24
Feb
18

Strange times …

Protesters rally against gun violence in front of the old Florida Capital in Tallahassee, Florida, February 21, 2018. Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, AP

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I am no spring chicken.  Not that I am ready for the grave, but as a post-war baby boomer born in the mid-1950s, I’ve lived through extraordinary social and political change. And yes, by post-war I mean the “big one,” WW2.  I bring up WW2 because so much of the promise of America that led to notions of American exceptionalism in the 1950s was built on an ideology of American hegemony as not only beneficent, but as the savior of the world.  Scratch that surface, of course, and one tells a different story of McCarthyism, “lavender” scares, Jim Crow segregation, overt sexism and a host of other social and political ills. One can also argue, however, that the precise forces that led to American prosperity and might, created an atmosphere that laid the groundwork for the great movements of the late 1950s through the 1970s. Movements that brought us civil rights, the end to the Viet Nam War, gender and gay rights, open immigration, and a buy-in to notions American fairness and equality were finally bringing the promise of the American Declaration of Independence to the fore.

New York City subway, 1946. Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

So fast forward decades, with all of our prosperity, and here we are as Americans in the era of ultimate free choice. We can chose to narcotize ourselves with any drug we wish for hours at a time, and by narcotize, I’m not even talking about actual drugs, but the hours we spend “binge watching” shows on our “smart devices,” from phones to electronic pads to computers and so on.  Sit on a subway these days and I defy you to find someone reading an actual book or a newspaper. Instead of carefully following the ritual of the New York Times fold while precariously hanging on to the “strap,” with our legs slightly bent at the knees to keep us upright as we lurch forward, one leans wherever possible with a snarly pout (thereby hogging the poll), while dexterously clicking through a myriad of games, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, or one binge watchable show or another. Not that reading a newspaper was any more social vis-a-vis that special New York City ethos of never engaging with a stranger, but the act of reading from an actual newspaper added a kind of kinesthetic experience, including what to do about the newsprint, that seems more active than todays “thumbing.”

New York City subway station, May 11, 2016, Photo credit: Jewel Samad, AFP, Getty Images

It also seems that a New York City subway these days is about as egalitarian as it gets–on the one hand the pride of the promise of America, but on the other, symptomatic of how down our rabbit hole of self-interest we have become, not to mention the crowding and inherent depersonalization of our post-modern life. That all aside, our current politic of retrograde-everything–that questions the heart of what Americanism truly is, has led to a clarion call that feels very much like the activism of by-gone eras in America.

Whether the Black Lives Matter movement born of one too many police shootings of people of color, the rise in women filing to run for office because their sick of ongoing sexism, the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the burgeoning movement of teenager survivors of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who’ve taken their case for gun control to the Florida State house, reengagement with the idea of nuclear disarmament, the pressing need to work to mitigate climate change, and so on, not to mention the rise in the concept of #Resistance born of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency; we are on the precipice of change and an awakened consciousness of our many problems and of the opportunity they bring for solutions.

Rather than the retrograde notion of making American “white” again — whatever that means given we were never that — or making America “America” again, i.e., non-immigrant, again something we never were; we are seeing in the rising of articulate and well-reasoned arguments, groups of people who are refusing to remain in their rabbit-holes of reality television, game shows and the latest binge-watchable series, to face up to speak truth to power. At the same time, commercial endeavors, such at the newly released Marvel spectacular, Black Panther, are provoking us to ask questions on a grander scale that not only call into question the idea of American hegemony, but the continuing damage of colonialism as a whole, and the larger hegemony of “western civilization” that is the root of American Exceptionalism.

And yes, I will not fail to mention, that were actual female warriors in the African Kingdom of Dahomey who fought bravely for centuries against all enemies, including the French Foreign Legion until they were finally defeated and disbanded once the nation came under Colonial thumb of the French.

What does this all mean in the end?

To my thinking it is time to wake up, get off our collective complacency, and begin to do the work of making this nation a country of real fairness and equity. That means doing the very hard work of facing our truths and in doing so, find our way forward to real solutions to our myriad problems. I fear if we do not, we shall meander into a further downward spiral that will find us further from the true prize of human progress.

Time will tell.

This speech given by Dr. King, delivered shortly before his death is prophetic, if painful to hear, but hear it you must.

Dr. Martin Luther King, “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution” delivered on, March 31, 1968.

 

17
Feb
18

Sometimes what we need is the sublime

I watched the Heather “The Heat” Hardy versus Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton Bellator 194 “cage” fight last night. The bout was the first of their two-fight series–the second to be fought in the boxing ring at a date to be specified. Watching it, I was reminded that it always comes down to the work we put into things.

