“It Isn’t Nice” by Malvina Reynolds

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

We have tried negotiations
And the three-man picket line
Mr. Charlie didn’t see us
And he might as well be blind.
Now our new ways aren’t nice
When we deal with men of ice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

How about those years of lynchings
And the shot in Evers’ back?
Did you say it wasn’t proper,
Did you stand upon the track?
You were quiet just like mice,
Now you say we aren’t nice,
And if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
But thanks for your advice,
Cause if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

sept 13: celebration party for publication of “paternity”

my friend sue baruch is the proud author of paternity, out in paperback now! buy it here.

“Joel Berger’s charmed life is fast slipping away. Determined to father a child before he dies, Joel makes one desperate appeal to the women of his macrobiotic dinner group for help. Soon he is surrounded by a colorful cast of female characters, including his iron-willed yet oddly endearing mother, Sylvia. You’ll laugh and cry along with the Bergers as the story of their patchwork family begins to unfold, taking some deliciously unexpected turns along the way.”

susan baruch is the proud author of paternity

heddy honigmann’s “forever” – art and immortality

i believe patterns exist everywhere – in life, in art, in relationships. lovely patterns, ever-repeating, delicately wrought like lacework – patterns which crave balance and symmetry.

lately my conversations with friends have been about art – art as a radical change agent, a transformative force that can show us possibilities without reiterating the constraints of our thinking and therefore our being; art as a new language that bypasses the rigid, state-defined categories of religion, history, politics and culture; art as “the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test.”[1]

at the same time i have had discussions about the necessity to see each individual as unique – unfettered by perceptions related to race, ethnicity, nationality or religion; every human being a rich and complex amalgam of thoughts, emotions and physicality, with the potential for both good and evil.

it was in this state of mind that i saw “forever.” shot mostly at the père lachaise cemetery in paris, “forever” is a truly captivating documentary. it’s directed by heddy honigmann, a citizen of the world: her parents were holocaust survivors who immigrated to peru, she studied filmmaking in rome and now works in the netherlands. honigmann is interested in exile, loss and nostalgia. maybe that’s why i was strongly drawn to the emotive pull in her work. she is an innovator. when she begins to sketch a documentary idea, she imagines certain characters and it is up to her research staff to discover them in real life. thus, the line between fiction and non-fiction becomes blurred and the documentary form, already an arresting medium on account of its spontaneity, is exalted to the perfection of true artwork.

“forever” is an ode to art, artists and the people they inspire. père lachaise is famous for the many celebrities buried there – jim morrison, chopin, marcel proust, oscar wilde, ingres, modigliani, sadegh hedayat, yves montand, simone signoret, maria callas, george méliès. however, the real stars of the film are regular people who visit these graves (and those of loved ones buried side by side with them), spruce up tombstones, and tell stories. each story is beautiful, profound and unique, yet all the more human in its reverberations.

an old woman who visits her husband’s grave talks about escaping franco’s spain. she saw prisoners being executed in cold blood and lost her faith in god when a priest walked in to finish off survivors with a final gunshot.

a man pays his respects to sadegh hedayat. he’s a taxi driver but his passion is music, traditional persian music. it’s an important release for him, a way to stay connected to his culture, the only way to survive a life of exile. honigmann prods him gently to sing for her. he hesitates, demurs then obliges. he sings a poem by hafez.

this instant hook into the past via language is something i know intimately. there is my three decades long love affair with the french language. as i lost fluency – my ability to dream in french – my sense of grief was acute. with urdu it’s another kind of relationship. i have never had an urdu vocabulary comparable to french but it’s the language i feel at “home” in – where the discrepancy between my inner life and the rest of the world disappears and there is a level of unified calmness, a certain truth. after many years of living in a pakistani cultural void, when i listened to a faiz ahmed faiz poem sung by the inimitable noor jehan, a poem about how you cannot insulate yourself with romantic love once you’ve been exposed to humanity’s terrible suffering (“there are other sorrows in this world, comforts other than love. don’t ask me, my love, for that love again”), i was astonished by my own emotion.

