Michigan

 

I had a great wee trip through Michigan, which is where Bonnie Jo Campbell is from. I went to visit her amazing writing place in a little house on the Kalamazoo river. It was a real pleasure to see it and all the work being put into it. We then visited Bonnie’s mum and she was just wonderful, she’d finished The Panopticon the day before and we had the best chats. It is easy to see where Bonnie gets her storytelling from with such amazing characters and family history, the house where they all grew up was just fantastic, filled with character and a  huge window looking out onto trees, I loved it. Bonnie fed her donkeys and picked me some fresh asparagus. After that we had a nice meal out on the porch at Bonnie’s house with her husband, listened to thunder, rain on the tin roof, they told me about the wild turkeys that come down and run at people in February, a tornado that passed through the forest one time, the assortment of wildlife and people that make up the local community. We talked about politics, religion, writing and life in general. It was a fly through visit but a good one. This morning I took the train to Chicago so in the last two days I have been in New York, Detroit, Michigan and Chicago, changed time zones, caught trains, cars, taxis, aeroplanes. I’m on an Indie radio station here tomorrow and then gearing up for the West Coast, flying out to Portland on Tuesday.

East Detroit — The Heidelberg Project

One of the highlights of Detroit for me was the Heidelberg Project in the McDougall-Hunt neighbourhood. It was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton. His wife and grandfather (Grandpa Sam) got involved too. Tyree Guyton began the project as a political protest after watching the childhood neighbourhood he grew up in go radically downhill after the 1967 riots. He said when he came back from serving in the Army his home area looked like a bomb had went off. This transformation in an area where people used to be afraid to walk even during the day, has evolved over decades. Tyree works with kids on the block making the artwork a true part of the community. In 2005 it go the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. There is something really magical about the Heidelberg Project and the art sculptures just next door — I will always remember it, it’s one of my favourite memories of this Outriders trip so far.

Detroit

I loved visiting Detroit yesterday. I was picked up by Bonnie Jo Campbell and we went to visit Lolita Hernandez, a native Detroit writer and she was super lovely. Lolita has a great dog who is huge and welcomed us gladly. I asked him the answer to truth so he could be part of my documentary. We went to the market in Detroit then to Bert’s Motown, the warehouse theatre has space for 2000 people, there’s a main bar and places to eat — Martha Reeves had her 75th birthday party there last year. They do Harlem jazz with Motown soul. It was the home of the Motown Sound, techno and encompassing blues, hip-hop, electronica, pop, punk, soul and gospel. Singers hosted by the city included Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, John Lee Hooker, Jim McCarty, Bill Haley, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Jack White, Madonna lived just thirty-five miles outside Detroit and studied dance there. Walking out back of Bert’s I was hit with a wall of sound, it was amazing! I hadn’t had lunch and we headed back to Lolita’s, picked up the car and headed out to do a tour of Detroit. I was eating mac and cheese in the front and we three working class writers had much to talk and bond over, there was much laughter, political conversation, chat on writing and family and profanity, men, sex, war, ideology. It was a perfect day. I will post on the Heidelberg project next, it was an amazing, extraordinary place to visit. We didn’t go into all of the derelict areas because the voyeuristic tourism of areas where poverty and lack of infrastructure and support, doesn’t show you the whole story. The issues in Detroit are real and considerable though and it is shocking that a city so important and close to New York can still lack the investment its citizens deserve. So those areas are there and we saw a little but also we went down to the old harbours, you could really feel all the old industry there. Detroit is a major port on the Detroit river, and you can stand and wave to Canada which is so close on the other side. You can cycle all along the riverfront for miles. There’s a lot of gentrification down in that area and locals are unsure whether they are continuing to be driven out so the city can become a hub for young professionals again. The current population has declined by 60% which is a huge amount of people, one in three residents lives in poverty. Detroit was always know for the motor industry with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all headquartered there. In 1903 Henry Ford had founded the Ford company there. In the 1920s it was the fourth largest city in the USA. United Auto Workers and the American Federation of Labor fought for working conditions to improve including a 40 hour week for staff. There’s some amazing architecture in the city including the Guardian Building, Fox Theatre and the Detroit Opera House. I thought it had great community, street art, music and I’d love to visit there for longer next time. I left reading Autopsy of An Engine by Lolita Hernandez and feeling I’d made a friend in Detroit, who made me feel welcome and at home. One of the coolest things in the city is Slow Roll Detroit, which has attracted up to 12’000 cyclists for evening rides touring 10 miles of the city, it has 5’000 card carrying members who pay a fee for the project which encompasses everyone in the community, old, young, new, poor, working, students, everyone — I’d totally go back to take part in that.

