Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Burnout: The High Price Of Success?

Are your goals eluding you despite ceaseless hard work and sacrifice? Are you always tired, quick to anger, constantly plagued by physical ailments, and always forgetting important appointments and deadlines? Without knowing it, you may be a prime candidate for burnout--a psychological/emotional phenomenon that usually afflicts the high-achiever. But no matter how long burnout persists, it is not irreversible. You can survive it.

Here's how Dr. Herbert J. Freudenberger, a New York psychologist, specializing in burnout,, defines the malady in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement (Doubleday/Anchor Books): "To deplete oneself. To exhaust one's physical and mental resources. To wear oneself out by excessively striving to reach some unrealistic expectation imposed by oneself or by the values of society" such as having a perfect marriage or being the most outstanding worker on the job.

Dr. Freudenberger, who has been a psychologist for more than 30 years and who has many black and Hispanic clients stated in a telephone interview that what high-achieving persons need to do to avoid burning out is to re-evaluate their goals. "They never take time out just to reflect, to think. So one of the things I do talk about [in 8-hour seminars] is a shift of goals. What else becomes very important is an awareness that as the burnout occurs, many changes take place in their behavior. The changing behavior ranges all the way from an emotional change to a mental change as well as physical changes."

"And those that are close to such a person whether that be a mate or an employee or a colleague or a friend are often the first ones to be able to call it to that person's attention by saying 'Hey, something's going on with you.'"

Among the things he recommends is that you acknowledge your feelings. "As soon as denial enters the picture," he writes, the "person's symptoms become enemies instead of allies." He adds "Denial intensifies that which is being denied." Tiredness is considered the best indication that one is burning out because it is a symptom that is easily recognized. You should become aware of your limitations. If your work is becoming monotonous and repetitious, ask your supervisor for a change in duties. Cultivate on-the-job friendships. This will encourage the exchange of ideas and viewpoints as well as offering each of you relief.Take a much needed vacation. It also helps to develop a sense of humor as insurance against burnout.

"Above all," writes Dr. Freudenberger, "never lose sight of the fact that you, as a human being, are more important than the task, no matter how crucial the task may be."

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News in 1982.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

James Baldwin, Author And Intellectual

In 1975, I took a 15-week magazine writing course at Hunter College's Midtown Branch, located on Lexington Avenue in the East 50s, in Manhattan. The instructor was an elderly woman named Camille Davied (pronounced Dah-vee-ay), whose late husband had been an editor at Reader's Digest. (I was the only person of color in the class.) My memory is a bit hazy about how James Baldwin's name got mentioned. Perhaps I wrote a class assignment that referenced him. Anyway, I do remember saying to her that Baldwin was an intellectual. She immediately and emphatically denied that he was. It was probably hard for her, a white person, to acknowledge that a black man could be that cerebral. Maybe the things that he wrote and said about American race relations touched a nerve, making her uncomfortable and self-conscious.

Had I known as much about Baldwin then as I do now, I would have pointed out to her that if Baldwin had not been an intellectual, his essays would never have appeared in Partisan Review, Commentary, and other intellectual journals in the 1950s.

Monday, October 7, 2013

An Interview With Cicely Tyson

Charles Michael Smith: How did you come to get the role of Miss Moffat in The Corn Is Green?
Cicely Tyson: It was offered to me by Elizabeth Taylor. I assume it was done primarily because she had this company that they put together and they had three plays to do. They made three choices, one was for Miss Moffat. She called me. I don't know if she called me specifically with this play in mind or not. She did say to me that she wanted me to be a part of the company and that I could make any choice I wanted but that she felt that The Corn Is Green would be a good vehicle for me to do. It had been offered to me several years prior to Elizabeth's offer before Katharine Hepburn  did [it]. Another set of producers were going to do it for Broadway and I rejected it at the time. I rejected it primarily because they adapted it for a black cast. I felt they were doing it to accommodate my color. I did not like the final results of the script. So I just assumed that when it came around again for the second time that there had to be something there or otherwise it wouldn't keep coming my way.

CMS: How do you perceive the character you play?
CT: I perceive the character [Miss Moffat] first as a human being whose primary interest is in the salvation of the minds of those children who are buried in a [Welsh] coalmine by the power structure. I consider it as timely now as it was then. [Author's note: The play, originally done on Broadway in 1940, is set in late 19th-century Wales.] She [Miss Moffat] is really no different than Marva Collins [the black Chicago schoolteacher]. The only difference between these two women is the color of their skin. Marva went after the children in the ghettos that were considered incorrigibles, retards, delinquents, et cetera. Miss Moffat goes after the children in the mines who never even had a chance or an opportunity to realize that they can develop a talent if in fact they have one.

