Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumn ~ the best season

In the autumn night,

 Breaking into

A pleasant chat.

Changed the red color,

Fallen on the tofu,

The leaf of the light crimson maple.

The upper reaches here

And the lower of the river.

The friend for the moon.

Drinking the morning green tea,

The monk is calm.

The flowers of chrysanthemum.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Remembering Earl Rich 26 years later

It's been 26 years since Earl Rich died. He was only 32, just a month shy of 33. 

He would be 58 now. I can't imagine it.

This is him in Valley Forge, 1995.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023


In France, all Barbies are Proust Barbie

Well it's been said that the French are pretentious while at the same time taking silly things - like Jerry Lewis - too seriously.

And no better example of this can be found than in the latest edition of the French magazine L'Obs

They ran an opinion piece on the movie "Barbie" that manages to mention the Bible, Shakespeare, the Rocky movies and Sigmund Freud.

My French comprehension level in reading is still only at the B2 level, so I relied on Google Translate to make sure I got all the nuances. Here is the last paragraph of the piece, translated into English. 

No, I did not make this up. SPOILER ALERT.

By not addressing the troubled relationship between power and desire, the film reproduces a Manichean and binary vision of society. How to speak, live, work together, with or without desire, but in equality? What if Barbie gave up the newfound power when Ken became independent again and freed himself from her gaze? Foreign (this is the etymology of the first name Barbara), she agrees to acquire a vagina to save the human race. From the "missing penis" theorized by Freud to the "erased vagina" imagined by Mattel, the female body gives rise to all fantasies, even when it is made of plastic!

"Barbie" was chosen because that was the name of the daughter of Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie. Trust the French to discover a deep etymological significance.

Earlier in the piece we learn the etymology of Ken, which is short for Kenneth which means handsome. 

And without any spoiler warning the article gives away the ending of the movie in the first paragraph.

The author Jennifer Tamas is French but teaching literature at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Obviously Tamas has successfully resisted all American influences.

The Barbie movie mentions a Proust Barbie:
Barbie and Ken’s arrival in the real world puts Mattel executives on high alert and they order their capture. Ken makes his way back to Barbieland by himself after exploring more of the real world and learning about patriarchy, while Barbie is found by Mattel’s agents and taken to the company’s headquarters. There she meets Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell), who’s waiting for her with a huge Barbie box. Barbie gets in the box and mentions that the smell is a Proustian memory, with the CEO mentioning how badly the Proust Barbie sold. 
While Barbie features discontinued, controversial, and obscure Barbies and Kens, Mattel never made a Proust Barbie.
I'll bet Tamas thought there was a real Proust Barbie.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

La chambre bleue - happy centennial

One of Suzanne Valadon's most celebrated paintings, The Blue Room (La chamber bleue) was painted in 1923, so it's one hundred years old now. 

Wikipedia has a very good entry about the piece:

In contrast to Valadon's depiction of the female form, artists such as Titian, Ingres, and Manet depicted female nudes with idealized womanly features. For example, the Grand Odalique, Olympia, and Venus of Urbino underscore a gendered role of women with full female exposures atop beds—as something separate from the model—creating an imbalanced power dynamic between the artists and subject.[5] The Blue Room is a response to these paintings as well as others, such as Matisse's Blue Nude and Félix Vallotton's The White and the Black.[citation needed] Substituting a cigarette for Ingres's hookah and taking Matisse's bold outlines, among other traits from the aforementioned works, Valadon creates a "startlingly contemporary" lounger, capturing a depiction of everyday life which is entirely her own.[1] Valadon's subversion and appropriation of her predecessor's techniques ultimately instigate a new trajectory for future depictions of the female form.

Fun fact - it was painted two years before The Great Gatsby was published, to give some context. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Murderbot speaks!

I'm a big fan of the sci-fi series Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and equally a fan of the voice actor who reads her books for audio, Kevin R. Free. 

So I was excited to find an interview, albeit brief, with Free on NPR.

Free talks about Murderbot here as well.

The cover for the next  book in the series is out - but the book won't come out until November. *sigh*

Monday, July 03, 2023

The Sophie Blackall saga continues

It's been a few years since I checked in with my arch-nemesis Sophie Blackall, the two-Caldecott award-winning, yet, nevertheless, terrible illustrator. And I was not happy to see that she is still, occasionally, hired to provide illustrations for adult media.

She gave Harvard Business Review two of the most anemic-looking rowers possible. 

I was amazed to find there is another Blackall critic out there. A blog called Booktoss has a post entitled Blackall's Bland as Blah... 

It really got my hopes up, that perhaps finally a true reconsideration of Blackall's dreck was underway, much like the work of Renoir is being reconsidered

Booktoss writes:
In the upper left corner there is an African American woman … she is pregnant and has 4 kids around here. Now, remember the page is about families, and in the US, that most often means a nuclear family.

What do you notice? She is Black, has lots of kids, she’s pregnant, and no partner is anywhere in sight.

What is the common and racist stereotype about Black women in America?


Absolutely right. But not a word about the wretchedness of the art? Not even about Blackall's habit of giving the face of every human - and occasionally even animals - round red cheek spots? 

Strangely, the rowers for Harvard Business Review do not have red cheek spots, and you'd think they would be more likely to have them, making a physical effort, rowing against each other. 

It occurred to me that perhaps she only does the red cheek spots for children's illustrations but you can see them in her subway art card, which is her absolute masterpiece in the ugly art competition, and meant not just for children but any hapless commuter. 

I would never have learned about the career of Sophie Blackall except that I was forced to stare at her subway art card for hours in over-crowded subway cars, and I finally had to learn the identity of the person responsible for my visual distress.

I happened to be thinking of Blackall recently because I made the acquaintance of the daughter of Lloyd Moss, who wrote an award-winning children's book called Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

Thanks to its illustrations by Marjorie Priceman, it made "honor book" in the Caldecott awards for 1996, but was not the big winner.

