This blog is composed of images and writings related to the life and work of Faith Ringgold, her mother Mme. Willi Posey, and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace. There are pages with links to blogs composed of the materials arranged by decades. The blog, itself, will ultimately be composed of materials related to the life of the family in the 90s and the 21st century.

Tuesday

Introductory: Facebook, Soul Pictures and Michael Jackson

Interestingly, I don't have any photographs to illustrate anything I am about to say.  Yes, there really is an entire conceptual universe beyond illustration, photography, images in general.

Gotta get some stuff clear about facebook now that I have discovered that I can actually post an entire blog in my notes on facebook. Still struggling with the advanced notes so I won't say anything about that right now.

In any case, Soul Pictures is now imported or exported, which ever the case may be into a note on my facebook, which is then broadcasts to the people whom we call "friends" on facebook. As I guess everybody has realized by now, even me, facebook has nothing to do with what we use to think of as friendship. The flow of it seems to have been largely determined by young people and current concepts of friendship, about which I won't comment since I don't understand it and don't have time to study it. It's their business. We had a chance to experiment with new forms of affiliation when we were young. Now it is their turn. Hopefully they won't make the mess of it that we baby boomers made of it.  Affiliation, that is.

But that isn't my topic. For me facebook has nothing to do with friendship. Not really sure what friendship is anymore, only that I don't have any friends in the true sense in which I regarded friends. There are many reasons, not sure about all of them, but I am content that this is as it should be for the time being. I don't have friends because I am otherwise occupied in deep work of the soul which takes up all of my time at the moment. I don't feel like I am missing anything. I don't feel like this is the way it will always be but people need hibernations, hiatuses, sabbaticals, vacations, retreats, whatever you want to call them. But this is not a vacation either. Rather this time and everything I am doing in this time is the chance I have been waiting for, planning for, dreaming about for at least twenty years, maybe more.

That's how long it has been since I have had a time of months long in which all I had to do was write and plan to write, research and plan research, and string it all together. I had such time after I wrote my first book Black Macho with the royalties I got from that book but I didn't yet have the skills or the research abilities or the spirit to know what to do with it. Instead I went back to school and I read and I studied which is pretty much what I have done with every other sabbatical or free moment since then. My last sabbatical since I have been a tenured professor I spent doing my Ph.D. in Cinema Studies at NYU, and believe me that was no vacation. I tried to make it as much about writing as I could but being a student just isn't the same thing.

So you see I am writing Soul Pictures as my sabbatical project. I am organizing the materials or that project via the resources of this blog, coordinated with several other blogs I use to coordinate and organize subsidiary materials to Soul Pictures, one on the culture of blues people which is how I refer to African American history and culture, the music of blues people, which is what it is all about, another blog on personal, emotional stuff I don't plan to pursue in the book but which might get in the way if I didn't have a chance to get it off my chest. There's a blog on African American photography and visual culture, which bears a symbiotic relationship to Soul Pictures. That is it is my study of the accomplishments of others in African American visual culture and American visual culture that has prompted my reading of the visual culture of the women and men in my family.

As for facebook, it has gotten rolled into the project because there were two reasons I thought blogging might be a good way to organize materials for facebook. First, because at the same time you are formulating your ideas, you can also be helping to formulate the audience for your ideas. Because I don't have an audience. Or rather if I have an audience, it is not an organized, identifiable niche audience. There isn't any way that I know of to make a living serving or speaking to that audience and that has to change. Otherwise the discourse, the exchanges, the languages, whatever you want to call it, will die out from lack of reinforcement. So blogging is audience development as well as tangible progress and work that you can track in its accumulation. It's also like a scrapbook in that you can actually show it to people, even to perspective publishers should the occasion arise. Facebook can conceivably fulfill the same purpose if you handle it right, which in my view it is possible to do best in the form of the notes application, which seem to have no length limits or time limits.

As for audience development, the opportunity of facebook seems crucial. Your first thought is well how many people are you actually talking to, how many pay attention, etcetera and so forth. But what could be more useful to the development of an audience tailor made for your material than to concentrate on a carefully selected group of people whom you already know and who have expressed some interest in accessing your daily, weekly or monthly development?

So this is the deal. Sorry if you want to be friends but for me facebook has nothing to do with friendship. I am 57 years old. I don't know how to make friends with anybody on a machine. More than likely all the friends I am ever really going to have, I already have. In any case, the development of new ones is temporarily suspended. This is about the work.  And while the work is for career purposes, it is first and foremost the labor of the soul, the stuff I recognize I need to do before I go one step further into the future.  If I were religious, I would say it is between me and God or me and my maker, or something like that, but I am not religious, so I will just say it is between me and me, or me and whatever there is beyond me and you.  It is between me and the planet.  Me and the vibrations of the universe.  Because I think vibrations might be real, which is where the music comes into it.

These remarks I address in particular to my nieces, my sister, my Mom and Dad, and to my friends. It's about the work right now. Whatever you see me doing, that's what it's about.  In the beginning, I conceived dance, drumming and music as the entertainment aspect of the whole thing-- but I have known for some time now that entertainment doesn't interest me right now.  For awhile I thought well maybe it is the physical exercise but as I progress, I realize I can't take a step without this Blues People culture because it was the culture that produced my grandmother, Momma Jones, the patron saint of this project.  

