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ebogjonson's February 2006 archive

February 27, 2006

rips - octavia



Octavia Butler passed away over the weekend in Seattle. From what I've been able to gather, she fell (from stroke?) and hit her head, suffering a massive hemorrhage.

Butler's books were always tantalizing and difficult for me, especially the Xenogenesis series. I was amazed by the trilogy's scope, marveled at how Butler could inscribe what felt like the entire dynamic of being black in the New World into a plausible, science-fictional arc. There is a world of great black sci-fi, but I think Butler's books are the texts that most fully fleshed out the core insight of what sci-fi heads like to call afrofuturistism. Afrofuturists believe (and it is a form of belief) that only the specific formal interventions of the speculative narrative genres can accurately capture the shifting states and conditions and, yes, powers of blackness. ("Abducted by aliens, forced into slavery, secreted to a strange land and forced to participate in bizarre genetic experiments" - is that the trailer for a new X-Files movie or a page from black history?) In Butler's work the Afrofuturistic insight became solid and nodal and true, as opposed to what it had been before she crafted her amazing powerful stories: a hunch, a shadowy premonition shared by a range of people about a disconnected series of works.

The difficult part about Butler (for me, at least), always concerned in the way she treated the genetic hybrids that sat at the core of her writing. Hybridity is, for reasons that don't bear outlining here, an obsession of mine (WHAT IS B.O.G.?) and Butler had a take on it that I always found disquieting. In so much as her work imagined and re-imagined the encounter between black and white as an encounter between human and alien, I found myself occasionally recoiling from how she handled bodies with mixed parentage. There are three distinct hybrid modalities deployed in Butler, one where her hybrids seem akin to African Americans, one where her mutts seem like Americans in general, and one where her hybrids are what we commonly describe today as "mixed race." Each one of those modalities has implications and politics for me, and as Butler deftly juggled each, at times according them a place of honor, at times depicting them like a newcomer predator ravaging an ecosystem, I found myself being challenged and pushed out of my various comfort zones, no small thing considering that my default setting about such matters (for those of you who don't know me) can be basically summed up as "smug prick." Butler forced me to evaluate and reevaluate how I was reading and thinking about race, where I was suturing myself into the story. There are hundreds of books out there that have changed me, that have been absorbed into my psychic code-base, but Xenogenesis has always been grit in my mind's gears, a substance (isotope?) whose resistance to assimilation and smooth digestion produced a rendering of my own inner workings. Except for foundational works that blew my mind and educated me as a kid, I can't really think of any other writer who had the power over my thinking.

[...]

For at least 10 years I have kept track of the instructor list at the Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshops offered in Seattle and Ann Arbor, MI. It's been a fantasy of mine to take one the workshops, and in my mind there was a very short list of writers that always made me lean a little more forward in my chair, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Nancy Kress, Maureen Mchugh, and, of course, Octavia Butler. I never got around to applying, and it typically never occurred to me that there wouldn't be a next year for me and the vague objects of my literary affection, be it a writer like Butler or the long unrequited love affair I've long had with my own as-yet-unmade fiction writing.

Posted by ebogjonson in afrofuturismmemory at 2:20 PM | Permalink

February 19, 2006

din din in LA



Dinner with the various peoples in LA.

Posted by ebogjonson in city of angels at 9:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

February 13, 2006

art for the SoCAL massive

My partner in crime (Ingrid v. Sydow) is showing some work in a group show at the Palos Verdes Art Center. The exhibit's called "Bling," and features Ms. Ingrid and 7 other artists currently working in the SoCal.

Curator Mark Steven Greenfield describes the show: "I elected to go with one 'bling' to attract your attention to what I consider to be some of the brightest emerging artistic talent in Southern California. All of these artists exude a quiet self confidence and refined sense of commitment to their vocation that distingushes them from the norm."

Well said, Mark Steven Greenfield. Well said!

The exhibit runs until 3.30. The Palos Verde Art Center is located at:

5504 West Crestridge Road
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275 (mapish)

If you make it out, let me know

Posted by ebogjonson in city of angels at 4:54 PM | Permalink

dave chappelle's sloppy seconds

So how do you want your Oprah - in the bed like Dave does, paying your bills? Or as kidnap bait for fantasy wiggers, like the Boondocks did last night?

Posted by ebogjonson in screened at 1:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 1, 2006

cholesterol - a dream

I got a high, bad number from the doctor last week, which I imagine prompted the following. Too much red meat and avocado, not enough oatmeal. More fish, perhaps?

I dream in strobing, slasher flick fragments where I'm both the knife-wielding maniac and his prey. This particular slasher flick is set in Japan and its POV hops from character to character, alternating between a barefoot, deranged ronin or ninja, a smallish Japanese woman, a running, running teenaged boy. Everyone is terrified (even the killer) but no one seems to know exactly what is happening or why.

Initially I stalk myself in a park, the ninja shadowing a couple taking an evening stroll. The couple is Japanese, middle-aged and dressed in sedate, modern grays. They are a husband and wife and they are taking what seems like a daily, post-dinner (fish?) constitutional. There is something angry in the way they're not speaking. The silences are big, loud things that crowd the space between the pair's shoulders, plenty of cover for me to disappear into. I walk just a few feet behind the couple for some time, wondering who they are, what they're thinking. After several hundred yards of following and watching, some kind of internal alarm goes off in my head, a single ringing tone that tells me it's time to reach out and slit the husband's throat. He collapses against me and disappears into himself in a wordless sparkle, a smashed ember or defeated videogame character. There's no blood except on my sword and even that seems like a formal convention, just an aesthetic marker indicating use as opposed to any kind of evidence of the murder I've just committed.

