparing apples and oranges (Coles and Jones) since the focus of their respective careers appear vastly different.  But they both took it to the stage, the story of their respective lives.  And perhaps there are those of you who would ask why I'm bringing up Ms. Jones' production now when her show ran several weeks ago.  After all, her body of work off the stage will become an important legacy some day and she is, in her own right, a living local legend and hero.  

I wanted to write about Ms. Jones' show back in April when I went to see "The Resurrection of SHE" and decided not to because...  I wanted to address her failure to entertain and to inspire me—as I'm certain she must have done for others (a woman sitting next to me had returned from the night before, having driven all the way from Mill Valley, for a second helping)—but I found little point in writing about it if that was all I had to say.  I saw no merit in just dissing a sister who does a lot of good for others.  

Unfortunately, in my small idiosyncratic world of experiences, these two shows came close together in time.  And the difference in how I felt when I left each was remarkable.  As much as I felt disappointed by one's art I was just as delighted by the other's.  These two factors—closeness in time and the vast difference in experiences—presented an opportunity to write a more balanced article.  I left one feeling flat and irritated versus leaving the other energized and upbeat.  Uninspired v. Inspired.  Hence, carpe opportunitatem.

Back to "Oh, But Wait...". I laughed a lot—and I can assure you I don't laugh easily when someone is attempting to court my tickle bone—but I also listened.  Ms. Coles' show kicked off the 2013 season of the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition and Festival.  Her message (simplified): Discover your gifts and share them with the world.  It's not original but I was receptive to it because she packaged it in a palatable presentation of her life that was engaging and entertaining.  She told her audience that her gift is that she's a clown and can make people laugh.  Along the personal journey she shared with us she was irreverent of some figures from her past and in awe of others who had come, gone and/or stayed in her life but not without changing it in significant ways.

Ms. Coles has an endearing charisma that took me pleasantly by surprise.  Her show had a sophisticated zaniness, a lighthearted warmth, and a gentle honesty.  It served up a weaving of memories that created a dynamic texture and flow.  It was neither sugary nor overly dramatic, and did not dwell too long on any one subject matter—one major sign of a great stand-up comic.  She'd hit it and move own, strategically planting punchlines artfully woven into the fabric.  At times she was a high school cheerleader, a star-struck admirer, a rising star, a loving and proud daughter, a jobless comedian/actor looking for work, and a seven-month long  listless, hopeless depressive who had lost her "funny", her "shine", who felt all used up, worthless, and ready to put an end to it on Mulholland Drive.    

Not trusting that there is usually some meaning beyond ourselves when driven to do something, I often question why I write, why I want to finish my one woman show and the other play I've started and my book and the numerous short stories that beg for time to be written and the poems that crop up when least expected.  I so often say to myself in the greatest impostor form that no one wants to hear what I have to say.  Why would they?  It's nothing new.  It's all been said and done before.  

Voice.  That is what distinguishes one person's art from another's, along with one's unique set of life experiences.  Voice.  No two voices are alike, even when some do their best to imitate the voice of others.  Voice.  Every voice has its own unique blueprint.  Depending on the medium in which the voice chooses to express itself, it is composed of a unique set of qualities and characteristics, whether through the visual arts, the performing arts, the fine arts, voice is an expression of tone, pace, rhythm, texture, dynamics, delivery, finish...because all of that and more make up the final product.  But none of those is anything if the voice does not communicate that, if it does not inspire.

It's not that Ms. Coles' message is innovative; it was her blueprint  for getting it out there, the one woman show being the medium.  And it felt genuine, as though coming from a sincere place in her heart.  If I can do this so can you, she was saying in her own words.

And now I'm wondering if Ms. Coles' and Ms. Jones' points of departure are so different after all.  They both claim to help others by sharing their gifts—in this case on the theatrical stage—while being completely and unabashedly self-serving at the same time.  No?