Every moment I ever spent with her was spent hip  deep in the Blues tradition.  I am realizing now that the experiences Mom had with her going to see shows and listening to music in the 30s and the 40s in Harlem was much like the experiences I had with her as a child except that I was her companion of the 50s and 60s.  She was constantly taking me to a church, or a show, or a concert, constantly playing music, dancing with me or for me, and encouraging me to dance.  Her first ambition was to be a dancer but she wasn't allowed to continue to pursue it by her family.  She pursued it until she got married though.  She talks about winning every dance contest she ever entered with Mr. Morrison, her second husband, and performing in shows at the Lafayette Theatre or wherever she could get on.  MJ's youth was in the 20s and from her pictures you can see that she was a real flapper, body and soul.   We think that when she died that Mr. Morrison took the scrapbook with her dance pictures in it, since he probably took a lot of those pictures and was probably also in those pictures.   I am going to try to find his family and see if these pictures survived somewhere.

When I was quite small, before I entered grade school, and we were still living with MJ on Edgecombe Avenue, she use to take me to church at the children's church in the basement of the Convent Avenue Church on the corner of 145th Street and Convent Avenue.  In the Baptist Church, Baptism is reserved primarily for adults.  In the service, the congregation is encouraged with music and prayer at a certain point in the service to come to Christ, that is to come to the front of the church and accept Jesus.  Well, I watched this ritual every Sunday in the children's church with fascination, wondering what happened to the people who came forward.  I resolved that I would find out by going forward myself.  I had noticed that only adults did so (many young adults attended church downstairs with we children), which made it all the more interesting I guess.  

But once I had done this, the result was some consternation, which everybody was careful to keep from me.  The dilemma: I was 5 years old, surely too young to understand what I was doing, what coming to the church and being baptised really meant.  But with MJ's support it was decided that if I had come forward it was because I had been called, and to interfere with that would be to get in the way of something that was little understood by the adults who ran our lives.  My grandmother told me shortly before she died that I was questioned by the minister to test my comprehension of the process and apparently I passed the test.  This was the last conversation I ever had with MJ and she told me how proud she had been of me when I had chosen to be baptised. 

What happened then was one of the fondest, most exciting series of memories of my life (and I don't know why it is I remember all of this stuff).  A special white garment was made for me and I was prepared in various ways for the baptism ceremony which would take place in the big adult church upstairs.  That day, my grandmother accompanied me into the changing room with other adult women (or maybe Mom did or maybe they both did--it was a big deal!).  The thing I remember was how shocked I was to see an entirely naked female body for the first time and to learn that adult women had hair down below because needless to say, I had none.  Then I can remember I was briefed on the baptism itself, getting dunked and everything.  I was handed to the minister who was standing in a pool of water and then he lowered me into the water, backwards which was a  bit of a shock, three times I think.  I'll never forget it.  I was well and truly baptised not only into life but into the Blues People culture.  I have always felt like I was somebody special from that day to this.

Maybe five or so years later, I was baptised once again, this time into the Lutheran church, confirmed perhaps, where they sprinkle a few drops of water on you and call it a baptism.  We attended a Lutheran school.  During the week we were Lutherans, on weekends we were Baptists.  God I loved religion when I was a kid.  I always say I had enough of it growing up to last me a lifetime.  I love it all but I loved most the music.  

With that proviso, I turn now to Michael Jackson and the show I am about to do with Joyce Jones on WBAI-FM (99.5), Women and The Blues Part II, Suga in My Bowl, next Monday from 9 to 11 p.m. Mostly there will be music. Joyce and I will talk for a half hour one half hour into the show. If it goes well, we'll talk again for another half hour. Otherwise, there will be music, which she and I have chosen as a discussion between us. Music that we care about. This last Sunday we spoke about the fact that both of us wanted to insert the voice of one male among the women. The voice of Michael Jackson, for a lot of reasons, which I am sure we are both trying to formulate in words. In the meanwhile, let me direct your attention to one work of Michael's that I have been listening to since his death.

It is a piece called "They Don't Really Care About Us" that he did in 1991. And it is worth a listen I think. The video is good too. In the work of this period of History, Book II, Jackson gets a nice little soulful groove going with large groups of people singing, dancing, playing instruments. It is very Baptist Gospel Church Choir in its inflection and mood, which I find irresistible. Ironically, I also find it very bluesy.

And I am thinking this. Words I could live with out. Or let's just say I could live a long time with anybody speaking directly to me. Sometimes I crave that particular kind of silence. But music I would die without. And there is nothing better than being in the presence of a large group of people singing, dancing and playing instruments. Failing being there live, it is not a bad thing to listen to on a recording or watch on a video. I've been around large groups of people singing and dancing all my life. It has been an essential aspect of the culture that made me, Soul Pictures, Blues People, Blues Music, all of that. I have been up to my neck in it all my life and I try to keep it that way as much as possible.

So let's see how this reads. I've probably left some stuff out. But I can start with this. All I wanna say is they don't really care about us. You ain't never lied about that!

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Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures

Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures
Barbara, MJ, Michele and Mom in the background in sunglasses at a fashion show in the early 60s