My Heart of Darkness

After being a drumming student with a Congolese Master I love and respect for 6 years, I know now about the nightmare of Africa, in particular the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I know about the mutilations, torture, rapes, and the forced boy child soldiers. I know about the massive theft of natural resources from the people of the Congo for gold, tin, tantalum, cobalt and other minerals. These minerals and metals are essential for the operation of computers, cell phones and other technology we consumer folk in the world constantly use. I know about King Leopold of Belgium, his vicious enslavement of the people of Africa for his greed and acquisition of colonial power. Without the internet, I never would have known.

I know my beloved drumming and dance master teacher Sandor Diabanquezi’s mother was gunned down in the Congo from a helicopter. I know Santa Cruz’s Congolese master teacher Vivien Basoamina’s sister was killed in the Congo. I know Eve Ensler has been there and written about the horror and terror of the murders and rapes done there by the legions of militia groups and soldiers. The Holocaust in Africa and in other places of the world continues unabated. I have tried to support Sandor any way I can and continued drumming anyway.

One year I bought a bunch of T shirts from Friends of the Congo with Patrice La Mumba’s face on them but quickly found out other people drumming and dancing don’t want to talk about how much we are part of the system that oppresses people in the Congo and abroad. I have hated finding out all these things, hated my unwillingness to divest myself of the goods gotten by this corrupt and unjust system, hated my feeling powerlessness. Yet, now I would rather know the truth than not, no matter what.

I embrace my Heart of Darkness, which is no longer unaware and blind to the larger picture of the world.

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Failure to Launch

When I was a journalism student at Chico State writing sports and feature copy for the Wildcat, we had electric typewriters, red pencils, and white out to produce and edit copy. You rewrote and rewrote and rewrote till the editor said it was OK. I remember how laborious and time consuming it felt like when I started.

My next journalism experience involved being an intern for “Action Report.” The broadcast copy and casework for a consumer help TV show was produced in Rolfe Auerbach’s garage in Chico. His show was syndicated in 3 counties with 3 different TV stations, so we had Watts lines to call all over northern California to research consumer complaints. Rolfe’s show was named “Action Report” and his tagline on his show was: “You can get action with Action Report!”After several fascinating months, that internship came to an abrupt end when someone turned Mr. Auerbach in for illegally growing marijuana in his backyard.

A few years later, when I was hired by the Chico Enterprise-Record, I was given a desk and what was known then as a VDT, or Video Display Terminal out in the main room across from a vending machine. They were an early version of an in-house word processing system with screens and a keyboard. I had used one earlier when I worked on the Orion, a newspaper the Chico State Journalism Department had going by then just for us Journalism students.

Much to my surprise after I’d finally graduated, an employment agency got me a job with the Enterprise-Record in Chico. But the man who hired me weighed 300 lbs, gave me a few lightweight writing assignments and some obits to write up, and then ignored me. Mr. 300 lbs, who had to be in his 50’s at least, had his own office, a separate room with a VDT, and a dull,overworked, “Don’t bother me” aura.

The reporters at the sports table and news desk were grouped close enough to talk to each other. I was a “floater” who had no beat and I was supposed to generate my own stories. It took about 2 weeks for me to realize I could not handle the isolation, lack of contact and direction. To this day I have no idea why they hired me. When I resigned, I did it by VDT. Some time later I had to move home with my parents, having no further prospects in Chico, where I’d spent 6 years living and going to school.

My next ill fated adventure involved Ed Bauer, the owner/editor of the Half Moon Bay Review. He was notorious for being a pompous, hot headed, narrow minded,right winger and his paper reflected it. I have heard his paper has been used as a bad example at the Stanford school of journalism, ironic, as Mr. Bauer was a proud graduate of Stanford and owned the paper for 25 years.

When I interviewed for a job with him, he wanted to know who my college adviser was. Officially it was Dr. Chu, and Mr. Bauer then wanted to know if Dr. Chu had worked for a Chinese newspaper I had never heard of. When I said no, it felt like a door had been slammed in my face and the interview was over. I was so repelled by his racism I was relieved I didn’t get the job; I didn’t want to be anywhere around him. Though I eventually spent some time doing paste up in the production room, the job was long hours with dreadful pay, and it wasn’t writing, so I quit.