The Carlton Arms in New York

I loved staying at The Carlton Arms in New York. It is one of my favourite places to stay anywhere. I always think of it as a kind of Chelsea Hotel (before it became well known) although it has been in NY for at least twenty-five years. It is close to Madison Square Gardens and in a great position on E25th. The Lower East Side felt very like home to me. The hotel itself has been decorated by artists with great details everywhere. The owner is  super lovely and agreed to take part in my truth documentary, I filmed him in the uber cool foyer where the sheep lives. Some readers tracked me down whilst there and left books with reception for me to sign, I did so, with doodles. There’s always a cat or two living there. I plan to go back for a month next time, my kid would love it.

New York

Here’s a few more photographs from my week in New York. I have loads more to post and I have been faithfully shooting my documentary film on truth as well. The ice-cream photo is of myself and Bill from Bottle of Smoke Press. We had the most amazing afternoon in Woodstock with Gerard Malanga. Gerard is shooting me in another photograph, on a day after I’d been out with Miwi La Lupa, had walked home barefoot at some point, woke after too few hours sleep with a splitting headache on the hottest day ever. Of all the days I could be photographed by Gerard Malanga! He is an amazing photographer and chatted to me about Burroughs and the Factory, Lucien Carr, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and all the amazing photographs he has taken, his poetry, his memoirs, his cats, life and love and liberty. It was inspiring and brilliant. I’ll do a proper blog on Bottle of Smoke Press and Gerard when I get home but it was a real highlight of my trip. Bill published me in Bottle of Smoke press years ago and is one of my favourite artisan publishers, he’s also a great person to talk to about all things American, political, counter cultural and otherwise. We drove back to NY late at night with two of his kids, I read them one of my truth poems and we did drawings for each other in the car and I showed them around all the brilliant and strange artwork in the Carlton Arms. I also hung out with Nate from Team Love, his wife Nelly, their super cute dog, Kelly Braffet and Owen King, we had the nicest lunch and great stories and chat, as you might expect. I felt so welcome, it was really super lovely. New Paltz where Team Love are based is the cutest town ever, it’s very old school and I have most of my shots of that day on film. Team Love are one of my favourite record labels and they have a great wee shop there. I will blog on that properly later on too. It’s late. There are sirens. I like the sirens here. They sound like a video game. Someone is whistling. The air conditioner is loud. I have to pack for Detroit. I fly out in the morning. There’s so much more to say on this part of the trip and I will get there, bit by bit.

Living In A Post-Truth Society

I’ve been in New York for five days. I’m going to do two blogs on this, the next one will have more of the people I’ve been meeting (the people are what make it for me in NY, for so many reasons) however, I can’t ignore the large orange child in the room either. The first thing that struck me when I drove into NY was how it reminded me in some way of Gotham City, presided over by crooks, villains and heroes. There is a cartoonish quality to the spectacle of Trump. It is a spectacle with a deadly reality. Trump is dangerous, as are the ideologies that saw him elected and that are widespread. We have a man unfit to serve and he has been elected as the President of the United States of America. Whilst fear is everywhere, also, there is defiance, there is debate, courage and dignity.

On Thursday I got a text from a friend to say an accident had happened in Times Square and to ask if I was okay. A 26 year-old, high on PCP, had driven his car into pedestrians on the street. Two people died and a further 22 were injured. The car kept going for several blocks. He later told officers he just wanted to kill people. It’s something that has been said by other people who have committed similar types of crimes over the last few years. Sometimes these acts of murder against strangers, are attached to an ideology or terrorism but often it is someone who has a history of violence, domestic or otherwise and who has got to the point of being psychopathic. I was in Woodstock that day, I’d taken the train from Grand Central Station and when I found out, I cried, because I’m a human, a poet and it’s hideous to know that anyone should die in that way, for no good reason.