CMS: Then the race of this character is totally irrelevant to you?
CT: As far as I'm concerned, absolutely. Because I'm dealing with the humanity of the person which comes first regardless of race, creed, or color. That's what I went after. My parents are from the British West Indies and just like slaves were taken from Africa to America and other parts of the world, they were also taken to Britain. So it is not inconceivable to me that the woman could have been black.
My main objective actually, and I think I have achieved it, is to get people to come to the theatre and after the first few minutes having seen this black woman who is Cicely Tyson, who is an actress, they completely forget about color and they deal with the piece. That's what's important to me. In addition to doing that, if that is successful and that has been successful, it will open the door for other black actresses to get work in plays that are not specifically written [for a]black.

CMS: What criteria do you use to select a role?
CT: Either my skin tingles or my stomach churns.

CMS: Do you read critics's reviews?
CT: I do not read reviews. I [don't] do that because I think I'm a better judge of where I am in relation to where I want to go when I'm working on a role and I don't let anything, anyone upset that judgment. It's mine. I think I am my staunchest critic.

CMS: Do you see yourself as a role model in the black community?
CT: Judging from the pile of mail that I receive, it's a tremendous responsibility. It's a responsibility I really respect and cherish.

CMS: Do you prefer to work in film or on the stage?
CT: It's the role that determines where I work. I go after the role. I get tremendous gratification from creating a role that's challenging and that determines where I go. I would have done any character that I've played during my career anywhere. I'd [have] done it off off off Broadway just to have the experience. I would not have turned down a role like Jane Pittman if it were done in a basement. Of course, being in front of a live audience is very stimulating. A live audience let's you know immediately whether you're accomplishing your goal. The response or the gratification is immediate. When you do film or television or for feature film, you have to wait until it airs which is sometimes a whole year.

This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published on the Inquiry Page of USA Today in 1983. The interview with Cicely Tyson was done via telephone.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Exploring The Male Gaze

Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London by Mark W. Turner (Reaktion Books, 191 pp.)

Mark Turner's Backward Glances is not a memoir but a scholar's exploration and analysis of something all gay men do without a second thought.

Cruising is an age-old activity, not necessarily the exclusive domain of gay men. However, the particular ways and locales in which gay men do it are unique. And because gay men for centuries have been perceived as sexual outlaws, these rituals of cruising have developed as a way to protect oneself from persecution, imprisonment, entrapment, and scandal.

Turner, an American who is a faculty member in the Department of English at Kings College, University of London, looks at cruising through photography, letters, poetry, journalism, pornography, fiction, etc. as a way to show the reader that these media "all are part of the interrelated cultural production of the city and provide possibilities for understanding how cruising was imagined and how it gets reimagined over time."

He points out that it is not always easy to distinguish who is cruising and who is not, when individuals are sharing the same space that has multiple uses. Is the man standing in front of the department store window there to window shop or is he there in search of another man? This ambiguity is captured so well in the cover photo. A young man on the street is looking back at two other men with their arms around each other. They are unaware that he is observing them. If the photo was taken out of context, how would we read it?  Is he a gay man attracted to one or both men? Or is he a straight man astounded by such open display of affection? This photo underscores Turner's question, "[H]ow do we know our cruisers when we see them?" I think the answer has to be that we don't, not always.

It must be pointed out that cruising, like voyeurism and exhibitionism, are about the visual. However, the motivation differs. Cruising is a more reciprocal activity. Whereas voyeurism is more one-sided and surreptitious and exhibitionism is more self-centered, more transgressive, more confrontational (in other words, blatant). Although cruising might be considered transgressive as well because it involves something forbidden by society--male-male attraction--but it is much more of a sharing or mutual appreciation experience.

Turner makes it clear from the outset that his study is a limited one, focusing mostly on those who are white, male, and middle class. He understands that "cruising as a street practice needs to be far more fully considered in relation not only to issues of gender but also to race and ethnicity."

Even though Turner's view is mostly Eurocentric (he does devote two pages to the black science fiction writer Samuel Delany's Times Square porn theatre experiences), it is still important to listen to what he has to say because his observations have some relevance to gay men in general. For example, he states that "The cruiser positively longs to be seen, but not by everyone, and not in all streets." I think that description can apply to all gay men of whatever race, ethnicity, or social background.

I did find one passage that was particularly noteworthy. In Turner's view, bathhouses are places that "have the potential to level out social determinants such as class." To some extent this is true, but then there are other considerations that may come into play such as race, age, looks, physique, mannerisms, etc. Elsewhere in the book, he quotes another writer who says cruising is "a type of brotherhood far removed from the male bonding of rank, hierarchy, and competition that characterizes much of the outside world." To say that rank, hierarchy, and competition are absent from cruising is a misstatement. Anyone who has spent any time in a cruising area knows that there is a pecking order. The ones who are young, good looking, and have a muscular build are the most favored. If a person doesn't meet the criteria, rejection is usually the result.

All in all, Backward Glances is worthy of our attention, if only to give us some insight into what lies behind the male gaze and how that gaze has transformed the urban landscape.

