To The Wild Sky

Ring Out the Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson

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A Clean, Well-Lighted (Third) Place

ABOUT A year ago or more, I broke up with my coffeehouse.

There were problems, warning signs, but I chose to ignore them. Sometimes it was too cold in there. Other times, I didn’t quite vibe with the music that was playing. Or how they’d pick up your newspaper before you finished reading it. These things, I figured I could manage, overlook. But there was a larger problem afoot.

When I would order my drink, a drink I’ve been ordering for years, some of the newer baristas would correct me. “Oh, what you should be ordering is this.” Or “Next time you order it, tell them this way.” Time and time again, even with the new instructions, the drink would be wrong — too milky, not hot enough — and quite honestly really too expensive not to ask them to make it again. The last straw was when one of the newer ones, told me that I was “dead wrong.” And so, well, since then, I’ve taken my “dead wrong” $$ elsewhere.

It’s hard to be without a place.

Since the breakup, I’d been trying other places. I’d met new, friendly baristas who have told me about their belly-dancing class, or how they escaped the big fires last summer or the shock of their husband losing his job: “He didn’t even tell me at first. They fired him and instead of coming home he went to look for another job. Well, things are kinda stressful. I’m expecting a baby.”

I liked this group of girls tending bar but the location wasn’t right. It was a little kiosk stuck in the middle of two bigbox stores. The coffee was good, the quick conversation better. There was no place to sit and read and eavesdrop and talk, really. And I knew, for a set-up like this, that that wasn’t the aim.

My reason for starting to go out for coffee, even if it is just one glorious cup, is that writers live such isolated lives. It gets strange in your head. Even if you’re working in a newsroom there is something to the bullpen situation — when you come up for air after deadline there is always a conversation to be found.

This is the beauty of the third space — the place between work and home, a place to connect and share. Not so much to catch up on the headlines in life (as we do in the newsroom) but rather to feel out what those headlines might mean, how they might translate in real life.

About a month or so ago, I was speaking to a pastry chef named Cynthia who works in a cafe nearby. It’s a big, new beautiful cafe — gorgeous light, a community table, fresh- cut flowers everywhere. The pastry chef was telling me that they had made a decision *not* to add Wi-Fi because, she said, “It creates a dead space.”

I carried that around for awhile. Here but not here. Yes, of course.

When I think back to my earliest coffeehouse, where you picked up someone’s hand-me-down newspaper, or sifted through the pile of give-away paperbacks, all that was just one layer of connection to the many folks who had passed through those doors. There were the regulars and the conversations that they would bring in with them. You could join in or choose not to, but everyone who was a regular was remembered. Nodded to. Just recently, I encountered a woman whom I didn’t know. She however said she remembered me from the coffee house — my writing pads, newspapers and pens spread out. — the precise table I always chose (in the window-seat — bench) This is more than ten years on!

I remember one morning, a day or so after the big earthquake, I met my friend Linda, who lived above the coffeehouse. We hoped they’d be open. They were. And even though there wasn’t power, the barista tried to figure out a way to cobble together refreshments for the locals: some sandwiches and pastries, as she recapped the first few hours after the temblor, “One thing I learned, people’s privates become public,” she said with a smile, looking ceiling-ward, toward the apartments above. “Now, I don’t have to guess anymore. They all tumbled out of bed and onto the street. I know exactly who is partnered up with whom!”

I think that’s true of a true third space — the idea that something that can’t be uttered at work or at home can be shared in the safe middle space of a third space.

As author Robert Oldenburg pointed out in his book “The Great Good Place” the third place isn’t simply about the food, what makes it significant to those who congregate is that sense of connection. It should feel like an extension of yourself a place to find new friends and encounter older ones. It should be welcoming. It should feel comfortable.

About three weeks ago, I ran into two very old friends at a newish coffeehouse, I’d been trying out — to write and read and think in. I was surprised to see them both — even though, they both live five minutes from me and probably only ten from the cafe, it made sense. Why wouldn’t I see them here. Really amazing coffee, nice morning vibe.

On Christmas Eve, I went in for a cappuccino and since I hadn’t been in for a few days, one of the baristas gave me one on the house, “A holiday thank you,” she said.