Obviously Priceman's work is much better than the precious awkward pastel fussiness of Blackall. Blackall receiving the top award twice is a disgrace to the Caldecott award system. 

But just when I began to despair of the world of illustration, I read in Blackall's Wiki:
She seriously injured her hand in a fall while working at a children's camp.[2] Rehabilitative physical therapy has only been partially successful; she may have to give up precision drawing, and change her creative methods.
Now, although I despise her work, I wouldn't wish injury on Sophie Blackall. But if she had to be injured anyway, well... a change from her former "precision drawing" has the potential to make her a much better artist.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Juneteenth Pilgrimage

I went to the Lincoln Monument in observance of Juneteenth. 

I made it to the monument by 8AM so there was hardly anybody there and I got some pretty good pix of the statue.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Spring - the second best season

Roosevelt Island Henge

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Google has lost its mind

Well the people who run Google's Blogger have gone completely nuts and have decided to start randomly banning blog posts for this blog including inoffensive content like this:

TITLE: All the Presidents' Men


In this scene Woodward is typing to Bernstein that Deep Throat (now known as H. Mark Felt) said that their lives are in danger and they might be bugged.

Good timing. While news of the latest Bush shananigans are still in the air, , Channel 13, the New York PBS affiliate, is running both "All the President's Men" and Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History, originally produced in 2003.

The similarities between Bush's concept of the presidency and Nixon's couldn't be clearer. Nixon thought, and Bush thinks that the president is above the laws of the United States - a virtual dictator.

Their biggest difference? Nixon subverted the Constitution covertly. Bush does it proudly and publicly.

As Nixon aid and Watergate witness John Dean observed, Bush is "the first president to admit to an impeachable offense."

There IS a political will to impeach. Get off your asses Democratic representatives!!!

Aside: The story of Robert Redford's involvement in the Watergate movie is very interesting

That's the content. I guess because the idiots at Google have decided to use AI to flag posts and their AI thinks that "Deep Throat" refers to the pornographic movie (which is, to be sure, the origin of the term) instead of a legitimate historical fact that Woodward and Bernstein used the term to refer to H. Mark Felt.

Google has lost its mind.

Fun fact: I once worked as a contractor for Google and my impression of Google's full-time employees was that they were all on drugs.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

This guy loves "Life During Wartime"

Because he likes "older music."  😿 OLDER MUSIC!!!!

But you gotta love watching anybody seeing David Byrne doing his noodle dance for the first time.

I've mentioned before, watching these videos, where somebody just reacts to watching music for the first time is a lot more fun than you might expect.

But shit, I saw "Stop Making Sense" when it was first released in theaters. Which was only like a few years ago according to my internal clock!



David Byrne is still out there, still rocking.

Just like me.


Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Barnes Foundation strikes back

As discussed previously on this blog, there is a group, called "Renoir Sucks at Painting" which, quite justifiably in my opinion, dislikes the paintings of Renoir. I've detested his work since I was in art school.

I was at the Barnes Foundation museum a year and a half ago to see its Suzanne Valadon exhibition. Interestingly, Valadon modeled for Renoir, before she became a painter in her own right. I compared her work with Renoir's

I also noted that the Barnes Foundation is known for having a huge collection of Renoirs. I imagined they wouldn't be pleased with the RSAP movement and its threat to their business model.

Well the Barnes Foundation is fighting back. Their post on Linked In (why Linked In?) says:
💡Did you know?💡 A lot of people love to hate Pierre-Auguste #Renoir. There’s even an Instagram account dedicated to him called “Renoir Sucks at Painting.” While it is debatable if he truly sucks, he undoubtedly occupies the strange position of being one of the most beloved artists of all time yet also one of the most reviled.

Join us online on Wednesdays, 5/3 – 5/24, from 12-2 pm, *live from the Barnes galleries*—home to the largest Renoir collection in the world (181 paintings, to be exact!) for #BarnesClass: In Defense of Renoir, to survey the artist’s paintings and discuss some of the specific criticisms they have inspired across the decades. We’ll consider this question: what if his work is more interesting than we thought?

After discussing Renoir’s theories of art, we will use deep-zoom technology to look closely (more closely than you ever thought you could get to a priceless painting, tbh) at several canvases to develop a better appreciation for his craftsmanship and how it reflects the values of the early 20th century.

Renoir haters will be encouraged to rethink their opinions—but are also welcome to dig in their heels! Register for this course today

On Instagram, the Renoir Sucks at Painting response includes a video by Martha Lucy, Deputy Director for Research, Interpretation & Education Barnes Foundation along with this comment:
Hey Everybody! This is actually happening! The @barnesfoundation has an online class all about Renoir and they’ve invited us to participate! Congratulations to us all. We are a part of Art History, and our ghosts will haunt the vibes of Renoir lovers for generations to come.
Each class will be cool and informative. And also funny. You can buy tickets at the link in the bio, and if you’re willing to subject yourself to the indignity of typing RENOIR4EVER into the discount code box at checkout, you’ll save 10%. 
Also! very important! If the cost, discount notwithstanding is prohibitive, dm me! I’ll gladly walk you through getting a full ride. These Barnes curators, cheeky though they might be, are really good about making sure this thing is accessible to all!

In her 2019 lecture available on YouTube, "The Trouble with Renoir" Lucy seems defensive and even a little whiny, and the title refers to "the trouble" that not everybody loves Renoir like Martha Lucy does.

She argues that because many critics of Renoir use food terminology it means that they are equating Renoir's work with pleasure and since the critics are suspicious of pleasure, that is why they don't like his work. 

What bullshit.

The RSAP gang use a great food-related word that perfectly captures the painful diabetic ketoacidosisness of Renoir's work: "treacle."

Later in the lecture, Lucy admits part of the trouble with Renoir is the vapid male-gaze nudes he painted during his creepy-old-man-going-blind late period. But then she tries to excuse it by claiming Renoir was being "subversive."

