“When you say “I am_____…” meditations by poet Bill Lavender

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To say that it is complicated to talk about work in America is an understatement. Work is an outsized religion, with equal numbers zealots and agnostics shouting about its ability to build character -or to ruin it.

That complication has been in my own life many times, when I took a particular (down?) turn in my work life so that I could honor a gig or a hustle that I had in mind, and watched employers, friends, and family furrow their brow when I told them what I had done.  But because I live in New Orleans, announcements of giving up a full-time job to pursue something less defined are usually met with understanding and even admiration. In way of appreciation, I began this particular blog to pay respect to the New Orleans ease around different work types and the often-necessary hustle.

One such person who personifies the glorious tangle of it all, refusing to comb the strands out in order to make it easier for others is my pal Bill Lavender who is (from my view) the multiple choice of poet, publisher, explainer, musician, builder, tinkerer, fisher, mediator, backyard griller, agreeable drinking/dining companion, kitchen helper, father,  cat-tender, back-up dog walker, interested grandfather, designer/part-owner of my favorite backyard pool and screened porch, full-time partner to writer/professor Nancy Dixon. Nancy is, by the way, another who fully understands and has lived the job, gig, and hustle life.  I’d even say that because she lived it for so long, with such honesty, she interprets life with far more intuition than either Bill or I or most people can. I know without a doubt that most of her circle deeply respect her ability to suss out any situation and that skill is clearly derived from a life lived rather than a workplace taught. I’d like to write more about her some day but she is a much bigger presence in my life and harder for me to observe without a little awe and a great deal of gratitude.

I write about Bill here because I returned today to a piece about his life as a poet that he had written a few years back. I have read this piece maybe a dozen times already, often finding  one or two paragraphs that I wanted to reread, or longer passages so I could accurately quote them to friends. This is one such passage that charmed me:

For me, poetry (as a vocation, an identity, a life’s work, an obsession) did not grow out of English class, but out of passing notes at the back of it, handing around scraps of paper that one would get one in trouble if the teacher saw.

Throughout the piece, he puzzles over the role of language, truth, other people, emotion, and the world to his poetry.  He shares the struggle in keeping poetry in his life, which took him into prominence in academia, but where his success or his person or his politics or his diffidence or none of those at all but just general university stupidity (we all have our theories), resulted in a well-publicized firing, shocking many. I remember having dinner with he and Nancy in the days directly after, and how flummoxed he was by it and what it meant and what he should do as protest.

In the end as he says,

“Then they fired me and I was, after a brief flurry of petitions and irate letter-writing, relieved.

Now I’m back in construction, this time as an employee, though a well-paid one. I run my little press from my house, with help from my wife, New Orleans scholar and writer Nancy Dixon…and/or an occasional volunteer or intern. And though there is always this problem or that, and though I work too hard and there is never enough time for this thing or that (including writing), it’s pretty ok.

There is much more to find in this piece than how his vocation fits into his definition as a worker. The passage with granddaughter Roxy and the cracker is so beautifully illuminating about the poet’s mind that I am humbled by it. Additionally, the clarity he sees around the role of Occupy is one that I share and yet had not been able to explain to others before reading this and so it remains the anchor for me in this piece. I know I will use those few words of analysis for a long time.

But in terms of what AJG&H (this blog) is meant to do, I think Bill offers one fine idea in it:

When you say I am_____, the number of words that you can use to fill in that blank , either adjectives or nouns, is not infinite. You select from a multiple choice list given to you by the culture, by the long bloody, political history of the world. 

That is the truth. We are defined by the list of words that we are labeled with, some we gladly choose to be known for, others that are forced on us. Infinite it is not. The list I gave you about Bill at the beginning of this piece are how I know him: through his poetry, by what he has built around town, and through social time with he and Nancy, sometimes in the company of their family.  If he saw my list, I am sure he would be surprised or bemused by some. Or maybe not.

“In the Thick(et) of Poetry: Meditations on 50 Years in the Language Game,” Xavier Review 37-1

 

 

teach-in and discussion re: busking laws

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Street Performers, come learn about your rights! The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans is hosting a FREE teach-in and discussion re: busking laws in New Orleans.