It feels that people are more on the edge than they have been for decades. I think politics, poverty, education and inequality — all mixed with governments presided over by people who appear to have only the vaguest links to reality, has created a situation that is dangerously unsustainable.

The feeling and thoughts about safety and fear seem to be everywhere I look. I drove passed the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue late at night. Melania Trump still lives there with her son. On approach the road narrows, traffic cannot move, there are barricades, armed police — the air becomes frenetic with frustration, heat and a negative, strange energy. I can’t imagine living that way. I was told that in Trump Tower all residents have had any firearms removed, so have the residents in surrounding buildings and across the street. 500’000 people have signed a petition demanding the First Lady move to the White House because it is costing up to $146,000 of tax payers money to cover her security every day. Meanwhile, she has no desire to move to The White House or be in Washington or we all assume, anywhere near her husband. Apparently Bruce Willis lived in the building at one point, members of the Saudi Royal family stay there when they are in town and well known, corrupt, Russian officials. The neighbours are fed up of having to show ID and get frisked every time they pop out for a pint of milk.

I went to the Trump Building and found everything was gold. The elevator was gold. All possible furnishings that could be done in gold, were done in gold. I have never seen so much gold in one space. The emperor likes shiny things.

It will take me weeks here to fathom out the whys and hows of this character but like many countries it seems a hustler, a business person, a crook, someone with little to no concern for others, a narcissist, a risk taker, a fundamentalist — has the kind of skill set that puts them in charge of countries. Not everywhere, but look around the planet, there’s a fair few of them in charge.

Anyway.

I’ve learned that the schooling system here depends upon the taxes paid by people in the local area, so if you live in an area where people cannot afford to pay much tax then there will be very little money to invest in those local schools. There is absolutely no equality in that, it is sad and it is shocking. All children deserve the same quality of education. They all deserve the same quality of nutrition and some stability in where they live. Make that change first and so many good things would follow.

People feel sick when they talk about Trump, they are visibly distressed, they are utilising tactics to not let this dominate their life anymore than any of us can when he’s gas lighting the entire planet and has more power than any one person ever should.

The people who voted Trump in do not feel that way, although many of them are changing their mind plenty others have not. Those kind of Republicans are apparently raised to love their country more than they love their families. They think this man will restore the USA to some idea of American identity that has foundations in misogyny, racism, greed, capitalism, industry, awfulness and stupidity. Stephen Hawking recently said the greatest threat to mankind is stupidity, followed by climate change. I do not think he was wrong.

There are so many things I can repeat about Trump but you have all seen them countless times before, the media is saturated in him, it has become a part of the spectacle itself.

More and more Republican Senators are refusing to back Trump as President, although most have not yet publicly defected. Come has agreed to testify against Trump in court after being spectacularly fired as Director of the FBI. Lots of FBI members have photos of Comey on their social media showing their support and solidarity. A former director of the CIA released a statement saying Trump was unfit to serve. Countless other powerful professionals have done the same. There have been extraordinary protests across America, inventive, inspiring. The women’s march had over a million women marching to show their disapproval of his appointment as President and to show they would not be silenced. Other protests have included a group of Statue of Liberty’s with hands over their eyes. Also a room of women dressed like characters in the Handmaid’s Tale when Trump and others signed a bill to further reduce women’s rights over their own bodies, for termination or healthcare.

On the other side there are marches by Trump supporters, one most recently where they marched in with torches burning in something that could only be an intentional and provocative statement regards race and ideas of white supremacy. I am learning more about racism and thinking about white privilege everyday. The divide here between black, white, Asian, Latino communities reminds me of the class divide at home and it also reminds me of the years I lived in Peckham, in South East London. I didn’t leave all that long ago but would often have to lie to a taxi driver to get back there late at night. In the UK people often pretend there is not a huge issue with racism or class or poverty. That’s really not working out anymore. It has to change.