And claiming Renoir was a big influence on the hideously misogynist Picasso is not the slam-dunk she apparently thinks it.

On the plus side, the lecture alerted me to this funny piece in The Onion: Art World Relieved As Thieves Steal Pretty Terrible Late Period Renoir Work

Monday, April 17, 2023


I saw some amazing mountain views while traveling by train through Germany and Austria.

On the other hand, I think I have a pretty great view out my own window.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Scenes from my recent European trip

On the train through Germany - contrary to stereotype, it was late.

View from my hotel room in Paris

The less-classy side of Paris

View from an Austrian castle with my friends

Also from the Austrian castle - these Fräuleins appeared to be participating in some kind of traditional Austrian bachelorette party. I admit I was afraid they would burst into "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."

Naomi & Patty at the Louvre

They love English language graffiti in Slovenia

Back in Paris - the hills of Montmartre were brutal - my calves were aching - but beautiful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

I got my Monk movie!

I've been having a Monk marathon and I have been thinking about how the Monk character would react to the pandemic.

Someone in the comments on YouTube suggested a Monk movie.


And today I found out it's happening. I am ECSTATIC!

‘Monk’ Returns As Peacock Orders Reunion Movie Starring Tony Shalhoub & Original Series Cast
In the follow-up movie, Monk, a brilliant San Francisco-based detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder, returns to solve one last, very personal case involving his beloved stepdaughter Molly, a journalist preparing for her wedding.

“When creator Andy Breckman came to us with a new Monk case set in present day, we immediately fell in love with this story all over again,” said Michael Sluchan, EVP, Movies, Kids, Daytime, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. “The movie has the heart and humor of the original series with a contemporary relevance, and we’re overjoyed to work with the original creative team, including Andy, David Hoberman, Randy Zisk, the unparalleled Tony Shalhoub, and our partners at UCP, for what is sure to be a must-see movie event for Peacock audiences.”

I hope they bring some of the guest stars from the show into the movie - like Sarah Silverman. 

He may not be F. Murray Abraham...

Monday, March 13, 2023

The fully homogenized Greenwich Village

Every now and then I'll see an old movie that makes a reference to those wacky bohemian artist-types who live in Greenwich Village, and it's always a shock from an early 21st-century perspective. 

Greenwich Village has been on the road to rich person domination for several decades now, but a recent article in the New Yorker makes it clear that it has just about completed its transformation, much like Disney completely transformed Times Square:

Perhaps it is also why so many have schemed to take over a money-losing local newspaper, and why so many followed its coverage and, later, its apparent theft. For Villagers, WestView provided a bit of friction in a neighborhood whose bustling tenements have been replaced by single-family mansions, and where life has become largely frictionless. One day, Capsis noted to me that the block has become eerily quiet. Some weekends, it seems that all the residents have left town for their vacation homes. The WestView saga, at least, gave its participants something to talk about. The squabbles, rumors, and side-taking enacted something like a community.

As the article mentions elsewhere, the only people who remember the bohemian days of Greenwich Village are very old.

And when, every so often, some friction is introduced, it outrages the wealthy of Greenwich Village.

Now that the wealthy have homogenized and deadened Greenwich Village, as they inevitably do to any place they gather in large numbers, perhaps it will lose its cachet and its properties will lose value and the cycle will begin again.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Hudes or Change: purple prose and nostalgia

This is how Jenn/Kathy's death is described in Hudes' "Daphne's Dive":
DAPHNE: Do you know what self-immolation means? (Silence) Do you know what self-immolation means?
(Daphne pulls a newspaper clipping from her purse)
UPenn did a little write-up.

RUBY: Get that paper out of my face. Speak.

DAPHNE: Tuesday, at the LOVE statue. Jenn poured gasoline over her head, lit a match, and started dancing. A few people tried to douse the flames but she went quickly.
I found the NYTimes review of Daphne's Dive, and it is wild that the accurate description of Jenn/Kathy's death is described as "a little contrived."
Not all that takes place in “Daphne’s Dive” strikes me as entirely credible — or free of a sprinkling of sentimentality. The fate of Jenn, for example, who dies in spectacular circumstances midway through the play, seems a little contrived. Acosta’s rise from businessman to powerful local politician, on the other hand, is more persuasive.
I appreciated that Hudes didn't simply portray Chang as a hero, and the most decent characters in the play argue against it:
PABLO: Jenn was not a hero. 
RUBY: Yes she was. 
PABLO: No, Ruby 
DAPHNE: She was sick/She needed treatment. 
RUBY: Unrelated/Unrelated.

I wanted to see what else Quiara Alegría Hudes had to say about Kathy Chang so I listened to all ten hours of her memoir "My Broken Language." Hudes does the reading herself and I really wished she didn't because she reads in a relentlessly chirpy manner, like her audience is in kindergarten. 

Also that woman loves a metaphor. I would estimate that she averages at least one metaphor per page. 

She also loves lyrical bordering on cringe like "the wind caressed my shoulder blade." Her lyricism for anything to do with learning or playing music is so extreme that I set the audio playback rate to 2.0 times normal speed once she got to Yale to study music. 

Hudes turned the memoir into a play and in the New Yorker review Vinson Cunningham said:

...there are places where the Author’s voice goes mawkish and her prose crosses that often untraceable line between lyricism and purpleness. 

Yes, exactly. Thank you.

And then there is Hudes' religiosity. In her 2018 musings on the theater Hudes says:
I struggle increasingly with the atheist white male aesthetics I inherit. These include:
  1. That love is dead, romance is transactional, and sex is not a source of pleasure but a race to the bottom.
  2. That children hate their parents and vice versa. The suggestion of familial love implies idiocy on the part of the playwright.
  3. That wealth is either neutral or a hardship to the wealthy.
  4. Regarding God: You’re kidding, right?
  5. Joy is sentimental, harmony a falsehood. Harming others is the single human truth.
  6. Genius is a male attribute. Intuition is a female attribute.
I was in agreement with five out of six items on her struggle list. But I take exception to "Regarding God: You're kidding, right?"

