A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair

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If you have ever achieved a goal or a dream, you know that the first step to success was in visualizing or verbalizing what you had hoped to achieve. To imagine a desirable future outcome is key to its realization. The animated short film A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair dares to imagine a better world in which no one is sacrificed; a world in which everyone is essential.

About a month into the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis, co-founders of The Leap, together with award-winning artist Molly Crabapple and Opal Tometi, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, started a conversation about the role of futurism when so much is at stake. They concurred that to defeat Trump was not enough to fend off naked authoritarianism in the White House. Many other intersecting crises, they noted, are bearing down on America and the world: climate collapse, surging white supremacy, or widespread famine.

In shaping their “Message from the Future,” they could not ignore our burning cities and forests, as well as the global pandemic. Moreover, they could not imagine achieving a safe and humane future without escalating and winning street battles and general strikes. Their call to repair a deep brokenness provided a framework for encompassing the interlocking crises in our social, economic, political, informational, and ecological spheres.

The protagonists of their futuristic animated film are rank-and-file organizers and activists. Disparate movements get on board: organized labor, Black liberation, climate, disabled, feminist, Indigenous, migrant, worker cooperatives, and more. Covid-19 acts as a catalyst for moving humanity forward. As Naomi Klein notes in her article of October 1, 2020, on the premier of the film: “In forcing all of us to confront the porousness of our own bodies in relationship to the vast web of other bodies that sustain us and the people we love—caregivers, farmers, supermarket clerks, street cleaners, and more—the coronavirus instantly exploded the cherished, market-manufactured myth of the individual as self-made island.”

I invite you to watch the animated short film (duration 8:57 minutes) A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair produced by The Intercept in partnership with The Leap.

“Going Out of Business” by American Poet Minnie Bruce Pratt

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Lesbian-feminist American Poet Minnie Bruce Pratt with Family Photos
Photo Credit: Official Website (Photo by Ellen M Blalock)

My Poetry Corner October 2020 features the poem “Going Out of Business” from the poetry collection Inside the Money Machine (2011) by Minnie Bruce Pratt, a lesbian-feminist award-winning poet, educator, and activist. The following excerpts of poems are all sourced from this collection. Born in 1946 in Selma, Alabama, Pratt grew up in Centreville. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama in 1968, where she met her ex-husband. In 1979, she took her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of North Carolina.

After her ten-year-old marriage, Pratt divorced her husband in 1975 to live as a lesbian, upending her life as a privileged white heterosexual woman. Living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at the time, she lost custody of her two sons under the state’s “Crime Against Nature” law. Her loss and grief shaped her morality and led her to a life of activism for women’s rights and specifically lesbian rights. When she shared her emotional journey through shame and anger in her poetry collection, Crime Against Nature, published in 1990, her sons were too old for their father or the law to prevent them from being a part of her life.

After thirty years of adjunct teaching, punctuated by several stints of standing in unemployment lines, Pratt joined the faculty of New York’s Syracuse University in 2005 where she played a key role in launching their LGBT Studies Program. She retired in February 2015.

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Thought for Today: The unsettling truth of American Christianity and white supremacy

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The historical record of lived Christianity in America reveals that Christian theology and institutions have been the central cultural tent pole holding up the very idea of white supremacy. And the genetic imprint of this legacy remains present and measurable in contemporary white Christianity, not only among evangelicals in the South but also among mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast.” [p.6]

We white Christians must find the courage to face the fact that the version of Christianity that our ancestors built—“the faith of our fathers,” as the hymn celebrates it—was a cultural force that, by design, protected and propagated white supremacy…. But if we want to root out an insidious white supremacy from our institutions, our religion, and our psyches, we will have to move beyond the forgetfulness and silence that have allowed it to flourish for so long. Importantly, as white Americans find the courage to embark on this journey of transformation, we will discover that the beneficiaries are not only our country and our fellow nonwhite and non-Christian Americans, but also ourselves, as we slowly recover from the disorienting madness of white supremacy.” [pp. 234-235]

Excerpts from White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones, published by Simon & Schuster, New York, USA, 2020.