This is an excerpt of a book review that was originally published in the Gay and Lesbian Review (July/August 2004).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thomas Glave's Fight Against Homophobia

Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent by Thomas Glave (University of Minnesota Press, Illustrated, 280 pp.)

Thomas Glave describes himself as "a Jamerican," a term reflecting his Jamaican and American backgrounds. As a result, Glave often has difficulty reconciling this dual identity. Traveling back and forth between the two countries, he often "[wonders] which passport to use on this trip or that one, Jamaican or U.S.--which citizen will I be this time (re-)entering 'my' country?"

The 17 essays in Words to Our Now, many of which were previously published in literary journals like Callaloo, deal with this vexing identity problem from the standpoints of race, identity, and sexual orientation. Glave, who teaches at the State University of New York at Binghamton, offers many disturbing examples of challenges to and attacks on a person's or a group's sense of identity. These attacks have taken the form of torture, rape, lynching, and homophobic murder.

One's self-worth and self-image, as well as how one moves through the world, is inextricably linked to culture, a social construct composed of customs and beliefs out of which a person's identity is formed. Historical and social circumstances also have their part to play in further determining how one sees oneself and those inside and outside the group.

Glave's lead essay, "Baychester: A Memory," is partly a remembrance of his Bronx childhood. In it he discusses his quiet, reflective Jamaican-born father, who lovingly tends to his vegetable garden. Glave reveals his love and reverence for the older man, but unfortunately he does not explore their relationship in any depth. His father sounds like a fascinating individual, who deserves more attention than is offered here. I wanted to know more about the roots of his tolerance of his son's sexuality, if he had himself developed a friendship with any gay men in his early life, and how he came to live in the United States. What we get instead is an essay that digresses to a discussion of black gay literature and a trip to Latin America.

Because of Glave's academic background, the prose is often overly ornate and convoluted. It's too bad that the notes in the back of the book are more straightforward and reader-friendly than the texts they are linked to. His two essays about gay murder victims, one of them written for a newspaper audience, are more readable, if a bit too graphic for the squeamish. In his tribute to his friend, Brian Williamson, a Jamaican activist and a founding member of J-FLAG, a local gay group, Glave describes Williamson "as a laughing man: a man with 'a head of silver coins' as I sometimes joked with him about his head of curly silver-gray hair."

Among the most interesting, thought-provoking and possibly controversial, essays is "Regarding a Black Male Monica Lewinsky, Anal Penetration, and Bill Clinton's Sacred White Anus," in which Glave offers a hypothesis, from a gay perspective: "[H]ow would the U.S. public feel about the possibility of a black penis entering President Clinton's (or president George W. Bush's, or any president's) white, presumably exclusively heterosexual anus?" What if the White House intern had been a black gay man instead of a white heterosexual female? In Glave's view, it would have undermined the popular notion of the U.S. presidency as "icon/symbol of white heterosexual maleness 'unpolluted' by either blackness (or any other color darker than whiteness) or homosexuality/queerness."

Throughout Words to Our Now, Glave hammers at the insanity of homophobia, in Jamaica and elsewhere. He sees it as fueling gay self-hatred. To persecute and kill gays and lesbians is to attack individuals who are a vital part of society and who daily "serve your food in restaurants, clean your streets, fix your cars, and bury your dead." In the end he prophesizes, "[t]he future world will rightly view Jamaica's hatred of homosexuals as the equivalent of Nazis' hatred of Jews...."

He also doesn't mince words when critiquing American foreign policy, which he sees as representing "the vicious neoimperialistic militarism of 'president' George W. Bush, a successful election thief and warmongering, would-be despot."

I share Glave's disdain for the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, but Glave would have been better off focusing on the lives and concerns of gays and lesbians in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean region. There is a dearth of material about this population. And Glave, who is also a fiction writer, could have provided us with a book of creative nonfiction, illuminating the lives of gays and lesbians using fictional techniques. That would have made the book much more valuable to general readers and scholars alike.

With that said, the most impressive and memorable essay in this Lammy-nominated collection is "Again, the Sea," which depicts African slaves throwing themselves overboard rather than be in captivity: "they knew once they jumped they would awaken back there, over there again from whence they had been taken/the sea provided them the chance.... We will not live forever in chains...." [Glave's italics] The Caribbean Sea "speaks" as the bodies splash into its waters: "One of you bobbed upon me with the strokes of a cruel whip upon your naked back, the scars of manacles on your wrists, and did I not slowly pull you into the nothingness that is utter calmness, the complete tranquility of nonbeing?" If there is ever an anthology celebrating the Caribbean Sea, I believe this would be one of the selections, which reveals Glave's love for and fascination with this part of the world.

Despite the aforementioned flaws, Words to Our Now, with some forbearance, yields a gay-positive, uplifting message. And that's something we can always use in these homophobic times.

This book review was previously published in the Gay City News (June 22-26, 2006) and the Gay and Lesbian Review (July/August 2006).