I'm not sure what she wants. There is a currently-playing musical, HADESTOWN, full of Ancient Greek gods. And ANGELS IN AMERICA not only contains plenty of discussions about faith and religion, especially Mormonism and Judaism, but there's even a big scene where Louis, with the help of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, says Kaddish for Roy Cohn.

But her view of religion is strongly informed by the fact that when she was a teenager her mother held spirit-possession rituals in their West Philadelphia twin row home that included animal sacrifice. She mentions a chicken, a frog and a goat. And I thought my mother was a religious fanatic. At least she never sacrificed a goat. As far as I know.

Hudes seems to think her mother is a goddess of wisdom, so she's hardly going to accuse her of being a fanatic. She at least acknowledges that it's a strange dichotomy, that her very literate, social-welfare agency employed mother spent her free time performing rituals involving animal sacrifice.

I hated Hudes portraying Gloria Steinem as an elitist racist, because in the 1980s she had a meeting with bigwigs at the social services agency her mother worked for, and her mother wasn't invited to the meeting. If you know anything about Steinem's life you know that not only has she always been very conscious of making connections with non-white feminists, she is every bit as respectful of Native American traditions as Hudes' mother with her love of the bloody Sundance ceremony

One thing I absolutely do love about the book is her trashing The Bell Curve. But on the other hand, Hudes seems to indulge in her own ethnic essentialism, similar to that in The Bell Curve, throughout the book, using "white" and "whiteness" as insults. Her father is Jewish, but she's more likely to describe him as "white" than as Jewish, I assume because insulting someone by calling them a Jew is considered far more bigoted than insulting someone by calling them white. 

Hudes spends Chapter 22 mocking her father and his wife Sharon as right-wing reactionary libertarians who hate each other and consider city people "rats." Now I'm sympathetic, I despise right-wing reactionary libertarians. But elsewhere in the narrative, Hudes acknowledges how deeply homophobic her Puerto Rican relatives are, so much so that one of her relatives ran away to New York City to die alone on a mattress rather than tell any family members he had AIDS. Surely Hudes must consider homophobia as bad as being a right-wing reactionary libertarian, but she never mocks her homophobic Puerto Rican relatives. 

And because Hudes hates Sharon so much, and because Sharon is white, Hudes decides that you can't be both white and Puerto Rican, you have to pick a side. This might not seem so remarkable coming from the teenager she was when she chose this simple-minded way to be in the world, but then she writes:
They left me two options that night in the living room. Be white or be Puerto Rican. Their rules, they forced my hand. Fine. My heels dug further into North Philly. My soul took a side that lasts to this day.
Really? You're not seventeen anymore. Sharon no longer has power over you. Hell, you're being paid to talk shit about Sharon now. You went to Yale, you're in your forties, white people come to see your plays produced in the Anglophone theater tradition. 

Hudes is no blood relation to Sharon, so her whiteness comes from her Jewish father. But Hudes doesn't express it as Puerto Rican versus Jewish.

Maybe Hudes publicizes this attitude as a way to shore up her career brand as a specifically Latina playwright. I hope so, because the alternative, that she sincerely believes in such an extreme dichotomy, is depressing. In the 2020 census more than half of all Puerto Ricans living outside Puerto Rico identified as white. Even more living in Puerto Rico identify as white.

But while her lyricism and essentialism alienated me, Hudes' litany of place names made me nostalgic for Philadelphia and its suburbs. She mentions the Philadelphia Art Museum, Giovanni's Room, the Schuykill Expressway, the Italian Market, Six Flags Great Adventure and the Cherry Hill Mall. And the rail line between 30th Street and Malvern, which coincidentally I had taken my one and only time this past October to go to a funeral for an artist friend who had lived out there. Hudes took the same line to see her father after her parents split up.

She even describes participating in a Quaker meeting at the Quaker headquarters on 15th Street and Cherry Street, or as my ex-husband called it, when he was working in their cafeteria, "The Quaker Kremlin." I never participated in a Quaker meeting myself but the building was familiar to me since my daughter was eligible for Quaker daycare at a steep discount while my ex was working there. Our paths criss-crossed, Hudes and mine, all over the Delaware Valley, and not just because of Kathy Chang.

And by the way, unless I missed it, and I don't think I did, even at 2.0 speed, the memoir does not include a discussion of Kathy Chang. This is strange because Hudes says she knew her:
 Some of those initial molecules, for me, in this play was someone I knew growing up named Kathy Change—I knew her as Kathy Chang, she changed her name later—who was a kind of activist and performance artist and I admired her. Many people didn’t like her and thought she was a nuisance. There was something about her that fascinated me—how did she do what she did? She went out to these Philadelphia street corners and danced and waved these flags with her ideals, and I thought that was fascinating. 
I mean, Hudes goes into fine detail about the lives, body types, drug problems and eating habits of dozens of relatives, so you'd think she could spare a few paragraphs in her memoir for someone she admired. 