I’ve been seeing Heather three mornings a week at Gleason’s Gym since before the move to Water Street. We generally roll into the gym about the same time–between 6:30 and 7:00 AM, her to a roster of clients of varying skills and abilities she trains in the sweet science, and me to my work with trainer Lennox Blackmoore.  By 9:00 AM, Heather has usually started her own training and if she’s readying for a fight adds yet more hours for “camp” while still keeping up with her clients well into the evening, and her obligations to her daughter–not to mention selling tickets to her fights, giving interviews, meeting with sponsors and potential sponsors, and so on.

Given this is Heather’s profession–it is no wonder she puts in the time and effort, but given that her main profession has been as a boxer, those extra hours generally don’t amount to the kind of money that can guarantee her any sort of financial stability. Realizing that, Heather made the jump to MMA where women are treated more equitably when it comes to the purse at the end of a fight–not to mention a chance for exposure on television and a decent spot on the card so fans can actually see the contest. This in contrast to boxing where even though Heather sells tens of thousands of dollars in tickets, she’ll still end up the second fight on the card with no one in the stands.

I’ll leave it to the critics and trolls on Twitter to discuss whether the fight was really “boring” or not.

What I saw was the work.

Heather, at age 36, has trained with intensity and it showed. She used her newly gained grappling skills to effect and demonstrated how seriously she’s taking the switch over to the MMA world–no less seriously than Ana Julaton who also eschewed a boxing/kicking contest for the ground game and the perimeters of the cage.

More to the point, I was struck my Heather’s patience and acceptance of  what was coming at her as the fight played out. That spoke to a maturity in how she was approaching the fight–and gave truth to her insistence that she was working on adding “tools” to her arsenal of options in the cage.

Thinking about it later, it put in mind that we all need to take time with the things we are doing. That the fast pace of our American post-modern existence and its reliance on speed, the 24-hour rush of experience, and quick judgements that change from minute to minute, means that we lose out on the opportunity to be where we are when we are in it.

Aside from the will to win, the thing the best fighters bring to their bouts is the calm of being truly present. Surely that is a way towards finding our own moments of the sublime.

 

From the classic Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1949 at Carnegie Hall: Roy Eldridge (t); Tommy Turk (tb); Lester Young, Flip Phillips (ts); Charlie Parker (as); Hank Jones (p); Ray Brown (b); Buddy Rich (d). Recorded September 18, 1949 at Carnegie Hall, New York City. Original LP issue: Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 13 Clef MG Vol 13

 

 

11
Feb
18

Truth and lies

Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990. He went on to be inaugurated President of South Africa on May 10, 1994.

At the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in 1994, one of the most brilliant decisions made early on was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was based on an act passed in 1995 (Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act) on the belief that “a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.” It was an opportunity for victims and perpetrators to tell their stories and seek assistance in some cases and amnesty in others–and for the men and women of South Africa to rebuild their nation freed of the burdens of the apartheid era.

I know that I am simplifying a complex process that continues to the this day–but the lessons learned are instructive and cautionary as we continue to grapple with truth and lies in our body politic and in our personal lives.

No, it is never okay to abuse someone–whether physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally. Just as it is never okay to perpetrate abuses against classes of persons whether they be ethnic, religious, sexual or otherwise. More to the point in what feels like a veritable war on sanity and justice–perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to confront our own truths and lies and an adage I take to heart, which is that cheating at solitaire serves no purpose, except perhaps to “kick the can” down the road as sooner or later truth wins out.

In the case of Rob Porter the current poster child for cheating at solitaire–here we have by all reports a brilliant person, who just happens to be an abusive sod. His behavior was abhorrent in not one, but two marriages, all known and discussed, ad infinitum it would seem, to include discussions with clergy and others as it was all playing out, not once, but twice. Fast forward lots of years and here he is begging his wives to downplay his abusive behavior so that he can get his FBI clearance–with nary a thought to what would happen to them if they perjured themselves. Not to mention the current President of the United States whose twitter rants read like alternative fiction when it comes to taking responsibility for ones actions.

I’ve lived long enough to observe and experience the ebb and flow of progressive politics, gender wars, civil rights fights and the inevitable backlash. I’ve also seen the lip service paid to affording people “equal” rights–while hearing damnable prejudice, sexism and everything else one can think of flung about quite openly.

In a recent conversation at Gleason’s Gym, someone was speaking of his Jewish grandmother who’d left Poland in the early 1900s. He had asked her one day if she’d ever go back and she said, “Never. I have no good memories there. My brother and my cousin were both killed for nothing. Why would I go back?”

