Inside the Lines

It is a test.
Not as functional as potty training
or as complex as matching shapes and colors
but a test just the same.
And so you sit doubled over
in a position that defies bones
with smudgy fingers working carefully
face screwed with concentration
and an occasional, focused and exasperated huff.
The blue cannot bleed to the red.
The red cannot touch the yellow,
because you are guided by solid black lines.
Working in earnest
to make the crayon behave in your hand.
Learning that if you press hard
the color is dark;
if you press lightly, it is barely there.
Finding wild abandon at having filled the edges
so you can broad stroke scribble through the middle.
Just the same, it is a test.
Rewarded even when what should be white in the eye is green
and the tongue is yellow
or the nails are striped.
The main goal is always staying inside the lines.

In one stroke you are 50
and all the books are filled
with tidy, neat inside-the-line precise shade.
What do you do when the borders disappear?
The sudden death,
your own breaking body
the change in course
a blank page.
What do you do when you must
create the image from scratch?
When your tiny hand only knows how to behave
and never learned how to give birth,
to improvise or riff?
So you dread the first un-girded mark
of your life that isn’t a test.
You self-medicate
and obsess a little I guess….
Somehow, you just have to learn to love the mess.

-ALD

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Hillary For President Because…Diahann Carroll

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Diahann Carroll in “Julia” (1968)

In the summer of 1995, I was standing back stage on board the cruise ship Legend of the Seas. It was my first week as Production Manager and the guest star for this cruise was about to go on stage. The phone rang and with less than five minutes to curtain, I was inclined to ignore the call, but I answered anyhow.

“Hello, this is Vic Damone…may I speak with Diahann?”

It was a reality check that I will never forget. At that moment, I had a legendary Hollywood star waiting in a dressing room and another legendary star (her ex husband) on the telephone calling shore to ship from Los Angeles to wish her well. What’s more, the star in the dressing room below was a groundbreaking actress on stage, film and television. And even more than that, she had been a symbol of black pride, beauty and the future of blackness throughout my youth. She was part of why I became who I am. I was about to introduce, Miss Diahann Carroll.

I asked our stage assistant to bring Miss Carroll up from the dressing room to receive her call. We would hold the curtain for as long as it took.

My time on board that week with Miss Carroll was not idyllic. I was new in the position and still trying to understand my authority; the ship was new and still technically under construction; Miss Carroll was nervous about appearing in her first live performance in several years plus being in preparation for taking on the role of Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard. Ironically, the only thing that was flawless that cruise was the Alaska weather. Still, despite all of the potential and actual angst, I came away from my interaction with Diahann Carroll completely besotted and with a greater understanding of just how important someone like her has been to the world. She was a game changer. We need more game changers.

When Diahann Carroll appeared in the title role of the television show Julia in 1968, she was the first black woman to lead a national network television show that was not variety or one where she played a maid.

The question is what kind of game changers do we need in the world? This election cycle, there has been a lot of talk about how Bernie Sanders and The Dump represent “out of the box” thinking. They are both painting themselves as non/anti-establishment candidates who are presenting alternatives to political business as usual. But are they really game changers? The Dump talks a very aggressive game. He says things that politicians don’t say; he does things that politicians don’t do. His unorthodox campaign is successful in terms of garnering him people’s votes as well as media presence as well as stirring up xenophobia and racism (even if he is by political standards financially broke). But I would argue that he is not a game changer; he is putting on a show. He is simply applying to politics the same dreadful histrionics he has used in business (one could call them theatrical robber baron or huckster tactics). As he always has, he is leveraging both his whiteness and his maleness to be given a pass as a “bad boy” where any non-white non-male would have been submerged (or put in prison) a long time ago. That is definitely business as usual.

Sanders is a bit different. He is talking an innovative game. Sanders brings vision and inspiration and soaring aspiration to the campaign that is desperately needed. He voices the real goals and concerns of “the people” and does not lose touch with that crucial connection. He is authentic and extremely wise. This is exactly what he has done for 25 years in Congress. He has not been afraid to present radical ideas and independent thinking. He has been a vocal opponent of the establishment, big business government, hawkish politics and he has been a consistent and dedicated voice for his highly independent constituents. But with all that, he has played entirely by the rules. Many people forget that the rules of the United States Government allow for dissent…radical dissent even. He has been vocal and sounded the rallying cry, but Sanders has not dismantled any systems or successfully blocked any of the usual way things are done in our government. Bernie Sanders may be using radically different colors, but he is still very much so drawing within the lines.