I rarely do standing ovations but I popped right out of my seat to join the audience in its energized appreciation of an innate talent whose light had heated up the room.  When I left the Kaiser Center Theater, located at 300 Lakeside Drive in "Oaktown" CA, I did so with the feeling that something cathartic had taken place.
<![CDATA[An unforgivable distraction]]>Mon, 06 May 2013 08:09:51 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/an-unforgivable-distractionDisclaimer, of sorts...

I blew off so much indignation in my last blog post that I felt weakened by the experience of having written it.  Les fortes émotions, to use a French term,  are exhausting.  What could be more exhausting than emotional fatigue?  So, basically, food for thought this time around.

I had the great pleasure of attending the Oakland East Bay Symphony's final concert of the season last Friday, May 3.  I came away feeling as though I had gotten considerably more than my money's worth (tickets were donated by a dear friend).  Joking aside, it was an evening of seemingly disparate musical adventures lacking a central theme.  Highlights for me were the countertenor, William Sauerland, who performed the alto voice in Bach's Magnificat in D Major, and Terrence Wilson, the pianist in Beethoven's powerhouse 5th Concerto in E flat Major, dubbed the "Emperor Concerto".  I might add that my daughter, my companion for the evening, particularly enjoyed the Pacific Boychoir as well.  Sauerland was a rare treat for me, as it also reminded me of the prominence castrati used to enjoy back in J. S. Bach's time.  Wilson's performance was simply stunning.  I've always enjoyed the shear power and magnitude of the first and third movements of this concerto.  However, his interpretation of the Adagio, so deeply contrasted, moved me more than any I've heard.  Played with sensitivity and intelligence, my eyes sometimes closed, sometimes wandered to the ceiling in order to savor the full beauty of his rendition.  

This blog post is not, however, a review of the musical event, as I am not a music critic.  I'm at best an amateur musician who knows what she enjoys musically.  For a decent and on point critical review, I refer you to Joshua Kosman's insightful article published on SF Gate's website.

The matter causing concern:

I'm so accustomed to seeing a sea of white faces both on stage and in the audience at a symphony concert that I've become desensitized to the experience.  It took a while for my consciousness to adjust—time to read the program and put a few cough drops in my jacket pocket for quick retrieval.  After my awareness adjusted to its environment, as when one walks into a dark movie theater from the brightly lit lobby...or, vice versa, from a place of total darkness into the blinding light of a bright sun, a sadness swept over me.  As the auditorium filled with symphony goers—many of retirement age and a representative number in wheelchairs or otherwise assisted—and the performance area filled with musicians and choristers, the lack of people of color became glaringly apparent.  Even if, evidently, the Pacific Boychoir, founded and based in Oakland, has members of various ethnicities, they, as far as I could tell, did not appear on stage to perform.  

Initially I thought it was an interesting situation—the only African Americans on the program (unless I overlooked someone, which is highly likely from the wonderful orchestra seats just seven rows from the stage) were among the principles: Michael Morgan, OEBS' illustrious director; Shawnette Sulker, soprano soloist with the Bach Magnificat, and Terrence Wilson.
Until I recalled that similar scenarios existed back in the day when the entertainers were often African American (i.e., Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.) and the audience exclusively European American—I'm making an effort to move away from the term 'white' because it is meaningless outside a politico-social construct and doesn't exist without its counterpart, 'black', much like there is no 'good' without 'evil', no 'up' without 'down', all relative opposites on a dichotomous scale; there is no gene for 'white' which isn't even technically a color, but rather a poor showing of melanin which is spoken for in our DNA—because African Americans were not allowed in the audience and, after performing, had to leave the room or lounge or the concert halls entering and exiting through the back doors when they did so.  

So there is no question that African Americans have been 'allowed' to entertain European Americans (this will take some getting used to because the 'punch' [=tension] is gone—in a 'black' person's mouth, the word 'white' can often feel loaded with meaning sometimes intentional and sometimes not that centuries of institutionalized then de facto slavery [=segregation and Jim Crow] caused to evolve) for a long time as long as it didn't offend, for example, European women's sensibilities (Little Richard was forbidden to gyrate in front of them but it was okay for Elvis Presley).