Under the new President we have Mike Pence, the Vice President believes that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not true. He believes that the world is only 6000 years old.  There is a Liberty University here that teaches students that God created the world in seven days and his flood was this historical event, that they saved the animals two by two. Liberty University had a model of Noah’s ark as a scale model next to a Boeing 747 and the US space shuttle, explaining how the animals fit in. They also surmised that there was a strong possibility horses, zebras and donkeys were descendants of just one pair of horses that were on Noah’s Ark, and they also argued that the discovery of the coelacanth “fossil-fish” had blown a hole in evolutionary theory. They were also teaching that sharks did not – as science tells us – evolve 400 million years ago, but they too were only designed 6,000 years ago. Liberty apparently declared that: “Sharks are not primitive remnants of pre-history, but are acutely fine-tuned organisms that defy Darwinian evolution.” According to a 2012 Gallup Poll 46 per cent of Americans have a creationist view of the world in which God created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years. Republican Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, stated via Twitter “I think God created the Earth,” adding “I think science and my faith aren’t incompatible.”

This is fundamentalist religion.

I cannot get my head around it but I better try because the fundamentalists have the power and the liberals are something they want to hunt out and get rid of, liberal views, climate warriors, human rights, social equality and even science is scorned and looked down upon by many of those voters, they hate liberals, they think we are the ones who are stupid.

On March 26, 2015, Pence signed Indiana Senate Bill 101, also known as the Indiana “religious objections” bill (Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA), into law. The law’s signing was met with criticism by groups who felt the law was worded in a way that would permit discrimination against anyone in the LGBT community. According to a FiveThirtyEight rating of candidates’ ideology, Pence is widely written about as the most conservative vice-presidential candidate in the last forty years.

I speak to lots of Americans who tell me that the hard right, conservative, Trump supporters — are fundamentalist Republicans, that we live in a post-truth society, that those voters do not believe in climate change, they think we are all going to die in a biblically predicted disaster, they absolutely and utterly loathe liberals and always will, and they have been raised to love their country, pledge allegiance to their country and serve their country as the utmost priority, even before their families.

It sounds like a cult to me.

I see flags being waved as trucks drive down the street. I started out this week on Ellis Island and I have been thinking a lot about ideology and how much it formulates peoples beliefs about life on earth. I am not against religion per se but I grow less tolerant of it every year and I am absolutely against the interpreters. I am against the use of a belief system to control people and to create structures by which people lose their own sense of accountability, autonomy or personal responsibility.

A friend said they (fundamentalist Christians and most Republicans come into that bracket) don’t care what happens on this planet because they believe heaven is their true home.

Ideology across the world, in Europe, in the UK, in the USA is reaching peak division. It is unsustainable, impractical and downright dangerous to support the rise of a far right that is based upon archaic principles, outright madness and at times, downright evil. I don’t say that lightly but I know on which side of the fence I stand. I wish there was something better to say about this but at the moment there isn’t. The only light for me is that these conversations have had to go incredibly public. Ideologies going to war is not unusual to the human race, change occurs in times of great conflict and extraordinary people are fighting for a better future every day. I realised over the last year that I can no longer be politically silent or feel that my work is the place to hold my political beliefs and backbone. If I am silent then I am complicit. We can no longer afford to be complicit. Sometimes it becomes apparent that people are living through a period of great historical change and this is one of them.

In America each day Trump loses support amongst his own party and voters. Talk of impeachment is never far away. France is sent beloved gratitude for not voting in Le Pen. The UK sits on the brink of its own potentially disastrous election and people want change! They want something better, than a ruling elite so out of touch with reality that only people who really suffer are — everybody else, they are us, they are all the communities that are not them, they are most especially those of any supposed minority or disadvantage. We are all seeing the last stand of the empire. The tiny per cent who have the worlds wealth, the inequality across the globe, religious fundamentalism, the absolving of personal accountability or responsibility, one person believing they are more superior than another, entitlement — it can’t continue this way, capitalism is failing, ideological structures are showing huge, cavernous cracks and they are all impacting on society and the planet in unforgivable ways.

