See the introduction to this series here: Letting The Chips Fall Where They May
Tip #1: “You is a very Fluid Concept”
Tip #2: “Man the FUCK up!”
Tip #4: Let Your Smile Be your Guide!
Tip#5: Be A Baller!
and Tip #7: Never, Never, EVER Surrender Your Sense of Humor
And now for Tip# 8…
Around the time I was writing the original series back in 2008, the most extraordinary thing in my lifetime was happening in America. The 2008 presidential election had been won by Obama in a lopsided landslide victory that changed America’s profile forever. I had actually gone home to canvass door to door in Pennsylvania prior to the election, I was so inspired by what was going on. A country that had given Bush not one but TWO terms (initiating my thoughts of an exodus abroad) had actually gone to the voting booths and pulled the lever (or whatever) for hope and change.
It certainly changed me, for I had never been proud to be an American until that time.
I had watched carefully and chronicled (on my first blog: Ain’t No Stopping Us Now) almost every step of the campaign, and from watching how Obama handled himself under such extreme conditions, I sort of provided a blueprint for how anyone, regardless of your background, could do the same. Thus, I had made Finding a Role Model Tip#8 of that series.
Well, it was true then and it’s true now, and so I remain 100% behind that tip, and behind Obama. There’s nothing like learning from someone who has excelled at what you’re trying to do.
Well, for this re-mastered Tip #8, I’m gonna hit you with another of my role models, not as well known as Barack but nonetheless continues to have a profound effect on my thinking and feelings. This man was an artist; the way John Coltrane and Miles Davis were artists; the way Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor were artists; the way Mark Twain and James Baldwin were artists…
In other words, in the grandest sense of the word artist.
That is to say he challenged conventions, redefined sublime, made people uncomfortable and ultimately changed things, for the better.
The holiday season is upon us.
I’m no christian so, while Christmas songs have been embedded in me and thus I’ve come to feel merriment and melancholy when I hear them at this time of year, Christmas is just another day on my Calender.
However, the day after Christmas is the first day of a holiday that has been a tradition in my family since I was a child. A holiday known as Kwanzaa. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t. In brief, it is a holiday celebrated by African-Americans since the 1960s to, among other things, pay respect to the harvest traditions and year end celebrations that were stolen from us (among many other things) when our ancestors were kidnapped from various African nations and brought to the Americas in bondage. Lots of song and prayers, food and drink, family and loved ones. (For more info click here)
There are seven days of Kwanzaa, and each day has a special meaning. We call them the Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of Blackness / African Heritage) :
- Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani(Faith): To believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
The reason I brought up Kwanzaa is because of the sixth day, Kuumba. I was taught as a child (in the elementary school readers of “Hi! My name is Loco and I am a Racist” know well) that we should leave wherever we go more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. This principle, along with the other 6, was a part of the education I received. This morality was impressed upon me over the course of many years until it became a part of me…and each and every time, even as an adult, that I don’t do as I had been taught to do as a child by people who I respected and had nothing but my best interests at heart, I feel a sense of betrayal, guilt and even failure.
Many years have passed since I was physically under their sway. And I have drifted away from these values many times. But, various people at various times have brought me back to them with glaring evidence of their providence.
Jean Michel Basquiat is one such person. (Here’s a link to a GREAT documentary on his life.)
I’ve never met him, unfortunately. But, his work and his life I know very well, and every time I need to be reminded of why it is essential to not only create but to create beauty, and to share it by any means necessary (for the world sorely needs it) I need but spend a little time admiring this man’s life and life’s work.
He, too, was from Brooklyn, NY, and was raised in a time and a city where certain aspects of his humanity beyond his control often inclined others to hurl ugliness and pain in his direction. But, his heart was such a heart that he was able to take what was strewn about and, in every sense imaginable, transform it into something that cannot be described as anything short of divine. And he did this for as long as his heart could hold out against this constant onslaught on sanity and humanity.
I feel a deep connection to him. My soul is moved by every movement of his journey through our world; jolted when he ran, soothed when he sauntered, stilled when he rested.
I look at as much as I know of the world he has left behind and I see that it has been beautified by him, the way a child’s finger paintings beautify a family’s kitchen. His work hangs by a magnet on the fridge of humanity. That his work still speaks to me and reminds me that one of our gifts is Kuumba, this capacity to leave things a little better than we first encounter them, is proof of the Creator’s beneficence.
And so, Tip #8: Do Something Beautiful is not so much a tip for keeping your wits about you here in Japan, but anywhere you might find yourself.
We all have a gift. Something we are uniquely blessed with the ability to do. Something of significance that enriches existence, lights dark spaces, deepens the shallows, vandalizes the contrived, beautifies pretty lies, and nourishes the soul.
Basquiat shared his, I share mine, so please do yourself and all of us a favor, and share yours.
Stay tuned for part 9, coming soon.