The meeting will provide a discussion and Q&A session for the rights and responsibilities of street performers and law enforcement, which will include participation from a civil rights attorney. This open dialogue looks to establish a safe space for performers to 1) ask questions, 2) express concerns, and/or 3) discuss incidents without enforcement agencies present.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 2 PM – 3:30 PM
Buffa’s Bar & Restaurant

1001 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116

OUT TO LUNCH : Intellectual Property Podcast

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This podcast features Photojournalist Cheryl Gerber, my neighbor and pal who is a award-winning freelance journalist and documentary photographer.  She  is a staff photographer for Gambit and a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Associated Press, and New Orleans Magazine.

Her book Life in the Big Easy is a standout; find my review here.

On the podcast, Cheryl talks about her diligence in keeping track of her work, using a law firm in New York.

The work has changed a lot since she said she “used to drive to Gambit’s offices holding wet photos out of the window!” Yet, the digital format is “made for her” she says.

Out To Lunch

 

 

In Memoriam: Scotty Cathcart Hill (1947-2018)

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In Memoriam: Scotty Cathcart Hill (1947-2018)

A lot of people don’t realize that Scotty was an individual that made it possible for everybody to play on the streets,” says trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who began performing with Hill around 1975. “His band was the first band out on the streets of New Orleans,” Stafford continues, as he remembers what a struggle it was for Hill to stand up against complaints from shop owners and harassment by the police to keep his group playing outdoors in the French Quarter. “Many a time we had to go to court, we were issued a summons, arrested and went to jail.”

Hill’s French Market Jazz Band’s spot was on the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets and, according to Stafford, most of the musicians who worked regular gigs on Bourbon Street in the early 1980s would join the group on their days off. “We were making more money in two hours on the street than they’d make in six hours in a club. We were the only band on the street.”

Informal Workers Deserve a Voice – CityLab

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A collaboration between Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, finds that more inclusive approaches are crucial – and beneficial – as cities cannot become more equal or more economically productive if they exclude the vast majority of their workforce, especially the working poor.

What do these informal workers need to become more productive? Street vendors need public space in good locations to vend. Waste pickers need the right to bid for public procurement contracts to collect, sort and recycle waste. Home-based workers need equitable access to core public services. With these needs met, they can be even more productive and have greater security as they contribute to the city’s economy. In “Including the Excluded,” the authors examine innovative ways some cities have found to work with home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers that can be replicated around the globe.

Four key recommendations emerge from these examples of positive integration:

  1. Increase informal workers’ access to public services, public spaces and public procurement. To better harness and encourage economic growth, city governments and local officials should acknowledge the economic contribution informal workers make to the urban economy and reduce harassment and penalization. Cities should provide core public services to informal workers to make their workplaces more productive; grant regulated access to public space; and allow organizations of informal workers to compete for public procurement.
  2. Reform laws and regulations so they support informal workers. City governments and local officials should make it easier for the informal self-employed to register their businesses, as well as make taxation progressive and transparent, and assess what taxes and operating fees informal workers already pay. And they should extend benefits to workers in exchange for paying taxes.
  3. Include informal worker leaders in participatory policymaking and rule-setting processes. Cities should integrate informal economy activities into local economic development plans and urban land allocation plans. Informal settlements are often thriving industrial hubs and house many home-based businesses. Cities should also recognize and protect natural markets for vendors, and recognize that waste pickers contribute to cleaning streets, reclaiming recyclables and reducing carbon emissions.
  4. Support coalitions for change. All of the inclusive approaches highlighted in the paper were brought about by coalitions for change comprised of organizations of informal workers, supported by activist allies. Coalitions for change help monitor and highlight the situation on the ground, create awareness with the media, organize policy dialogues and provide technical assistance to advocacy campaigns.

https://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/towards-more-equal-city-including-the-excluded_1.pdf

Artist takes challenge to New Orleans ban on outdoor art sales to state Supreme Court 

This fight seems quite overdue as this ruling is clearly overly restrictive, encouraging bureaucrats to make cultural decisions like the one below, taken from the article.  His statement has nothing to do with regulating entrepreneurial activity reasonably and everything to do with defining art as only useful for tourists and making a living from selling art outdoors only available to those lucky enough to win a lottery for the few dozen spaces around the Square.