The final nail in the coffin of my journalistic ambitions came in the form of a friend of my mother’s who was the owner/editor of a small local coastal newspaper named the Beachcomber. Her name was Shirley Zynda. She looked like a kindly blond grandmother, though, in reality she was a good writer and tough as nails underneath. When I asked for a writing job she had me do some of the small business blurbs she featured periodically for businesses that paid for advertising in her paper with a “we’ll see how you do”
attitude about my writing.

At one point I did some production room work for the Beachcomber to “help out” and liked it no more than before. I don’t even remember if I was paid. After several months, out of the blue, Shirley Zynda called me in to see her to inform me that I had no dicipline and couldn’t write, and THAT was THAT. The ease in which she trampled on and discarded me, wrong as I knew her judgement was, crushed me.

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Labor Day With the Cat Paul Newman

Today I got to spend time with a semi feral cat I feed from time to time on my porch I named Paul Newman. Because I had time to feed, touch and string play with him, I saw him more clearly than I did in the past when I wrote about him before.

I thought the cat Paul Newman was a pale yellow. Today I saw that he is not. His fur is almost white, and his ears, tail, and face have symetrical pale orange stripes, which, along with a subtle but distinct wideness of jaw suggest Dad might be a long dominant neighborhood Tom I have always called Orangey. He is beautiful and has a curious, lively personality, but I also saw the twitchy siamese in him that was his mother and where he got his startlingly blue eyes.

We never found out what her name was, but she moved around a lot, was hyper and we spayed her, along with two of her progeny because the neighbors who owned her didn’t. She and one of her daughters disappeared, we took in the other cat, Daisy, who is a large and graceful calico.

The cat Paul Newman is clearly not a kitten, but he’s young and inexperienced, and not big enough to be as domineering as his sire. If we touch him for more than a few seconds, he bites and scratches us, so I am careful when I am feeding or talking to him. He comes to eat and be appreciated, likes to cross our threshold and hang out, check out things in the house. He has learned not spray in front of us after our first reactions when he started invading in the back and trying to establish territory by marking.

His ears, nose, paws and tail are always a bit grimy, and he has nicks and scratch marks on his nose. Today I brought out two shoelaces tied together and he had a lovely time ambushing, biting, and clawing the end of the shoelace. I enjoyed watching him, being close to him, and talking to him lovingly. He has taken to being more calm and parking himself on his side, rolling and lounging happily, though he exhibits a firm independence by streaking outside the minute something happens he isn’t sure about.

It’s taken me a long time to become a good cat mother. I’ve learned to observe and tune into the cats, do the least to get the best results. What cats like the most is respectful consistency and access to food and water. Considering their size and the difficulty of being a cat in a human environment, they are surprisingly affectionate.

I know it would be best if we spayed Paul Newman, the sooner the better. But I have learned not to force things with either my guy the cat nut or cats themselves.

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The Passion of Jesus Diaz

I’ve been attending a latin percussion class for about a month in Oakland with Jesus Diaz, and it’s been a unique and marvelous experience for me. It’s appealing right off the bat to go to this class because it’s in an upstairs apartment of a woman artist and loaded with big, colorful paintings, many with African themes and vintage teapots. I don’t have to bring a conga and haul the darn thing up steps because there are already a bunch of them there with chairs in a circle.

There’s an affable, relaxed atmosphere which comes from the other students and Mr. Diaz himself. He doesn’t do a lot of gabbing about what to do. The class is all about playing and singing, immersion style. He sets things up, assigns parts, clues his mostly advanced students, and off we go.
If I don’t plug in and find my footing in whatever I’m assigned, he notes this quickly, either gives me something more simple, or comes over and teaches it to me by putting his hands on my drum and making sure I get it.

He often will expertly sing or recite the specific rhythm he’s assigning, much like you or I would sing a few bars of “3 Blind Mice” or “Pop Goes the Weasel” to remind someone who had forgotten them. Being new, I’m not familiar with any of the names of what we play, including “bembe”, but it matters not at all because I can get in and stay with a part, look at other’s hands, and even switch parts if I grok them while we are playing. I love it, because I learn and retain by doing until what I call my inner jukebox absorbs how it feels and sounds and plays it back to me.