I promise that my other blogs on the road may not be as sombre as this one but our political climate has never felt more dangerous in my lifetime — it is time for change and people are working on it, out there, at home, we need to keep reaching out to each other along the way.

The Truth Is … no.2

The truth stole my banana and stuck a flag in it. Stars, stripes and confederacy — kiss me America, I’m lonely and you have lost all of your hunters. The truth has a walk on part. Blink and you’ll miss it. The truth is a crazy diamond. The truth is spinning records and it turns the music up. The truth is dancing. The truth is not stopping at a red light or an amber or a green. The truth holds a door open. The truth is everyone on Lexington says in unison at 3pm — we hate that motherfucker. They say it every day. What truth is there in hate? The truth is motherfucker sounds so much better in a Brooklyn accent. The truth is sex. The truth is crying in a cafe earlier in the day. The truth is in your vocal tone. The truth is his voice in my ear. The truth is his voice was never truthful. The truth is many people believe their own lies. The truth is the truth. Don’t believe the hype. The truth lowers the tone. One or two tones lower and all I think about is sex. The truth is exotic. The truth bears liberty. The truth is beside itself. The truth is we truly do hate that motherfucker. We begin to say it at 4pm each day too.  The truth is he’s playing golf but instead of balls he lines up nukes. This doesn’t stop me dancing. It doesn’t stop you. I am not afraid to live. You are not intimidated by oranges. I am Poland. I am sparkling. The truth is going home. The truth is older than you’ll ever be. I was signing my name at the cathedral of debatability last night. I was a spy. I was followed by a guy with a gun. He was noir. I was not a girl. I was all colour and he wasn’t ugly. I had a gun and it shot words. The words hung in the air until the man ate them. I shot words and the gun had a habit. The man had a horse and ill intentions. He was all malevolence and I decided not to sign. The truth is my name is not in a huge old leather book. It would have been the end of me. I turned to go and he attached himself to my body. He was a growth on my body. The truth is on the left. The truth went before me. The truth couldn’t help nor could anyone else. The truth is I am in Harlem. The truth is an artist who does great owls and who tells me for the first time in decades as a grown man, as a black man, as an intellectual, an artist, a southern gent, a businessman, as someone who has loved and lost and still gives to the world — he is afraid. The truth is braver than either of us. The truth has different things to fear. The truth is I am afraid and the artist is afraid and I meet other people and we talk about fear. We talk about fear and we talk about how we ignore it and go and meet our friends and defy psychic terrors by loving the ones we are set for. The truth is fear won’t be ignored. It will hunt you down. The truth is almost extinct. The truth is I exist but I’m absolutely naked. The truth is air conditioning. The truth is haunting. The truth is I wouldn’t know a truck juck if it jaunted over and jived with me. The truth is the trucks here look mean. They look like they want to kill everybody. I’m told some people sook up their trucks so they emit even more black smoke, so they look even gnarlier, cos those people don’t believe in climate change and they want to toxify the air in the hope it might give cancer to at least one or two liberals. The truth is climate change was a conspiracy thought up the Chinese. The truth is the man who believes that runs a huge fuck-off country. The truth is the vice president believes humans were created six-thousands years ago. The truth is loving your country more than you do your family. The truth is a cult. The truth is if you are brainwashed since birth you can no longer tell the truth anymore than a kamikaze dragon racing down the freeway — cock in one hand, jerking off into the night. The truth is fucking preposterous. The truth is unfit for drinking. The truth is on a pedestal. It’s a medical supply room. The truth gives free advice. Do you have what it takes to become a citizen? Today almost anyone can become a citizen but so few a human being. The truth is the first Naturalisation Law. The truth is the United States of Anxiety. Originally the truth only granted citizenship to free white persons. What the fuck is naturalisation? Since when did law respect nature? What is with those words? Only a white person can be natural? Law is based on isation? The truth is the vice president will not eat lunch with any woman who is not his wife. The truth is they want to teach creationism in school as if it were a real thing. Don’t laugh Ireland, you tried to convict someone for blasphemy and the laws you have for women and god make me ashamed to have so much fucking Irish blood. The truth is annexed territories. The truth is ambivalent. The truth is — who belongs here? The truth belongs here. The truth is here but we’re ignoring it for cake. The truth is 1868. The truth is three years after the Civil War. The truth is not in Congress.  