The Brian Lehrer show on New York's public radio station WNYC has an annual tribute to Martin Luther King. Callers read one-minute passages written by someone who is not of their own cultural background. I have, as an ever aspiring yogi and aspiring martial artist, found great meaning in the teachings from these disciplines. In the spirit of MLK Day I share these two passages:
I must say that when the eyes are used externally it is to observe the inevitable faults of other beings, most of us are rather quick with readily equipped condemnation. For it is easy to criticize and break down the spirit of others, but to know yourself takes maybe a lifetime. To take responsibility of one's actions, good and bad, is something else. After all, knowledge simply means self-knowledge. Bruce Lee
I am sometimes asked whether it is necessary for a yoga practitioner to believe in God. My reply is very simple: 'If you don't believe in God, do you believe in your own existence? Since you believe in your own existence, that means you want to improve yourself for the betterment of your life. Then do so, and perhaps it may lead you see the higher light. So, there is no need to believe in God, but you have to believe in yourself." B.K.S. Iyengar
1980s Portland: the neighborhood now known as the Alberta Arts District was the heart of the city's gang, crime and crack scourge. i lived just off of Alberta and would often walk to school: past the empty buildings (now a doggy day care), past the dingy shack-like bar, past the convenience store that seemed to sell mostly doritos and beer, and then down to union avenue--the major street that ran through the city and led you straight to washington state. i hated union avenue because it was the street of prostitutes and dealers and, inevitably, i'd have to stand on that corner--among the cast of the street's characters--waiting for the light to change on my way to or from school.
one day when i was walking home from school, a bright blue sports car whizzed by. i was approaching union avenue--about four blocks away. as i walked toward the next street, the car sped by again--it had circled the block. the driver honked. i was startled by the noise of the car's engine, the car's speed, and most definitely the honk. was that for me?
i was feeling good and full of myself that day. i was wearing a white mexican peasant blouse that dropped a little off my shoulder jennifer beals style, and a flowing purple peasant skirt. i felt cute. i had even received a compliment from the boy on whom i had a hopeless crush. "nice shirt," he had said--or something equally non-committal--no matter, he saw me!
as i reached union avenue, the car--there it was again--sped up to me just as i reached the corner of alberta and union. an old man, gray-hair, sunglasses. a fat old white man in an expensive car said to me: so would you like a ride?
i was 16. stunned. and humiliated. the cast of characters on union avenue didn't seem like my temporary backdrop to him. it was my place. their status,their identity was my identity too.
no, i mumbled at first. "you sure?" NO, YOU F**** A****, i yelled. and he sped off.
around that time, community leaders around the country demanded that martin luther king, jr. be honored in some way: with a holiday or a city street naming. portland's black leaders decided it should be union avenue -- but how could anyone think it was an honor to name such a disgusting street--known at the time for its dilapidated buildings, cheap liquor stores and whores--after martin luther king? he should have a beautiful street. a street filled with trees and prosperity. give him 5th or 6th street downtown. don't give him this street--this ugly, depressing street--just because it's the black part of town.
i was so against the renaming that for years after the change happened i refused to call the street mlk, as it is commonly called now.
today that intersection has been redeveloped. the commerce of the street is no longer the commerce of drugs and prostitution. should it be considered an honor for that street to bear martin luther king's name? maybe now. maybe yes . . . now that a young woman might walk there--safely daydreaming--without being propositioned as a whore.
my books! It has been the only good thing about being stuck in bed for the last two days with a winter cold. The other side of the bed is reserved for a lifetime so there really is no room for my books on an everyday basis. (Always many books.) But for the two days I've been in bed all day--my books have had a chance to hang with me. I read until I go into a semi-conscious state of Nyquil delirium. I keep my finger on the page. I wake always too soon but I can't breathe--My nose is running or not running--I'm parched--and I can't breathe. But there are my books (and my moleskine) and after I grab some more Kleenex, some water, and drink more Nyquil or Dayquil or zinc or whatever, I'm back with my book--What am I reading? Waking, a memoir. Confessions of My Melancholy Whores, by Marquez. And a book that a friend is writing--a beautiful love story--I don't think I am allowed to say more publicly. But you will love this book. It's a big book. Smart. It's both lyrical and muscular.
Okay, it's time to head back to bed again. I feel the Dayquil wearing off . . . I've got to get back to my sleeping companions.
This week the New York Times ran an article titled All Is Not So Bad in the State of Denmark reporting on a study that explains the reason Danes have scored higher on surveys of life satisfaction than other Western Europeans. The study concluded that "the country’s secret is a culture of low expectations. 'It’s a David and Goliath thing,' said the lead author, Kaare Christensen, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. 'If you’re a big guy, you expect to be on the top all the time and you’re disappointed when things don’t go well. But when you’re down at the bottom like us, you hang on, you don’t expect much, and once in a while you win, and it’s that much better.'"
In Denmark, this culture of low expectations is called Janteloven. It's a social code--embedded in Danish culture and psyche--that basically states: Don't think you're anyone special or that you're better than others. To me, this is a depressing view of getting to happiness. Then yesterday, I saw that my anonymous friend was writing about happiness. This is what struck me most from the article that inspired her post:
"Connected to the happiness of mission is another joy that can no more be pursued than grace itself: the gift of creation. I've been blessed by the opportunity to let art pass through me on occasion. Whether songs, or essays, or interestingly designed haystacks, these manifestation of beauty, for which I take no more credit than the faucet should take for the water, have been wonderful gifts."
When I start to feel blue, I can generally trace it to the fact that the Universe is not providing me with accolades for my writing. The rejection letters pile up. My work is greeted by a giant yawn. I am not happy to be meeting the low expectations of an ingrained Danish code. But reading the article by John Barlow, I thought about the joy I feel when I am really writing (not sending out stories, or applications, or proposals). Applying for fellowships and awards (or even receiving them) is the pursuit. The writing is what makes me happy. Let me concentrate on that.
. . . you know, the sexy star (the younger brother) of the tv show prisonbreak.
eartha kitt is biracial.
barack obama is biracial.
i work this information into a lot of conversations lately--conversations that have nothing to do with prisonbreak, or broadway, or politics. i can't help myself. i'm so happy to claim some more people. and i think that's the reason i tell people. i'm happy to be out of the race closet. people are saying that they are biracial and so can i.
it's a touchy thing still as a brown-skinned woman in america with a black parent to call myself anything but black. think of how halle berry proclaimed victory for all black women at the same time she paid tribute to her white mother (her date) sitting in the front row. halle berry couldn't claim the prize for biracial women--because really, who are we?
so today, let me say: i'm biracial. so is wentworth miller. but i'm writing this is pencil not pen.