Dear Sisters: Black Lives Matter

Your pain, and the bravery in your hearts to share what you feel, are embers of light in a world that insists on living in darkness.

Your endurance through chaos, and your will to survive through its reams, are layers of strength for those who will follow in your footsteps.

You’ve heard before that you have to keep fighting, and that you have to keep pushing,

And you will hear this again.

But tonight, I encourage you to put your arms down, and to lay your heads back.

Tonight, I encourage you to simply find somewhere to rest.

And to reach out to one another, to hold one another, and to assure each other of one thing, if only just one thing:

That you are not alone.

And that your pain will not be in vain.

Your struggle is the world’s struggle, as it is humanity’s struggle, and as it is the struggle of the future.

And in your fight to bring light to our society, you reflect the orbit of a world fighting to survive in a galaxy full of darkness.

Thank you for shining so brightly in this journey, and for your resilience through its tremors.

And know that you are seen.

That you are heard,

And that you will always be acknowledged and appreciated.

From the center of the earth,

To the edges of the universe,

Through time and space,

And even beyond,

Thank you once again, dear sisters; indefinitely.

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My Mysterious Son (2014)

Before I move on with the rest of Quartz, I’d like to take a moment to ‘officially’ review a book for the month. A little while ago, I had the pleasure to learn about My Mysterious Son after meeting the author, Dick Russell, at a writing workshop with the Inside Out Writers. When ‘D.R.’ gave me his book, I thanked him for the journey, without knowing just how challenging its contents would actually be to grapple with. From the opening, D.R. leaves no doubt for readers about just how much of his life he’s sharing with others:

“This is a book about a different interpretation of schizophrenia, based upon almost twenty years of one father’s experience with his son’s struggle against mental illness. Experiences fraught with desperation, confusion, incomprehension, and pain. Experiences also filled with surprise, humor, adventure, and hope. Experiences that ultimately go beyond (but do not discard) the Western “medical model” for treating mental illness.”

Perhaps no moment in the book speaks more to the doubled-edged nature of these experiences than the poetic turning point of the journey, when one morning, the author’s then-seventeen year old son, Franklin, hands him a mysterious note recounting a ‘dream-like’ journey he found himself in the night before.

Russell shares this note in the book, but so readers can encounter it for themselves, I’ll leave the note unquoted. What I can say about its contents, however, is that I found myself immediately struck by Franklin’s ability to capture the brilliant images of his journey so vividly.

The note is sharp and enigmatic, taking readers from one edge of a galactic field to another, and right away, it’s clear that Franklin is dealing with a multitude of worlds beyond his own, and that what he’s able to ‘bring back’ from this intersection of realities is something to be treasured.

At the same time, it’s also clear that even if Franklin brings back treasures, there’s only so much understanding one can reach with them, as ultimately the note leaves readers with more questions than answers.

As fate would have it, Franklin’s note was just the beginning of a tragic divorce from a rather “normal” teenage life up to that point, since what follows next is a harrowing ten years in hospitals, intensive medication, bitter identity crises, effective and ineffective therapy, and so much more for him and his mother and father due to a form of schizophrenia he’s diagnosed with.

The experience for Franklin is magnified by his status as an only child, as well as the fact that his parents separated when he was still just a newborn. Perhaps most of all, however, Franklin and his family’s journey is complicated by his struggle to come to terms with his biracial identity. as the son of a Black mother and white father.

Franklin is dark-skinned, and like most people of color — and Black people in America in particular — Franklin struggles with a world that seems to place little to no value on his life. This proves difficult for his white father to grasp, and leads to more than a number of searing confrontations between them on the difference of their skin colors.

At times, Franklin blatantly calls his father an impostor, or implies that someone else is his true ‘ole man’. This is tough to read through, but I can only imagine how much tougher it is to breathe through for the author. Still, D.R. manages to hang on to every sharp-edged word uttered by his son, determined to learn from and use the words as building blocks rather than not.

Moreover, as Russell states at the outset, in contrast to the bitter words between him and his son, there is also a world’s worth of beautiful ‘gems’ the author hears from Franklin’s voice on things. Along with a magnetic vision, Franklin commands a charming knowledge of esoteric facts on language, people, and geography, which on more than a few occasions leave readers in pleasant awe.

This is the journey through My Mysterious Son, characterized as much by ‘progress’ as ‘regression’ like the life of any ‘normal’ human being. However, things take another major turning point towards the end of the book, when Franklin and his father meet the famed West African writer and teacher Malidoma, who practices ancestral indigenous healing techniques for illness.

Franklin takes well to the West African, and alongside his father, he develops a significant relation with the world renowned spiritual leader, which each of them express gratitude for, and which the author movingly describes.