Louisiana Deputy Solicitor General Colin Clark said there was nothing unreasonable about funneling artists into a few areas in the French Quarter. The city has decided to maximize outdoor art sales in an area where tourists converge, he argued.

“If I were the mayor of Paris, it might make sense to say that artists have to sell art along the Seine, near the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower,” Clark said.

 

Artist takes challenge to New Orleans ban on outdoor art sales to state Supreme Court | Courts | theadvocate.com

Two Women

So I decided to get out of my apartment today after morning work and enjoy the sun. Making lots of stops, including to Ellen Macomber‘s new gallery location on Magazine (next to Mojo’s) and Melissa Martin’s Mosquito Supper Club on Dryades, now shared with Levee Baking Co and Seasoned, the gently used kitchenware shop. Ellen was busy painting one of her beautiful map windows, talking a blue streak as always, sharing her plans for hustling every angle she can so she can work at what she wants and her family can live well enough in New Orleans on New Orleans money. Just back from Mexico, tanned and full of ideas about how to get she and her family back there and back to Cuba. Of course, she took time out to curse me out for missing her last event. At the door, she shouts out, “Love your face!” and maybe called me a bitch too, a word probably used for a dozen different meanings by Ellen over the course of one day. Leaving Magazine still shaking my head over Ellen, I headed to Dryades to see if could find Melissa’s place. I have offered less support to Melissa, as I have yet to make to the Supper Club. I have no good excuse as I know Melissa’s food and her ability to create an entire evening around it. She was at the entrance, musing over something as I walked in, but greeted me warmly and showed me the space and we talked of her plans and introduced her colleagues. It’s hard to not compare these 2 Louisiana women: Ellen- raised in Abbeville and New Orleans, has such city energy, so outwardly tough and moving constantly, who only trusts wisdom that comes from experience. Melissa, the small Chauvin girl so often quiet when you are talking that you worry she has mentally left the conversation, but then she acknowledges and builds on something you say and you say, “YES. That’s exactly what I meant.” Melissa and I worked together at Market Umbrella (one of a few outstanding chefs to do so, along with Kristen Essig and Aaron Burgau) so I know her work ethic but also know how long and how many stops it has taken her to get to this place where she is doing the kind of food and the kind of presentation she has always dreamed of doing. I also know that for her, to be successful is only complete as part of a team, but also that she is not necessarily comfortable to be the head of that team. Conversely, Ellen fiercely guards her freedom in order to be able to adapt quickly which means her work time is most often just her in her studio. But that constant adaptation has allowed her to realize her ideas more fully and has also kept her work from being cliched which makes her a leader whether she likes it or not. (Which she doesn’t. She is visibly unnerved when I call her one.) Fascinating to see these 2 women (mothers too) working without any institutional support in their field, outnumbered by the men in their field who often get more coverage and the few plum jobs, without the ease of decent municipal infrastructure and yet determined to stay and triumph.

Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe – The New York Times

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Wonderful story about Wandergesellen, Germans who have finished their required training in any number of trades and are traveling to gather experience.

While on the road, journeymen are not supposed to pay for food or accommodations, and instead live by exchanging work for room and board. In warm weather, they sleep in parks and other public spaces. They generally carry only their tools, several changes of underwear, socks and a few shirts wrapped into small bundles that can be tied to their walking sticks — and that can also double as pillows.

The color of their jackets indicates their trade: Carpenters and roofers wear black, tailors maroon and gardeners deep hunter green

Traditionally, a journeyman was not allowed to travel or seek work within a 60-kilometer radius of his hometown — a guideline intended to encourage an exchange of ideas among those practicing any given trade. Today, it remains a way to ensure that the journeyman develops independence.