Saundra Quarterman

Saundra Quarterman was the only Black, woman, professionally-trained artist that would talk to me freely about her work and her process. I now recognize this as extremely precious and unusual because I am older now and have experienced many Black women artists—and, inside many feminist histories, one should be surprised about how “careful” (not intimidated) these people were to withhold.

Perhaps Saundra was so open to me (metaphysically) because we met when we were teenagers. Nevertheless, I assume that Saundra respected me—and she respected dearly her heritage. It is a tragedy—for the both of us—that Saundra is so unique.

1990s SQ and BW

As an actor, Saundra could have exposed a powerful revival of Nina Simone to a new generation, get the voice-acting baton passed to her from James Earl Jones in a future Star Wars movie, carried an entire franchise by replacing Leslie Jones in the latest Ghost Busters installment and start work on her epic biopic on Ida B. Wells—the world would be eagerly anticipating Saundra Quarterman.

And what is deeper is knowing that Zoe Saldana, Lupita Nyong’o and Leslie Jones would want to be Saundra’s close friend—in spite of being outclassed—because of a strange mixture of girl-like admiration and professional jealousy. As a very zealous and devout Christian, Saundra would try to reciprocate—and my guess is that only Leslie Jones would be tolerated the longest—because Saundra is a reclusive ingenious artist and few folks (even self-described Black folks) will be prepared for her ‘seasons.’

I met Saundra Quarterman in Baltimore at the NAACP ACT-SO competition in the late 1980s—just before she was off to a full scholarship at Juilliard School. I was in Baltimore as a poet—and she was there as the best young actress any of us had ever seen. She lost the competition to a boy—because, I assert to this day, they wanted to ‘encourage’ the boy. Her career, therefore, started as she self-ended it: she was not the political preference of the moment—and she is the kind of fiery and prophetic person that does not tolerate the Roman politics for too long.

Since Saundra has been so reclusive. I have already written too much about her here in public. To dial it down a bit, here are some highlights:

  • Saundra taught me to think of the words spoken from the script as notes in a music chart.
  • Saundra taught me that there is a theatrical place to go after Shakespeare: Anton Chekhov.
  • Saundra is a badass chess player and a lifelong dog lover.
  • Saundra loves to watch again and again Cate Blanchett for her “mathematical” finery.
  • Saundra notes that Meryl Streep’s ferocious power began to wane after she had that baby…
  • Saundra told me that all that great acting in The Deer Hunter was helped with a lot of booze—a lot of booze.
  • My 20-year career as a “computer guy” started with me working as Ms. Quarterman’s assistant in the early 1990s.

I planned, by the way, to work with Saundra for the rest of my life. She’s one of a kind.

1990s SQ and BW during Shak’n

the rasx() way with words: the difference between listening and hearing

Listening is for subordinates and hearing is for human consciousness. Since you probably know that a Black guy is writing this, let’s start with William Shakespeare, his Othello Act 2, Scene 1:

William Shakespeare, his Othello Act 2, Scene 1

We can see that list me translates into listen to me. What this is saying is, “Hey! Get ready for a list of items I am going to dump into your memory! I fully expect to get these items back from you, fully processed, at a later time!” Now, in my pre-millennial Black world, children were trained to listen by memorizing a list of items they must get at the local grocery store for their mother (who would likely beat the child for forgetting anything). Do you notice a trend here? Listening is shit out of slavery! It is a weapon of warfare! To put it in more millennial terms, the invocation of listening is imperative.

There are all kinds of people who do not listen to other people. In my experience, it is the dread of the cognitive load that stops people from even starting to listen to me. In fact, I notice I often teach people to be averse to the sound of my voice because it means work! Simultaneously, almost every “love of my life” has exclaimed something about me “never” listening to them. In my experience, it seems more natural, casual and perceptual to hear people. I often hear a person by listening to them once (but I’ve failed to continually and ritualistically communicate that this single event actually happened).

