Image of real vs effect of real

As I was reading Slow Days, Fast Company, I was intrigued and confused at the same time.

I was drawn into the descriptions that Babitz provides that read almost like the ones you would find in a work of fiction. However, when examining the work through an autobiographical lens, it made me wonder if the descriptions were “too good.” Babitz seems to have no problem with remembering and I don’t think she ever addresses the problem of remembering. For example, in the Bakersfield section she writes, “The women moved easily around the patio and spacious backyard, holding drinks, seeming mildly amused at the oval stomachs draped in flowered cotton fabric. Their wedding rings reflected the pink twilight, their golden bracelets caught the light of the mustard hills.” This line from the Bakersfield section made me question if this memory was somewhat embellished for the sake of imagery and engaging reading or if it truly remained that vivid in Babitz’s mind. When I think about my memories wedding ring and bracelet reflections aren’t the first descriptors to pop into my mind, but when I am reading fiction I am counting on these descriptions being present. It seems Babitz always remembers what she seeks to and it makes me wonder how “true” it all is, or what version of “truth” Babitz was striving for.

But at the same time, “the problem of remembering” is not really a problem at all, in fact, we know memory, truth, and remembering are all subjective. Memory changes each time we recall it and while the first thing we expect is a recall of the past, me about the idea of fiction “repurposing the real”and the distinction between the image of real vs the effect of real. When reading, I didn’t get the sense that these events were so unrealistic that they could not happen, but I felt the way I would reading realistic fiction or a good TV drama. If I had to categorize it, I would argue that Babitz has repurposed the real into a “new real” that she has come to live with, a real that may not have the effect, but has the image.

Lines inspired by A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship

Disclaimer: I don’t consider myself a poet but I wanted to try LOL

Three Haiku While Pandemic Teaching

Pandemic teaching,

We have returned to “normal”-

This is not normal.

Pandemic teaching,

Students have a skill gap from

Eighteen months ago.

Pandemic teaching,

Plus first year teaching equals

A very strained me.

 

Poem Written On the Queens Village LIRR Platform

The sun rises like a phoenix emerging. Pinks, purples, and oranges in one distant corner, leaving the rest of the sky untouched, dark, in ashes. Me? I think I’m in search of some kind of truth, waiting on a 6:41 train that almost always comes at 6:43, looking at the train time app increase my travel time minute by minute, wondering why it couldn’t just tell the truth in the first place. Things often aren’t what they appear to be-this is known- yet I succumb to naive ignorance every time.

Figure out why you needed to have a N-, and we’ll figure out how to move towards change

After watching “I Am Not Your Negro” and reading “The Fire Next Time,” the motif of confronting the past, and the truth about America and oneself as a necessary step towards change, is one that stays with me. As a black woman, I always saw the race problem in America as White people not being willing or ready to “accept” black people as equals. While being of the target of hatred is exhausting and traumatic among other things, I have never internalized it as a problem with myself. I have not succumbed to destruction by believing I am “what the white world calls a nigger”(Baldwin 9). I have always believed it was a problem with white people, who for some deluded reason, hate black people. “I Am Not Your Negro” and “The Fire Inside” drives home the point that, people, particularly white people, have to face the past and themselves or hope for future change is improbable.

“I Am Not Your Negro” reinforces this point in numerous ways. Baldwin’s words and sentiments, explain that story of America is one designed to convince us that no crime has been committed in its conception and thus turns something that is nothing short of a massacre, into legend. America’s history is a lie of pretended humanism, that offers the deception that the racist history of this country is justifiable. The Negro problem is the means of providing this justification, and crucial to safeguard white purity, and soothe a guilty and constrained white imagination. White Americans invented the negro as an inferior entity and has based their entire ideology and moral justification on the idea that the negro is in fact inferior, not human,  and deserves to be treated as such. To protect that delusion, cowardice, immaturity, and blindness has been woven into the American fabric as virtues that attempt to convince people of baseless ideas. Examples of these ideas include: black people have no reason to be bitter, white people are innocent of any atrocities, America is a place of humanity and life is without issue here, Racism doesn’t exist anymore. Living and accepting delusion (I cannot find an appropriate synonym) in this way, covering up and ignoring the reality of the past, does not inspire change. In the film Baldwin says, “What white people have to do, is try to find out in their hearts why it was necessary for them to have a nigger in the first place. Because I am not a nigger. I’m a man. If I’m not the nigger here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it is able to ask that question.” This quote brings to light for me the fact that, the goal is not for white people to be ready to accept black people,  but for white people to accept themselves. To face the realities of history, of their own prejudices and dispositions, in order for any change and reconciliation to be possible.

