Friday, October 24, 2014

ROYAUMONT RE-ENVISIONED

The story is that the Royaumont Abbey was built between 1228 and 1235 with the support of Saint Louis (King Lousi IX of France), and occupied by Cistercian monks. It was transformed into a cotton mill in 1791 and a novicate for nuns in 1869. In the early 1900's it was acquired by the Gouin family who set it up as a cultural center, and in 1964 Henry and Isabel Gouin created the Royaumont Foundation, the first private French cultural foundation.

This is where I have resided for the past 7 days, and as I sit here in our room, among the remnants of an almost 800 year old edifice, I can't help but feel the overall spirit of a transitory cultural experiences. There were the monks who theorized and contemplated, in silent meditative states, on theological treatises and their effects on themselves and on the kings and residents of the surrounding countryside. Then there was the spirits of the owner and workers in the subsequential cotton mill, who shared residency albeit it in different areas of the cloister of trees, shrubbery, and streams that surrounded their places of residency. There also remains the spirit of the nuns and their humble attempts to restore their idea of the sanctity that was hopefully inherent in this once holy abode, and herein dwells also the aristocratic spirit of those whose seeming purpose, to maintain and display the aesthetics of a centuries old French culture, is nurtured and perpetated by the ambience of the artists, musicians, and intellectuals who come here to create, enjoy, and  then share the outcome of a time spent in this ethereal yet laborious setting of nature, architecture and conscientious creativity. Surprisingly I, as an artist, feel a real sense of belonging.

The irony of all of this is that I am but a guest of the real proponents of my reason for being here. The musicians, American and African, who descended upon this age-old architectural monument, were invited here to create a transatlantic collaboration through the venues of word and music. Three African musicians from the west African country of Mali, Babani Kone on vocals, Fassery Diabate on balafon, and musical director Ballake Sissoko on kora are present. Then there’s the Chicago based musicians of African American descent, Mankwe Ndosii on vocals, Jovia Armstrong on percussion, Felton Offard on guitar, composer Nicole Mitchell on flute, and the one Jewish American Joshua Abrams on bass who are also here.  All coming together, each world renown in their own realm, to exchange artistic ideas and collaborate on the Malian and American compositions of Ballake Sissoko and Nicole Mitchell, that they would practice 8 hours a day, for 6 days, to present to the French audience gathered for the grand performance that ensued inside the interior walls of this majestic complex known as the Royaumont abbey and foundation. What a venerable experience to be a witness to this grand display of cultural collaboration and musical magnificence.


Royaumont has probably, in its 779 plus years of existence, never experienced this coming together of three different cultures, Malian, Jewish, and African American, on stage, bringing to an unknown number of cultures in the attentive French audience, a sound and a message that says “Yes, together we can accomplish a feat of yet unheralded magnitude”, and  at the same time provide you the listener, with an incentive to do the same in your respective arenas. As members of the audience walked away singing in Bambara dialect, the passage of the last song which vocalist Babani Kone had invited and encouraged them to participate in, I knew that a precedent for cultural commonality and a spirit of cross-cultural honor and respect, had been established at this place we call Royaumont. Let’s all keep this newly established legacy movin ya’ll … inside and outside these venerated halls.

I'll holla…


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Sunday, October 12, 2014

PARIS TOO?

Got an opportunity to leave the country of America again, and I'm real excited about having met and talked with Jamika Ajalon, who left St. Louis, Missouri years ago and moved to Chicago, to New York, across the ocean to London, and has now resided right here in Paris, France for the past 7 years.   My wife Nicole has known Jamika for many years, and although she and I have visited here over four times together, this was my first time meeting her friend Jamika face to face. My excitement stems from the fact that I finally got a chance to talk with someone, who lives in a foreign country, speaks my language and shares a common African-American experience.

Those of you who have followed my blogs may remember my writing about my first visit here and how I was taken aback yet not surprised at the fact that racial prejudice existed here as it does in America, as did the disdain that some African people here displayed toward this African American. There was no one here, at the time, that I could speak with who I felt could really understand my sensibilities, because in order to really understand another person's feelings, you had to have experienced them. Jamika provided me with that opportunity, and it was disheartening to hear yet somewhat fulfilling to recognize that my intuitive sense of racism, and its inherent ramifications, were echoed by her experience both here and in our common American homeland.