talking about remembering the past, one of the most visited graves in père lachaise is that of marcel proust. stephane heuet, an ardent proust admirer, explains how he was so moved by the striking visuality of “a la recherche du temps perdu” that he decided to render it into a graphic novel. he sees proust primarily as a painter. prompted by honigmann, he attempts to explain the mystique of the madeleine. he differentiates between voluntary and involuntary memory – exerting effort to recall the past vs being spontaneously transported to another time and place. the madeleine acts as a trigger and suddenly proust is enveloped by his past, as vivid and palpable as when he was a child. heuet explains how this concept endows us with immortality. if all the places and times we have ever experienced reside simultaneously within us then we become a conduit for eternity. he goes on to talk about proust’s pursuit of happiness – in relationships, in possessions, in society – and his ultimate discovery that happiness can only be found in art.

a solemn-looking man talks about modigliani’s love of the human face; the way he uses light and color to abstract and imbue with emotion. along the way we find out that he’s an embalmer. he takes his work seriously. he feels responsible. when the family of the deceased takes a final look at their loved one, they should be able to remember them as they were in life.

a guide reminisces about his childhood visits to the cemetery with his grandfather. how death used to be a part of life – funeral processions would pass through the city center. he tells a lovely story about a young woman he once knew who changed him forever. in a moment of sharp clarity, his future seemed to spread out before him and he knew that he would never know boredom, for he would always have access to art.

an older woman tells a story of true, all-consuming love. her husband of two months, the love of her life, a much younger man whom she found in her fifties, killed by a bee sting. no, he had no idea he was allergic. he had lived in africa for many years. he could never have imagined. her pain is still keen. it’s hard she says. it’s hard when it happens to you.

throughout the film there are brief musical interludes. they sometimes underscore the stories being told but there is a consistent presence – chopin’s music. a japanese young woman who moved to paris to learn to play chopin the right way, talks about her father’s untimely death. he loved chopin. for her, playing chopin’s music is a mystical experience, a way to commune with her dead father. the film starts and ends with her and chopin is a grand finale to a small, sensitive film about exalted, universal themes.

thanks to my friends: terry for making me watch “forever” and damien and christopher for our discussions about art and humanity.

[1] mark slouka, “dehumanized – when math and science rule the school”, harper’s, sept 2009

Darat al Funun – Return of the Soul: The Nakba Project by Jane Frere

The Nakbah project was led by Scottish artist Jane Frere. The artwork is a multi-dimensional installation of around 3,000 wax figures. Suspended in the air by clear nylon thread, the figures are positioned on a raked angle across the space, giving the elusion of depth and motion representing the departure of Palestinians in the 1948 exodus. Sound, video and scripted testimonies will escort the figures. Full article.

Art as Resistance

The goal of the Warrior Writers Project is to provide “tools and space for community building, healing and redefinition”. Through writing/artistic workshops that are based on experiences in the military and in Iraq, the veterans unbury their secrets and connect with each other on a personal and artistic level. The writing from the workshops is compiled into books, performances and exhibits that provide a lens into the hearts of people who have a deep and intimate relationship with the Iraq war.” Full article.

Art as Resistance

John Pilger – The books that counter our “training” to make war

In their modern classic Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky describe how war propaganda in free societies is “filtered” by media organisations, not as conscious “crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalisation of [elite] priorities and definitions of newsworthiness”. Full article.

Somali-Canadian Rapper K’naan on Journey from Civil War Refugee to Global Hip-Hop Artist

Piracy in Somalia is something that is fairly new. Since the fall of Siad Barre’s government in 1991, a lot of major Western nations had been bringing their vessels into Somali waters and not only illegally fishing, costing Somalia over $300 million a year in stolen fish, but also dumping nuclear toxic waste. So fishermen, ex-fishers and even ex-coast guards and militiamen got together to hold these criminals at bay. Watch interview.