Dec 26, 2014

Let's Keep Christmas Going!

So many have posted on Facebook their accounts -- in words and in pictures -- of Christmas day celebrations with family and friends. It's heartening to know that everyone is not jaded, to know that our hope is strong, our desire for kinship is not fading. We love each other's company. We need each other. Let's keep Christmas going!

Dec 24, 2014

Say, Yes! to The Christmas Spirit

(originally posted 12/24/09)

This time of year, it's popular -- and in my opinion, pointless -- to complain that people are only being nice to one another because it's Christmastime. You hear, "I'll be glad when Christmas is over so people can act like themselves again.” And, "Why do people have to wait 'til Christmas to be nice to each other? It won't last."

So what if we suspend reality for a few days or weeks around Christmas? The good feelings that are exchanged among co-workers; the easing up of hostilities; the rediscovered warmth among family members; the smiles (and eye contact!) between strangers; the attention we give each other; the surprises -- offered and received -- that tickle us; the uninterrupted laughing; the staying up late; the airport runs to pick up those coming home; the get-togethers with best pals; all this confirms our humanity and our humankindness. It makes our hearts stronger and our spirits more like Christ's. All this gives us the fuel and assurance to move on through our days of haste and drudge and deadlines; and we excitedly look toward the same time next year when we can open up ourselves again and let our guard down, knowing we won't be the only ones. Day-to-day life is unpredictable. So, yes, we need a little -- a whole lot of -- Christmas! 

Sep 23, 2014

The song is...: Congratulations to the Winners of the Summer Conte...

The song is...: Congratulations to the Winners of the Summer Conte...: ....and thank you to everyone who participated, voted, and encouraged others to vote! Avis D. Matthews' "Metaphorical" wa...

Jul 29, 2014


Published on Marianne Szlyk's "The song is...." blog, at

D.C. Poetry Project member Avis D. Matthews brings us into the present with "Metaphorical," a poem inspired by Lori Williams.  Avis introduces Lori here as "a local jazz vocalist who's star has been steadily rising for several years. Every time I hear her live and on recordings I am impressed with the purity and authenticity with which she sings this genre."

The song is
a Pacific wave
when Lori sings it –
high and climbing,
screaming freedom.
catching light:
sparkling blue,
so blue.
to a
soul eclipse,
to a
cool-warm glide,
to a
daybreak stretch,
to a
healing within.
Avis D. Matthews
copyright 2014 

Don’t Let Nina Be Misunderstood: The problem with Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone.


In May, the Nina Simone biopic Nina, starring Zoe Saldana and directed by Cynthia Mort, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. But the director was unhappy with the version that debuted. Mort is suing the film’s British producers for allegedly cutting her out of the editing and decision-making process, in violation of her contract. Meanwhile, no date for a U.S. release has been set. All of this drama suggests that Nina is the bearer of some seriously bad karma.
Ever since on-set photographs of Saldana, made up as Simone, began circulating online last year, I have been convinced that the casting and staging of a light-skinned, straight-haired Dominican woman as a brown-skinned African-American woman with coarse, afro-textured hair is a representational flaw that poisons this entire film.
By putting Saldana in brownface, Afro wigs and prosthetic buck teeth, the producers of Nina have taken a conventionally lovely woman and made her ugly and grotesque, even as they have not made her look a damn thing like Simone. It is a choice that recalls the transformation of Charlize Theron into the serial killer Aileen Wuornos for the 2003 filmMonster. Making Theron into a monster became a way to conjure and project collective feelings of fear and revulsion for a socially degraded subject: a serial-killing, lower-class, sex-working, white lesbian woman.
Similarly, in disfiguring Saldana, Nina’s filmmakers have turned the filmic Simone into a monstrous figure of black femininity—ironically, the very product of the white racist and sexist imagination that Simone so fervently challenged throughout her life. Simone’s Afrocentric style of dress, with elaborate earrings and headwraps, her hair often worn natural, in an Afro or cornrowed braids, was a defiant assertion of her pride and a celebration of her brand of black beauty. The song “Four Women,” one of Simone’s most famous, calls out various negative representations of black women: as bitter and angry, as beasts of burden, as sexual objects. Instead, the song celebrates black women—the first verse, for instance, is told in the voice of a woman whose story evokes the grueling lives of black women during slavery: “My skin is black/my arms are long/My hair is woolly/my back is strong/Strong enough to take the pain/inflicted again and again/ What do they call me?/My name is Aunt Sarah.” Writing Simone’s obituary in the Village Voice, Thulani Davis called “Four Women” “an anthem” for black women, “affirming our existence, our sanity, and our struggle to survive a culture which regards us as anti-feminine.”
My own reaction to the film’s distortion of Simone’s legacy, and the similar responses I heard from African-American friends, colleagues and commentators, made me more cognizant of how seriously black folk take the business of biopics. For people who feel their stories have not been told credibly or fully, the stakes of these narratives are high, especially when they tell the stories of people like Simone whose work transformed and elevated the racial consciousness of generations.
High expectations notwithstanding, Nina’s producers failed from the word “go.” Saldana’s casting is symptomatic of the racism and colorism that pervades Hollywood. Her “brown but not too brown” beauty allows Hollywood to be “diverse” without unsettling its white standard of beauty. Saldana’s aesthetic has great cache in this moment of celebrating “post-racial” multiculturalism, and it’s this currency that the film’s producers traded in on when they cast her in the role. Respect for Simone’s own aesthetic was apparently less of a priority.
In a 1977 meditation on historical films, the French director Jean Louis Comolli claimed that “the historical character, filmed, has at least two bodies, that of the [actual subject] and that of the actor who represents him for us. There are at least two bodies in competition, one body too much.” In the case of this film, we are confronted not only with one “body too much,” but two excess bodies “in competition” with that of the real Nina Simone. There is the body of the actor—Saldana—which is expected to draw an audience for the film. But there is also the ghoulish body that has been grafted onto Saldana, which mocks and subverts the critical cultural work of Simone.
I’ve said the movie may have bad karma; really, I suspect it may be cursed. In life, Nina Simone was a driven and exacting diva; in death one can only imagine what bolts of lightning her righteous spirit might hurl. The ghost of the woman who served up vengeful tunes like “Backlash Blues,” “Go to Hell” and “Mississippi Goddam” with relish and gusto is not a ghost to mess with.