Just yesterday, I came in for a quick “regular”; sat down at a random table and flipped open the novel I’m reading and tried to get lost in it for a while. Before long a different barista sailed by, gently lifting ceramic demitasse cups and glass decanters from the speckled tables. In his wake, he turned and smiled before speaking:

“Your table is free now.”

I didn’t know he paid that much attention.

I guess it snuck up on me, like the real thing does: I finally found my thrid-place home.

Matters of (Post) Race

FASCINATING SET of pieces up at The Root about the malleability racial designation.

The first about the Harlem Renaissance writer, Jean Toomer, who wrote Cane, a series of vignettes about black urban and rural life in America. Toomer was, as my friend Sydney used to say, an “Artesian.” It was her catch phrase to designate people who seemed to elude racial classification due to not just their features but the way in which they carried themselves.

In the introduction to a new edition of Cane, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr and co-writer Dr. Rudolf Byrd posit that Toomer’s personal story wasn’t about “transcending race” — but was a classic narrative about for “passing” for white.

From The Root:

They lob this intellectual grenade in their introduction to the book, which W.W. Norton & Company is to publish next month. Their judgment is based on “an analysis of archival evidence previously overlooked by other scholars,” Mr. Byrd and Mr. Gates write, including Toomer’s draft registrations and his and his family’s census records, which they consider alongside his writings and public statements.

Rest of the piece is here in the New York Times.

Second piece, Bi-Racial Americans Increasingly Passing for Black” reports a study published this month in “Social Psychology Quarterly” suggests that statistically, more bi- and multiracial people are choosing to identify as black — following President Obama’s lead.

The study “Passing as Black: Racial Identity Work Among Biracial Americans,” is, according to the Root: “likely to rekindle the debate by providing evidence that black-white biracial adults are increasingly choosing, like Obama, to emphasize their blackness and downplay their white ancestry. In what the study calls “a striking reverse pattern of passing,” a majority of respondents reported that they ‘pass’ as black.

From the post:

“History, of course, is full of Anatole Broyard stories of mixed-race blacks who have personally profited by camouflaging their racial makeup and pretending to be white. What is novel today, according to the study, is that “multiracial individuals now feel more free to experiment with their identity and many express pride in their blackness and take steps to accent attributes that they consider black.”

Expressing pride in their blackness — that is a good thing, and the authors of the study use their data to make the case that this phenomenon of reverse passing demonstrates that blackness itself is less stigmatized today than in the past, which is certainly evidence of progress. However, what is troubling about the study is also what I find so disturbing about the criticism surrounding Obama’s census decision — namely, the flawed premise that in America, an opposition can exist between “biracial” and “black.”

But here’s the rub: the idea of “experimenting” with identity. For those whose racial identity is a clear-cut either/or, while navigating the world, it isn’t a matter of choice or experimentation. You simply are. It’s not a cloak you can take off or put on at will. The attitudes and understanding of self start within; how society views, values and honors difference. If being black is now “less stigmatized” well, we should celebrate that, but it also suggests that a hierarchy still exists. As the writer points out late in the piece, this is an old debate, as being black in America has always been a “mongrel affair.” It seems as this debate still roils, we still have ways to go down that road . . .

The Sacred and the Profound

BOOK REVIEW UP of two new collections looking at black oratory traditions from two different perspectives — “Preaching with Sacred Fire and “The Anthology of Rap”

Snip from the piece: While “Preaching With Sacred Fire” follows the pulpit narrative from slavery to the ascendency of President Obama, there was another set of voices gaining momentum too. These were the voices telling stories of the streets, the stories of what was happening to those people who sat in the pews — or who once did. Some had wandered into something else, something that seemed to speak to their everyday, a resonant soundtrack of sorts. As Public Enemy’s Richter-scale tripping Chuck D once put it: “Rap is CNN for black people.

That maxim was more than clever metaphor; it has helped clarify the weight, reach and import of the from-the-sidewalks genre that so many once dismissed as diversion — or worse.

From Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to 2Pac and Jay-Z to Young Jeezy. Thirty years on, the longevity begs the question: What role has rap played in chronicling a slice of social history?

The rest here.