This alone makes My Mysterious Son a worthy read, but there’s more, considering the cross-roads at which our country remains stuck at on the subject of race. After all, Malidoma, his West-African roots notwithstanding, like Franklin, is ultimately a Black man, with spiritual and divine knowledge of the world around him that’s more precious than diamonds or gold can ever be. This knowledge — like that of the alternative forms of healing to Western medicine the author encounters in his effort to help his son — is indigenous and ancestral information, which — were it not for the author’s open heart and mind — he might never have found for himself and Franklin.

By extension then, it’s fair to say that My Mysterious Son shows how by looking past the differences of their skin colors and the different worlds they contain, and in listening for the value of Franklin‘s, and later Malidoma’s voices–coupled with Franklin’s willingness to work with his father on dealing with his condition– both men save each other from almost-certain destruction and loss from one another’s lives. For this, the book is not just a great read and journey, but a reading and journey which all Americans should take part in. I thank both D.R. and Franklin for the wisdom wrought forth by such an unforgettable time together.

City of Quartz: Ajah!


The days since my last update have been adventurous, taking me from one polarity of rhythm to the next, with a weekend that featured two incredibly fast and filled up days of work for yours truly, and a Monday that saw the short editorial “To My People” published on
Abernathy Magazine! Finally, this Tuesday allows me some solid time to update The L.A. Storyteller.

I just got through the first chapter of City of Quartz, which featured a total of eighty-five pages analyzing everything in ‘Los Angeles’ from the rise of its bungalow homes in the 1910s to the eve of L.A.’s gangster-rap era as first led by NWA in 1990. Such a lengthy timeline of analysis makes it difficult to choose a part of the text which captures all of Davis’s excavation through so many different periods and their trades, but I’m just going to pick a few passages and navigate through them in the next few posts.

To start off, I’d like to explore Davis’s insight into the way that investors specifically designed and marketed L.A.’s downtown and West-side areas as ‘melting pots’, where the author pulls no punches when calling out those behind the appropriation of ‘culture’ in The City:

“The large-scale developers and their financial allies, together with a few oil magnates and entertainment moguls, have been the driving force behind the public-private coalition to build a cultural superstructure for Los Angeles’s emergence as a ‘world city’. They patronize the art market, endow the museums, subsidize the regional institutes and planning schools, award the architectural competitions, dominate the arts and urban design task-forces, and influence the flow of public arts monies. They have become so integrally involved in the organization of high culture, not because of old-fashioned philanthropy, but because ‘culture’ has become an important component of the land-development process, as well as a crucial moment in the competition between different elites and regional centers.”

Here, the passage invokes for me the way that places like the MOCA and LACMA have always seemed foreign for housing or ‘hiding away’ the pieces of L.A., as whether I’ve walked from the streets of MacArthur Park, where I’m swept by the smell of beans and cheese melting inside pupusas on the grill, or through Wilshire boulevard, as Koreatown greets me with barbecue restaurants, tofu houses, and Tom N Toms, L.A.’s culture has always been in the air for me.

Similarly, I think of how through the “bombs” of graffiti artists or the paintings of the old school Chicano muralists, L.A. for me was never a city to be framed in portraits hanging on the interior walls of ‘art centers’, but to be felt through its aerosol-laden brick and adobe walls out in the open, which speak to the city’s de-centeredness.

Perhaps most of all, however, to me any culture in Los Angeles has always proliferated in the myriad of English dialects which it’s home to, as I walk through the city’s neighborhoods to the chatter of ‘foo’, ‘bluh’, or ‘cuh’ vernaculars, among so many others.

For largely failing to acknowledge such homegrown characteristics, L.A.’s major museums have always been a downer for many of me and my friends, but until Davis’s text, the feeling was always subconscious. Now, with the insight of Quartz in mind, I finally have a context for the feeling of estrangement throughout so many of The City’s supposed representations. A lot like Hollywood, L.A.’s museums were never exactly meant for me or my friends to really ‘star’ or find representation in, but they were meant for us to ‘buy into’ like we do with the movies for which we ‘suspend belief’.

On the one hand, this is a challenge to accept, as coming to terms with the idea of living in a city that’s continually trying to sell illusions to me is frankly just difficult to digest. On the other hand: it’s an education like no other to see past the illusion, and I nevertheless recognize it as a fundamental way in which to learn how to respond to the seller.

As I continue with reflections on Davis’s text, I wonder how readers might react to such descriptions of The City. One thing’s for sure: I’ve never been more fascinated with the discussion as I am now, nor equipped with so much literature to draw from! Alas, it seems then, that The L.A. Storyteller, is really just The L.A. Geek.

With more soon,