But her inclusion in the play is certainly a coup for Chang, on top of decades of inspiring less-established artists. Her Wiki page notes:
  • A memorial is held in her honor every year on October 22 at the peace sign sculpture on the University of Pennsylvania campus where Kathy died. The memorial attracts artists, activists and performers, among others.[10]
  • Percussionist/composer Kevin Norton wrote a suite for Kathy Change entitled Change Dance (Troubled Energy) in 2001 and was released late in 2001/early 2002 on the Barking Hoop label.[11][12]
  • Industrial metal band Fear Factory wrote the song "Slave Labor" referring to her suicide; it was included in the 2004 album Archetype.
  • Drummer Tyshawn Sorey composed and performed "For Kathy Change," a quintet in her honor, in March 2011.[13]
  • Soomi Kim wrote and performed in the biographical play "Chang(e)", directed by Suzi Takahashi, which premiered in 2013 and has had multiple performances since then,[14][15] including New York City[16] and Portland, Oregon.[17]
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes's 2016 play "Daphne's Dive," based in Philadelphia, features a character closely resembling Kathy Change.[18][19] The play is dedicated "in memory: Kathy Chang(e)."[20]
  • Actor (and writer) Shin-Fei Chen portrays "Peace Activist Kathy Change" in Andrew Repasky McElhinney’s 2019 film Casual Encounters: Philadelphia True Crime Confessions. Her scenes were shot on 35mm Kodak film, September 2018 in West Philadelphia.
She's mentioned in a poem published in The New Yorker, in 2008; the subject of an article in The Drama Review in 2011; and the subject of a collage from 2004 at my alma mater (did not graduate) the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The very biographical song about Chang recorded by Todd Young and His Rock Band, is called "Kathy Change."

I especially understand why Asian women artists are inspired by Chang and want to perform her as a character. The Western theater tradition has not been exactly over-stuffed by highly individualized Asian woman characters. Whatever else you can say about Chang, she was highly individualized.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Hudes, or Change: deadbeat dads and allegory

I think people in the arts are fascinated by Kathy Chang because she was a big talker. That's the reason why people in the arts and on the Left are fans of Bernie Sanders. He talks big, like the time, during his 2016 presidential campaign, when he told the New York Daily News he wanted to "break up the banks" but when pressed for details on how to do that, he had nothing. Which doesn't seem to bother Sanders fans, which includes Chang's friend Anita King, who never shut up about how corrupt Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were during the 2016 presidential campaign until I unfriended her on Facebook.

While we were still speaking, King attested to the political affinity.

Bernie Sanders has something in common with my ex - they were both, at least for periods of time in their lives, deadbeat dads. Sanders' ex-girlfriend and child ended up receiving welfare, although Sanders, a white man with a college degree could certainly have found a job that paid well enough to support his kid. But, like my ex, Sanders preferred to devote himself to politics

Unlike my ex, Sanders eventually found himself a living-wage career through politics. Although I will say, there are few people who live to see their fondest dream come true, like my ex did when marijuana began to be legalized all around the United States.

Chang may be considered a performance artist, but her art was almost always in the language of politics. For example:

I am running on a platform of complete social transformation.
The problems we are faced with today: crime, unemployment,
poverty, battered women, abused children, pollution,
environmental degradation, national insolvency, and budget
deficits, and so on, cannot be solved within the present
economic and political framework, because that framework
is in itself the fundamental problem and the cause of all the other
problems. The present government is so corrupt and tied
up with anti-democratic procedures that it cannot reform
itself. The only way to reform the system is to simply
dissolve the system and start all over with a great national
conference to create a new society...

"...simply dissolve the system and start all over with a great national conference to create a new society."

It's perfect that sentence contains "simply." 

Hudes' play includes Kathy/Jenn's death, which is not shown on stage, and then later one of the characters has a magic realism moment with an apparition of Jenn, during which Jenn says some Kathy Chang style things. Huldes also directly quotes Chang:

RUBY: Jenn should have held up. Occupy would've been her moment. I dug up one of her old banners: "In case of financial collapse, party in the streets!" 

It's true that Occupy was a lot like Chang: a big-talking public nuisance that did nothing to actually improve the lives of others. But got a lot of attention.

But indirectly thanks to Chang, I came to rely on the very real social safety net that had existed for fifty years, because the Democratic Party made it happen, through boring old non-revolutionary politics. The same Democratic Party that many Bernie Sanders supporters disparage as identical to Republicans.

That is why I dislike the use of Chang and her death as a symbol for hope and for positive social change. I believe Chang killed herself, at age 46, because the rewards for her performances were fading and she did not want to, or could not do anything else. And because no goddam person in her life would help her with her dental problems. 

Fun fact: dental care is part of Obamacare, which exists thanks to the Democratic Party. But the far Left hates Obama for not achieving the completely socialized healthcare of their dreams, so they don't care how many lives were saved by Obamacare

So really you could say Occupy was Kathy Chang's moment, since Obamacare first appeared in 2010, just ahead of Occupy in 2011. She could have partied at Occupy without tooth decay.

Chang did not only do protests, she was involved in theater, at least to the extent that she had performed in a production of "The Year of the Dragon" written by her then-husband Frank Chin, a fairly well-known playwright. Her response to the end of their 5-year marriage was to try to kill herself.

Chin and Chang in performance 1978

And Chang wrote a play which was performed and videotaped in 1991. It's called The Transformation and it's as allegorical as a medieval morality play. There's Uncle Sam, there's a character representing third-world poverty, there's Mother Nature, the Military-Industrial Complex, etc. It has all the coherence and self-discipline of her speeches, that is, very little. 

But it's interesting that she wrote it and I'm impressed she got anybody to perform it. I've watched it and the basic plot starts from the clash of these various Humors but then evolves into sex bringing characters together and by the end of the play the cast is semi-naked and chanting and dancing in a circle.

At the end of the play, Chang displays her extremely romanticized view of pre-Industrial Native American society.

Think back. Think back. Before the Europeans landed. There are no skyscrapers and streets. No highways and electric wires. No, just trees and forests everywhere. Forest full of wild animals. Coyotes. Dear. Bear. Bobcats. Wolves. Natives. Lenni Lenape. Algonquin.  Hopi. Cherokee. Chippewa. The streams are jumping with fish. You hunt with bow and arrows. No guns. You live off fruits and berries and herbs. You grow corn and squash and peas. You worship the earth and are careful not to bite the hand that feeds you. You don't squander my resources.