To face the realities of ones own  prejudice and harmful dispositions. however, is not something that is appealing, or something that people want to do, upholding the idea that black people are inferior has destroyed and is “destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and [many white people] do not know it and do not want to know it” (Baldwin 10). It is not easy to be released from a history has needed to uphold the idea that black makes a human inferior to white. Baldwin explains that many white people know better, but find it difficult to act on what they know because,

“To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations” (Baldwin 12)

To reconcile an integrated future with black people, white people would have to dismantle the foundations of their identity and country. Only then can change be a possibility. But again, to this day, some people are not ready to confront these realities, thus racism and fire persists. Also important, though not presented as the most glaring priority, is the need for white people and black people to confront the reality that we need each other if we are to exist successfully in this country. Baldwin offers the knowledge that “we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation—if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women” (Baldwin 59).

Both the film and the book had me thinking about the narrative of a nation, especially one as interdependent as America. Whose story is at the forefront? What are the ethical implications of painting a moral history for a country rooted in hatred, barbarianism, and delusion? How concerned is America with the truth? How do we negotiate the fictions American identity is founded on?

Let Nas Down by J Cole

J Cole’s song “Let Nas down” gives listeners insight on the pressures and frustrations that come with succeeding in the music industry, and how he let his idol, Nas, down in the process. The song echos many of the idea that Eakin and Powers offer such as social accountability and the right to privacy or anonymity.

In the first verse of the song J Cole begins his story and name drops three people immediately. He first mentions Nas, whom he explains his admiration for by detailing memories of printing his raps and taping them on his wall. He goes on to recall him meeting Nas on tour, J Cole lets him know how much he admires him and Nas replies that he is also a fan of him. Before listeners can obtain more details about their meeting, he moves on to the next name, Hov, or Jay Z. At this point in the verse J Cole details the pressure he felt from Jay Z and his label to make a radio hit that he couldn’t soak up the moment with Nas, he raps, “Hov askin’ where’s the record that the radio could play/And I was strikin’ out for months, 9th inning, feelin’ fear/Jeter under pressure, made the biggest hit of my career” The biggest hit J Cole refers to is his single “Work Out,” However it wasn’t initially clear that the song would be one of the biggest hits of his career. Instead, he raps, “Dion called me when it dropped, sounded sad but sincere/Told me Nas heard your single and he hate that shit/Said, “You the one, yo, why you make that shit?” In these lines he drops another name, Dion, also known as No I.D. He raps about fining out that his Idol Nas hated his new song, and implies that he is disappointed in him for abandoning the lyricism he was coming to be known for. These lines lead listeners to the chorus which includes the line “I let Nas down” in several configurations.

This first verse arguably violates Nas, Jay Z, and Dion’s right to anonymity and privacy as Powers describes it. J Cole walks an ethical line when he not only decides to name drop these people but also including what listeners will take as truth. Powers mentions a “thrilling immediacy that comes at the risk of their makers dignity and their close companions’ right to anonymity.” When J Cole names and quotes these people it brings them directly into involvement with the content of the song. This can be thrilling to the maker and listeners of the song where the goal is to explicitly depict a narrative where listeners gain access to a life they otherwise would not be privy to, which is what makes confessional songwriting “stand out as a counterforce to pops generalizing tendencies” according to Powers. However, this also comes with the potential infringement on peoples right to privacy. The right to privacy, in this instance, could complicate the truth, lending itself to the questions: How much is ethical to disclose in a song? Isn’t autobiography inevitably a display of privacy? Should we just charge it to the game?

Another substantial ethical dilemma this song illuminates is the issue of social accountability that Eakin offers. Eakin explains that social accountability conditions us to believe that recognition as a person is translated through the exchange of identity narratives, thus, a narrative that is not satisfactory would equal no self. But what narratives are deemed ‘satisfactory’ and what are people holding themselves accountable to when making autobiographical music? Eakin suggests that it’s the responsibility of the people receiving and judging these narratives to decide.

Let Nas Down can be judged against the pillars of social accountability based on its perceived lack of sensitivity to culture and context as it relates to those of the Christian faith. In the refrain of the song J Cole raps “Yeah, long live the idols, may they never be your rivals/’Pac was like Jesus, Nas wrote the Bible/Now what you ’bout to hear is a tale of glory and sin/No I.D. my mentor, now let the story begin” While J Cole is using the trope of a fall from grace to describe his perceived highs and lows in the music industry, the comparison of human figures to Jesus would be considered offensive, or unsatisfactory to many Christians. Not only does J Cole make this comparison, but in the last verse of the song he then compares himself to the “Lord on the cross” when he raps, “And so, I took the fall/Like the son of the Lord on the cross/Dyin’ for that fake shit you niggas bought.” Here J Cole ultimately expresses the feeling of taking a fall from grace, falling out of favor with Nas and selling out on a song that departs from his lyrical roots.

Overall, Let Nas Down is a narrative of discontinuous identity where J Cole acknowledges he is not now who he was. His truth is that he walked “amongst the evil” of making dumbed down, radio friendly rap music, for the greater good of getting listeners to listen outside his “core” and show them they “need more.”

Listen below, what do you think about these “ethical dilemmas”?

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