We mulled that over for a minute or two, and then he said, “Can you imagine that? That’s why America was like gold to her and her generation.”

After a moment I said, “For her perhaps, but that was life for Black folks: people killed for nothing. Was it gold for them?”

And that, I believe is the crux of things for us. We refuse to see our own truths for what they are: we ignore the truths of our lives as victims and as perpetrators, and in so doing we perpetuate these actions as normative. Think of the parent who insists they are setting their kid straight when language spews out that belittles and diminishes their child, or think of the actions of a President who calls out an entire ethnic group as rapists and criminals.

It really is up to us to say enough as enough, and if not in the formal setting of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission–at the very least in the conduct of our daily lives and in how we hold our elected leaders accountable.

03
Feb
18

Our daily truth

“We are meant to put an end to sexual assault.” Sterling Reithman from her statement to the court at Dr. Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

 

Each day seems to bring more and more to the fore of the truths women and girls live with day after day.

And yet to read it in print, on social media, or watch it all unfold in a myriad of visual images whether in news accounts, the meaning of the colors women wear to events, in video clips from the courtroom—it would seem as if this is the first time we ever knew about it. I liken it to Captain Renault’s line in Casablanca when ordering the closure of Rick’s Place: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling’s going on in here.”

 

 

My first encounter with the fact of life all women live with was when I was seven. There was hole in wall in the bedroom my brother and I shared. A plasterer came to our house to fix it early one morning. My mother went back to bed. My brother and I played in the living room, but after a while, I went into the bedroom to watch the plasterer work. The man was fairly short and stockily built with dark, slicked back hair that fell into his eyes and a swarthy complexion. I was standing there for some time when he turned around quite suddenly. In doing so, he whipped out his penis and started to jerk off. I stood stunned for some time before I could even consider reacting—when I did it was to run out of the room. I stood at the threshold of my mother’s tiny bedroom, but saw she was sleeping. I was loathe to wake her up and frankly frightened because she had admonished me to “let the man work in peace.” I was also not certain what I would even tell her, and so I remained frozen in inaction. Shortly thereafter the plasterer left.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Season 15, Detective Benson and a serial rapist

In the scheme of things, I guess I was lucky. He didn’t sexually assault me or physically molest me—so what was a mere “jerk off” complete with grunts and licking lips. Besides, assault and molestation are usually the provenance of trusted figures in young girls (and frankly young boys) lives: parents, step parents, family members, trusted friends, teachers, coaches, Boy Scout troop leaders, babysitters, priests, pastors and rabbis, doctors, and on and on. It’s usually only later that we become fair game to the sexual predators in the outside world who manipulate, cajole, blackmail and betray their positions of trust to get in our pants one way or another—and that’s only the people we know. Then there are the rapists who grab, molest, rape, abduct, torture, murder and everything in between.  It is so much a fact of our daily lives it is the fodder of our nightly doses of police procedurals on television–and yet we remain shocked and surprised.

My particular litany of woe that includes a myriad of events from childhood well into adulthood is inordinately important to me. Those experiences perpetrated on me by people close to me as well as strangers shaped my life and my choices, my sense of self and my being, and has informed my sense of safety across a lifetime. This latter is of particular import because it defines my womanness as much as anything else. Just as the choices I’ve made to overcome those experiences informs who I have become today.

The point is, yes, absolutely #MeToo, but this is also so much bigger—and we stand at a pivotal point in the conversation where victimization by male sexual aggression and the pass they seem to get from the dominate culture is perhaps, finally being called out for what it truly is: a crime. However, while there are and have been many laws on the books, if women are not believed, their victimizers will not be prosecuted. Nor will these experiences suddenly stop–because they will not. They are perpetrated daily in large ways and small ways and until the culture changes to understand the concept of “no,” this will continue unabated.

When I was researching for A History Of Women’s Boxing, I teased out an interesting phenomenon in the early 1900s. At that time it became acceptable for women to practice boxing and other martial sports. When figuring out the strands in popular culture that would allow this sea change, I discovered in some instances it was to allow women the opportunity to learn self-defense. So there we have it–a problem identified, and a means of resolving it by allowing a variance in the strict gender binary. Would it were so simple.

Ask yourselves this: How is it that a 12-year-old girl complaining about a doctor sticking his fingers into her vagina is not believed?

If our lives are informed by our choices, our lives are also informed by the experiences heaped upon us of which some we control and some we do not. Next time you see me in the gym working out a 7:00 AM, understand that while I am there for many positive reasons such as a love of boxing and a desire to remain fit, I am also there because ensuring I can defend myself is the only way I know of to make myself feel safe: protect yourself at all times.