I don't know if Chang was completely ignorant of the fact that pre-European contact North America was not a peaceable vegetarian kingdom, and that indigenous people ate meat, sometimes human meat and warred against each other plenty without the aid of guns, or if she just doesn't care. But what she is advocating is "going back in time" to this Garden of Eden fantasy.

If Chang had not killed herself, she would be 72 years old now. If she hadn't killed herself when she did, the way she did, I doubt people in the arts would care about her. 

My ex wrote on his blog:
Kathy killed herself on the University of Pennsylvania campus in 1996. Visually and physically like the Buddhist monks of Vietnam, she poured gasoline over herself and her robes and set herself on fire. The political effect was unlike that of the monks. The world did not sit up and take notice. The country did not erupt into revolution.
My ex seems to believe Chang's rhetoric, that she killed herself in that way to bring on the Revolution, and he mourns that she did not achieve her goal.  

I think she killed herself that way so that people would remember her, and in that she has been wildly successful. Being included in a play by a Pulitzer-prize winner is probably her greatest success yet.

More about that in the next post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Hudes, or Change: Kathy Chang(e) and my ex-husband

As mentioned in the previous post, I've become interested in the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes due to a woman named Kathy Chang(e).

I did not spend a lot of time with Chang, but I made some graphics contributions to the underground newspaper that she created with my ex, before I knew they were living in an abandoned building.

In 1982, Chang and my ex-husband were part of a loose organization of people who were squatting in West Philadelphia. They called themselves People for Peace and Justice and they were funded by Chang, who had decided to squander her inheritance (I assume from her grandfather who died in December, 1980) on the building.

I was sharing informal, non-court-appointed custody of our three-year-old with my ex (he wasn't officially my ex at that point) and when my ex told me he had moved to a new place in West Philadelphia, of course I assumed his new place would reasonably accommodate a three year old. So when I walked into his residence I was flabbergasted. The Philadelphia Inquirer was absolutely right to call it a "dilapidated hovel" (see below.) 

So I revoked our informal arrangement until our daughter was old enough to watch out for herself. My ex refused to pay child support and I was forced to accept welfare for a couple of years to get by.

Now Kathy Chang was not directly at fault. She didn't force my ex to live in a dilapidated hovel while being responsible for a small child. My ex was certainly capable of fecklessness without her help. But still, her decision to fund the project had an impact on my life. 

The Inquirer article below mentions their newspaper, but it does not mention the office they had rented for the newspaper. It was in Center City on, if memory serves, Walnut Street. Chang undoubtedly paid for that too. But for decades I had no idea she was funding everything - I certainly would not have guessed that anybody had spent thousands of dollars on improvements to the building. Then I happened to see her obituary in the New York Times, 12 years after she died, and I put the pieces together:
For many years, she seemed content dancing for her cause at Penn or at the art museum, spending a $30,000 inheritance to renovate and illegally live in an abandoned building in West Philadelphia...
For perspective on that amount, $30K in 1982 would be worth $93K now. According to the real estate site Redfin the abandoned house is worth $47K now

She could have bought a house with cash, and had housing security the rest of her life. She was already in her thirties by the People for Peace and Justice era. She could have even rented out some rooms and had a guaranteed income. 

Hell, she could have gone back to San Francisco where she had lived for at least five years and bought a house there, which would now undoubtedly be worth millions.

Instead she threw her money away on a building she did not own, and when her money ran out, she continued to live in sketchy housing and couldn't get money for the dental care she needed:
But last year, Ms. (Anita) King and other friends remember, she seemed to start losing heart. A huge blow, they said, came last fall when she called her father for help paying a dental bill. He refused. Not long after, when Ms. Chang was living in a converted warehouse with Ms. King and others, they smelled gasoline in the house. They found a leaking jar in Ms. Chang's backpack, and had to talk her out of killing herself.
As my ex wrote on his blog:
 With her money gone and no job, she was dependent as well. She wasn’t always treated well by the men she chose to live with.
I assume Anita King met Kathy Chang through my ex, since Anita and he had been friends since they attended the same high school in Pennsauken NJ. Although I don't think King ever lived at the squat. I think her acquaintance with Chang came later.

I found a couple of articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the squat and its demise. There was a big article on December 19, 1982. My ex-husband and Chang are both in the image below.

The article continues...
...and banging on walls well past midnight. Spray-painted messages such as "Don't Pay Rent" and "This is a Free House" began appearing on nearby abandoned buildings.

"That's when we got more than a little question in our minds about what kind of people they are," said Costa. So when the new residents introduced themselves, Costa said, he was pretty blunt. "I said to them, 'If you're all living like pigs and disturbing the neighborhood, then you're not welcome here.'"

Costa soon discovered that the new neighbors, who came together during a protest at the Federal Building last spring, had illegally entered 432 N 33rd Street and made someone else's house - the property is owned by the city - their home. They had done it for two reasons: They needed a place to live, preferably for free, and they wanted to make a political statement on behalf of squatter's rights. After moving in, two of the squatters - Kathy Chang, 32, and Philip Spinelli, 24 - applied for city gift property on the block, but in both cases, they were too late.

The squatters, whose ranks change from time to time, call themselves People for Peace and Justice; on occasion, they stand on the porch or walk around the block, but with a bullhorn, broadcasting their political opinions against the establishment and for economic revolution, against bureaucracy and for anarchy.

The Peace and Justice philosophy on housing is that everyone has a "birthright" to it, real estate speculation puts all but the wealthy out of the market, many landlords are corrupt profit-mongers, and gentrification is a form of genocide because it destroys communities of people. The city, they say, should welcome squatters and buildings that have been vacant a long timed should provide the tools for rehabilitating the buildings.

"Buildings that are empty belong to the people," said Zvi Baranoff last week, as he and eight other squatters, most of them out-of-work musicians, huddled near a wood stove they installed in the building's kitchen. The kitchen walls had been covered with plywood, burlap and leaflets for a variety of political causes.