The last time I went to class, we did a “bembe” which went on for quite a while at a good clip, and he sang a progression of orisha songs with perfect concentration. I could see other students singing with him in the choruses and now and then catch snatches of orisha songs I’m familiar with, thanks to a couple of cd’s my last teacher gave me that have orisha songs with bata on them. Yet I know I don’t have the concentration to sing and play at the same time yet, so I don’t strain to sing.

Mostly I can’t clearly hear the songs over the percussion, and even if I could, I have to get the playing down first. Every now and then I fall out of the rhythm I am playing and I stop for a moment. I’ve learned to be patient and not stress over building stamina and focus.

I am so grateful I have the aptitude and experience to be able to attend a class like this and partake of the passion and rhythmic bliss that occurs when the group is playing together. So different from the painful and frustrated floundering I did for too many years before in other classes. I was a percussion student who did not know how to listen, focus and learn.

There is playfulness and clear affection among the regs and Mr. Diaz, and I guess I’ve passed muster for the time being. What is so compelling about this class and Mr. Diaz is the opportunity to practice entering into a FLOW state. It’s awesome.

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The Cat Paul Newman and the Head Pet Toll

The cat Paul Newman is a beautiful yellow shorthair with vivid blues eyes, and that is why I named him Paul Newman. He’s one of four semi feral cats me and my guy feed periodically on our front porch. The Toll for being fed at our house is head pets, which I collect just before feeding them. Timing, posture and duration have to be precise, or the cats freak.

The cat Paul Newman is not very big cat-wise, is not fixed, so he has a problem which is now my problem. It all started the usual way with my guy, who cannot resist needy cats. Guy let Paul Newman come inside our house and started feeding him.

He’s male, and he’s looking to establish territory, find females he can mate with, and be the king his hormones demand he try to be. This means he wants love, food, sex and dominance and therefore MUST MARK with urine the inside of our house whenever he gets the chance. My guy, true to form, has completely forgotten that he’s the cause of the stink that occurs when Paul Newman slips in and pees. When he complains about it, I ignore him, since I am footing the bill for the cat food, cleaning up the pee, and plotting a nut free future for Paul Newman.

The fact that the cat Paul Newman is unsupported in being allowed to come in and stay, discouraged from biting and clawing me after I have petted and fed him, is of course, spurious and inconsequential to his hormone induced aspirations. I now pet him with my bare hands briefly, and put on an over mitt while serving him food. This cuts down on me getting bit and scratched, and ending up having to yell and whack him.

His size is a handicap, as most of the cats in the neighborhood outweigh him and he sometimes has a scratch mark across his nose. Both of our indoor cats are spayed females, and one of them, Daisy, is twice his size and quite hunter savvy, so he’s SOL on that front.

We have a humane cat trap and have spayed many cats female and male. Spaying cats in our neighborhood has been one of the smarter things we’ve done and it’s really helped stop kittens being born in droves to people who aren’t paying attention and don’t have the time or resources to take care of them. I want Paul Newman to have a safer, less traumatic life, therefore I want to get him castrated. I am biding my time, as sooner or later I will find a way to get it done.

There is a couple down the street who also take care of cats. The women loves animals and she managed to get a large and very domineering bad ass orange tomcat I nicknamed “Orangey” fixed after years of him beating the crap out any cat that he encountered. I used to throw tennis balls at him to keep him from constantly attacking a semi feral we loved whom he drove away. Like many males, his nuts made him nuts. He’s one of those cats who has a large head and looks like he’s on steroids. Now, when he comes to the door, he loves to be petted more than he likes the food.

“Orangey” and two other semi ferals,”Junior”, and “Mr. Green” sometimes show up together and gently butt heads, rubbing against each other like brothers while they wait to get food. They are all fixed. If they weren’t, they would be yowling at each other and fighting.

