‘One-Way Ticket’

I’ve read The Warmth of Other Suns and “The Weary Blues,” heard Billie sing “Strange Fruit,” looked at scenes of Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s – and of sharecroppers, former slaves and younger folk, in the fields of the Cotton Belt. Pieces of “One-Way Ticket” have touched my life over the years. Nothing prepared me for the impact of seeing it all in one place, all at one time. The mix of music, paintings, photographs, books, video, overwhelms. The MoMA exhibit leaves no doubt about the horror and privation that drove African Americans from the South. At the same, it creates an image of their sometimes harsh, occasionally welcoming experiences in northern cities, mostly Harlem.

The exhibit offers us all a much better understanding of what my father went through  when he arrived in Harlem from the Bayou as a boy, and what my mother saw when she arrived nearly twenty years later from sea- and wind-blown lily white O.S. My parents encountered buildings that seemed to lean in on one, a cacophony of noises and chaotic transportation, smells of rotting garbage and excrement. But it  also offered up jazz clubs and exotic food and a mix of people beyond just black and white. The whole scene makes far more sense now.

The anchor for the exhibition is Jacob Lawrence’s “The Migration Series.” They are sixty panels painted on hardboard with cassein, which gives them a more granular texture, very different from oil or water color on canvas. The block-y figures balance with delicate detail to create magical realism, though the magic is often of the ungentle sort. All of them are haunting, often silhouettes against earth and sky, or packed tight in waiting rooms and train cars.

The rest of the exhibit includes photographs of musicians with a discription of their lives, works by Romare Beardon, and other artists, along with evocative and startling photographs.

They were taken by men and women, some famous, some less familiar to the general public. I found the work of Morgan and Marvin Smith appealing because they were friends of my parents. The two men (nothing distinguishes who took what) captured Adam Clayton Powell Jr. leading the “Do Not Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign in the streets of Harlem. It is a chaotic, energetic contrast to the simple starkness of Ben Shahn’s “Picking Cotton Pulaski County, Arkansas,” (1935). This photo depicts a sad-faced young woman, caught in the act of straightening or bending to the boll.

Two things startle: With few exceptions the travelers in the “Migration,” no matter how poor, dress formally in coats and ties or dresses. Likewise the photographs of people in Harlem show people clad in much more formal wear than we see today. And, despite the latent and blatant violence of much of the work, I don’t recall a single gun except in the hands of law enforcement.

While nothing can rival the impact of viewing all sixty of Lawrence’s panels at once, I’ve singled out three that gripped me. Lawrence wrote a caption for each panel when he painted them and  updated the text for an exhibition in 1993.

Two panels contain no figures, just mute tributes to what the migration left behind. The third needs no comment.

13

No. 13 Due to the South’s losing so much of its labor, the crops were left to dry and spoil. (1941) The crops were left to dry and rot. There was no one to tend them. (1993)

No. 25 After a while some communities were left almost bare. (1941) They left their homes. Soon some communities were left almost empty. (1993)

No. 25 After a while some communities were left almost bare. (1941) They left their homes. Soon some communities were left almost empty. (1993)

No. 15 Another cause was lynching. It was found that where there had been a lynching, the people who were reluctant to eave at first left immediately after this. (1941) There were lynchings. (1993)

No. 15 Another cause was lynching. It was found that where there had been a lynching, the people who were reluctant to eave at first left immediately after this. (1941) There were lynchings. (1993)

Round Trip to ‘One Way’

moma

Got a round-trip ticket to see “One Way Ticket,” the blockbuster exhibition that uses Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series paintings at the Museum of Modern Art as a launchpad to explore — well, I’m still reeling and will write more over the weekend.

The exhibit closes September 7, but if there’s anyway you can get there, go see it.

 

Another Tech Hell, Part I

nflx

My computer remained immobilized for most of the weekend. Here’s an edited version of the exchange that occurred Friday evening.

Netflix customer service. You are now chatting with Miguel: Hello! Thank you for contacting Netflix! This is Miguel, your Netflix agent. Who am I speaking to?

Me: Liz

Miguel: Nice to meet you Liz! How can I assist you today?

Me: Until tonight I had no trouble streaming films. Nothing has changed since Monday.

Miguel: Oh darn! I see, I understand the concern. I do apologize for this inconvenience! I am looking into this to see what is going on and how we can get this resolved so you can get back to streaming! … Could you provide me the email you used to set up the Netflix account?