 

15
Jan
18

remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – january 15, 2018

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – january 15, 2018

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ZUMA Press/Newscom/File

Today would have marked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 89th birthday. This image of Dr. King flanked by the American flag is particularly poignant–since his sacrifice to the greater good of the United States resonates so powerfully in our polity today. We should not forget that the America of his dream continues to fight to shout out his teachings with full pride of place–no matter the obstacles.

On September 12, 1962, Dr. King gave a speech at New York City’s Park Sheraton Hotel commemorating the 100th anniversary of what was known as the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. The speech was thought to have been lost for decades until a young intern discovered an audio copy of it in the New York State Museum in Albany.  As noted by WBAI in their commentary on the speech: At the end of the speech, Dr. King quotes a preacher (former slave) who he says “didn’t quite have his grammar right but uttered words of great symbolic profundity.”

“Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

 

 

 

26
Feb
17

Boxing as lifeline

Gleason’s Gym has been a real lifeline for me of late.

img_7451


The surety of going through my paces so to speak, the shadow boxing, pad work, heavy bag, double-ended bag, speed bag, abdominals, stretching and combinations thereof are a balm.

img_7389Even the early mornings offer solace. Up a 5:30 AM, off to the gym by 6:30 AM, in the ring by 7:00 AM out by 8:00 AM, showering and dressing, and off to the subway by 8:20 AM or so—two to three mornings a week. Then the long Saturday morning, where I can tarry and work extra rounds, and feel embraced by the easy camaraderie of people who push themselves to their physical limits.

What I also know is that I am a little sad and a little scared and a lot angered by a myriad of issues that are whirling around me. Unpacking them is complicated by a reticence to really face up to the deeper veins of truths that I would rather not face suffice to say they always come out anyway so sooner or later the reckoning will happen.

Gym life, and boxing gym life in particular, offers a microcosm of the range and power of emotion. Just the act of putting on a pair of gloves offers up so many different strands. For one, the gloves symbolize boxing itself. On an immediate basis one can think of such things as power, ability, courage, bravery, and skill. Gleason’s Gym itself calls out those concepts on the wall of the gym and on the back of every T-shirt:

“Now, whoever has courage, and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.” Virgil, Book 5, Aeneid

And yet there are other emotions. With puff pillows for hands one cannot “do” for oneself in any meaningful way. Sure, one learns to hold on to a water bottle between two gloved hands, but one cannot drink from it unless someone has unscrewed the cap. One also finds oneself being ministered to in such intimate ways. A trainer will towel off the sweat from ones face, apply vaseline, adjust ones clothing, tie a boot, wipe one’s nose. There’s a real “giving over” to allow all of that—a trust that one puts on to others.

img_7438For me the act of putting on the gloves swirls in the duality of empowering myself and giving myself over. At once I seek a kind of perfection of movement and strength, while also allowing myself those helpless feelings: That sense that I cannot always take care of everything whether that means throwing a perfectly executed one-two combination or asking my trainer to dab the sweat out of my eyes.

It’s also how I know that I cannot magically and in any immediate way change the political nightmare I feel we are living through—except that I know that my voice can count among the many and on that basis push through, just as rising three mornings a week in the predawn light and heading to the gym is a sort of metaphor for becoming something better and stronger.

Yes. I’m in the midst of a stew—as many of us are on any given day in the cycle of life, but waking up and feeling the power of the leather hitting a heavy bag goes a long, long way towards making it all a who lot better.

16
Jan
17

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – January 16, 2017

Remember Martin Luther King Jr. – January 16, 2017

martinlutherking

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.

Dr. Martin Luther King,  March 25, 1965, Montgomery, Alabama

The freedom march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the cause of African-American voting rights was pivotal to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Selma demonstrations and marches totaled 18 days. Begun on March 7, 1965, the first march was led by Congressman John Lewis, then head of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). When the initial group of approximately 600 marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge and crossed into Dallas County, the were met by state troopers who proceeded to beat them back ost brutally. That first “Bloody Sunday” was the beginning of other horrific confrontations leading to the death of civil rights activist James Reeb. The third march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, began on March 21st and culminated on the steps of the State Capital Building in Montgomery, Alabama on March 25th, 1965.

Selma speeches

 

The following is a rarely shown documentary of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. It is stark and brief and filled with sights, sounds and music.

Selma – Montgomery March 1965, brief documentary by Stefan Sharff

 




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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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