Robert P. Jones is the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and a leading scholar and commentator on religion and politics. Jones writes a column on politics, culture, and religion for The Atlantic online. He is frequently featured in major national media, such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others. He holds a PhD in religion from Emory University and an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of The End of White Christian America, which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

Peace of Mind in a Moment of Catastrophic Thoughts

We can overcome the anxieties and fears that assail us daily during these uncertain times. As Dr. Gerald Stein, a retired psychotherapist from Chicago, reminds us: “We are the descendants of those who [have endured and surmounted misfortune] again and again for thousands of years.”

Dr. Gerald Stein

If the political-pandemical moment has lit your hair on fire, I offer a suggestion. Get into the shower. But since I can’t personally help with this remedy, let me provide some calming words.

We must begin here: many people fear the worst outcome in the U.S. election come November.

Some ask me for my opinion, my prediction, my reassurance.

I tell them I have enough trust in the good sense of the majority of my fellow-citizens to save the democratic republic. Hope and experience sustain me. I do what a concerned citizen can do. I will vote and, until events are past, take modest political action via the phone, the mail, and contributions to candidates I support.

These thoughts and efforts, however, do not dominate my time or my life.

Yes, potential chaos and catastrophe loom, but few souls profit by submerging themselves in disastrous scenarios. They are instead immobilized…

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“Begin Again” by Brazilian Poet Bráulio Bessa

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Brazilian Poet Bráulio Bessa
Photo Credit: Official Website of Bráulio Bessa

My Poetry Corner September 2020 features the poem “Begin Again” (Recomece) from the poetry collection Poetry that Transforms (Poesia que Transforma) by Bráulio Bessa, a Brazilian poet and motivational speaker. The poet was born in 1985 in Alto Santo, a city of an estimated 17,000 people located in the semi-arid interior region of the State of Ceará in Northeast Brazil.

At fourteen years old, Bráulio began writing poetry in high school after learning about the work of Patativa do Assaré (1909-2002), a popular oral poet and son of poor peasant farmers who were also from Ceará’s impoverished hinterlands.

“When I had contact with [Patativa’s] poetry, I perceived that a poet with very simple language was capable of speaking about that which is most complex in the world, of passion, and of forgiveness,” Bráulio Bessa told Katy Navarro during an interview on TV Brasil in August 2019. “I put it in my head that I wanted to be a poet and started writing. The most beautiful thing in this was to feel the transforming power of literature, education, and art in my life. I realized that it was possible to also be an agent of transformation in the lives of other people.”

Filled with great dreams, Bessa took a college course in computer systems analysis which motivated him to promote his poetry on the Internet. During the TV Globo program, Encontro com Fátima Bernardes, in August 2018, he spoke about his journey to fulfilling his dream of becoming a poet.

“Living in a small city, I had this sensibility of understanding that a popular Northeastern poet generally goes to the local city market to recite poems as loud as possible to get people’s attention, and I looked at the Internet and said: This here is the world’s largest market, with all kinds of people, never closes, and doesn’t have borders. I began recording videos of poems, covering such themes as fear, prejudice, love, depression, and identity, and published them on the Internet.”

In 2012, Bessa’s videos gained national attention with over 250 million views. His “Northeast Nation,” launched on Facebook, promoting the culture of Brazil’s Northeast Region, has more than a million fans, earning him the nickname “Ambassador of the Northeast.” With his trademark Cearense accent and inseparable hat, and down-to-earth poetry, he enchanted the hearts of viewers.

The poet’s Facebook fame caught the attention of TV Globo, Brazil’s largest television network. Beginning in 2015, Bessa became a weekly participant on their TV program Encontro com Fátima Bernardes to speak about Brazil’s Northeast Culture with a poetic outlook.

The featured poem “Begin Again” is probably Bessa’s best-known poem. Inspiration for this nine-verse poem came from the tragic story of Laura Beatriz. In 2010, at eight years old, Laura lost her entire family in a landslide in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro. He speaks to her about hope, faith, and strength to begin again despite her adverse situation.

Every day is a day to begin again, no matter the magnitude of our problem. Cited below are verses 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9 from Bessa’s poem “Begin Again.”

When life hits hard
and your soul bleeds,
when this overbearing world
hurts you, crushes you…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO FIGHT again.