“Mr. Green” is an all black cat with yellow eyes. He has some sort of chronic respiratory infection, which used to mean we could hear his choking and rasping breathing every time he approached. My nickname for him is Mister Schitz because he is tremendously over reactive to any kind of movement which he is all too ready to interpret as a threat, darting away explosively as though I’m a giant about to grab him and put him in a cooking pot for lunch.
He looks way better now because I started marathon feeding him raw meat and anything healthy I could throw at him to stop the choking, spitting, and gasping. Now he has a faint wheeze, but he can chew and shut his mouth, miaow and breathe better. His dirty fur and runny eyes cleared up some, and he became calmer, despite his flight tendencies.

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The Portrait of Bill Cosby

I’ve finally stopped hating Bill Cosby. Current pictures of him look really awful. He’s practically toadlike with cropped white hair, bulging, staring eyes and moles on his face like a large fungus. He looks both pitiful and nasty at the same time. I’m certain the shots are from live performances, and his choice of wardrobe ( a sweatshirt that says “Hello There”) just heightens the creepiness.I can’t help but think of the “Portrait of Dorian Gray” story about a man who is immortal and handsome looking but who has a portrait that looks more and more horrible as he commits crimes and sinks further into debauchery and evil.

When the count of women with detailed rape stories about him got to 20, I came to believe he’d done it and more. The fact that he can’t be legally prosecuted by time statutes of limitation only brings the heinous nature of his addiction to violating women by drugging and raping them into sharper relief. That he could use his image as a trusted male celebrity to cover it up and get away with it all must have become part of the thrill. The women he raped need, more than anything, to be able to acknowledge what happened to them without all this appalling bullshit about his legacy. I think it’s good they can’t prove he did it, because it makes legal proof, which is and has always been skewed to protect men and nearly impossible to make conclusive of intent, Moot. HE USED DRUGS. THERE WAS NO CONSENT.

But the court of public opinion is far more exacting than legal proof. He lost his son Ennis to murder. He may remain famous, and a millionaire, living out his days, but he will never again be trusted either as a man or a performer by a critical mass of people which includes me. I loved him and his comedy, was raised on it and his comedy record alblums. He’s now just another delusional sick bastard male who’s been allowed, big time, to hate and hurt women.

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Bata Mea Culpa

Recently I went to a live performance dedicated to the ocean great mother orisha, Yemonja on my birthday. As a bata drumming student, I have played bata rhythms for the cuban version of the mother orisha Yemaya. Yemonja is the Brazilian version and the performance featured a variety of offerings that were magnificent. I heard about the performance through my current drumming teacher because his children were in the performance. Going to it was uplifting and inspiring.

What I did not bargain for was running into my ex percussion teacher. I saw him during the intermission putting drums on the stage. I knew this meant he would be performing in the second half, which he did, with 3 other cuban guys. The performance was sold out, packed, and when I walked from the main room to the lobby, there he was in front of me. We had a moment of unavoidable eye contact and he turned to stone. He cut me cold, as though I hadn’t been the neighbor, friend and dedicated, consistent drumming student of his for 4 and a half years. When he arrived from Cuba, I was the one who introduced him to people that would become his students locally. I had nothing directly to do with the end of the relationship that had brought him to my home town and his exit from it.

This was not the first time he’d refused to acknowledge me. He did it before when I went to a drum class taught by a drumming crony of his in the city. He was there playing bell at the request of his friend during the class. He had ignored my smile and a wave then and it seemed like it might be accidental. But this time it was very clear it wasn’t. Though I can guess why he is no longer OK with me, I can’t be sure what he’s thinking and why he is shunning me.

It hurt and I felt quite angry though I did not react. Not one minute after I saw him and experienced the psychic slam to my gut, I ran into another Cuban fella who was also briefly my teacher. He hadn’t left on the best terms either. He called out my name, seemingly delighted to see me and gave me an enthusiastic hug. All a mystery, as I had been a hot mess when I’d been his student and didn’t believe he thought much of me.

