Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category

Josephine Baker - Kees van Dongen, 1925

Josephine Baker – Kees van Dongen, 1925

I saw her a year before she died. She was greeting people at the Rainbow Sign in Berkeley, California. Ntozake Shange, a poet and playwright, coaxed me into the receiving line because I was shy. And when it came my turn I presented her with a copy of [Mumbo Jumbo,] the novel on whose cover I had used an old photo of her to represent two sides of the Vodoun goddess Erzulie. And she flashed that famous smile and squinted those famous eyes and she said, ‘Do you know the young man who wrote this book?’ I was so awestruck, I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I knows him,’ forgetting that that young man was me. That was Josephine Baker. Such a divine presence she made you forget yourself.

– Ishmael Reed in the New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1976

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Ominous - Nicholas Roerich, 1901

Ominous – Nicholas Roerich, 1901

I think prophecy is an important part of writing, at least as important as technique or form. I think there are magical processes going on in writing. Like this raven thing. I’d been writing using the raven myth, and when I went up to Sitka in Alaska, the ravens disappeared. It was very unusual. Then the day before I left they all returned and flew around the totems. It was a strange experience.

Ishmael Reed, in an interview with Jon Ewing for The Daily Californian, 1977
(from Shrovetide in Old New Orleans, 1978)

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Press play & sing along.

Barack ObamaBeyoncé,
Matthew McConaughey,
Lena Dunham, Boko Haram,
Bill deBlasio

Polar Vortex, Richard Sherman,
True Detective, Immigration,
Pete Seeger, Derek Jeter,
Maya Angelou

Neil deGrasse Tyson,
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Battle in the Ukraine,
and Malaysia’s missing plane

Colorado’s legal weed,
Daft Punk’s got a Grammy,
Malala Yousafzai,
Donald Sterling, goodbye!



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Sketch for "Truth Rescued by Time, Witnessed by History" - Francisco Goya, 1797 - 1800

Sketch for “Truth Rescued by Time, Witnessed by History” – Francisco Goya, 1797 – 1800

…Einstein had said, “Evolution has shown that at any given moment out of all conceivable constructions a single one has always proved itself absolutely superior to the rest,” and let it go at that. But to Phaedrus that was an incredibly weak answer. The phrase “at any given moment” really shook him. Did Einstein really mean to state that truth was a function of time? To state that would annihilate the most basic presumption of all science!

But there it was, the whole history of science, a clear story of continuously new and changing explanations of old facts. The time spans of permanence seemed completely random, he could see no order in them. Some scientific truths seemed to last for centuries, others for less than a year. Scientific truth was not dogma, good for eternity, but a temporal quantitative entity that could be studied like anything else.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Vincent van Gogh (1890)

The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Vincent van Gogh (1890)

As the F train ran under the river into Brooklyn, I wiped my runny nose with a tissue and saw a spot of blood. By the time we pulled into Jay Street I had to plug the tissue into my nostril like caulk in a broken pipe. I get little nosebleeds sometimes, especially on cool dry winter days when I’m blowing out mucus every 15 minutes, but this was getting ridiculous.

At Bergen Street I got off the train, lest I freak out the other rush-hour commuters with my non-clotting stream of blood-snot. I huddled next to a trash can with my head down as the blood soaked every inch of the only two tissues I had, and began to paint all my fingers a deep, slick red. The G train rolled in, passengers came off, many of whom walked right past me. Couple minutes later another F train, a minute later another G. Part of me hoped no one would notice me, and part of me was angry no one was stopping to offer me more tissues.

I was about to leave the station and start phoning friends who live in Carroll Gardens when a guy in his early 40s asked if I was OK. Apparently I was shaking. I honestly didn’t know when the blood would stop flowing. There was so much blood he thought maybe I’d sliced up a finger. When I told him it was just a nosebleed he invited me to his brownstone just a couple blocks over. For a second I thought I shouldn’t follow him home, but then I figured that a guy who offers help to a bloody stranger during rush hour *has* to be a good person, right?

His name’s Ted. Studied theater at SUNY Purchase in the early 90s, now works IT for Verizon. The way he remained so calm and warm despite all my blood, and more importantly, the way he kept *me* calm despite all my blood, I was surprised he’s not a nurse or an EMT.

The bleeding stopped by the time we got to his place. After I washed myself up, I stuffed some paper towels and cotton balls in the pockets of my hoodie for the ride home, just in case. Ted gave me a chilled bottle of Blu Italy sparkling natural mineral water, with orange, lemon, and pink grapefruit flavor. He said I should probably hydrate myself. (I’m drinking it now. It’s sublime.) Then I shook his hand, thanked him very much, and we parted ways.

So yeah, Ted from Carroll Gardens is a super-cool guy.

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Last month, my beloved wife & I enjoyed a good old American road trip between Brooklyn, New York and Louisville, Kentucky. My dear friend Todd Pate, the self-proclaimed hobo journalist behind El Jamberoo, asked me to write a little something about the trip for his website, so I did. Here’s the result, “Autumn In America,” which covers America’s most famous battlefield, a West Virginia lunatic asylum, why the government shutdown is like “Redneck Crazy,” and much more:

Smells like burning wood, my wife notes as we roll through Gettysburg in our little gray Honda Fit, a third of the way between Brooklyn and Louisville. Not sure if it’s the homey aroma of autumn hearth-blazes, or maybe a burgeoning forest fire.

Click here for the whole thing

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Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller, just shootin the shit about living death, dream continuation, the romanticism of neurotics, and molecule rearrangement, among other heady topics. From Robert Snyder’s 1974 documentary Anaïs Nin Observed.

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Man and Woman Contemplating The Moon, Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1818-1824

Man and Woman Contemplating The Moon, Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1818-1824

“We must strive to be like the moon.” An old man in Kabati repeated this sentence often to people who walked past his house… I remember asking my grandmother what the old man meant. She explained that the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others. She said that people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But, she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines…

After my grandmother told me why we should strive to be like the moon, I took it upon myself to closely observe it. Each night when the moon appeared in the sky, I would lie on the ground outside and quietly watch it. I wanted to find out why it was so appealing and likable. I became fascinated with the different shapes that I saw inside the moon. Some nights I saw the head of a man. He had a medium beard and wore a sailor’s hat. Other times I saw a man with an ax chopping wood, and sometimes a woman cradling a baby at her breast. Whenever I get a chance to observe the moon now, I still see those same images I saw when I was six, and it pleases me to know that part of my childhood is still embedded in me.

from Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier

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Drunk Woman Is Tired, Pablo Picasso, 1902

At the local pub, a woman faints from too much beer and not enough food. Smacks the back of her skull on a stool. As her friend helps her into a chair, the bartender calls 911. When the EMTs arrive, one of them asks the woman for her name. “Why do you need to know?” she asks. “To see if you’ve had a concussion,” says the EMT. “Yeah but you don’t know my name,” the woman says, “so how do you know I’m tellin’ you the right answer?” “Just tell him your name, Jill,” says the woman’s friend. “OK, my name’s Jill,” says Jill.

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