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Scenes from “Julia” (I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas)

When Diahann Carroll appeared in the title role of the television show Julia in 1968, she was the first black woman to lead a national network television show that was not variety or one where she played a maid. Her role was a professional nurse, and she was the star. It was also a show that spoke upfront about race in the middle of the most violent years of the Civil Rights Movement. Take for example the episode “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas” that opens with her young son arguing with a little white boy about the whether Santa Claus is black or white (see clip here). Prior to this, Miss Carroll had appeared opposite white actor Richard Kiley as a fashion model in Richard Rodgers’ No Strings on Broadway where she was also his love interest, breaking the color barrier in musical comedy. Because of her other powerful performances (Porgy and Bess, Carmen Jones, House of Flowers, etc.) she was a highly sought after guest on musical television programs with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr. and other major white stars. She was not a ‘sex kitten’ a ‘blues mama’ or a domestic. Diahann Carroll was presented as a legitimate, mature artist who’s stunning voice, acting chops and statuesque beauty could not be contained in the racist attitudes of the day and could easily rival Doris Day or Barbra Streisand. In the 1950’s she had married white producer Monte Kay who was also 14 years her senior. imageIn the late 1980’s she stood toe to talon with Joan Collins in Dynasty.  She was powerful without being a cliché of black womanhood. Diahann Carroll was always true to herself which meant that she never played by the rules of her era. She was a real game changer.

Hillary Clinton insisted that the role of First Lady (both of Arkansas and then of the United States) was not simply to play hostess. Building on her role model Eleanor Roosevelt, she saw herself as both an extension of the President’s political power and effectiveness and as an independent player with a clear political agenda. Clinton then went completely against the grain of former First Ladies and opted to run for and win a seat in the US Senate instead of devoting herself to her husband’s legacy. Following a highly volatile battle for the Presidency against Barack Obama, she then went on to serve as his Secretary of State. We can and should argue about her record in each of these roles and we can find fault and favor with her decisions and motivations in certain circumstances, but it is undeniable that she has rewritten the resume of qualifications for people seeking high political office, particularly women. She has actually changed the game.

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Diahann Carroll today

We need game changers. This is the rhetoric that The Dump and Sanders are using. Sometimes you have to play outside of the box, or draw outside of the lines. But there is only one candidate who has consistently done this throughout their career. In fact, she has drawn an entirely different picture of what it looks like to find a path to the White House. One could argue that she has performed no better than any other white male politician. But I think you would be hard pressed to find any other politician with her public service pedigree and I believe we are a little to quick to assume that the playing field is so level that her being a woman doesn’t matter.  No one seems willing to use gender to Clinton’s advantage, but all too many are willing to use it as a weakness (criticism of her hair, clothes, voice, etc.) We need to invest in her as a whole and uniquely qualified person…a woman, an international statesperson, a Senator, a First Lady and an attorney…a game changer…and more importantly we need to insist that she see herself this way as well. She is the true radical by raising the bar for qualifications of all Presidents who follow, male or female.

The 2016 presidential election will not be won by the status quo, but in our current climate of ethical volatility, most people are focused on lofty ideology. It would serve the voting public to shift that focus more toward actual skills, political caché and battle tested durability that will be necessary to move the immovable object of the US Congress to action. This election should be won by the person who opens up a completely new way of thinking about what it means to be President of the United States and what that means to the context and relationship between our three branches of government. This next administration may not be as much about policy as some would have it as it is about the person. Just as the producers of Julia must have realized they had a unique opportunity, Hillary Clinton can be our nation’s Diahann Carroll.  What’s wrong with a black Santa Claus anyhow?

A World of His Own

 

A map of the world, showing  the British Empire coloured  in red at the end of the  nineteenth century.      Date: late 19th century

A map of the world, showing the British Empire coloured in red at the end of the nineteenth century. Date: late 19th century

In the world he has built for himself, the presumptive Republican Nominee for President of the United States has never had to think about or navigate his own racial identity. Growing up in privilege, schooled in a regimented, segregated environment and being sent into the world with a blessing and bank account, there was never any need for that part of his education. He may know some of “the blacks” or “the gays” and be loved by “the hispanics” but I’m convinced that he hasn’t the slightest clue about how he actually exists as one of “the whites”. I’ve come to realize that the main reason “The Dump” (as he will be referred to from here on) is so absolutely dreadful on issues of race and class is because he suffers from a lethal case of racial amnesia. He is incapable of seeing his own social location.

Consider what James W. Perkinson says In his book White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity:

Whiteness is, in fact, a very peculiar kind of opposite – a position, a privilege, a presumption, a pride, a propertied entitlement, a protected comportment, a way of walking, talking and “being” that operates not simply as an equal and inverse form of the thing it differs from, but rather precisely as its supreme judge. Whiteness here is not so much one term of a comparison, as the eye that compares in the first place. And like any eye, the one thing it cannot see is itself. It is rather, for itself, a strange form of invisibility.[1]

“The Dump” cannot see himself. He has built a world in which he has his own language, his own aesthetics, his own morality and ethics and where everything and everyone is designed to serve his dictates…or they are “fired”.  It is a world where he has no culpability, offers no apology and everything is justified because he owns it, or so he thinks.  The best examples of this are his statements about how much he “loves women” and then when they are not serving to bolster his fragile ego, he attacks and/or divorces them.  He must have Ivanka drugged.