When everything is dark
and nothing illuminates,
when everything is uncertain
and you only have doubts…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO BELIEVE again.

[…]

When evil is evident
and love conceals itself,
when the heart is empty,
when the hug is missing…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO LOVE again.

When you fall
and no one catches you,
when the force of what is bad
succeeds in knocking you down…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO RISE again.

When hopelessness
decides to whip you,
if everything that is real
is hard to bear…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO DREAM again.

[…]

Begin again, redo yourself,
remember what was good,
rebuild each dream,
rediscover some talent,
relearn when you make mistakes,
shake the hips when dancing,
and if one day, way ahead,
life gives a reverse,
recover your faith
and BEGIN AGAIN anew.

To read the complete featured poem and to learn more about the work of Bráulio Bessa, go to my Poetry Corner September 2020.

Thought for Today: The lie that corrupts American life

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Americans must walk through the ruins, toward the terror and fear, and lay bare the trauma that we all carry with us. So much of American culture and politics today is bound up with the banal fact of racism in our daily lives and our willful refusal to acknowledge who benefits and suffers from it. Underneath it all is the lie that corrupts American life. It corrupts how we imagine governance; how we think about our private lives (constraining even who we can love); and how we imagine community and the broader public good. The lie is the lifeblood of Trumpism. Anything that does not corroborate its reality is dismissed as “fake news.” Anyone who doesn’t fit the view of America as a white nation or refuses to submit to it is cast as a traitor or as someone who hates America.

Excerpt from the Conclusion (p. 211) of Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., published by Crown, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, USA, 2020.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., born in 1968 in Mississippi/USA, is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. His most well-known books are Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (2016) and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America (2007).

Climate Crisis Update: Reasons for Hope in 2020

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Stop Sign Extreme Heat Warning – Death Valley – California – USA

It is hot here in California. On August 16th, a heat wave sent temperatures soaring in Death Valley to 130℉ (54.4℃), believed to be the highest temperature recorded on Earth in over a century. With a historic wildfire season threatening life and property, Governor Gavin Newson has declared a state of emergency. On August 24th, as reported by Cal Fire, the state has had 7,002 fires this year, burning over 1.4 million acres…and growing. At the same time last year, 4,292 fires had burned 56,000 acres.

Depending upon where you live, you are probably facing your own extreme weather-related danger. Given our climate crisis, this is our new reality as inhabitants on Earth. Though the COVID-19 global pandemic may have forced our climate activists off the streets worldwide, they continue to press for urgent action.

On July 28, 2020, The Climate Reality Project released a message of hope amidst all the chaos going on around us. Their article, “9 Reasons to Have Climate Hope in 2020,” outlines why we should be optimistic about attaining a just, sustainable clean energy future.

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“The Punt Trench” – Poem by Guyanese-Canadian Author Ken Puddicombe

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Punts to be loaded with cut sugar cane – Sugar Estate in Guyana

My Poetry Corner August 2020 features the poem “The Punt Trench” from the first poetry collection, Unfathomable And Other Poems (2020), by Guyanese-Canadian author Ken Puddicombe. Since retiring from his accounting work, Puddicombe has been pursuing his love of writing. To date, he has published two novels and a short story collection.

His poetry collection is filled with nostalgia of his boyhood days in Guyana. As an immigrant living in Canada since 1971, he writes in “Nostalgic”:

Immigrants.
As they grow older, the yearning
For a return to the old country increases.
Memories plague them, of a childhood in a familiar spot.
Any little incident will send their senses reeling and take
them back in time and place.

The punt trench is a recurring memory in Puddicombe’s poems. For readers unfamiliar with Guyana’s coastal lowlands of sugar cane fields crisscrossed by canals or trenches, a legacy of Dutch colonizers (1648-1814), a punt or cane-punt is a flat-bottomed iron barge for transporting harvested canes along the system of canals or punt trenches from field to factory. About 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 or 4 feet deep, the punt is drawn by a mule (in the early days) or tractor, attached by a long chain, moving along the punt-trench earth dam or unsurfaced road. The punt trench also serves as a drainage canal during low tides and periods of flooding, controlled by kokers or sluices.