Jun 27, 2014

Avis, Faye & Jackie's
28 Things We LOVE About Summer

  1. No socks.
  2. Easy on, easy off.
  3. Chic, short hair on women and girls.
  4. Close cuts on men and boys.
  5. Legs.
  6. Jonathan’s choral festivals.
  7. Honeysuckle breezes.
  8. Daylight at 9 p.m.
  9. No-sleeve blouses with their own bras … no bras!!!
  10. Sandals.
  11. Convertibles and open car windows.
  12. AC in car and home.
  13. Trips to all states in the USA that have some warmth to enjoy.
  14. Concerts in the park.
  15. Walks in summer showers.
  16. Sitting on a porch, anywhere, anytime!
  17. Riding along a scenic road with the windows down.
  18. Smoothies, three or four times a day.
  19. The smell of fresh-cut grass, beach breezes, watermelon, and Body Shop’s Mango Body Butter.
  20. Chicago ... always something to love!
  21. Twilight in downtown Washington, strolling with no particular place to be.
  22. Watching children eat ice cream cones.
  23. Early morning light – and prayer.
  24. Summer reading programs at the library – and not just for kids!
  25. A book, a cool drink, a warm breeze, and a shady place to stretch out. 
  26. Planned “spur-of-the-moment” excursions (with my Women and Words friends).
  27. A sweet and juicy peach.
  28. Louis, Ella, Billie, Sassy, Ray … on WPFW on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Jun 25, 2014

Everyday Priorities ... in Order

I have too many "top" priorities, so ... is either of them really that important? I'd like my list to look something like this: 

1. breathe
2. keep breathing
3. listen
4. connect/engage

5. engage/act
6. laugh/cry
7. write/sing/express
8. celebrate
9. continue breathing
10. repeat ... in varying order

May 28, 2014

We Know Your Wings Are Gonna Fit You Well

One of the many perks of working in public libraries is getting to meet so many great (some good) writers -- and some legends. I first met Maya Angelou a few months after starting my career in public libraries. I was a year out of college. She was keynoting a Maryland Library Association event in Baltimore. I stood in a long line to have her sign "Phenomenal Woman." The cut to the chase: When I got up to her, I set the book on the table, opened to that poem. I was truly awed. She looked up, smiled that big smile, reached across the table, slid her hands around mine, and held them there. I was officially having an audience with Maya Angelou! (Of course, I was one of the last people in line.) She turned to her assistant, who was standing beside her, and said something so nice about me. I blushed, and my mind began racing: "How will I write this story? How will I tell people this story?" My car flew down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. I got home, told my folks, called my college friend in Pittsburgh, wrote in my journal, and didn't sleep all night. And that was my first time.

May 11, 2014

Kanye West (for example), Thoughts on Modern-day Celebrity

I. "Money is numbers and numbers never end.
If it takes money to be happy,
your search for happiness will never end." ...  
Bob Marley.