We are in Oakland, California.  Oakland might very well be the most ethnically diverse city in the country. In 2010, according to the Census, Oakland was 34.5% "white" (up from 31.3% in 2000) and 28.0% "black or African American" (down from 35.7% in 2000).  These are interesting statistics in and of themselves (that's another blog post).  The remaining 37.5% is spread among other ethnicities.

I realize it is not realistic to expect the ethnic makeup of the orchestra and the boys' choir to reflect the ethnic makeup of Oakland; there is no requirement that they hail from Oakland to be members of those organizations.  Nor should there be.  Opportunity should be for all.  The percentage of guest artists came close to expectations: three European Americans and two African Americans (60% and 40%).  But, excluding Maestro Morgan, even if there were two or three African Americans in an orchestra of at least eighty musicians, that figure would not even match the ethnic percentage of African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area (roughly 6.5%).  

Obviously, circumstances are different now than they were in first half of last century and prior. No one is prevented from attending any public event where one pays an admission to be entertained, be it in sports or in the arts.  It can be expensive to attend the symphony in a non nose-bleed section.  So sometimes certain groups of individuals are priced out of the pleasure of attending.  I was told quite recently that when you watch basketball on television, when the camera pans the spectator stands, the faces are nearly exclusively European American, shocking when you consider how much African Americans love and participate in the sport.  The tickets are far more expensive (yet another blog post) than the symphony or opera unless you don't mind lugging around a pair of binoculars and a box of Kleenex.

As I watched the performance the other night I couldn't help but be distracted by the absence of people of color in the Boychoir (I didn't even see any Asians), and among the orchestra members (that I could discern, though there were very likely Asian members).  But that doesn't matter.  What does matter is the overall impact.  The effect was great enough to leave me wondering about the many historical and social issues that would lead to such an outcome and have me scratching my head when it was over after what had been a delightfully fulfilling evening of music-making.  
<![CDATA[It's just an opinion]]>Sun, 28 Apr 2013 09:30:38 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/its-just-an-opinionMy outrage is so outraged it is effectively silenced.

Over-stimulated into a constant state of smoldering, there are no longer any fibers of my being to become appalled at the immoral and egregious atrocities inflicted upon humanity by self-appointed gods on earth.  I'm burned out.  Consumed.  Not quite spontaneous combustion, and certainly not self-immolation.  But who cares when the effect is the same?  When people set themselves on fire, or purposely starve to death, they are crying desperately for help, for someone to take notice, for someone to care.

Many years ago I read Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace: The lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation.  I've misplaced my copy—I've moved twice since reading it—but one thing I came away with was a glimpse into how wealthy people live with themselves and watch as their riches engender more wealth while a lack of opportunity, education and means engender greater poverty all around them.  At their feet.  Kozol's focus was on New York City, but the scenario is replicated not just throughout the nation, but globally.  They learn not to see us, to make sure we are off their radar.  This is why the 'master'minds and perpetrators of the slave trade industry chose to dehumanize and reduce to the status of soul-less animals the human beings they enslaved.
When I peered down from atop the then Sears Tower in Chicago, people didn't look like people.  They looked like tiny insects.  Ants.  With great imagination and for the purpose of, let's say creating a short story, I could pretend like they were just ants moving about their daily lives.  Others with different agendas could pretend for different reasons.  The farther you 'rise' above others the less they resemble human beings from your vantage point.  What you can't see, why should you care?  What you don't acknowledge, why should you want to?  One could claim these 'vanished' beings have no souls, that they have nothing in common with oneself, that their needs, no matter how real, will pass some day, that they don't deserve anymore than they have or they wouldn't be under the sole of your shoe.  Which is why it would be better for them to be put out of their misery, sooner rather than later.  —Lets have some fun!  Let's play Russian Roulette by placing a fertilizer plant in the middle of a town or allow a town to grow up around the fertilizer plant like they used to do around churches or bodies of water, at the same time creating a natural source of labor that translates into money.  Let them work in unsafe factory buildings for pennies lining clothing while we line our pockets—because there are too many of them anyway—and be put out of their misery when the structure collapses killing hundreds of them, mostly women this time.  Oops!
We no longer have aspiring demigods.  We have all out deity wannabes aching to increase their chokehold on humanity.  It used to be a territory, a nation, a continent to be conquered and ruled by ruthless, power-hungry self-appointed leaders and their bands of marauders.  Now it is the planet itself, and damned be any living, breathing spoils!  The days of emperors and pharaohs who would make claim to god-like status live on.  They hold our lives and our futures in their hands.  And they won't stop until they transcend the status of demigods to that of deities.