Let me be clear, I am not in the least bit invested in condemning white people. I think, however it is crucial to understand that we are in the midst of watching a global re-evaluation of white identity and it is (to use British MP Chuka Umunna‘s term for the Brexit situation) seizmic. The United States is seeing the shift in both the growth of white supremacist groups right along side an explosion of white involvement in fighting issues of oppression against communities of color. But the convulsions are not just in the United States. With “Brexit”, we have just witnessed the implosion of the most significant historical expression of white domination, what was once the “Great Imperial Family” solely responsible for the largest global colonization in human history. The racial and ethnic power vacuum that has been growing over the last 60 years is unprecedented and was sealed with the Brexit vote. As a result, although I believe that the UK leaving the European Union is potentially disastrous for the global economy, it is most certainly catastrophic in terms of how it will now embolden the likes of extreme racialized nationalists (like “The Dump”) to point toward the UK and say, “look, they did it…why can’t we?” Let’s all just pick up our toys and run away, or build walls or reject refugees or ignore pandemic disease, because it doesn’t involve us. Although this is not done with quite the racial boldness of an Adolf Hitler, it is hard to miss the “us and them” parallels in the basic psychology.

“The Dump” has spent a lifetime building a world for himself. He and other “would be” leaders like him, want to see their narrow minded, mono-cultural world flourish and thrive. And the world they are working toward does not see “the blacks” or “the hispanics” or “the women” or “the poor” let alone “the gays”, “the Muslims” or “the Asians”. “The Dump” world only sees threat..from religion, skin color and language. It only sees anger and fear. Most tragically for everyone, this is all because The Dump world is utterly incapable of seeing itself.

God save us all.

[1] James E. Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2004), p. 153.

Pulse

I’m with blogger Anjali Sareen, I’m sick of this shit (see her blog post HERE). I’m tired of writing about death in the US and abroad (see my post on the Paris Attacks).  I’m sick of writing about people’s religiously motivated biases.  I’m sick of writing about terror.  I’m sick of guns.  I’m sick.

So with the killing in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub, I’m now waiting for someone to make a statement that blames all Muslims for the latest attack.  I’m also waiting for someone to say that gays get what they deserve living their “sinful” lifestyle.  And like Anjali, I’m waiting for us to all too quickly forget and continue with business as usual.

But there’s one thing that we can’t forget or run away from or pray away or extinguish with bullets: the human condition.  Its greatest gift and challenge for us all is the perpetual state of being utterly different than every other human on the planet.  Although we might gang up on each other because of a perceived threat of skin color or idea of the divine or sexual partners, we’re still stuck with the fact that we are in the human soup together.

Folks, we can’t get over being human…so deal with it.

Pulse

When someone’s eyes meet yours
and you know that it is either sex or love
…or both…

When you say the words to your family
and wait for the tears,
shouts,
silence,
embrace…

When you march in the parade
being spat on
and verbally attacked because
“God hates fags!”
still holding your head high…

When you break up with a lover…

These are the pounding beats
of the racing heart
that skip and dance and fight and play
in our veins.
This is life being lived
not a “lifestyle”, choice or sin.
This is a way of being “human”
as old as the planet
that throbs in us all.

No gun,
No religion,
No politics,
No hate,
Will ever stop this
Pulse.

(for all of the kids who just wanted to have a good time last night, the staff and owners of the club and the families and community that is now torn apart.  We…loving, breathing human beings…are with you.)

Pretty Eyes

Paul Ryan

 

Such pretty eyes
big, limpid pools that seem both vulnerable
and searching
I could actually stare at them forever.
Well….

Yes, pretty eyes…
and I wonder what the world looks like
looking out of those big baby blues?
looking past the black and brown people
who are all looking at him for a clue
as to how they will eat
protect their families
or just feel safe…
like one might while falling in love with
those pretty, pretty eyes.

Pretty eyes,
that see the world
as a battle between good and evil
…good that doesn’t see me
and would sell me down the river
rather than look in my eyes.

Oh, those eyes
look past me
they look past so many
they look past anyone they don’t want to see
they only cast their sky pale glow
toward places already so well lit.

Don’t be fooled by pretty eyes,
those glistening mirrors
are fringed with darkness
that sprouts from a heart of coal
…such pretty, pretty eyes.
Intoxicating.
Exhilarating.
Reflecting the real darkness of a soul.