Now I'm the Japanese wife and I'm and running. Although I'm likely pushing 50 I take to my feet easily. I have a mild headstart - the killer is holding his sword this way and that, appraising it - and, moreover, I'm angry that my husband is dead and that I've been trapped in someone's stupid horror movie. The anger makes me fast and clear. I'm afraid to be sure, but I don't want to end up like my husband. I think about rules, about plausible yet unexpected plot twists. I don't hear the killer but I know he's somewhere behind me trying to close. He's like a disease, something I have. Until further notice I'll be carrying him with me everywhere I go.

Further notice appears right on cue in the form of a pool that I almost run into. I skitter to a relieved stop at the edge, think again, take a deep breath, dive in. The water is cold like liquid moonlight and the briefly pierced surface calm closes back over me like a layer of something heavy and fatty. I shudder gratefully into the water underneath like a patient with a high fever settling into a cold bath. I drift down to the bottom, where I find a filter outlet pushing out bubble-ridden water. I cup my hands over the grille, collecting and sucking down moist, metal-tinged air. For some reason I feel sure I've escaped. It's dark, I think, he won't see me in the bottom of the water. He won't want to get wet.

Now I'm the killer again, and I'm standing at the edge of the pool. The part of me that knows I'm dreaming knows the Japanese woman is pressed against the bottom, but the part of me that is the killer looks away after a while, grudgingly impressed that the woman has managed to escape. I don't understand the roots of the killer's compulsion but soon I've wandered off, searching the landscape for prey. The park has turned into a series of fenced-in suburban backyards replete with swings and garages and more pools. Empty clotheslines and redwood furniture. It doesn't at all seem like Japan, looks more like Long Island. I pad through yards, peer into darkened homes through rear windows. I have the feeling that I'm actively hunting the locals but don't dream anyone but the killer, don't do anything but watch and wander. Then some paydirt: I stumble onto a group of teenagers getting high on a back porch.

Although I'm an anachronistic barefoot ninja wielding a bloody sword, the teenagers strike me as odd, as temporally displaced. Their hair is big and shaggy and 80s. Their t-shirts are all touting tours for imaginary 80s bands and their jeans come in (currently) unpopular acid washes and cuts. One of the teenagers (a boy) is dry humping one of the others (a girl), while a third (a boy) watches, waiting his turn. I climb up to a high place (a garage?) and dive into the three of them. I spin as I fall, the tip of my sword tracing a glinting corkscrew pattern. It's a videogame move lifted out of X-Men Legends II: Apocalypse, one of Wolverine's special attacks. The part of me that knows it's dreaming is mildly disappointed. It seems an unlikely videogame moment to show up in a dream, but later when I'm awake and writing this down I remember Wolverine's healing factor, think how handy it would be to have such a thing.

The girl looks up (too late) and sees me arcing towards her. Her eyes go wide and she stops her perfunctory writhing and moaning. The boy on top of her frowns in confusion. Does she want want him to stop?

And then I'm the third teenager, and I'm running, running, running. I don't know if my friends are dead but I don't turn and look. There is a clearly a bad thing behind me but it's completely silent. The quiet feels smug, like a judgment, like a bet being made against me. I run faster. I notice that my heart is pounding. It feels strong but I don't trust it, can imagine it giving out on me at some inopportune point. I wonder what would hurt more: collapsing from a heart attack, or being sliced and stabbed to death.

Now I'm the Japanese woman again. I look up from under the surface and watch the figure of the killer and the boy run back and forth past the pool's edge. The figures are watery and wavy, reduced to a few essential details like an 80s haircut and bare feet and a weapon. Lying calmly on the bottom of the pool the chase strikes me as poorly resolved and inconclusive. I feel sorry for the running boy, trapped as he is between the killer and his heart, which the dream has decided is definitely defective. It annoys me that events on the surface are so locked in, subject to little more than the passage of time. Time will tell if the boy's heart gives out, if the boy gets caught by the killer. The arrival of the rising sun (so thoroughly predictable!) will either reveal my hiding place to the killer or reveal the killer to the waking world. It all feels fated, so much hinging on a handful of resistant, intransigent variables. The best thing the boy could do for himself is come down into the cool, dark water with me, to calm down and reduce his various inflammations. I could tell him to do this, but the thing is that I really don't want him bringing that killer down with him. So I wait.

[...]

Moments before I wake everything in the dream changes. Now I'm a light-skinned black actor taking off make-up in a bulby dressing room mirror. Next to me is another actor, an older white dude with a clipped, British accent. We are winding down and discussing the ins and outs of the performance we've just given, some sort of broad, theme-park play about a Japanese woman and a ninja killer and some American teenagers. There are no other actors, so I'm curious to see how the two of us could have pulled the whole thing off. But before any dots can be cleanly connected I'm awake and standing, pissing like a racehorse into the toilet.

I don't remember getting up and into the bathroom, think that give or take a few minutes I'd have wet the bed like a baby. A close call. The last time I wet a bed was the morning my fatther died. I was in my mid-thirties and I walked around in a fog shame and embarassment that day until my mother blew it all away by leaving me screaming and wailing phone message about how Dad was dead. It seemed a useful coincidence, the two unlikely things happening on the same day, and every morning since I've woken to a dry bed and thought to myself how no one I know was going to die, not today at least.

My urine is particularly copious and foamy and yellow this morning. Standing over the toilet I think of articles I've read on the Internet about how yellow foamy urine is a symptom of varied implication. I think that if I'd spent another couple of minutes in dreamland I would have pissed myself for sure. I want to write that I wondered who it was that had today's brush with death, but that'd be a lie. I know who it was.

Posted by ebogjonson in dream log at 12:08 PM | Permalink