Movie Review: “I Am Not Your Negro”

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This is the most moving documentary I’ve seen in years. The impact, if you open yourself up to what’s on the screen, is immediate, lasts throughout the relatively-short film, and follows you out onto the street afterward. I saw it a few weeks ago, but I can feel the echo of it around me still.

I was a little concerned, before I saw it, that the entire time James Baldwin’s words or images were on the screen, Samuel L. Jackson’s voice would hover over them. Nothing against Jackson, a great actor who I enjoy, but I went for the experience of Baldwin briefly-revived, and didn’t want that experience diluted. I didn’t have anything to worry about. Jackson did read Baldwin’s words, in places, but his softened his voice and cadence give us narration that was less “Nick Fury” and closer to Baldwin’s “delicate but precise New York writer”. Enough, anyway, that it worked.

Big chunks of the film are in Baldwin’s own voice, from interviews and lectures and if you haven’t seen that man lecture before, go now, go online, go to YouTube, and find him. (Thanks to the internet, he lives on, at least a little.)

The rest is photographs, old and new, and some small clips of Black Lives Matter groups protesting in the last few years.

But what it is, really, is James laid bare, reaching out, reaching forward, to remind us that racism is not gone, not in the past, not even that old. We’re not post-racial, here in America; we are the children and grandchildren of those angry white mothers and brash young white supremacist boys who spit on black children wanting nothing more than a seat in a schoolhouse so they could learn.

Some people reading this are old enough to have been there, clutching their purses which righteous indignation, carrying signs, screaming, spitting, throwing rocks, or worse. That’s not a condemnation of my readers. It’s just a fact — one this documentary reminds you of, softly, crisply, and clearly.

But it’s even more than that. It’s a history lesson. It’s a look at how black men and black men’s bodies were regulated, even as they turned a profit. It’s also a reminder to speak up, to be yourself regardless of the circumstances, to write boldly, to make a mark, to love, to live, before it’s too late. Because it’s always too late, eventually.

Go see it in the theater while you still can.

Watch the trailer on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNUYdgIyaPM

A tiny contribution to (the exquisite! corpse of) Uncanny Magazine’s Issue 15

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Cover by Julie Dillon

Last month, Uncanny Magazine editor Michael Damian Thomas came up with a creative way to put off writing an editorial for Issue 15. He called it The Uncanny Magazine Exquisite Corpse Editorial — and I got to contribute a sentence to it!

In his introduction, Thomas explained…

The Exquisite Corpse was an old Surrealist game where you build off of what the previous person created, but you never see the whole. In this case, each writer only read the previous sentence before writing their sentence. Then their sentence and only their sentence was passed to the next person, and so on. On that note, enjoy this editorial by nearly 40 writers!

You can read our collaboration here.

The first half of the magazine is already online, free to read, here.

You can also subscribe to a full year at Weightless Books or Amazon, plus buy single issues from those retailers, Kobo, and Google Play.

Catching up has an order of progression, doesn’t it?

I knew that moving would help me by reducing the amount I had to pay each month, which would reduce my stress, let me spend less time chasing new work, and more time on the tasks and chores that are necessary for a functioning life. I was right about that, and more — I’m sleeping better, for one. (A lot better, actually.) And I’m managing the day-to-day tasks in a way I wasn’t able to before; keeping up with what’s due now is a novel feeling I’d like more of, thanks.

What I didn’t realize is that, five weeks later, I’m still getting caught up. Not with the immediate tasks, because I’m doing okay there, but with all the things I’d put aside because it felt like I didn’t have the time or brain to even consider them. I was, as they say, all out of spoons. I was surviving, and barely at that. So, paperwork? Getting back to someone I was already late to reply to? That project or idea I’d wanted to start back in December? That stuff, I didn’t remotely have the capacity to tackle.

Now I do. So, I am. But it’s a weird feeling, to be catching up and behind at the same time, because for me, that usually came with a crushing amount of stress and fear and avoidance. (Yeah, I avoid people when I think they’re going to be mad at me. I know why, I’ve had therapy, and I’m much better about it these days, but at my worst, it’s still an issue.)

I got through February doing almost everything February required. Schoolwork? Done. My apartment? Unpacked, organized, and currently clean. (Even the bathroom, the place most people put off tidying until the very end.) I also got around to sleeping regularly, spending more time with my son, and even joining a gym to get the exercise I desperately need. HUGE IMPROVEMENT, clearly.

My goal for March is to stay caught up, finish the things that were due in January, and maybe even start on December, while staying caught up with the now. For the first time in a long time, I think it’s possible.

Some day I will talk about my first 5 years in Ithaca (because it’s been 5 whole years, now) as the hardest and most useful time of my life. It’s been both, mostly because I struggled to not just get what I wanted, but to be who I wanted to be. I had to grow up, in a way I wasn’t even aware of before I moved here. I think I did.

I’m not quiet where (or who) I want to be yet, but I see it clearly, and I know what I have to do. It’s just a matter of staying on this path and continuing to put in the effort. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, after all.

I know that I can do the work, given enough time. I know I will. I know that whatever knocks me down, I’ll keep getting up and getting back on track, trying to do the right thing, even if I’m the only one who sees it. I’m a much stronger person than I ever was before, because of the last 5 years. I might even be a grown up.

I like that.

Updated: MOVING MOVING MOVING (Hey, I’m moved in!)

Updated Feb 15, 2017

hello

(This is Licorice, the neighbor’s cat. She is very friendly.)

 

We’re moving at the end of the month now! I had my first class of the new semester this morning, and then I picked up the keys to the new apartment, and have already taken over a carload of stuff.

If you didn’t already know… I was supposed to stay in my old apartment until summer, but the strain of balancing overworking myself to pay the rent plus school, parenting, relationship, writing, and managing last year’s health issues meant I was constantly stressed. My previous landlord wanted to do something else with the space, so when he asked if I’d consider moving out now, I jumped on the opportunity. I found us a (smaller but still nice) much cheaper apartment closer to the edge of town. There’s no downside to moving, and a few big reasons to go ahead:

My new place is about $500 a month less, closer to Logan’s school, and mine, so it’s be great for both of us. Plus, we’re living very close to my significant other, the last step before we can be certain living together will work for us. The short-term hassle of having to scrape up rent/deposit/moving expenses before I get back the deposit on my current apt, and having to move, was totally worth the long-term gain of not being behind on bills every month, worried and unable to spend time on anything for myself.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to balance a reasonable work schedule with a little more family time, and a chance to get back into a regular writing routine.