The goal of this blog is to say what I have to say as honestly as possible. Part of the challenge is figuring out what to say. So far I've talked about my rages over theatre, identity, the violently suppressive force of U.S. hegemony, etc. with some abandon and a lot more frustrating incompletion. I'm not sure what to talk about now. Probably more of those three things. But probably not because I'm bored of them now. Not really. What am I getting at here?
Discovering what I really want to say is a constant struggle. Freedom is a Constant Struggle; this is the title of a classic book of writings/talks/interviews with Angela Davis.
The Muslims call this struggle Jihad.
I want to embrace Jihad. I don't know why I'm bringing this up other than I want to say Jihad many times in public.
The other day I was watching a movie with a few friends. The movie is called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery. I think it's based on a comic book? I don't really care.
Now I must have watched this movie twelve times over the course of fifteen years and never finished it. And I never remember what happens exactly. It's not a very long movie, but it feels eternal.
It is a terrible movie.
Sean Connery has all but given up on acting by that point and the director doesn't seem to know how to strike any kind of tone.
Whatever. I'm not a movie critic.
Ah fuck it.
The film very cringely sets itself up for a sequel that will never come.
I do admire the ambition of trying to create a universe of marvel-esque films about the "dark" world--or those fantasy characters in the public domain like Dorian Grey and Captain Nemo.
Speaking of Captain Nemo...
There is one part in the movie I actually like. And I quote it involuntarily sometimes.
In this film, Captain Nemo is imagined as a Sikh swordsman; there's a part in the movie, I don't remember the context, where a bunch of thugs with guns get all up on Captain Nemo. They wait for Nemo to pull out a gun but he pulls out a sword instead and says,
"I walk a different path."
He says it in a bad-ass British accent that is doubly bad-ass because he's Sikh.
The other part of the movie I like comes just after we've been introduced to Sean Connery's character, Alan Quartermain (yeah, Alan fucking Quartermain).
We're in a hotel in British colonized Kenya and a bunch of bad guys for whatever reason break in and there's a big fight scene that's actually pretty good as far as fight scenes in the early 2000s go; right at the end of the fight Quartermain drives a thug's body into the horn of a rhinoceros bust and the British Imperial flag falls to drape over the corpse.
I love the obvious allusion to the fall (not actual fall though) of British colonialism, and if the movie was just a series of obnoxiously overt symbolism such as this it may have been a cult classic by now.
Why am I bringing this up?
Well, actually I think there's something to be said about a movie--or at least the idea of a movie's potential--sticking with me for so many years. I'm always very excited to watch The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I am always gravely disappointed when I watch it. The cycle repeats as if I never learned my lesson.
Here's a scene that occurred between me and one of my friends while watching the movie:
ME: "This is a terrible movie."
FRIEND: "You wanted to watch."
ME: "I love this movie. (mock uppity tone) I insist on the right to criticize it perpetually."
FRIEND: "That's what James Baldwin said about America."
FRIEND: "Why've you been on James Baldwin's dick lately?"
Here are the points I'm trying to make/not really putting an effort to make in this post:
1) I'm still getting over the need to show you all how smart I am--so a lot of my early efforts in this blog are going to be bad. I'm going to try and show you how well-read I am and how good I am at synthesizing a wide range of ideas and literature. A lot of these posts, I imagine, will end up like my failed attempt to throw a witty allusion to James Baldwin with my friend while watching the worst superhero film ever made. I'm learning.
2) I love America. My love for it is like watching the same bad movie over the course of decades and always expecting it to be spectacular despite having already known how terrible it is. And stretching hard to find its bright spots.
Although... I think the bright spots are real. Like, America is a country of brutal slave owners but also a country of inspiring abolitionists. To name one example.
America is people.
We can see America as those who oppress.
Or as the ones who struggle against that oppression.
Perspective is everything.
The concept of Freedom as struggle--or Jihad--means that all of us are going to die working towards it. It's not about us. It's about what we do for our children.
We still have our children.
Of course, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen can never get better...
Unless... remake maybe? Putting it out in to the universe.
Alright got to admit I already have a cast lined up:
VIOLA DAVIS as ALLAN QUATERMAIN
RIZ AHMED as CAPTAIN NEMO
JURNEE SMOLLET as MINA HARKER
IDRIS ELBA as RODNEY SKINNER
RAMI MALEK as DORIAN GREY
RUTH NEGA as TOM SAWYER
Ok that's as far as I got... I'll probably change my mind about this tomorrow. Waiting for that call though, Hollywood!