"Save Fuel, Burn a Bureaucrat," said a hand-scrawled sign on one wall. On another, the eyes of a painting of Pope John Paul II had been pieced with the staves of two Bicentennial flags.

"There are 50,000 abandoned houses in this city," continued Baranoff, 25, twisting his beard with two fingers, "and it's our interest to take them over and give them to the people who need housing."

For many homeowners and tenants in Mantua and nearby Powelton Village - 80 of them have signed a petition seeking eviction of the squatters - the politics and the lifestyles of the new neighbors are echoes from two blocks away and four years ago.

In 1978, a series of confrontations between city officials and the members of MOVE - a group that denounced bureaucracy and amassed weaponry - culminated in a shoot-out at the house MOVE owned at 3300 Pearl St. The incident left one police officer dead and three seriously wounded, and two neighborhoods shaken.

Although Mantua residents say they do not believe that their new neighbors are stockpiling weapons - and the squatters are emphatic in saying they are not - the memories of street-corner diatribes and back yard trash are still fresh.

"We have lived with this situation before," said Ben Blakey, who has lived on the 400 block of North 33rd Street for nearly 30 of his 65 years. 

"The MOVE situation has been here, and that was a ticklish situation until someone had got killed. This place was under siege."

Beyond the regular appearances that police make in response to complaints about the squatters, it seems almost certain that this new collision of values on North 33rd Street will force another confrontation with city officials in the coming weeks.

The building that the squatters moved into is gift property owned by the city's Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD). Soon after they took over the building, the squatters expanded their living space by knocking out the first and third-floor brick wall between 432 and 434 N. 33rd St. The latter building is owned by the Redevelopment Authority (RDA), which dispenses federal home rehabilitation funds funneled through OHCD.

The city's Licenses and Inspections Department (L&I) has toured both buildings and cited them for numerous violations of building and fire-code regulations; the 434 building was declared "unfit for human habitation" and when a masonry section of the front wall of that building was removed, L&I declared the building "imminently dangerous." The masonry section was restored.

In October, RDA obtained an eviction order for 434 N 33rd St; on Friday, the OHCD filed its petition for 432. At the hearing, three squatters told Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Lord that they wanted time to obtain legal counsel. He scheduled a hearing on the city's petition for Tuesday.

Several weeks ago, when RDA and other city officials went to the 434 address and asked the squatters to leave, they refused, then barraged the officials with political rhetoric.

Reuben Mimkon, supervisor for the L&I's district office, recalled that one of the female members of Peace and Justice "came out on the porch with a bullhorn and started shouting, 'Come on, take my clothes off!" I don't know what she was talking about." A resident of the street said one of the squatters yelled, "This is our Vietnam, and we're willing to die for it!"

Before seeking to evict the squatters, RDA has decided to wait until OHCD obtains its eviction permit. When it does, both agencies, backed by police, will ask the squatters to leave.

What will happen then is anybody's guess. City officials are not sure how far they will push the issue; the squatters say they have not decided what they will do.

But the squatters express dismay that the city might throw them into the street in the thick of winter. They don't say with finality that they will not leave, but they don't say they will. They may invite all their friends for an Eviction Day party. They may demand that the city give them somewhere else to live.

They will not, they insisted, resort violence. "Guns is what destroyed MOVE," said Spinelli. "We're not going to make the same mistake."

To city officials, the situation is a simple legal matter: Breaking and entering, squatting, living among housing and fire code violations, and breaching wills without a permit.

To People for Peace and Justice, those laws are hardly relevant. "Laws are not made for safety," said Baranoff. "They're made to complicate things, to maintain an oppression." Building codes "should certainly be taken into consideration" but for safety reasons not because they have the weight of law behind them. Said Sandy McCroskey, 27: "It would seem to be in the city's best interest if they would make their laws accomodate us."

A few of the block's residents side with the squatters. "Shouldn't there be a certain period of time, " said Sarah Rose, who lives on the block and visits regularly with the squatters, "when nobody's moved into an abandoned building, that it's turned over to people? I think it would be wonderful to cooperate with the city on making something like that work."

At the same time, Ms. Rose said, she understands the neighborhood's apprehension. "We don't look like them, we don't act like them, and we haven't interacted with them. This neighborhood is like a tight family. There are a lot of people who have lived here for a long time, so I think it's a natural reaction."

Why haven't the squatters reached out to the neighborhood more? "It's been very hard, " said Spinelli "for us to get ourselves together. We have to do that first."

As for their neighbor's complaints, the squatters have some responses. Because he owns two buildings on the block, Spinelli said, Dennis Costa "is a speculator pig" Dumping excrement, Baranoff said, was the work of "a couple of crazies" who were asked to leave the group last summer. The squatters play music in early morning hours, Spinelli said, because they are musicians, "and our hours are off other people's." McCroskey said that the squatters thought their rooftop nudity could not be seen elsewhere and that no one ever complained to them about it.

The squatters seem to be having a good time trying to put together a communal lifestyle. Some pick up a little work now and then. One 21-year-old member, who uses the stage name Christina Wilde and whose hair is cut Mohawk-fasion and dyed orange-pink, works as a burlesque dancer in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Spinelli, a jazz percussionist, and Paul Jaffie, a rock guitarist and singer, occasionally get jobs playing music.

On a chilly afternoon last week, some of the members gathered in their living room with guitars. Their view of the world was reflected in an excerpt from their "anthem," written by McCroskey:
Look at them running of to work, Just watch them jump and jerk.
They're keeping the wheels of industry in motion. Just why they do it, they don't have the foggiest notion.
The squatters spend time working on the buildings, smoking marijuana, organizing political events and trying to publish Community newspaper, which says it "serves the interests of those struggling for Land, Liberty, Peace and Justice."