And yet now I see this situation as the sign of real growth that it is. My ex teacher contributed a great deal to me becoming a better drummer. He is a musician of high standards and quality. Yet I had arrived at a place where I knew I needed to move on and he’d taught me all that he could before it ended. I once heard him tell someone who was asking him what he’d been up to that “he was JUST teaching the women percussion.” He had some very good points as a teacher, could be benevolent, but he was often harsh and bordering on abuse of me and others who were his students. What he taught the most was FOCUS, and I cried some bitter tears learning it while fighting to not walk away from him for good.

I have no doubt now that being around this man stirred up my inner emotional wounds around father and authority issues. He was perfect for it, holding a rigid standard of perfectionism in playing bata which resonated with my unforgiving internal judge.To his credit he ignored a lot of emotional static from me, including tears. The war between me and my love/hate projection of him was waged mostly in silence while in his presence during class.

I have learned not to look to him or any other outside source for praise and validation. As I got better as a player, my ear and awareness of what was correct and in the groove began to inform me more than his guidance. It was three years before I began experiencing my own excellence with an inner knowing that was sure, and there was nothing like that feeling. And I can’t begin to count the days of rage and devastation when I questioned why I was doing this at all before I came anywhere near to the joy of my own development.

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Drumming Class Heaven: The Divine Mr. Santos

Before the year ended, I got a call from a drumming class friend on the coast. She had noticed in the College of San Mateo catalog that a noted local professional musician has a latin percussion class he teaches. Because our Congolese master is no longer coming to our town, opportunities to drum locally are non existent. She invited me to join her in checking out the class before the semester was over. I told her I had seen the class in the catalog for years and wanted to take it, but hadn’t felt confident enough to even go to check it out.

After the New Year came and went, she called me again, and we agreed to call each other the next week and see if we could go check it out on the day of the first class. The day came, I called her, and she could not go, but she told me the time of the class, the building it was in on the campus, and the fact I’d need to pay for parking in the Visitor lot to a Parking Kiosk. I decided to go alone. I actually lost my car keys that day, had to get someone to drive me home to get a spare set, and I knew it was because a part of me was in reaction to me finally going to check out this class.

I arrived, found the Visitor parking lot, and went up to the Art/Theatre and Music building early. I had no idea what classroom it was, had tried to look it up on the website but hadn’t been able to. I prowled and circled around the 2 floors of the building, seeing no one, and fretting. Many of the classrooms in the music area had digital dials on them, and small windows which were covered or too high for me to peek into. Finally I saw a guy pulling a conga bag on wheels and followed him into the right classroom. There was John Santos with his fedora, chairs, an empty dry erase board, and a conga. I let him know I was not enrolled but wanting to check out his class. There were some LP loaner congas, and I luckily was allowed to borrow one.

At the end of the class he came up to me and asked me where I had previously played, and was I Carolyn Brandy’s student. This was a moment I had never imagined happening. Being recognized by a master right off the bat warmed me considerably.I’ve floundered and struggled, been lost for too many years.

Later, at home I managed to get online, enroll, and try to register for the class within the next week. I had computer problems and had to call the Registrar’s office, and then had to email the instructor for a code number which was confirmation I had permission to take the class. I sent Mr. Santos an email and he gave me the code. When I had the money, I finished the registration.

I love the class. There are women and men, young and old. Some are experienced, some are not. Mr. Santos loves his subject, and is an excellent teacher. He presents all three modalities of learning: visual, auditory and kinetic. He breaks things down, builds slowly, answers questions. One time he brought a guest drummer, a friend who has drummed for Santana for 40 years. He has an assistant who sends us the drum charts after each class. He has tips from 42 years of drumming and performing. He sings the rhythms,steps and plays them, writes what we are doing on the board. We get three whole hours a week with him and a break.
With Mr. Santos, the latin percussion world is just one big family of people and stories are told of everything from how drums are manufactured to every kind of detail about rhythm there is.

I’m almost grateful it took me so long to get there. I’m experienced enough to know what a treasure I’ve found which I can respect, love and savor. The second time I went to class I took my own drum in a drum bag, and it happened to be cold and windy. Mr. Santos and his assistant were at class when I arrived early. I was bundled up in my North Face coat and a wool hat, and he invited me into the class so I would not be cold. I’m not used to being noticed or treated well, simply for existing. I think I’m going to like getting used to it without EVER taking it for granted.

