Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. King

Sometimes you need to just get out of the way. MLK says it better than I ever could. Read the whole thing, it's worth the time, worth the tears, worth every syllable and moment.

From the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial. (photo: National Park Service)

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" Creative Commons License

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The worlds we see, those we don't

Andrew Wyeth died a few days ago. He is one of my favorite artists; since I was very young, his view of the world with its implication of the possibility of more has shaped my writing, my stories and how I see things. I'm not the only one. His most famous painting, Christina's World, has spawned hundreds of questions about meaning, narrative in art and many imitations in art, film, stage, personal mythology and more. His Helga paintings raised questions about secrets and love. I am more drawn to his landscape or still-life works that make me want to see beyond the frame, that are less about people, but that's no surprise considering who I am. But this is only personal preference and in no way commentary on any of his work.

He was decried by critics as too sentimental, but I would have to disagree; Wyeth painted what he saw and what he loved. Sentimental has an implication of excess emotion, of a hazy view shorn of realistic dirt and rough edges. Wyeth didn't peel those harshnesses away, instead he looked for what was implied, for the visual representation of the unseen. His paintings always suggest that the world, even this small part of it, is infinite, that there is more than what we see within the frame. That it is worth asking questions and wondering. And loving the dirt and those rough edges that you can see within the frame is not necessarily an expression of softness or bad art; it is in our nature to love and to try to capture or express what we love, what we long for, what we cannot hold onto or always see. Painting about it makes the world more tangible, or at least this moment in the world.

Wyeth said, "It's a moment that I'm after, a fleeting moment, but not a frozen moment." His painting captured that beautifully. As our lives are fleeting moments.
I am grateful Mr. Wyeth left his mark on the world and did so in spite of critics' resistance. His work gives me hope that there is always the possibility of something else, of more beyond the frame, of another fleeting moment.
Wind from the sea, 1948

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grand music, great advice

Read the translation. Wise words for weary times. Creative Commons License

Friday, January 9, 2009

Virtual, real, life

I've come to the conclusion that 2008 burned me out. I know I'm not the only one; most of us have had too much stress, too little income, too much worry and anxiety. For me, part of this has manifested in real difficulty writing much of anything, let alone blog posts. I miss blogging terribly, I miss writing and completing thoughts. I have dozens of half-written posts, most of which you will likely never see. They are the ashes of the past year.

It's a new year now, so I'm sallying forth with what will be, I hope, new energy and interest in my own life and the world around me. With any measure of grace this will include less self-indulgent blathering and more frequent, interesting posts. We'll see.

Onto the topic at hand. I've been thinking lately about the intersection of technology and real human interaction. This was sparked by my current interest in Twitter and Facebook. I'd avoided them for sometime - I've avoided most social networking sites, feeling both that they were more for a younger demographic and that I didn't want to get sucked in, but my reticence has crumbled. I'm tweeting and posting updates. Yikes. But this, along with sites like postsecret, 1000thingsthatmatter and nings have gotten me thinking about the relative value of virtual vs actual interaction and the stories we tell in these venues. I'm not even thinking about gaming, which I know very little about, or blogs or youtube or... I know, this topic has been done to death, but thinking about our narratives in these spaces is new to me. While I likely won't say anything new I might give it a different context. If nothing else I can think it out a little more here.

Once upon a time we lived our lives, told our stories within the confines of a village. We knew our neighbors intimately. Most details were all but public. Our lives are very different now. We move from our private, palatial homes (even a one-bedroom flat in America is large by global and historical standards) to our enclosed cars to our office cubicles. We don't have anything near the easy opportunity for meaningful, face-to-face interaction that we did a generation ago.

Instead we have screens. Through my computer screen I have relationships with people around the world, some of whom I have never met in the flesh, yet I worry about them, their trials and tribulations are real to me. The other day a friend asked me over lunch (a real interaction) about a someone we both know via Facebook. She referred to him as a "friend" and I flinched. While I care about him because of our virtual interaction, he isn't quite real to me. He is virtual. If I never heard from him again I would likely never know what happened to him, because he isn't part of the physical fabric of my life. But the relationship I have with this man is still real, still has emotional impact.

Who we are to each other is entirely moderated by technology. Does that make it less legitimate? Less real? I don't know. I do know it gives me far more latitude with the stories I can tell, the narrative I can create with my life.

The virtual world gives us permission to be much more creative with our narratives than we might be in the physical world. I can crop my photo to hide the parts I don't like, that you would see if we were in the same room. I can make up stories about my adventures more easily, because you won't see the pauses while I think about what might have happened next. I can reveal things about myself I might not tell those closest to me, because I know we will never meet; even if we did you probably wouldn't recognize me. I know this happens all the time; I tend to assume much of what people tell me about themselves online is kind of like a big lonely hearts ad - you may say you're 6'1" but really, you might be 5'10" That's okay, it's who you want to be.

All of that said, is it bad? Is it misrepresentation? Maybe. And maybe not.

If we are creatures defined by our stories, defined by the stories we tell, these virtual worlds give us the chance to create ourselves over and over again. We can tweak ourselves to be who we want to be. I don't know that this is always a bad thing. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities for mischief and misrepresentation, but it also gives us a chance to play pretend in a collaborative space with thousands of others also playing pretend. It gives us a chance to make connections between our hoped-for selves and others' hoped-for selves.

I may never physically meet the man my friend referred to, but I can give him the gift of believing him when he tells me his stories, just as he gives me the same gift when I tell mine. These virtual communities, while in no way foolproof, guaranteed benign, or a substitute for real interaction and friendship, offer a new way to build relationships that perhaps let us play pretend for just a little bit longer.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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