The members say they are not of a common stripe in politics and philosophies. Some are hard-core naturalists and won't use soap when they bathe, others do. Some are dressed neatly and fashionably; others look as if they just emerged from a bog. Some are glib; others stare off into space. A few say they are anarchists and atheists; some say they don't know what they are.

Most of their money has come from one member, Kathy Chang, who is trying to organize a "national moratorium on business-as-usual" during which "basic goods and services would be supplied to the people free of cost." Her inheritance is now gone, she says.

For $800, the squatters say, they hired a plumber to hook up the building; how they were able to get electricity is a mystery. Costa said he saw one member tapping power lines to bring pirated electricity into the building. When he called Philadelphia Electric Co. (PE), he said, instead of disconnecting the lines, the company installed a meter.

Ron Harper of PE's corporate communications department said that the meter was installed at someone's request but that no one at the building has ever filled out the proper forms. Because the squatters have refused to respond to hand-delivered mail and a telegram from PE, he said, the utility's computers show nothing.

The squatters refuse to discuss it. "We're skipping that subject," Baranoff says.

Although the squatters have done some work inside the buildings, they appear to remain dilapidated hovels. In the four rooms that the squatters allowed a reporter and photographer to visit, holes in the floors required circumnavigation, and windows are covered in plastic to break cold winds. The living room - where the squatters' amplified, often cacophonous music vibrates the wall that abuts Costa's home - is furnished with three cushioned sofas, a raggy carpet, cluttered stacks of books and magazines, and piles of junk.

An office is littered with the mechanical components of pamphleteering: a printing press, a duplicating machine, typewriters, all unplugged but ready for cranking up when the group wants to publish another issue of Community newspaper.

Ms. Wilde's bedroom is in the 434 building. The entrance is through the breached wall on the first floor. She calls it the "womb room." She said she used to sleep in a coffin.

The squatters say they have arrested the deterioration in the two buildings and have made them livable and safe. "This was a real hole in the wall. "Now it has a hole in the wall," Baranoff said, laughing. He used a sponge to clean crumbs from a plastic table top in the kitchen. "We've made the place habitable."

I have to admit I laughed out loud at this bit:

Some are dressed neatly and fashionably; others look as if they just emerged from a bog.

Also of the female members of Peace and Justice "came out on the porch with a bullhorn and started shouting, 'Come on, take my clothes off!"

That has got to be Chang.

That article was on December 19. On December 31 the Inquirer ran this story:
Two people were arrested yesterday as sheriff's deputies and police evicted a group of squatters from a city-owned house the city's Mantua section, official reported.

The two arrested were charged with disorderly conduct when they argued with officers, the officers said, but there were no serious incidents. The eviction ended a standoff that some neighbors had feared might turn violent.

The squatters, who have occupied the house since the spring, call themselves People for Peace and Justice and have leveled political rhetoric at neighbors and defiance at authorities.

Yesterday, about 10 a. m., officers removed five adults from the house, at 432 N. 33rd St, which is owned by the city's Office of housing and Community Development.

The two arrests came about 12:30 p. m. after two men argued with officers. Police said George "Sandy" McCroskey, 27 a ride off the house, and Robert Harris, 30, of the 3700 block of Barin Street, were charged with disorderly conduct and released pending a hearing. Harris was identified as a friend who was helping the squatters remove their belongings.

After the group moved into the vacant house last spring, officials said, they broke into the empty house next door, which is owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. Monday, a Common Pleas Court judge ordered the squatters out of the city property immediately. Chief Deputy Sheriff Pasquale Scarpello said five deputies had been sent to execute the order, accompanied by uniformed police officers and Police Department Civil Affairs Unit officers. A moving company hired by the city removed the squatters' belongings and put them in storage. Scarpello said the goods could be claimed by the group at any time.

Scarpello said police detained several of the people briefly for questioning, after shotgun shells swords and knives were found in the house. No firearms were found, he said.

One of the squatters, Zvi Baranoff, 25, said he "woke up with police in my bedroom." He said he and the other people evicted would be staying with friends but hinted that the group would illegally occupy other vacant houses.
Zvi should have been grateful that's all that happened. Their neighbors had a petition against them and they were being compared, in the press, to MOVE. The cops hated MOVE in 1982 because of the 1978 shoot-out that resulted in a cop being killed.

The next time the cops had an encounter with MOVE, in 1985, they firebombed them into oblivion.

The People for Peace and Justice saga is ancient history now, I'm probably the only person outside of the actual participants who has any interest in it, and Kathy Chang self-immolated in 1996. But she continues to capture the imaginations of people in the arts, as I wrote about in 2015. So I wasn't especially surprised to learn that Quiara Alegría Hudes had included a character based on Chang in her play "Daphne's Dive" which premiered in 2016.

Hudes does not completely romanticize Chang. The character, called Jenn Song in the play, becomes estranged from the hero of the play, Daphne:
RUBY: Has she been around at all? Still picking fights with Acosta I trust?

PABLO: He kicked her out of the squat.

RUBY: No one tells me anything.

PABLO: Your mom (Daphne) stopped bailing her out and Jenn took it real personal.


PABLO: You know she started protesting outside the bar? Shouting. With a megaphone. "Wake up! Wake up!" Your mom had to call the cops, a few times.
After the end of the squat, my ex bailed Chang out. He wrote on his blog:
One night I got a phone call from her, a call from the police station. She had been picked up by the Philadelphia police because she had been walking in West Philly – naked. The police were quite willing to send her on her way if she would simply get dressed before leaving. Of course, I had to argue with her to accept this social compromise. My landlady and I begged her, and finally convinced her, to put some clothes on and leave with us. She seemed to not understand what the problem was with her late night stroll. 
Clearly Kathy Chang had a serious mental illness. But not everyone with a mental illness who commits suicide gets an obituary in the NYTimes. And I think the unusually brutal and public method of suicide she chose is only part of the reason for Chang's obituary. Another part, and the reason people in the arts are so taken with her was because she talked big. 

More in the next post.