On to point # 3
3) If you love a great artist don't ever be ashamed for quoting or emulating them. You're learning. If an artist gives you fire then fuel that fire all you can because one day it may be all you've got to shine you through the cave of despair. This fire is better than any lover you can have... and I know this because I finally got the nerve to sext with a person I had the maddest crush on for years while writing the first draft of this blog in my notebook and it was fucking glorious but they're quarantined in a different city god I can't wait for quarantine to be over.
Regardless, something tells me James Baldwin's words will be there for me on the day those sexts won't.
Anyway, every time you put yourself out there and become vulnerable about your tastes--whether it be James Baldwin or late era Sean Connery trash--someone is going to throw a tomato.
If you let that stop you, you are dead.
Being alive means being annoying to someone; very likely a lot of people.
On to point # 4
4) "I walk a different path." If people come at me with guns, I come back at them with a sword.
I love James Baldwin. Which for most of my social media circle isn't controversial taste (I think? I hope!). I'm glad I know folks that are woke AF.
But you know what? I also still love fucking David Mamet (not fucking David Mamet. I never fucked David Mamet. But fucking David Mamet).
Mamet is the motherfucker that got me into acting. Yeah he wrote some crazy neoconservative bullshit the past few years but even he admitted at one point that he lost all his brain cells in the 60s and I'm sure he's not alone.
If you haven't read Writing in Restaurants or Some Freaks or Bambi Vs. Godzilla at the very least then shut the fuck up about David Mamet, those are some of the most beautiful essays on art and life. And I didn't even mention any of his plays.
Call Mamet a misogynist but there is nothing in that man's private life as far as we know that is anything less than decent. He wrote what he saw and heard--and people hated it because a lot of what he saw and heard was ugly. But that's life.
I read Mamet's True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor and Stephen Adly Guirgis' play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in the isle of the tiny Theatre section at Barnes and Noble during my first year of community college, and it lit the fire I needed to take acting seriously.
I remember listening to an interview with Guirgis recently where he mentioned that he was sure people will very likely at some point be screaming "Guirgis sucks now!!"
Every artist knows that how they are perceived is not up to them. They do the work because they have to.
People will say whatever they want about an artist or a philosopher.
I grew up in a public school where Malcolm X was considered the "violent" leader of the mid-twentieth century freedom rights movement in America. His autobiography saved my goddamn life and gave me peace around the violence of prejudice that surrounded me.
Angela Davis talks about the bizarre phenomenon of resisters to state violence being accused and questioned about their supposed "violence."
Why do we have to keep having the same conversations over and over?
I owe so much to black thought.
Read Mamet closely. He's white (Jewish), and full of black thought.
Maybe it's not my place to say what black thought is.
But I think that's the point, here.
Forgetting my place.
Riding that dick.
Embracing the constant struggle.
Embracing the Jihad.
If you've read Notes of a Native Son or Nobody Knows my Name or The Fire Next Time at the very least you'll understand why I ride James Baldwin's dick so much. And I didn't even mention any of his novels or plays. This motherfucker went on record ragging on Arthur Miller, calling Arthur Miller's plays "some panic-stricken attempt to hang on to his boyhood." And that's back when Arthur Miller was the hottest shit. What kind of artist these days knows how to pull G-shit like that? Yeah, James Baldwin's dick deserves riding, even (especially) while it's in heaven.
The first book I finished during quarantine was a novel called The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. The book has nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie, its publishers were just stupid. The book jumps back and forth between the perspective of a writer/single mother and her eleven year old genius son who goes on a pseudo hero's journey in search of a father. The book is partly a dig at accepted standards of child education and shows a mother nurturing a young boy who knows more about linguistics and mathematics and science and such than a regular PhD by the time he's eleven. The name of the book comes from the Kurosawa film Seven Samurai. The mother and son bond over repeated viewing of this film because the mother thinks the leads are the perfect male role models for her boy in lieu of a father.
The kid watches this movie and reads the same books over and over.
We all know what we like.
And some of us are so lost that we cling to what we like as though it was the father we never knew we didn't want.
I don't want to write like Baldwin or Mamet.
I want to write like me.
But I'm going to love them and steal from them and emulate them both for all time.
I'm spending a lot of time on point #4.
I guess the final word on that is be who you are and give no shits about how you are received; you can't control that anyway and neither could the greats.
Erin Michelle Washington told me in the workshop I just finished with her, "stop trying to be so clean, Mohammad. Do, without the need to be understood."
I'll never forget that.
At some point every artist has said something similar.
We're all saying the same shit over and over.
Asking the same questions.
Which brings me to point #5.