As the three of us, my wife, Jamika and myself reminisced and shared our experiences, the issue of race was dismissed yet not negated. We recalled how our individual experiences have prepared us for our common objective, that being to promote understanding, among diverse cultures, through words, the arts and music. We all feel that it is unwarranted ignorance that hinders love and understanding of others, and that sharing and unconditionally accepting our collective experiences, can and will bring about a change. That is not to say that we are looking to travel the world 'teaching' others how to think, but it does infer that our time will be dedicated to creating venues and providing opportunities for those who are willing to learn. Not just the three of us, but all of us are one, and being honest with that part of us we call 'self', being open minded while interacting with the so-called 'others', and being willing to change if need be is where we must go from here if life is to be aligned with the reason for our being created i.e. to equitably share our existence.

Man, what an ironic opportunity to know that racial disparity exists in other places and that, at the same time, people everywhere are seeking to expel its existence. Jamika promised that on our next visit she would introduce us to some of her Caucasian friends, who reside here in Paris and who also share our vision. Nicole, as we speak, is collaborating with musicians of the African persuasion who reside  here in Paris and in Africa as well, and we are all envisioning an all around friendship and looking forward to our traveling down a common pathway toward equity and freedom.

To all who are hearing, not listening but hearing, I implore you to make peace with yourself. Dispose of any and all presuppositions and false information that hinder you from knowing the truth about yourself and others. It's still a wonderful world out there, in spite of the problems that seem to incessantly crop up. Let's alter our attitude and see these problems as opportunities rather than difficulties, and do whatever we can, no matter how big or small it may seem, to make the best of these limitless and opportune circumstances. Why? Cause we can!!


I'll holla


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Monday, October 6, 2014

IS THEIR WATER REALLY WETTER?

I’m not at all comfortable with what I did this past Friday, yet totally understand the dynamics and anticipated ramifications inherent in my doing it. There was a church groundbreaking ceremony that I attended on that Friday morning, and it was held in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago. The event was ironically two blocks away from a drug and alcohol recovery house, located at 7730 S, Greenwood, that I co-owned and operated, from 1993 to 2000, and during that time Grand Crossing was an almost 100% Black neighborhood. Although gentrification of this particular area was not yet in full swing, there was a spattering of Caucasion residents here and there. What does all of this have to do with my discomfort? Well because of my awareness of the rampant drug traffiking and subsequent criminal activity that had taken place during that prescribed time, I was hesitant to park the rental car just anywhere. However, when I saw this white guy and his cat peering out of a window in the apartment across the street from this vacant parking space I had considered, I felt somewhat assured that I would be picking a safe location.

Some of you might feel that it was a valid decision I had made in parking where I did, and evidently I felt that way as well. However, I still feel that my decision only serves to point out how I am still somehow connected to an old adage common only to those of us of who years ago, from slavery to the civil rights movement, were a part of what was called the Negro persuasion. You see back then, we seemed to believe that…’The white man’s ice was colder and his water wetter.’ The irony of all of this is that still today there’s a great degree of validity in our way of thinking. Regardless of how we might try to cover it up, despite how folks of all races point to the so called progress and great strides that have taken place in race relations, and even though there’s a Black family in the white house, racial disparity still exists and we still find ourselves adjusting our actions to protect the limited semblances of liberty we do have. In essence, being on the ‘white side’ still seems to be the right side.

Why do I see things this way you ask? Well, from 2007 until 2010, I lived in a condo on 68th and Clyde, in the South Shore area of Chicago, and gentrification was quite obvious as demonstrated by the intense migration of white folks to an heretofore predominately black neighborhood. I’m not aware of the current situation, but during the summer of each of those three years, I was an eyewitness to the police paddy wagons that scoured the area every weekend, picking up blue jean and white tee shirt clad young black men, five to ten at a time, and loading them for transport to a criminal holding facility. Racial profiling was indeed the order of the day, and even though the city officials would have us believe that their intent was to rid the area of gangbangers, my take on what their true objective was and still is… is to make the area suitable and safe for white folks. You see, contrary to popular belief, wearing a certain attire is not proof of gang affiliation and/or involvement in criminal activity.

Let’s fast forward to this past Saturday night in the Hyde Park neighborhood, where security guards stood on just about every corner in the vicinity of the University of Chicago campus which spans over 100 square blocks. I envisioned this as I drove to a jazz concert taking place at 1414 East 59th street, and my findings were confirmed by both residents and students. The story is that there have been increased incidents of student assaults, and the need for better security was deemed mandatory. But come on, all the guards were black, the alleged perpetrators I’m sure were assumed to be black, but the University of Chicago is in the center of what used to be a largely black area and most of the black folks have been phased out of the inner city. The student demographics comprise 50% white, 20% Asian and 5% black and precludes that race has some bearing on this situation, and the fact that the average enrollment cost is over $60,000 a year further limits the chance that black folks will be moving back in and/or sending their children to this prestigious university. What’s really going on?

