Thursday, May 15, 2008

REVITALIZED BUFFALO

I just want to correct my prior assumption that the city of Buffalo was a relic. I drove around yesterday and visited Hallwalls in their new building on Delaware Avenue, popped in at Righteous Babe records, and found an amazing used bookstore on Allen Street, off of Elmwood, called Rust Belt Books. I could've spent all day tromping up and down Elmwood Avenue. It's good to see the young people on their bikes, and lots of rehabbed turn-of-the-century houses, fliers for concerts and plays and poetry readings, and other signs of a vital community. It was like Williamsburg, except lots cheaper. Glad to see people are still moving into Buffalo!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'm writing this from a motel room in Amherst, NY, where I've come for my dad's memorial lecture by some guy from Harvard (title: "A History of Vasopressin-Induced Water Flow in Transporting Epithelia"--I have to attend but I'm bringing a book). I just got back from a so-so Indian dinner by myself in a strip mall, and after that I went for a drive to see our old digs.

I feel very tenderly toward suburban Buffalo now, as conflicted as I was growing up here. Nine years after my dad's death, and seven years after my mom, practically every street holds memories. I feel like I'm surrounded by ghosts: images of my mom and dad and brother John (who died at 25), memories of growing up here, and even my kids as babies and little ones are here. I parked the car near Mom's house and walked around the neighborhood. Everyone had those awful yellow pesticide signs on their weed-free lawns. Like Milwaukee, everyone was out, eager to take advantage of the 60s temperature.

When I look at Mom's and Dad's old house on Deer Ridge, I remember all those summers we drove up. I remember my mom ingratiating herself to her neighbor with the swimming pool so that our kids could swim over there. I remember my dad in his dementia letting himself into the house next door and sitting down to watch the Buffalo Bills. I actually walked up to my parents' house and rang the bell. The house was dark and I suspected no one was home, which was why I had the courage to go up and ring. From inside a dog barked, but no one answered. Knowing no one was home, I felt a little freer to walk around the house, peek into the back yard, etc. So many stories and memories flooded back. One year we had a clown birthday party for Meiko in the back yard. My mom met her at some church meeting or something, an older white lady, who it turned out did clowning on the side.

I drove up to the middle school and high school, then to the house on Robinhill where we grew up. I tried to find my best friends' houses but I could not recognize them. All the old people have moved out, and it's a whole new slew of young families in these houses. The houses have been re-sided and remodeled beyond recognition.

I sort of understand why people stay in Shorewood for so long and even come back. Especially when your loved ones pass away, geography takes on a resonance that is almost unbearably tender. Who would think those subdivisions could elicit real emotion even in me?

Also, at our last two salons, we've been discussing race, and I'm having all these flashbacks about my racial coming-of-age, so to speak, when we moved to Buffalo and became minorities for the first time. There's Jane L's house, the only other Asian girl at Heim Middle, whose mother, it was rumored, was a Jehovah's witness and crazy. There's Linda W's house, where I went for the birthday party and gave her a green rubber statue of a Chinaman with the caption, "I rov you rots and rots." Which reminds me of the joke Jie-L told in yoga class with the cross-country team: How do Chinese people name their kids? They throw silverware at a wall and name their kid after whatever sound it makes. How easily we take on the attitudes of the dominant culture, or is it a pretense in order to protect ourselves?

What's weird about Buffalo is that now it seems that the suburbs have become Buffalo, and the city itself is a relic. Amherst, Williamsville, Getzville, and Tonawanda ARE Buffalo now. Everyone lives out here. Which is a shame because it's a completely car-dependent culture, and the landscape chemically-dependent. There are tons of malls with gigantic, sprawling, largely empty parking lots. On the positive side, it's become quite racially diverse. Far more people of color everywhere than I remember growing up.

I went to the cemetery today where we have 4 family graves: my brother John, mom and dad, and Caleb, who was my brother's stillborn son. It was maybe the first time I've visited the graves alone, and it took me a little while to find them. There was only 1 other person at the cemetery and I was trying to give her space, but it turned out that she was visiting and tending the grave immediately adjacent our family plot. It seemed a bit intrusive and oddly coincidental to be right next to her as she was weeding and trimming the hedges, so I took a little walk around the cemetery (which also had just been sprayed). I saw and heard robins and red-winged blackbirds, and many other birds I don't know yet. The trees have tiny little leaves--picture little 2-inch oak leaves, so it was relatively easy to spot the birds. After the other visitor left, I sat on John's stone, sang songs, and left stones on each grave, a Jewish tradition, I'm told. It was wonderful to just hang out at the cemetery. Whenever I'm there with others we only stay a few minutes. This time I was able to just be there, feel, remember, and pray.

Tomorrow I see my uncle Waun-ki and brother Robert and go to the university for the festivities.

Basking in the shadows of our former selves,
pkh

Thursday, May 8, 2008

MY PLAY IS FINALLY OPENING

COME AND SEE OUR PLAY!!!! RECEPTION OPENING NIGHT AT THE THEATRE! You all know Deb and I have been toiling away on this project for 3 years. It's finally going to be up. Come and see what we've been developing. I hope you will find it edifying, moving, and inspiring. Tell friends! We also invite community groups to table in the lobby, and groups of 10 or more get a 20% discount. Contact Jackie for details. much love and thanks for your continued support--peggy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2008

Contact Jacqueline Lalley
847-345-4823
smallpieces@invitingpositivechange.com

Women's Voices Bring Iraq War Home in "Small Pieces Fly to Heaven"

MILWAUKEE, WI--In "Small Pieces Fly to Heaven," running June 5-8 at Off-Broadway Theatre, 342 N. Water Street, an ensemble led by Peggy Hong and Deborah Clifton shares the anguish, beauty, humor, and common ground of women in the face of the current Iraq war.