II. "I made it over NBA, NFL players
So every time I score it’s like the Super Bowl.
Baby, we should hit the south of France
So you could run around without them pants.
I put that glacier on your little hand
Now that’s the only thing without a tan.
My trophy on that Bound bike, I gave you only pipe.
If people don’t hate then it won’t be right.
You could look at Kylie, Kendall, Kourtney and Khloe,
All your Mama ever made was trophies, right?" ...
Kanye West.

III. Kanye West (for example) must have thought:
People will like me and think I'm somebody if I get a lot of money
and lots of stuff and a whole lot of fame;
and hang out with other famous, pretty people
who invite me to their parties and weddings;
and if I flaunt it all ...
my stuff and my things and my friends,
and tell people how it's too bad
they can't be me. 

That, instead of: 
I could have a good, rich, intensely colorful life
if I am kind and conscientious;
if I listen to people, and laugh with them,
if I help them and share with them.
If I am not ... 
an all-day jerk.

Part II from “I Won,” words by Future, performed by Future and Kanye West

May 2, 2014

Noah on the Mound (video)

My two-year-old nephew. Baseball fanatic. Student of Jackie Robinson (loves the movie "42"). Future Golden Glove? Cy Young? Ump? Watch (below) as he mimics the pitcher, calls a strike on the batter, and then lobs a fastball at the cameraman -- his dad.

Mar 20, 2014

On Chocolate ... or, Chocolate On

Was sorting through laundry and came across a shocking reminder of what must have been a particularly bad day, or moment. From the pile of laundry, I pulled out a brand new bright, white t-shirt, worn once. I noticed a small chocolate stain, and another, and a little bit of chocolate over here, and then a big old smudge of chocolate there, a large smear of chocolate down here, and ... whhhhhat in the world?! I had been, clearly, in a chocolate state of mind. Gloomy. Bummed out. Forlorn. Weary. Worn. Well, we have these moments, days, and then we move on. 
I think it was cake.

Mar 12, 2014

Doing Nice

There are nice people in this world. Sometimes I just have to say that, so that the simple gestures, the unexpected kindnesses won't seem to go unnoticed, unacknowledged.
This evening, a young, college-age trio -- two females, one male -- was walking across a parking lot at the same time I was. I noticed two other women moving around a minivan, and another minivan was nearby, with its lights on and engine running. Were they unloading one and loading the other? Were they ending an evening out, chatting before going their separate ways? 
As I passed the first van on its passenger side, the young trio passed it on the driver's side. I heard the young man say to the two women near the vans: "Do you mind if I see if I can get it shut for you?" Ahhhh haaaaa ... the driver-side door on the first van wouldn't close. The young man -- despite the pizza box his friend was carrying -- stopped to help! There were kids in the van. It was dark and getting late. He thought he could help. 
People do nice things. Random acts of kindness.

Jan 7, 2014

Ode to Cold

I love listening to the winter weather -- the wind, the trees, and the stillness, when it comes. I love the winter sky. I love the personality in the bare branches.
I love the variety of winter coats and the funky ways we wear our hats and scarves. I like mismatched gloves.
I love seeing little kids wrapped up tightly with such loving care that they look like Weeble People -- "Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down."
I don't like the sound of my car when it starts up on a day like today, but I like that it starts up. And I like, when the engine warms up, sitting in my car and having a cup of hot chocolate and a Krispy Kreme cruller, gazing at the sky.  
-- ADM, January 7, 2014

Jan 4, 2014

Asking "Why?" not just "Why not?"

Reading in today's paper about D.C. news personality J.C. Hayward and the Options Public Charter School lawsuit.
How far have we really come when our measurements of a good, successful life are limited to (1) social status/fame and (2) wealth? We MUST know better than that, yet we keep perpetuating that standard. Look at how we so quickly defend entrepreneurs with the lame excuse, "Hey, that's just business!" Is there no line? Should we at least not question ourselves, ponder long and hard, and then moderate our thinking and our behavior, if necessary?
There is no one who walks a straight line from start to finish, and I'm not suggesting that. I am saying: Along the way of life, in this quest for a good life, can we sometimes stop and ask ourselves why -- not just why not?
Can the answers to "why" justify the decisions we will make? They might indeed. What seems wrong could be right. Each situation is different, and we don't always see the whole picture, know the whole story. We might end up saying, "Oh, now I see why."
Then there are things that seem wrong on the surface. A closer examination reveals a certain wrongness and selfishness at the very root.
This desire some people have to be universally loved, liked, adored, revered, and celebrated 24/7/365, as, seemingly, with J.C. Hayward, is a rather sad thing, The desire to acquire wealth by any means necessary, as alleged against the charter board's officers, is disgusting. Always has been. Let's see what all the evidence reveals.