I actually used to think that white folks were smarter than black folk, and although I didn’t believe their water was wetter, I knew they had access to more stuff than those of us of a different persuasion. Today I’m well aware that both overt and covert racism still exists, and yet my aforementioned discomfort stems from having, at times, to make decisions along racial lines. It’s just not fair that black people, in every area I mentioned, were not the targeted recipients of the quality of living afforded to others. It’s also a shame that we are driven from our homes in areas that were once rife with crime and  decay, yet when we come back we look for the area where the residuals of the gentrification that moved us away is most prevalent. Where do we feel most safe… where the white folks are.

What we gon do ya’ll? Well we have to first look at ourselves, accept that things are not as they should be, and then perpetually ask ourselves "What can I do today to make it better?" I’m not just talking to black folk, I’m talking to all folks, cause if we don’t bust a move, it’s just a matter of time before somebody’s water is wetter because they’ll literally own all of it and everything else. And believe me, it won’t be because they’re white, it’ll be because we allowed it.

I’ll holla


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Thursday, October 2, 2014

BECAUSE I CAN

Discomfort and pain are true motivators, but the real dilemma comes in making a decision on what to do about them. Some of us us try to resolve the issue by taking matters into our own hands, some of us seek professional help, and some of us, to the chagrin of others, just give up.

I've submitted to both taking matters into my own hands, and seeking professional help in dealing with the discomforting/painful issues that have come my way, because giving up is just not in my make-up. Self help programs, personal research, talking with like minded people, and having sessions with psychological, medical, metaphysical, alternative and  spiritual healing professionals have all played a major role in my recovery from my problematic 'stuff', and the 'Grace Of God' has always made a 'way out of no way' for resolving my predicament.

My mother taught aerobic classes starting at the age of fifty, and retired from that particular vocation, a few years ago, at the age of seventy nine. She has since been confronted with recurrent physical
pain and just last week decided to join a health club to help alleviate and control these bouts of discomfort. I talked to my 96 year old friend and my mother's former student Bea Lumpkin a few weeks ago, and she said that you have to fight the pain and therefore she works out at the YMCA four days a week. These two inspirational beings have reminded and convinced me that when it comes to alleviating physical pain I have options, and that giving up is not one of them.

There's also a mental and spiritual quandary of pain, and in my capacity as Spiritual Counselor, I've suggested to others to not focus on the physical manifestations of their discomfort. The fact that their troubled marrriage/relationship is keeping them up at night, or that their children's behavior is driving them to drink, or that they're seriously thinking about either quitting their job or doing something noxious to their boss,  are all corporal indications that there's a real problem stemming from within. Looking inside, and seeing what you can do to help yourself cope with whatever problem is challenging your well being is the solution I recommend. After all, everybody and everything causing us discomfort and pain is just doing what they do. You ask why do they do it. The answer is simple...because they can.

The entire universe is unfolding exactly as it should. Everything that happens to us happens because it can, and the remedy to dealing with whatever happens is understanding that there's a BLESSING in it somewhere, and that when discomfort occurs we just need to look past the pain and make a decision on how to go about obtaining the gift that awaits us beyond that realm. After al,l we all need motivation from time to time, and again, pain and discomfort have a way of bringing to our attention that right now, in the words of Bernie Mack, we need to 'bust a move'.

I, for the most part, do not even entertain the option of giving up but I do understand that at some point in all our lives we will inevitably make that decision. Nonetheless, those of us who choose to make that decision early on have that right, and those of us who choose to stay in the struggle have that right as well. One thing we must all understand though, is that whatever choice we make it's not always because we want to, it's not necessarily because we have to, but it's undoubtedly because we can. So I have a current mantra, that I'd like to suggest to you for coping with and alleviating pain and discomfort, and here it is..."I will overcome this situation...because, by the Grace Of God, I can..."

I'll holla...

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Monday, September 22, 2014

How About Right Now

Right now I'm sitting here writing this blog and evidently...right now...you're reading or listening to this blog. I'm smiling now, how about you? The reason I'm writing is to share my feelings with you, you're where you are because you want to know what Calvin has to say. You know what, regardless of what time it is or was for you, and for me, we're still on the same page...and something's happening for both of us right now.

