A Short List of Pleasures
by Andrea Hairston
This has been a hard year.
And what are writers, musicians, filmmakers doing about anything?
On the last day of the semester in response to a student’s suggestion that members of my class consider becoming artists, another student declared, “No offense, but…” She paused, looked at me nervously, and then continued, “But given the horrible state of things, it would probably be better for us to do something other than…well you know, we should…become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a…you know, somebody who really does something about things, as opposed to…” as opposed to being a filmmaker, a writer of books, an artist of any sort.
Maybe I’m cobbling together a few students here. Maybe the incident is big in my head because I’ve heard a variation on this theme all my life: “What’s wrong with you, child! You’re good at math, yet here you are, dancing ‘round and making up crap. Get real. Take a look out the window. You need to do something worthwhile.” That voice comes from 1950 something, yet it’s loud and clear as ever.
These have been trying times for quite a while.
“People go to a play, read a book, give thirty cents to Darfur on Facebook, and get snarky about injustice in an internet battle of BS. That’s 21st century activism.” I heard those remarks this morning, right before I sat down to write this Blog. Coming up with my list of favorites has been an interesting challenge in this context. I’ve been procrastinating.
Maybe it’s also the “no whining,” directive offered to “the black panel,” at Comic Con. Who wants to hear, yet again, that these are trying times? An enduring demon shouts in my ear, “We been knowing all that, so if you ain’t got nothing else to say, shut up!” Joking on myself, I reply, “Andrea opens her mouth and out drops Fight the Power!”
The student (who didn’t want to offend) asked, “What is there to do about anything?” and then answered the question herself. “Nothing really.” To her, and those nodding agreement, the future has already been colonized, and there is nothing for us to do but inhabit what the powerful elite have already determined for us.
So this list is about artists who are fighting the power. They/We are marvelous and resourceful. Agents of change, we are crafting the future. This list is a celebration of the artists who make me feel the possibilities of our world when so much in the culture is about numbing me (us?) out and abstracting away connections that I could feel to people, places, and the various marvelous beings that create this moment with me. This list is about writers, musicians, and filmmakers who have kept me (us?) going. Artists have saved my life! That is not hyperbole. Artists have offered me, a stranger more often than not, anonymous comfort, challenge, and wisdom. Artists have pulled me out of one funk after another, given me needed perspective, and moved me to action. Artists have made me check myself when I get too serious or too heavy to do any good. Artists have made me remember to laugh.
Once again in 2010, artists have sustained and inspired me.
This is therefore a short list of pleasures. There are a mob of artists who keep me going. It’s steady work, like the sun powering the life on the planet.
In the beautiful, breath-taking, delightful short form category:
A man and a woman sit at a table doing a hand dance like no other, posted by Игорь Прохоров on Facebook—simple and elegant.
OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass Rube Goldberg Version” is baroque and hilarious.
With a TV and film actor’s comic panache, George Takei chides anti-gay douche bags—assuring us it will get better. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UACK93xF-FE&feature=related)
A Flash Mob sings the Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall with voices that sent chills up my spin and brought tears to my eyes. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE)
In Target Ain’t People, a Flash Mob does a song and dance about democracy and corporate person-hood in Target—agitprop theatre at the checkout counter. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FhMMmqzbD8)
The music of my spirit:
Pan Morigan’s new CD, WILD BLUE is a surprise every time I listen to it. Pan’s word magic, devastating vocals, and delicious arrangements let you slow dance or shake your booty and go wild! Something for everybody. http://www.panmorigan.com/2010/12/wild-blue/
Janelle Monáe’s ARCHANDROID is an “Emotion Picture” brought to you by the Mad Minds of the Wondaland Arts Society and also has something for everybody too.
Books that held on to me:
N. K. Jemisin followed up her exciting debut novel, THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, with THE BROKEN KINGDOMS, another original, startling fantasy novel that refreshed the imagination and kept me turning pages long after I should have turned out the lights.
Reading the HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY by Suzanne Collins, I was so relieved that the girl heroine had friends, ambitions, and wasn’t just pining away for stalker male vampire who resists drinking her blood and bedding her before they are wed. The death-defying courage and marvelous spunk and imagination of the major characters in the HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY and Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN and BEHEMOTH are the perfect morning read—like a blast of endorphins. Unfortunately, I have to wait too long for Volume Three of the LEVIATHAN trilogy! Scott’s creatures and gadgets are a blast; the politics, romance, and world building is impeccable; the plot twists and turns a great ride. Most importantly, Westerfeld (and Collins) write to the young self that informs all of who I am. Young Andrea hasn't gone anywhere and she appreciates being taken seriously.
Films that offered me visions
I enjoyed the architecture of dreams in INCEPTION and the dreamers holding out for the rule of law in ROBIN HOOD. WINTER’S BONE, an independent gem directed by Debra Granik starred Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, a teenager taking care of her mother and brother in the Ozarks. Ree eventually goes on a quest to find her meth-cooking father or his body, so the family won’t lose their home. Talk about making a way out of no way!
I spent a week doing research at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC mostly at the National Museum of the American Indian. (http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=exhibitions&second=dc&third=current)
The Indian food in the café was a glorious experience for my tongue and nose and eyes and stomach. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by the images and material culture of so many Indian nations, to read/ hear the stories and histories, to listen to the music, and to feel the architecture of my experience guided by them. They offered a beautiful way out of no way.