Today, House Speaker, Paul Ryan released his party’s agenda for creating a better plan to fight poverty in the United States.  No mention of the systemic barriers of race, gender, country of origin (and certainly not anything about LGBTQ people.)  Check out the snapshot here: A Better Way: Snapshot (full text: HERE)

And now have a look at some real solutions and strategies: PolicyLink: Equitable Economy

Click here to read more about my new collection of poetry “Love Beyond God”

Love Beyond God

I am thrilled to share with you all the publication of my first collection of poetry/meditations for the Unitarian Universalist Association and Skinner House Books.  There are many people to thank for making this happen, and I will try to capture a few of them here.  Thank you Mary Benard and the Skinner House board for actually taking the chance on this work and thank you Marshall Hawkins for pushing me through the editing process. Much gratitude to readers, colleagues and mentors Jim Mitulski, Marta Valentín, Janice Marie Johnson, Jo Green, Dalila Butler, Lee Whitaker, Shaun Travers, Clyde Grubbs, Roy Whittaker, Joellynn Monahan, Kenny Wiley, Charlie Sullivan, Chip Smith and Mark Morrison-Reed (and so many more!) for egging me on and really hearing me. Thank you to First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, the Pacific School of Religion and PolicyLink for continuing to support me through this project. And finally to friends Scott Nicolay, Talvin Wilks, John Hennessy, Ben Bobkoff, Benjamin Dunks, Nicola Rosewarne and Jamin Shoulet who all light creative fires under me that will never be extinguished.

And of course the biggest thank you to my entire multi-cultural, international and wildly over educated family. I love you all!

 

Excerpt from Love Beyond God

First Breath

That first breath must be delicious.

It must be more tantalizing,
more intoxicating than any drug,
fragrant like no flower will ever be
enticing like no body scent.
It must be all of this, and more
yet without words or memories, how do we know?

That first glorious rush of air
wants us to keep breathing
wants our hearts to keep beating
wants our eyes to open and see
wants our souls to open and say “yes.”

The first breath wants us to live all our life saying,
please God,
let me live
let me breathe
for just one day more

until we breathe our very last.

Order your copy from Skinner House Books Here:
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UUA Bookstore Love Beyond God

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now available on Amazon for Kindle: LOVE BEYOND GOD (electronic)

Read more in the latest issue of UU World here:

UU WORLD Summer 2016UU World Summer 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Please post a review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29823791-love-beyond-god?ac=1&from_search=true

 

Gentleman’s Agreement

As a man who has spent a lifetime being followed, cornered, propositioned and even groped against his will in restrooms, I can assure you that the predators are never trans*women, trans*men and not even usually self identified gay men. The culprits I’ve encountered are overwhelmingly cisgender “straight” men who feel like they have nowhere else to express these desires but in the “safety” of restrooms and locker rooms. These are the men who take advantage of the unspoken silent pacts and curious rituals of Westernized hetero-normative male bonding and are historically the ones who pose the greatest threat (think Dennis Hastert). The fear that is being projected by the men behind the current rash of anti-trans* “bathroom bills” is a product of their own twisted concept of what sex is, what a bathroom can be used for and frankly, I think they are only trying to protect their own fragile gender identities…not to mention their “right” to sneak a peek or hookup on the DL.

Yes, methinks the gentlemen doth protest too much…

Anointing North Carolina

After casting your vote,
you stand to anoint the glistening white head
with the Christening of manhood.
The ritual is rich with meaning
unconscious self conscious
as you tug at your history in the hierarchy
that flows with innocence
sometimes rises to embarrassment
and always sits on display with its simple visible purpose.

But it is not the final flick of moisture
At this font that holds the deepest meaning.
It is the furtive flash of an eye
that tells the true story
behind your belief that a public space for relief
is also the private space for release.
Your desire to shame those who only want wholeness
is meant to deflect attention
from the glances you give innocent disciples
whose untrained unrestrained excitement
at being thus blessed
is your cue to initiate them to the secret society
and teach its lessons and denial and lies.
Or maybe the restrictions you look to impose
are meant to press against how
you yourself were first evangelized
then baptized.

The frustrated communion of male bonding…
Eat for this is my body…
drink for this is my blood…
where taboo broken and DNA spilled
defines an age old covenant of hidden masculinities.
This is sacred space for you,
sanctified by anatomy anonymity
where glory is holed up in the tomb of a stranger’s pants,
and the promise that someday he will return.

You must pray,
for grace means never being asked where you’ve been…
or whether you even bothered to wash your hands.

 

Adam Lawrence Dyer is the author of Love Beyond God, the latest InSpirit Meditation Manual from the Unitarian Universalist Association: 

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http://www.uuabookstore.org/Love-Beyond-God-P17877.aspx