The truth is that word still fucking bugs me. Naturalised. What the fuck do you mean by it America? What do you mean by diversity? I hear kids saying it in white neighbourhoods. Oh, if we go there, we’ll see more diversity. What is with this word diversity? It sounds like a pop band. What is naturalisation? The truth is a man that tells me he has no white friends except from where he works and he grew up in the ghetto and he is writing a sci-fi book about two sisters and he often is unseen beyond the colour of his skin. The truth is a vigilante. The truth is violent. The truth is under these hot streets. It’s rising up from the subway. It’s rattling the L-train. The truth is racism never went away. The truth is fear of people. The truth is people fear other people. The truth is they make you fear other people because it is profitable and practical to keep people afraid. The truth is a woman could not appear as a ‘person’ before a court of law not all that long ago. She was the responsibility of the male. Like a dog. Or a bicycle. Or a razor blade. She was not allowed to be naturalised. We all know women are not natural.  The truth is queer. The truth is constitutional psychopathic inferiority. The truth is that was a legal prognosis for anybody gay. The truth is love is not a disease. The truth is immigration and naturalisation services required examining physicians to issue a certificate classifying gay aliens as mentally defective. The truth is those are not my words. They are official. They were legislatively dangerous. The truth is aliens are queer too and none of them want to speak to you. The truth is alien. The truth will not stage an intervention. Sure, their world is pretty (they’d say) but they place no value on its soul. The truth has a brilliance. The truth is people whose hearts shine through their clothes, whose intellect astounds me, who open their arms and say — I will. The truth is in 1979 physicians refused to write certificates declaring gays as psychopaths. The truth is in 1990 (I will repeat) in 1990 with the passage of the Immigration Act of (I will repeat) 1990 Congress removed homosexuality as a health-based exclusion for US citizenship. What is a gay alien? What is alien in your queer? If I’m a psychopath then you’re a sugar bowl. If you’re a sugar bowl don’t expect me to stir you. If sugar bowls have birds around them nobody is tweeting. If nobody is tweeting then the word is dead. If the word is dead then we’ll all draw language. We’ll show each other pictures of hearts and beds. The truth is fucking history. The truth is beloved. The truth is I miss him. The truth is he lied to me. The truth wants me. I want the sea. The truth is I’m not doing yoga. The truth is I resist it. The truth is my body. The truth is my brain. The truth is the amygdala. The truth is the holy grail. The truth has dimensions. Dimensions of dimensions. The truth is fuzzy fuzzy wasnae fuzzy but he was a fucking bear. The truth is I swear too much. The truth is I don’t swear enough. The truth is vitriol. The truth is scared. The truth is we come back to this. The truth is we’re controlled by this. The truth is it is effective to rule 7.5 billion people predominantly through division, exclusion and fear. The truth is 1d. The truth has plumbing issues. The truth is lighten up, brought to you, in a hysterical voice, by the Queen. The truth needs a coffee. The truth won’t eat your bagel. The truth is I loved him and he never let me in. The truth is I keep one arm out at all times but extra especially during the night. The truth is he won’t call me. The truth is you better check under your bed. The truth is I’m bemused. The truth is this is a planet. It does not have an adequate explanation. Chill the fuck out about it. It’s just a few seconds of existence on this plane. The truth is I’m a fat girl who likes to hear sirens. The truth is I judge your judgement. The truth is barefoot. The truth is paddling. The truth is clear water. The truth is fireflies. The truth is war rages. The truth is love. Love is truth. We all want truth in love but when is it really true? It’s true when it’s a true thing and when it’s not it’s not. The truth is I scroll through my phone for someone who has never been there. The truth is missing. Someone bring it a blanket. The truth is not to be found so don’t look for it in Maine.