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Merry Choppa Christmas 2014

The sun is shining, and a cold little breeze is blowing off the Maverick’s Bluffs. My conga drums are sitting in my little backyard with a chair. I’ve had a good morning. I was woken up this morning by my guy, who is still stuck in the idea he can drink a couple of beers and be OK. He managed to not be completely nutso and said a few good things before I got up and made it to a meeting where I was invited to read something and share. I’m grateful for all that as last night was nearly a night having to be somewhere else besides home for me.

After the meeting, which was well attended and congenial, I headed for a coffee shop I’d heard was open and picked up a couple of croissants. I called the guy and he wanted a chocolate filled one, and I got a plain one. We snarfed them down and then I made a real breakfast for me of sausage, hash browns, and 2 soft boiled eggs. The guy has four days off his stressful job, which has become a problem for him after 12 days of hard work with no breaks and a boss who’s ways of communicating suck.

I’m learning something new now, which is not to hang around and take on too much negetivity without going to war or trying to stop it. Last night, after he came home raging and ranting about how the bank had ripped him off( i.e, he was overdrawn), I left, because he was in the mode where nothing I could say would help. The more I leave and the more peaceful I get, the more some part of him comes forward and has to handle things on it’s own.

I told him I was going out for a walk, left, went for a walk I enjoyed, saw Christmas lights, and came home refreshed.It’s really slow, like a drop of water on a stone, but some inner part of him is getting the message I am not going to take it anymore.

I’ve sat down now and played my 20-20 cuban rhythm bits outside.I do 20 times with each hand leading for 20 minutes and today I really enjoyed it. I haven’t been doing it lately and I can feel the names fading, so it’s time to remember to practice more often. It’s only 20 minutes, after all, and the satisfaction I feel being able to do it is enormous.

I opened my Christmas gifts and got a charming little plaid fleece throw from my niece, a little white zip bag with an S on it from her also, and the requisite jammies from my oldest sister. She sent me a large, non flannel set, red, with animal skin pattern colored coffee cups on it.

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Death of a Seagull

Two days ago I killed a big, beautiful, seagull. I pulled into a large parking lot behind a fast food chicken joint in my town and ran over it. The bird had been just landing, wings flapping, on the pavement between a hedge and the other cars, when I came along with my monstrous and heavy car, not fast but too close for reaction time to hit the brake. It tried to fly up but I was too close. I hated watching it rolling into a crushed, dead heap in my side mirror behind me.

I sat there and screamed and cried for some time. I was already distraught from a fight with my partner. I left sobbing and yelling messages for someone else. Then I called my guy to tell him I was going to come home and get a shovel, gloves and garbage bag to bury the bird I murdered. He offered to come help me bury the bird despite previous things said to me. I said yes, and we did it.

The seagull I killed was incredibly beautiful and large. It’s thick, soft grey plumage, danging neck and head, strong wings, perfect feet, along with strings of orange intestines hanging out broke my heart. In the parking lot where we used a flat shovel to scoop up the bird’s body, there had been a bit of red organ tossed into the bushes which had been driven out of the seagull’s body when I drove over it. I made myself look at the whole bird, place it into the large hole we dug carefully, memorize everything I had destroyed. My tears flowed onto the bird’s body and into the soil. I don’t remember when I have cried as fully as I did then. I tried to layer the soil carefully over the bird, put some sea snail shells and a delicate little white and yellow mushroom that had popped up nearby on top.

Seagulls are scavengers, and I’m sure they eat a number of things alive. They have sharp beaks which tear apart whatever they eat, and, beautiful as they are, aren’t known for being nice. They are as ruthless as us humans when it comes to eating. I wonder now if I would be able to stop eating animals if I had to witness the torture and murder they endure being slaughtered for human consumption. I don’t know how I should feel, think or be with this, but I’m clear on one thing: I hated killing the seagull just because I wasn’t paying enough attention.

I’d like to believe this somehow represents how much I have not been aware of and not paying attention to some aspect of myself, but I avoiding becoming attached emotionally to that conclusion. I know I was actively mourning and grieving more than the bird’s death.

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