[I gave him a wrong email.]

Miguel: Oh no worries! I do see you are logged into an account already on the computer you are using. [This link] will let you see what email you are logged in with. To clarify what device are you using when you have these streaming issues?

Me: MacBook Air

Miguel: Thank you! & to clarify does any error code or message appear when this happens?

Me: No. the film launches and then freezes with the red loop.

Miguel: Oh strange, that is odd. Thank you for clarifying that for me. I am checking further into this issue. … Do you happen to have any other browsers on your Mac we can test real quick to see if this issue happens on those as well? You can try Firefox or Chrome if they are available.

Me: I only run Safari. … Ran into trouble a while back.

Miguel: Ah! I see, I understand. At this time have you seen if clearing the cache/cookies of the Netflix website to see if this could help resolve the issue?

Me: Clear those pretty often. not sure if as recently as Monday.

Miguel: Oh I see, thank you for that. It may help with this issue at this time. It usually helps refresh the website and clear most issues. I do have a link I can provide you that would just clear the Netflix cache/cookies. … We may get disconnected in this process though. Do you have any questions before this is done?

Me: Should I come back to chat if it doesn’t work?

Miguel: Oh yes! We will escalate this further if it does not. I will make sure to leave notes on the account to help refer back to as well.

The chat disconnected, so I had to start over with someone else. To be continued…

More Killing

Credit: Associated Press

Credit: Associated Press

Larry asked this afternoon what I thought about the shooting of two journalists this morning. I don’t know. My immediate reaction, of course, was why did this guy have access to guns. But that’s a conversation this country remains unwilling to have.

Then I thought – the “media” is giving this incident extra coverage because the victims are two of their own. I don’t know how that will play out. It’s the way natural and other disasters that happen in the big media hubs get the most coverage.

These thoughts went through my head before I found out that there might have be a racial component – and I still don’t know what to say about that aspect of things.

The part of this that I think will reverberate is the live-ness of it. No one filmed the Sandy Hook shootings – thank goodness. The killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so forth came from cell phones, but the involuntary audience was limited to the people in the immediate vicinity.

This one was live on the air because of the nature of the victims’ work – and the shooter’s former position. Plus, he used social media to promote his activity. That part should scare all of us. One commentator compared the shooter to ISIS maniacs (my terminology) who post their beheadings.

So here’s what I think: If only their actions ended the same way – with the death of the perpetrator.

Pictures From a Proclamation

Here are photos from our launch party for For Dear Mother’s Sake: The James Family Letters That Shaped Ann Petry. Read more about it here.

From left, Wallace Jones, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County; Cynthia Clegg, president and CEO of the Foundation; me; Representative Matt Lesser, who delivered the proclamation from the state legislature; Lauren Miller, director of grants and programs for CT Humanities; Marie McFarlin, president of the Board of Trustees of the Old Saybrook Historical Society.

From left, Wallace Jones, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County; Cynthia Clegg, president and CEO of the Foundation; me; Representative Matt Lesser, who delivered the proclamation from the state legislature; Lauren Miller, director of grants and programs for CT Humanities; Marie McFarlin, president of the Board of Trustees of the Old Saybrook Historical Society.

 

Many of the members of the Board of Trustees at the Old Saybrook Historical Society made the trek up county. These great folks have become huge fans of this project. I’m thrilled to be working with them, especially Tedd Levy, at left, who made set us on the path.

Many of the members of the Board of Trustees at the Old Saybrook Historical Society made the trek up county. These great folks have become huge fans of this project. I’m thrilled to be working with them, especially Tedd Levy, at left, who made set us on the path.

Many thanks to Thayer Talbott of the Community Foundation for taking these photos.

Thank You!

Anna Louise James when she graduated from Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1908

Anna Louise James when she graduated from Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1908

It’s been moving to read everyone’s comments on Miss James. (I still can’t bring myself to call her “Auntie.”) You all have shown me a side of her that I never knew because she was strict, and unforgiving of errors. I guess she held family to a higher standard. Anyway, I’m taking notes and will keep everyone posted on our progress.

In the meantime, keep the memories coming!

ALJ as many of us remember her.

ALJ as many of us remember her.

 

Happy Radio Day

radio

Radios have played a part in my life since I was born. My parents didn’t buy a TV until I went off to college, but we always had audio entertainment, pretty much one in every room. We were blessed to live in a spot where multiple New York City stations came in as if we lived blocks from the broadcast towers.