What am I saying? No matter where we are or what we're doing, let's stay in the right now and be all right with where we are. I went to Las Vegas this past Saturday, and had reserved a room online the day before. Beautiful ad that boasted of the king size bed, free cable, free wi-fi, downtown location, and all for the low price of $67.92 per night including tax. Unbelievable price in reference to the beautiful pictorial, panoramic  views of the room and motel site, and I felt so blessed to find such a wonderful deal.

It was a wonderfully scenic four and a half hour drive, but being eager to see my friends John and Willa upon my arrival, I quickly checked in at the motel, and took a moment for a  quick glance around my room. It wasn't as spacious and alluring as the depictions I had seen online, but the bed was king size, and there was a television in place, so I just dropped off my bags, and headed out to the home of Willa and John. We had a real good time reminiscing on our 20 year plus relationship, we were all extremely overjoyed that both John and myself had almost simultaneously overcome life threatening illnesses, and I can still taste the wonderful meal we shared at 'Lucille's', while listening to some live 'down home' blues. The time came to head back to the motel though, and upon agreeing on a breakfast meeting on Sunday morning, I took the short ride back.

Got back to the hotel and went to the bathroom where an almost unbearable, incessant noise, sounding like the huge pumps on the inside of the Hoover Dam, was taking place. The sound was undetectable in the bedroom thank God, but I knew my trips to the bathroom would certainly be quieter and more pleasant if I had some earplugs.

Coming back to the bedroom, I looked for the remote control but that was all in vain. I turned the television on manually, and made a call to the front desk. I was informed that the remote control for the room could be obtained by going downstairs to the desk and leaving a five dollar refundable deposit. When I arrived I had paid no attention to the environment outside the room, but having spent a number of years in the street life, I readily recognized the pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers as I approached the office.  Needless to say, I was now fully aware that I was staying in a transient motel,  and that my expectations should not exceed this realization.

Undaunted I rented the remote control, went back in the room and found that the remote control didn't work.  There was nothing of my liking on TV anyway, so I took a chance and turned on the laptop. No signal as I had expected, and upon calling the desk about free wi-fi, I was warned that it didn't work all the time but I could click on the site 'Motel 8 downtown’ icon, put in the 12 digit passcode, and see what happens. I apprehensively did as I was told, was surprised when my site came up, yet understanding when it disappeared about forty seconds later. "Right now",  I said..."I'm going to bed." and in spite of the loud noise from the Mexican Independence Day celebration across the street, I was able to sleep.

Upon picking me up the next morning, John informed me that the area about three blocks down was improving but that more murders were committed there than in any area in Las Vegas. Right now though, I was all right cause I was still here. That's my point ya'll, no matter where you are, no matter what you're doing, if you feel ok you are ok, and what you don't know can't hurt you. What you do know should be considered however. I was vividly reminded that drugs and street life ain't for me. I realized that I needed to communicate more and ask somebody who knows to suggest hotel accommodations. Most of all, I accepted the fact that it’s best for me to stay in the ‘right now’  and enjoy the view, no matter what time or in what place that might be. 


I'l holla...

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Monday, September 15, 2014

TWEAK YOUR TUDE

That's right...from time to time we should check and see what's going on with our attitude toward life and the people in it. 'You better check yourself before you wreck yourself' is the adage I'm familiar with, and I'm sure all of you have been told from time to time, whether verbally or just by the expression on somebody's face, "I don't like your attitude.' Don't get me wrong though, cause the same applies on the other side as well. Most , if not all of us, have been told..."I like your attitude... Man, I wish I was cool like that..., or that confident..., or that cocky." Well it's okay to be checked by others, but it's better to check ourselves first so that we can better respond to those others that are checking us.

We got to go inside ya'll, we got to go in deep and find out what we're working with before we get worked up or worked over. It's simple, but it's not easy living in this world of ours. All it takes is treating others like we want to be treated, that's the simple part. The hard part is not treating people the way they treat us. Every other day we run into somebody, or hear about somebody that doesn't seem to like or respect who we are or what we stand for, and it takes a lot to not respond in a negative way to what they're bringing to the table. The real dilemma doesn't start with them and what they have to say however, it starts with how we respond. We need to reset our spiritual agenda, so that our physical and emotional inclinations don't control how we interact with others.

Ohh it's been many a night that I've been upset to the point that I'm walking down the street of a rough area in the city, and asking myself 'What if somebody tries to do something to you." You know the response..."OOH I ain't had a fight in thirty years... I wish a n---- would." It ain't good to have that kind of attitude ya'll, cause in this day and age people are looking for somebody to take off, and they don't give a damn about your attitude.