Mythologies created systems of belief at the center of which was either one God Almighty followed by his rank and file or a family of Gods getting along as dysfunctionally as families on earth typically do.   And among modern mythologies is one that would declare itself ancient, at the helm of which is a single all powerful god, worshipped and torn asunder by three rivaling sets of descendants of the same parent faith.  One branch begot the religious culture in which I was raised.  When I speak of 'God', I'm speaking of the one I was taught about and told to bow down to and worship, him and only him, because he is a jealous god. A vengeful god. Enigmatic and tyrannical.  So I ask, why, if one would be God, why choose those qualities that seem most in line with destroying the vast majority of mankind?  Oh, correct.  You can't plunder ruthlessly with honesty, moral purpose, and a love of humanity as sidekicks.

Earth.  A new iteration of the beehive, the anthill, the plantation.  Hell in the hive, hell in the hill, hell in the fields.  Hell on earth. You might not identify with this view of the world.  The concept might not resonate with you.  However, because we are living in a hell doesn't mean we are 'unhappy', that our goals in life are stripped from us, that we are left without hope even if, in the majority of cases, without means.  Happiness is relative.  Ignorance is bliss.  What you don't know can't hurt you.  We are drone ants, workers bees.  Slaves.  We are expendable. We are ninety-nine percent of the human population.

We have modern iterations of ancient gods.  We have individuals with household names (e.g., the Koch brothers who, by the way, own the fertilizer industry pretty near lock, stock and barrel); we have corporations (like Walmart that has connections to the Dhaka, Bangladesh tragedy), and political entities (the über conservative right wing - the list is far too long) for example. We have those who hoard the planet's wealth while destroying it at the same time, melting its resources—like Vulcan in his forge--into gold with which to line their pockets.  The new Poseidon—the monolith that refuses to  admit to global warming because to do so would mean pulling its hand from that cookie jar—is destroying the environment by conjuring up earthquake after earthquake, violent extremes in weather, floods, tornados and hurricanes where they were once either non-existent or infrequent.  We talk about acts of nature, meaning, generally, destructive phenomena due to no one's fault.  But when the heightened devastation of destructive acts of nature are directly linked to the willful hands of mankind with an ax to grind, then we must speak of destructive acts of human nature.  The banks and financial institutions where the new gods hide their fortunes are the newest treasures of Mount Olympus, the crown jewels of the new oligarchy.    

The trickle down effect of greed and abuse affects our everyday lives in ways our limited ability and resources do not allow us to entertain, to make the connections.  We can see that greed led to the collapse of the eight-story factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, or the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, or the crashing of jet planes for lack of proper maintenance.  The stock and housing market crashes, the spilling of thousands of tons of crude oil into our oceans, seas and gulfs.  We can make those connections.    

But how many of us realize that the seeming 'choices' we are given as consumers have been decided on by others as no more and no less of what they want us to consume?  Perhaps this too sounds obvious.  But think about it.  There is no freedom of choice.  We are manipulated and controlled from inception to production to consumption.  

When the rubble is piled so high that the earth becomes a wasteland, the gods will get in their spaceships that only they can afford and sail high above the planet into new territories, leaving the rest of us to rot in a hell created by them.  I know, the scenario is far from original.  It's just that it seems to get closer and closer to the truth.