My dad listened to his New York sports teams – the baseball Giants before they turned traitor and left the city, then the Yankees, and the football Giants. After the TV arrived, my mother’s version of hell was strolling into the living room where Daddy was watching football with the radio tuned to a baseball game. I’m sort of glad that they both passed over before the split screen arrived.

My mother tended to avoid the radio until she needed company in the wee hours of the night. Then she would listen to Pegeen Fitzgerald, Josh Logan, plus others who sounded like some of the wackos on air today. I don’t remember their names.

I recall listening to Jack Sterling on WCBS in New York when Daddy fixed my breakfast before I went off to school. Sterling had a live studio band, which included the host on drums. The rest was a sort of variety show with talk — maybe interviews? — breaks for news and weather.

My parents gave me my very own radio when I was about eight. Of course I listened to Cousin Brucie and the top forties stations. My favorite through my middle kid years was Jean Shepherd. His show broadcast at 10 p.m. on a weeknight, so at the beginning I’d turn off the light and sneak the radio under the covers. Most people know and begin to revile Shepherd for “A Christmas Story.” I bought and loved In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which included a great number of the stories he told on the air. One show made me laugh so hard I cried. That was the second time. The first occurred years before when I  read Winnie the Pooh out loud. Mother took the book away from me. Shepherd remained a favorite until he made some racist comments.

Much later I listened to Don Imus before he gave up vodka, went on TV, and displayed his racism. (What’s with you guys?) My favorite was “1,200 Hamburgers To Go.” Imus posed as the commander of a National Guard platoon and called a McDonald’s. (On Long Island?) He ordered the 1,200 hamburgers — 300 without pickles, 400 with extra sauce, etc., etc. That bit may have been his first foray into real trouble. He’d been dissing his sponsors, but they were paying to get disrespected. That time, the station had to pay.

Radio still fulfills my need for stories and diversion, plus news and music. These days I listen online: classical music when I’m writing; a variety of jazz, R&B, etc. when I’m not. Much of the spoken word I used to listen on the radio now rests on the iPod — all on public radio –that ‘casts  during workouts, housecleaning, etc. Programs lined up in the queue in no particular order:

  • This American Life
  • Car Talk
  • The Moth
  • Wait, Wait …
  • On the Media
  • Undisclosed
  • Science Friday
  • TED Radio Hour

Radio lives!

Quick Hit

 

CV1_TNY_02_23_15Nelson.indd

Stuff in my office has been threatening to fall over and knock me unconscious so today I embarked on a clearing expedition. That lasted about an hour when I was sidelined by a web eruption that began the day before, right as I was leaving for the launch party.

I managed to reduce the email backlog to four hundred – that’s on one account with fifty on another and one hundred on a third – and then spent an hour of backing and forthing on email and phone. I may or may not have more to say about that whole situation depending how things turn out.

And then I finished a New Yorker. It was dated early February. Next up, 2015 Eustace Tilley. The paper copy arrived with three covers. I wrote about it in “New York, New York.” Now I’ll actually be reading the issue.

Incredulous

Lauren Miller, director of grants and programs for CT Humanities; Cynthia Clegg, president and CEO of the Community Foundation; me; Thayer Talbott, senior director of programs and operations for the Foundation.

Lauren Miller, director of grants and programs for CT Humanities; Cynthia Clegg, president and CEO of the Community Foundation; me; Thayer Talbott, senior director of programs and operations for the Foundation.

I’m running out of adjectives because things just keep getting better for For Dear Mother’s Sake: The James Family Letters That Shaped Ann Petry. Thanks to our partner and fiscal agent the Community Foundation of Middlesex County we had a spectacular launch party today.

The highlight was state Rep. Matt Lesser’s delivery of a proclamation from the legislature acknowledging the project and praising the Foundation for its work. My jaw dropped. The rest of the reception was pretty much a blur.

Fortunately I had already greeted the board members from the Old Saybrook Historical Society, including former Police Chief Ed Mosca, one of the few people who remember me when I was a little kid. Thank you all for making the trek up Route 9 through traffic and multiple accidents!

Multiple photos will follow, most probably including one of me, jaw headed due south, after Matt announced the proclamation. Meantime, here’s a repeat from when we signed the contract.

Repeated thanks to all.