Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Sixties Aren't Dead, Just Evolving: Sonia Sanchez at the Ritz

“All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’ That’s what my life has really been about.” –Sonia Sanchez

Last Thursday I went to see Professor Sonia Sanchez at the Ritz Theatre. Before being invited, I had never heard of the radical poetess who confronts social and economic disparities in her work.

Alternately an integrationist and separatist, Sanchez began teaching in San Francisco in 1965, developing black studies courses; while, her poetry addressed the conditions and ramifications of being a person of color in America.

“we are sudden stars
you and i exploding in
our blue black skins.”

When Professor Sanchez spoke, she read some poems and told stories of youngsters in crisis, of how so many kids still can be “filed” under/written off because they are underprivileged, underserved, and utterly forgotten. Of how they’ve never had someone to love them, to care whether they lived or died, and of how humor and compassion can be used to send them a lifeline.

These used to be the kinds of things I thought about a lot. And not just because I too was a public school kid, getting by on scholarships and financial aid. But as those days get further and further behind me, I find myself settling into a kind of middle-class stupor. Cushioned with all the comforts of home and stability, my once commentary work has instead turned personal and arcane.

Though there might not be too much I can do to change the trajectory of what I do and what I write about, I can, as Professor Sanchez suggests, make phone calls and write letters. Especially in my own community.

Professor Sanchez talked about the time she and her sons were watching a baseball game. And the batter made a magnificent hit, the kind of hit that no outfielder should be able to catch, but one player, running faster and harder than all the rest, leapt up and caught the ball. It was breathtaking and she and her kids were high-fiving one another until the announcer voiced over saying, “Wow Jim, didya see that monkey run?!” Immediately the jubilation in their home was replaced by anger and Sanchez went to the phone.

She called the station, and kept calling until she spoke to someone to whom she could voice her disgust. Ultimately the sportscaster issued an apology. Of course, it probably didn’t change the way he thought, but it did force him to acknowledge that you can’t say things like that because people are listening…and they’ll say something.

Listening to the very words people say is another tactic Sanchez advocates, because it is there that you find out what they are thinking. Of course, it also bears mentioning that the Professor advocated the entire audience refrain from gossiping for a week in order to clarify their urine…but that’s another topic for another time (she is 75 and a little crazy after all).

The lesson to take away? Stop just sitting on the sofa, one need not be out protesting in the streets to affect change…letters and phone calls work too. The important thing is to pay attention.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion Alert!

This Friday: join me and a bunch of other artists at Jane Gray Gallery for a look at contemporary work made in the past year. I'll have two new pieces in the show, and also "There to Here," (pictured) which was featured in the July issue of Water's Edge Magazine.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cake Spotting

A few weeks ago I decided to bake a cake whose recipe I’d been looking at and thinking about for a week: Ruth Reichl’s Apricot Upsidedown Cake. Taken from her 1971 cookbook, Feastiary, this would be the second Reichl recipe I’ve tried since discovering her writing.

Reichl was the food critic for the NY Times, until she was offered editorship of Gourmet magazine. She’s known for a deliberately democratic approach to food writing (she was the first Times critic to ever assign three stars to noodle restaurants and other eateries not firmly in the European/French tradition). She is also known for the kind of writing you wish you did (or at least I wish I did): i.e. funny, warm, succinct, and mildly nostalgic.

In preparing the recipe, I was struck not just by the flavors, brown sugar, butter, and apricots…but by the simplicity of it. I imagined a meadly of toasty caramel flavors, set off with a simple golden cake underneath…and the apricots all turned to candy.

Was I wrong.

Imagine instead gloppy sugar-butter topping, too moist fruit (so I used peaches instead of canned apricots—none to be found in Jax), and a cake with too much sugar, so it scorches the top (which will be the bottom). After I pulled the cake out of the oven and tried to peel the burnt part off, I thought the cake might be rescued if I cooled it…turning it (maybe) into more of a bread pudding-like desert.


After trying it again, two hours later, it still tasted like something from Reader’s Digest circa 1977…before America realized it didn’t have to eat like it was still the war and things in cans weren't so good for you.

Baking is a science. So although I think I could see my way to creating something with these flavors, only a more subtle, fresh version, I am not sure I have the patience to try and try again.

I’m not sure what I take away from the whole experience other than beware of recipes from 1977…except maybe to remember that nostalgia is a dish best served sparingly…and probably cold.