Zeus overthrew his father, Cronus, to claim the throne for himself as sole ruler of the kingdom of heaven.  Are we really willing to allow it to come down to this? I'm just sayin'...]]>
<![CDATA[As American as Apple Pie]]>Sun, 14 Apr 2013 08:49:43 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/as-american-as-apple-pieI don't recall ever going to see a movie on the first day it hit theaters in my area.  Even so, this time was neither planned nor anticipated.  It simply turns out that I have been going to the movies more frequently in the last months and felt like a movie.  I had also seen trailers, liked what I saw, and promised myself not to miss it.  

It had been ages since I had seen "The Jackie Robinson Story", filmed in 1950 and starring Robinson as himself, and recalled practically none of the 'autobiopic' when I decided to watch it again for comparison with "42".  Before going to the Renaissance Grand Lake where "42" is playing. My primary interest was to see how white racism in America would be portrayed on the silver screen either in truth-telling or filmmaking from one era to the next.

The voice over starts by telling us that "this is the story of a boy with a dream.  But more than that it is the story of an American boy and a dream that's truly American".  We see a black boy in the foreground walking down the street away from us, deep cuffs in his jeans, camera undoubtedly on a trolly to keep pace.  It is 1928.  An identical scene ends the film but this time the boy's image is paled with a projection of the Statue of Liberty superimposed.  

The action begins with a bunch of young boys heading out onto a field to field balls being batted to them by two white men.  Needless to say we see flashes of Jackie's budding talents that will lead him to prowess in basketball, football, track, and baseball, the latter his strongest suit, although the others are nowhere near shabby.  "Hit me one, mister..." he says to the batter.  "What do you want?"  "Ground it.  Line it.  Anything", comes little Jackie's reply, and he fields three different balls—with bare hands.  All the other kids, with mits, are white.  It is presumably Cairo, Georgia.  It's as wholesome a scene as any you would find in "Lassie". 

The flipping of the pages of a calendar indicates leaps in the passage of time.  Before we know it, the action has progressed to 1937, stopping along the way for cameo-like autobiographic sub-actions: playing all four sports for the UCLA Bruins; joining up with Uncle Sam who sends him a draft notice; getting scouted by the Black Panthers Negro team and playing for them for a while. Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers president, then enters the picture.  This is pretty much where "42" starts. As David Germaine writes in his blog review, ""42" plays out safely and methodically, centering on the two most critical years in his rise to the majors and letting that time unfold with slow, sturdy momentum".

I'm in agreement with film critic Marshall Fine when he says of "42" that "Helgeland doesn't dwell on the endless barrage of racist bile that Robinson (and his wife) endured, but he doesn't shy from it either", and he credits this restraint with lending more meaning and more power to Robinson's achievements.  In the "Jackie Robinson Story", white racist attitudes are depicted in Robinson being shunned by the other players when he shows up for spring practice with the Montreal hopefuls.  He moves from group to group—always with a gorgeous smile—when they pretend not to see him there, glove extended, waiting for a chance to be a team member.  In another scene, the entire team is refused hotel accommodations when on the road, and half the team signs a petition at some point saying they want him gone.

"Nigger" is uttered one time throughout the entire movie, the slur being replaced by "shine" or "black" on occasion (make no mistake, African Americans did not take lightly to being called "black"; it was an insult in those days).  The manager of the Phillies' was shown heckling Robinson with a shoe shine bag from his dugout which, of course, he had to go through the trouble of finding in the first place.  And one of the Philly players jeered at him by biting wide and nasty into a large slice of watermelon, while two fans—considerably older than teenagers—pass a black kitten with a rope around his neck over the wall and onto the bench near Robinson.  Is this why when Ruby Dee who plays Jackie's wife says that she is afraid to go out walking by herself because of what she has overheard certain white men saying, her hostess responds, "Oh they talk big but they don't really mean it"?  Really?  In Florida, the out-Lynching-est state in the union?  I'm wondering if director William Joseph Heineman truly meant that as some form of dramatic understatement. 