5) Ask the right questions. Be like Angela Davis. One of the first things Davis points out in Freedom is a Constant Struggle is that people are asking the wrong questions when it comes to race and gender. The black movements and the women's movements are not separate, they intersect (to say the least).
The way I see it, asking which movement (black, woman, arab, immigrant, etc.) is more important is more about attacking who you are than it is about finding the truth.
When a question is about attacking who are and not about finding the truth, it is the wrong question. Banish it from your existence.
"Why are you on James Baldwin's dick?" is the wrong question.
"How many times have you been on James Baldwin's dick this week?" is a better question.
Or, "Tell me what it feels like riding James Baldwin's dick."
Or "When was the first time you knew James Baldwin's dick was for you?"
There are many many questions that are more worth your time than, "why have you been on James Baldwin's dick lately?" That's a dumb question. Why wouldn't I be on James Baldwin's dick?
Angela Davis also knew what it meant to elevate marginalized struggles and address them as part of a collective. And she paid with all but her life for it.
The subtitle of Freedom is a Constant Struggle is Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.
"Just as the struggle to end South African apartheid was embraced by people all over the world and was incorporated into many social agendas, solidarity with Palestine must likewise be taken up by organizations and movements in progressive causes all over the world. The tendency has been to consider Palestine a separate--and unfortunately too often marginal--issue. This is precisely the moment to encourage everyone who believes in equality and justice to join the call for a free Palestine."
Is the struggle endless?
"I would say that as our struggles mature, they produce new ideas. new issues, and new terrains on which we engage in the quest for freedom. Like Nelson Mandela, we must be willing to embrace the long walk toward freedom."
So says Davis.
All struggles are one struggle.
All gods are one god.
All goodness is one goodness.
All fights are one fight.
Fighting for goodness comes at great cost.
But rest is never unearned.
That is why everyone needs to be a feminist.
It is a mentality not an identity. Which is going to be a constant theme in this blog--the need for precedence of mentality over identity.
The feminist mentality is about having the energy to do all the work no one else is willing to do. And it is about being radical enough to take rest whenever and however you want without the need to show that you "earned" it.
Angela Davis was called a terrorist, exiled and imprisoned. Nelson Mandela did not leave the United States' most wanted terrorist list until 2008.
We are (rightly so) invoking the names of many dead martyrs in the struggle.
But remember these martyrs are, in fact, dead.
This country still has far too many political prisoners incarcerated on pretenses that no self-respecting, self-identifying "democracy" can ever condone in the least.
The prison industrial complex is a global phenomenon and so much of those who populate the world's prisons are those who are simply standing up for the basic needs and dignity of people like you and I.
They've been there for decades because someone thirty or forty or fifty years ago with some mega warped oligarchal agenda branded them a terrorist, or perhaps a criminal before the word terrorist became popular. Both terms serve the same purpose.
See, that is the brilliance of state power in the post secular nationalist extremist era... all it did was create a pretense in which violence and terror can be regulated by the state. And so our minds have a hard time comprehending the fact that the brand of terrorist has nothing to do with the harm the person might inflict on us, but the harm that person might inflict on the hegemony of the state. All the while the state itself runs its own massive terror campaign to ensure that its authority is never put into any real and consequential question.
Notice how I say secular. See, Marx is my dude. Love that guy. But religion is the "opiate of the masses?" Really? White people have no perspective on religion and spirituality. It is inseparable from the history and ways of life in Africa and Asia. Extremist secular nationalism in Europe has had more catastrophic and violent effects than all the supposed failures of "religion" combined, and that legacy continues to this day.
Who are the real terrorists?
Now that's a question I'm going to keep asking. And asking. Until people figure it out.
Like really figure it out.
Not just think about it.
And why aren't the struggles happening across the ocean just as relevant and important to us as the struggles of our every day lives?
These mega terrorists (state powers) are extremely well connected. They train each other's cops and fund each other's terror campaigns and exchange new and ever more sophisticated methods of suppression and manipulation of the populace.
So, if they're so well connected,
WHY CAN'T WE BE TOO?
That's a question I'm going to keep asking, as well.
I don't know why I'm bringing this up but it is relevant somehow.
Relevant in relation to what?
Stop trying to be understood, Mohammad.
That's point #7.
7) Stop trying to be understood (or liked).
Just say the truth.
And learn to love yourself as you learn to say it better.
You'll never get it right.
Freedom is a constant struggle.
Keep riding that dick.
The dick of freedom.
And any other dick you want.
Photo: Edmund in Lear, by Young Jean Lee at UC San Diego. Photo Credit: Jim Carmody.