18 · Jun · 2002

What Sticks


A few weeks back I met with a local producer/ businessman here in Birmingham to ask his thoughts on a couple of projects I was fondling in my brain. There was Veritas, the Romanian humanitarian aid organisation I have been involved in since 1995. There was AIDS Alabama, the non-profit where I am currently employed. And then there was PAUSE, a Texas sized idea that seems truly inspired and involves art, music, film, money and a message of peace.
I threw them all out there and as he listened...

I looked for signs of interest, as all ambitious people do. As he put it - I was seeing what sticks. It was a nice conversation, albeit a busy one. My new friend was polite, engaging and honest, just as I expected he'd be.
But as I made my way to my car, I couldn't help but feel as if I'd just tap danced a poorly choreographed routine while juggling bowling pins and singing the halleluiah chorus. See, I only have a half talent for one of these and it's not juggling. It made me think of some advice I had been given by my parents. "Whatever line of work you would do for free, do that and you'll be happy."

Since that conversation, I have been trying to simplify. Instead of trying to be the writer, photographer, HIV educator, arts advocate, Eastern European spokesperson, poet, investor, social party girl who runs, does yoga, reads the NY Times, knows the Top 40 Pop chart, but listens to indie bands, gets everybody home safe looks hot even on Monday.... I'm attempting to give myself a break. Let's face it. It's the old problem - In trying to do everything, I am not doing anything particularly well.

This is a drawback for people who have many interests. Call us well rounded. Call us experienced. But don't call us on our cell phone at 6 am and expect to talk long. We are busy trying to save and inspire the world. We want to be little gods. All things to all people. Now, just who is going to recognize these half waking moments of clarity in my life, I have not yet figured out. I have been focusing in throwing all myself out there. I am just now checking out what sticks.

There is a time for persistence. And there is a time to take inventory of what is actually happening.

The following poem is about a guy I met who could use a career counselor and a little talk with my dad.

dear cowboy with rhinestone hat

you would think authorities would be called
but no
they let you out the door
singing your songs about death and life and jack daniels
comparing yourself to ee cummings

you're not even related

i spoke to god the other day
ran into him at the cinema
when asked about you
he laughed
"what do you care?" he asked
i knew he was right

and the girl who made my latte
tossed the word "desperate" into the air
like a feather
that could shut your whole engine down

so i am giving you this pen
as a symbol
a reminder
and a request

no one cares what bukowski looks like
he damn sure can't carry a tune
and you can bet he never tried to be one.

penny rené

Posted by Penny Rene at 04:32 PM

5 · Jun · 2002

God less America

I passed a business marquee the other day on my way to work that read "God less America." Of course the B had blown off, but it struck me as a peculiar irony at a time in my life when I am consistently amazed by the determination of people trying to solve major problems such as illness, loneliness, greed and prejudice without mention of the only long term solution to these issues - God.

Before you stop reading, fearing I'll bore you with a fire and brimstone speech about Jesus Christ, his misfit 12 disciples and their mascot, the Holy Ghost; remember I'm not exactly a faithful church attendee.

You won't hear me lecturing about the "appearances of evil" as I rather like to think of it as an art form.
However, I do strongly hold one traditional belief. You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been. And this begs the eternal question. In the words of Devo "How did I get here?"

The quality that gives us the gall to call ourselves intelligent is our supposed ability to remember, and hopefully appreciate, the past because it provides us with a sense of identity and helps us reason what our next move should be. In elementary terms, would who/where you are now (Point B), matter at all if you did not know you used to be at Point A? And if you didn't know about Point A & B, would you care that there is a Point C down the road?

A good example of what I'm talking about can be seen in Americas poor. Poverty, crime and lack of education are evil sisters joined at the hip. For decades American leaders have been saying that the key to pulling people out of poverty is education. I agree. But there's more to education than college. I venture to say there are a few million MIT graduates who lead pointless, depressing lives.

Education used to have other components besides how to earn a buck and become famous. We bragged about the bravery of our forefathers, recognizing that religious leaders were among them. Ministers and Priests and Reverends used to be sought after professions. I don't have to tell you why they aren't widely respected jobs now. Our motivation behind good deeds was more because of our love for God and less about our desire to be recognized. We used to make decisions after hours of prayer and consultation with spiritual mentors. And nobody was ashamed to say "God" in his political campaign.

One of my nieces told me a few years ago that her junior high was trying to prohibit her from wearing a cross necklace because some students find it offensive. Who are these people? I've never met them. And since when do we let the smaller number of people win in a democratic country?

Winston Churchill said " However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." Perhaps it's time for America to examine the pitfalls and benefits of leaving behind our original idea of happiness: Freedom of religion. This term applied to those who do want to pray in school as well as those who don't.

Is it possible that we have forgotten who we are and where we came from? Or perhaps we know it all too well and are ashamed. But are we better for this change, in these days when all the young people who witnessed 9/11 on live TV are demanding a deeper meaning behind our existence?

I was lucky that a friend in grade school filled my head with nightmares about Jesus sending me to hell. It prompted me, to ask my mother who Jesus is. If I didn't have that conversation with my mother, I'm sure I would've meandered through life, getting angrier every birthday that didn't draw me closer to riches and fame. As it is, I screwed up as often, but at least knew there is a God, much more intelligent than I who loves me endlessly. This bit of information is unarguably the most important thing I ever learned. It is the basis for the creation of our nation, and very possibly, it's the key to our future.

How I wish it were required knowledge for every university graduate.

Posted by Penny Rene at 09:52 AM | TrackBack