On the other hand, "nigger" is repeated so many times in "42" that it finally manages to take on the mammoth-like racist proportions intended.  Here, the Phillies' manager—racism incarnate (sorry but they picked the right face to play the part!)—repeatedly shouts the slur to Robinson each time he's at bat, varying only slightly the monotonous jeering, "Hey, nigger, nigger, nigger", "go home nigger", "you don't belong here nigger", "this is a white man's game, nigger".  This is more like it, the hatred and venom that was prevalent during those years preceding the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954.  And how many of us know that baseball became a segregated sport in 1889?

It is not unexpected that racism in an American-made film in 1950 would whitewash racism to little more than mild irritation and the crankiness of spoiled children.  It wouldn't be American to tarnish the reality of living in America if you look a certain way.  I have a different understanding of what the patrons and employees in the roadside diner might have really said to Robinson when he walked in looking for food and a place to wash up for his black teammates.  Even today behind closed doors the word "nigger" is used far more often than people are willing to admit. 
It might be understandable that "The Jackie Robinson Story" portrayed Robinson as mild-tempered and easy-going.  Perhaps he was.  But would he have also internalized the ugliness of racial hatred so that we have no sense of his inner turmoil?  He comes off almost as passive, a step above the happy-go-lucky Negro.  In "42", Robinson, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, is self-possessed and almost edgy, at least until he can't take it any more and explodes just inside the stadium tunnel, breaking and shredding his bat in multiple swings against the concrete walls.  It is a poignant moment that we all feel intensely.  The racism in "42" is much more realistically depicted. Yet, as Zaki Hasan, who finds "42" "unexceptional" points out in his review, "Other than a few cursory nods...we don't get those moments of doubt, of fear, of panic as the full import of what he was attempting dawns on him".   

When I was a child, my dad and his brothers used to play ball when we would go on picnics.
One uncle, I'm given to understand, even played in a Negro Minor League prior to marriage.
The fact is they were talented athletes too and when up at bat they would hit the ball farther than any of the other men there.  It would sail long long long long long...  And we the kids would stare in awe, mouths open, as an inexplicable sense of pride swept through us.  Imagine what black people of all ages must have felt when they saw Jackie Robinson playing on the field with white men and rising to the top as the absolute best among them.  

Jonathan Kim writes of "42"in his Rethink Review, "There's something beautiful about watching black fans watch Robinson, so filled with hope and pride as they hang on his every move and are inspired by something they never thought they'd see in their lifetimes".  Which is exactly what I experienced when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008. Whatever anyone else might have felt, I cried like a baby because I thought I would never see it in my lifetime.

One cannot explain that kind of joy, pride or wonderment.     ]]>
<![CDATA[African Curves or International Silhouettes]]>Tue, 02 Apr 2013 05:45:58 GMThttp://ucbrenda.com/bloggonsthird-chapter-blossoms/african-curves-or-international-silhouettes'Lolos' or 'lalas'?  That seems to be the question in Ivory Coast.  The other day I watched news coverage on TV5, the Francophone cable network, of the impending Miss Ivory Coast contest, fascinated by the agendas being called into play surrounding the marketability of beauty. Beauty and any close cousin is a commodity and as such has far-reaching tentacles, from political to cultural to economical.  Tout court, beauty is a business.  Since this website has an aspect to it that deals in part with the idea of marketing one's looks for compensation of some kind, I thought it not unfitting to start my first post ever by touching on the subject.  

Since the universal standard of beauty is founded on the Western European aesthetic—typically defined by what are considered caucasian features and morphology—the rest of us measure up in terms of how many deviation points away from that aesthetic we find ourselves.  Everyone seems to agree that Africans and their Middle Passage descendants deviate most from this norm.  The beauty chosen as Miss Ivory Coast will go on to represent her country in the 2013 Miss Universe contest.  