Seawall with Koker or Sluice – Guyana
 

Puddicombe’s memories of the punt trench are somber and haunting. The title poem, “Unfathomable,” the longest narrative poem with seventeen stanzas, recounts the tale of the unfathomable death of his playful and daring friend—crushed between two punts moving along in a convoy on their way to the sugar factory.

The punts in the mule-train linked
With short lengths of chain hooked
Into metal clasps welded at the front
And rear of each craft. Six mules up front
Kept the convoy moving, each animal
Bound to a punt by a length of chain.

Lincoln was clinging to the connecting
Chain between two punts in the middle
Of the convoy, hanging on for a ride,
When the distance narrowed swiftly
Between the punts.

“Drowning” describes the time the author/poet almost lost his life in the cocoa-brown waters of the punt trench. Though he could not swim like the older boys, he plunged into the deep / Murky, swirling pit of the Punt Trench, made murkier still when his feet stirred up the mud and silt at the bottom of the trench.

On his first return visit to Guyana in 1987 after a sixteen-year absence, Puddicombe questions whether one could ever really go back to a time and place long gone. In his poem, “Middle Road,” the street where he had once lived, he finds The bridge over the Punt Trench where / I fell into the water now collapsed, the Trench / Filled in with debris.

In the featured poem, “The Punt Trench,” he reflects on the changes over time in four stanzas, each beginning with a different theme: Memory, Despair, Change, and Hope. His Memory of the punt trench as Fast moving torrential / Waves flashing through / The Koker to the raging Atlantic is no more. Instead, he feels only despair.  

Despair.
The Punt Trench is a dumping
Ground filled with debris and
Castoffs. Empty shell of a car.
Rusting frame of a bicycle. Bags of
Garbage piled in mounds. A dog’s bloated
Carcass. Tall paragrass and wild eddo bush
Reaching to the sky.

The punt trench, once a haunting memory of youthful joy and dread, is now a symbol of the decay of a neighborhood and of a nation; of promises not yet realized. It is not the change promised by the founding leaders of the independent nation.

Change.
From the Koker in Public Road
All the way to the Backdam
The Punt Trench is now Independence
Boulevard. Every time the breeze zips
Across from the north-east,
It reeks and fills my
Nostrils. Repulsive
Odours.

Only birdsong brings the poet Hope that Life goes on!

As the author and poet acknowledges in “You Can Never Go Back,” the final poem in the collection, the places of his idyllic youth have changed or no longer exist. People are no longer the same. Yet…some among us grasp a dream of returning to a time we consider our days of glory. Life goes on, for better or for worse, with or without us.

To read the complete featured poem, “The Punt Trench,” and learn more about the work of Ken Puddicombe, go to my Poetry Corner August 2020.

From Loneliness to Love: Five Steps for Finding a Healthy Relationship by JoAnne Macco

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Front Cover – From Loneliness to Love: Five Steps for Finding a Healthy Relationship by JoAnne Macco (USA, 2020)

With all the social distancing and lockdown during these uncertain times of a global pandemic, there is no reason for us to give up on finding the love of our life. In her self-help guide, From Loneliness to Love: Five Steps for Finding a Healthy Relationship, memoirist and former mental health therapist JoAnne Macco does not dillydally with meanderings. She presents each recommended step with clear and concise descriptions and exercises for realizing the change we seek in our lives.

Based on her own journey of finding a compatible partner, following her divorce and two rebound damaging relationships, Macco knows well the pitfalls that await us along the way. She believes that the steps she had taken for a successful outcome could also work for others.

Her first step is intuitive: “Clarify Your Heart’s Desire.” Yet, so many of us can stumble in defining exactly what we seek in a relationship. Tips and exercises help the lonely heart to zero in on the list of qualities that really matter, based on each person’s wants and needs.

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Thought for Today: Grounds for Hope

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Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists…. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

Rebecca Solnit in the Foreword to the Third Edition (2015) from Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, published by Haymarket Books, Illinois, USA, 2016. First published by Nation Books, USA, 2004.

Rebecca Solnit, born in 1961 in Connecticut/USA, is a writer, historian, and activist. She is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, hope and disaster. An independent writer since 1988, she is a columnist at the Guardian and a regular contributor to Literary Hub. Her most recent book, Recollections of My Non-Existence, was released in March 2020.