Based on Iraqi women's blogs, memoirs by US military women, and interviews with American civilian women, "Small Pieces Fly to Heaven" uses poetry, movement, and performance to explore the Iraq war from the "back lines," where women keep life going. What is the effect of war, on the ground, for ordinary citizens, whether Iraqi or American? How are women in America impacted, far from the battlegrounds of Iraq? Do Americans even remember that we are at war? In a drawn-out war with no end in sight, how do Americans and Iraqis move forward? "Small Pieces Fly to Heaven" makes a distant war personal and immediate.

"Small Pieces Fly to Heaven" is an ensemble project led by Deborah Clifton of Theatre X and Peggy Hong, Milwaukee Poet Laureate 2006-2007. The ensemble developed material through an ongoing salon of local women artists meeting for over a year. Contributors and performers include Alexa Bradley, Grace DeWolf, Yvette Mitchell, Rachel Raven Lily Sophia, Mary Lou Lamonda, Dena Aronson, Libby Amato, Maggie Arndt, Megan Kaminski, and Erin DeYoung. Sets by visual artist Fahimeh Vahdat draw attention to social and spiritual issues and draw on her personal experience as an Iranian refugee. Clifton directs the production.

"War dehumanizes us, but this play brings us into intimate contact with full human beings: women living through the war, both civilian and military," says Hong. "Through their stories, we find beauty, humor, anguish and common ground. As we realize our interconnection, we can hopefully move forward."

"Small Pieces Fly to Heaven" plays June 5-8, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, at Off-Broadway Theatre, 342 N. Water St. Tickets are $20 or $16 for students and groups of 10 or more. To purchase, call 414-278-0765. Previews are June 2-4 at 7:30 pm and are open to the public.

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Interviews and photos are available; call 847-345-4823 or email: smallpieces@invitingpositivechange.com.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

WRIGHT, OBAMA, AND YOU AND ME

I cried yesterday, as I heard Obama denounce his pastor. His story seems to be unfolding like an epic Greek drama.

For this man who was abandoned by his Kenyan father to be forced to throw his spiritual father under the bus (as they most unpleasantly say) broke my heart. And for Wright, who loves Obama, to be pushed under, hurts as well.

Even more so, Obama’s press conference on Tuesday, April 29, sounded to me like a rejection of the progressive social justice platform altogether. Frankly, I felt personally rejected, as a woman of color with radical leanings, tossed under the bus along with Wright. Bounce, thud.

What does it take for a black man to be elected president of the US? What must he compromise? Is it worth the price? How can he assuage the mainstream while sincerely working for change? Can he have it both ways?

Now I am under no illusion that Barack Obama is a progressive. His voting record in the Senate is to the right of Hillary Clinton’s. Still, I voted for him because he represents the strongest potential for changing politics-as-usual.

The fact is, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. speaks my mind more closely than Obama does. I will do my own research on HIV on African Americans, but aside from this comment, I agree 100% with everything I’ve heard over the past years, months, and days.

None of our major 3 candidates addresses the elephant in the living room: the American empire. None address the problem of the corporate-run media, not to mention the corporate-run war and the corporate-run US Congress. None challenge the basic power structure of this nation.

We need both the Jeremiahs and the Obamas. We need to acknowledge the dark: the reality of racism, sexism, and oppression still alive in America. And we need to embrace the light: to believe in change, to have something to hope for, and to work tirelessly toward our brightest potential.

John Nichols wrote the most refreshing commentary on the topic at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/316575 . He blames the mainstream media for creating this debacle and for victimizing Wright. But I would go a step further. The MSM is only one result of our nation concentrating wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands.

We are in the waning days of capitalism. The great experiment found fruitful ground in the USA, and we’ve carried it to an unprecedented extreme, making profit from everything from education to water to airwaves to health care, and most painfully, war.

So where do we go from here? I’m a yoga practitioner—I have to practice optimism!

Howard Zinn reminds us that electoral politics is only a fraction of our responsibility as citizens at http://www.progressive.org/mag_zinn0308. Jesse Jackson reminds us that real change comes from a combination of litigation, legislation, and demonstration. [http://www.wpr.org/book/080427a.html] He retells a story of Harry Belafonte’s, about civil rights leaders in the 1940s meeting with President Roosevelt, laying out their agenda for equality. FDR told them that he basically agreed with everything they said, and instructed them, “now go out and make me do it.” Real change has to come from the people. We fortify and center ourselves through yoga practice so that we can creatively and effectively speak truth to power.

We can’t wait around for Obama or any other candidate to catch up with us. We can’t ask a retired pastor to be our bull-horn. We have to agitate, motivate, push and pull, and stand up for justice. Individually we can turn off our TVs, dig in our gardens, ride our bikes, reduce consumption, and increase community. I’m with Wright: whomever is elected, on November 5th, we have to be right there, demanding justice.

Now let me get out from under this bus….enough already.