Attitude is revealing and contagious. It sets the stage for how we treat others and how they treat us. Unless we know who we are and what our purpose is, the field for foolishness is wide open and we might go anywhere  cause we have no direction. I think these words from the 'Desiderata' pretty much sum up what a desired attitude looks like...

"...be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

That's right, go in and see if that's how you feel inside. Stop everything for a minute and reassess if you're spiritually where you want to be. If not open yourself up for the change that needs to take place, and then be about letting it happen. You know we work too hard at trying to be this and trying to be that. We strive too much to look like what we think the standard of beauty is. We spend way too much time trying to live up to what we think somebody else's expectations of us are. Come in from the outside and go in where the real you resides.

It's way cool to look good, feel good, and our personal happiness is of utmost importance.. The fact of the matter is that we can do, we can have, and we can be all of that if we use our attitude as our guide and our follow up as our sustainer. Whatever we want will unfold... We just need to do our part and be patient with the outcome.

I am happy with myself, and when you see me, you can be what you see. Just tell yourself that every day, make up your mind to live from that perspective each and every moment of your life, and don't allow anybody to steal your joy no matter what page they may be on. Stay in your book...'The Road to Happiness', and understand that every chapter and every page in that book is contingent on your attitude towards the "Book of Life'.

People gon be who they are and the only way to contend and get along with them is to be you...the real you that dwells inside. You may not be where you want to be, so be happy with where you are and know that it always gonna get greater later. Let that be your attitude and vow that you're gonna be sticking to it.

I'll holla...

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Monday, September 8, 2014

CHICAGO VIBES

I'm here in Chicago and just totally excited about the vibes I'm experiencing. Albeit some of them are not as titillating as I'd like them to be, my hometown of Chicago is still an accurate barometer of what's going on around the world, and I'm just happy to be here and to be able to check things out.

I do not watch the news in California but while here in Chicago I viewed a news broadcast Sunday night and and learned that there was:

  • a number 6.o earthquake in Napa, California 
  • two police related shootings of one black man and black woman and another individual black man in two different Chicago neighborhoods and...
  • a severe thunderstorm watch for the Chicago area on the next day Monday.                                  
All three news items produced negative vibes which gave me an opportunity to find the common denominator for the barometric pressure felt here in Chicago, and the rest of the known world...that common denominator being fear. This finding was confirmed for me as I drove down the Dan Ryan expressway about 1 pm the next day, and saw about 30 vehicles parked under the viaducts between 95th and 87th street. Might not mean anything to you, but here in Chicago we call that expressway 'The Damn Ryan' because of its high potential for accidents, yet nobody ever pulls over unless there's something wrong with the car or the police tell us to. In all my 65 years I have never seen that many people pull over and I know that a part of it was out of fear of the thunder and lightening that was occurring

Don't get me wrong. The fear I recognized was an understandable fear, as was the fearful anticipation and consequence of the earthquake in Napa, as well as the apprehensive potential for a citizen retaliation to the two shootings by Chicago police officers. My contention is that we're living under the auspices of a media induced fear, initiated and perpetrated by the so called 'powers that be', and that the vibes created as a result only serve to keep us worried, unhappy, and wondering what's going to happen next? 

On the other hand there were the positive vibes I got from hearing again that although Chicago's own Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers baseball team had not won the International World series, they were still the World Series champions of the United States. You see I got a chance to see their last game, and I got a chance to be on the Damn Ryan' where thousands of motorists were on their way downtown to stand in the middle of State Street and watch those young black males demonstrate that they are not a lost cause, and although they might not win every game, they refuse to be defeated. I got a chance to see their black parents, along with white, black, yellow and brown supporters say... "Later for demonstrations and uprisings and terrorism and starvation and disease and killings and all that other stuff going on. We got HOPE right now and it's going to sustain us until." 

Needless to say, the positive vibes are what I'm on now and they're going to sustain me until...that until being immeasurable because I know that things are always going to work out when they're supposed to, and that all our fears are unfounded simply because they're  only comprised of False Evidence Appearing Real. Don't be fooled by the media, or by anybody or anything else ya'll. Whatever negativity is going on...it too will pass because HOPE...which I've anagrammed as Hallowed Opportunities Provided Everyday... is inevitable and ever present. I don't know about you, but I'm living in the now yet still excited about our future. Thanks Chicago for still being my kind of town, and thanks to you for allowing me to share these vibes.

I'll Holla...

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