Exotic doesn't exist anymore, thanks to globalization made possible through huge leaps in technology.  We've seen it all, if not in person then on the internet via Youtube or streaming programs of all manner including broadcasts from the far corners of the world.  Exotic is out.
Ethnic is in.  We deviants have a chance then, don't we? Today, I mean?

When I was a girl of ten visiting an aunt in Houston with my family, I and two of my girl cousins walked into a neighborhood store to buy chewing gum.  It was a white owned establishment.  On the countertop were these applications—yes, this really happened—for the Miss America contest.  All three of us, dark brown children of the earth, fingered the slips of paper with what must have been a wistful look because the proprietress smiled through a corner of her mouth and said, "Go 'head.  Y'all go on an' apply".  She laughed at us. We knew where she was coming from.  We didn't have a chance in hell.  There had never been a Miss America who was not white.  We knew because we sat glued to our television sets when the pomp and pageantry was aired every year, picking our winners and being disappointed when they didn't come through for us or thrilled when they did as if it were a personal victory. Beautiful by proxy.  It would be another twenty-seven years before Vanessa Williams, African American, would take the title in 1983.  That was in America thirty years ago.

But Ivorians do not agree on what aesthetic the future Miss Ivory Coast should represent. There are, seemingly, two camps—the 'lalas' (the name the young Ivorian singer Princesse Amour uses in her latest song to refer to slim, small-breasted women like herself), and the 'lolos',  "...word used to describe voluptuous women by Ivorian musical heavyweight Meiway in his 2000 hit "Miss Lolo", according to an article published by France 24.com's International News website (click here).  The article seems to trivialize the subject matter by referring to the differing opinions as  a "war of words". But Ivory Coast's more voluptuous beauties claim to be slighted in favor of the more European look which, they claim, is not typically what African women naturally look like, some of whom participated in the resurrected Awoulaba beauty contest for voluptuous women.  Victor Yapobi, president of the organizing committee for Miss Ivory Coast, apparently feels that they should aim for "compliance with national standards", and makes the claim that (African) women are becoming more and more slim.  Really?  And why?  For the same reasons they almost all straighten their hair?  And some to go so far as to lighten their skin?

The article signals another artist, Augustin Kassi, who has turned his devotion to painting what he feels is the typical African woman aesthetic—voluptuousness or "fat" women that Africans typically see as being healthiest, happiest, and most beautiful.  Click here for a sample of his artwork in a video presented on the BBC website.

Long before globalization the exotic look was sought after, for objectification or exploitation of some sort.  Currency was often the bottom line, and it remains so.  Just as prostitution is generally considered to be an age-old institution that will always claim its own niche in society, the trading of one's appearance for gain, a more acceptable profession if not always respected, will likely never go away.  Attractive looks translate into currency and a huge chunk of the economy depends on their marketability.  Institutions, organizations and corporations such as department stores, fitness gyms, runways and beauty pageants, will continue to thrive in the interest of benefitting from their share of the market.

In Paris, France, about seventeen years following the mom-and-pop store incident in Houston, I was approached more than once with an offer to become a fashion model.  I was both flattered and insulted since I was there doing research for my dissertation at the Bibliothèque Nationale.  I was a brain—or so I thought—not an "empty-headed" beauty (not a uniquely "egghead" perspective in those days).  Now, decades later, it is one of several independent contracting gigs I do to earn extra income during my retirement years.  My agent makes money off me.  I make money off the client, as does the production team, and the client makes money off their customers—sometimes you and me. Advertisers and retailers of all sorts get in on the take as well.  It's a food chain, and a sustainable one.  It's an industry with its own peculiar genome that will live on.

Princesse Amour is hoping to have a big hit with her song. Meiwey's current "Wiggle Your Bottom" in celebration of big booties will no doubt up the ante enough to keep the dialogue between lolo and lala going at least for a while.

And who will be crowned Miss Universe?  The clone in black, white, red, yellow, green, or blue?]]>