Here, in the rasx() context, hearing is declarative. I always hear other people—I often do not listen to them. Hearing is part of the process of constructing a ‘conceptual model’ of another person. I do agree that another person may be “unknowable” but this does not mean they cannot be modelled. Racial stereotyping is the worst kind of conceptual modelling—I would prefer to build a model and share it (declare it) with the other consenting person. One would assume that the consenting person must be an adult but I’ve done this sort of thing with children.

My models of children are simple. Children have always been what the documentary (or reality TV show) camera is now: little, playful observers, absorbing things to be processed (often through play) later. So, before they open their mouth to speak, I am ready to hear them within a conceptual model related to this playful absorption. Within my modelling, children hold the promise (or threat) of taking all of this stuff they absorbed over the years and using it (vigorously) for constructive/destructive purposes. These models ‘control’ how I approach children. In the context of listening, the need for control mostly lies with the person being approached with the list—the onus is on them to carefully remember details.

So it is understandable that a listening-biased person (which should be almost everyone in Western/imperial society) would assume that “bad listeners” are careless—they don’t care about you. This could be mostly true but it may be a great and wise thing to check for whether this “careless” person hears you—especially when this person is not doing work for hire.

Related Links

The Missing Persons in the Conversation

About the cover photography of my first chapbook…

My mother took the photo on the cover on my first chapbook, the adolescence of the cool. And the first person who would not consider my mother a photographer would be my darkroom-building father. In that sense, the photo is an anti-photograph for anti-book cover. From a professional book marketing perspective, the cover I designed for my chapbook is a bricks-and-mortar retail disaster.

second printing of the adolescence of the cool

The first problem is the dark-colored “nothingness” that is the top third of the book. There is no author name, no title, no arresting image. It is doomed to sit on the shelves overlooked. This is exactly what I want to communicate because—for most of my relatively-incredible, Black-American life—I have been that overlooked dark color just sitting there (and I am talking about everyday interactions with everyday people). I do not make this statement for pity or sympathy because I can tell you from Blues-experience there is none.

What my father would find very, very difficult to do (because he is so formal, professional and technical) is capture a real, slice-of-life moment. What my mother did with ease in the photo is capture a moment in my life from my youth that even I would forget about were it not for her motherly intrusiveness.

I am sitting in the back of her 1979 Ford Fairmont. She is about to give me this car. But for one last time I am sitting in the backseat like her sheltered, cherished child (—I learned later that such a child is enviously hated by most women raised not-so-sheltered and not-so cherished by their mother). She captures an expression on my face that I have never seen before but I know well how I feel when I have it. I was feeling at least three things simultaneously.

I was slightly irritated that my mother is yet again turning on me with a camera to take a picture of her precious child. But because I was raised in the Old School of Black motherhood I cannot openly disrespect my mother so I am suppressing that young-man impulse. At the age of 16 I started meditating in what I assumed was the Paramahansa Yogananda style of self realization (my mother was not going to let me hang out with a “cult” so I just read his book in complete isolation). So by the time that photo was taken, 21 or 22, I was relatively connected with what is called in English a “spiritual” part of myself.

But I knew my connection was not traditionally Black American. I was always an outsider. I was both rebellious and embracing of my family’s relationship with Christianity—just like my mother actually. Her photo also captured a sense of self-pity (my chapbook documents this in the ‘self-pity portraits’). My mother turned on me to take the photo like some great moment was taking place. But I felt quite insignificant, staring off into a void just south of Bliss.

Now that I am over two decades older than when that photo was taken (with children of my own) I now understand that my mother was taking a picture of a great moment—a great moment for herself well deserved. Although penniless, her youngest son was a college graduate. He has done everything that was asked of him—never gave her that much trouble—and the LAPD had not molested let alone murdered him. This young man represents years upon years of investment, nurturing and development. He is a product of a Black community that crumbled around him in fragments of crack cocaine. Yes, he is the heir of very impressive, formidable Black men but without the womanhood and the motherhood he would be nothing. That innocent and pure look on his face (that I found out later can be quite despised by some of my sisters in spite of their “wishes” to better people) is genuine—and it was mother that made it so.

Amazon.com product

So my rebellious book cover for the adolescence of the cool is a Blues cover. How many other Black women groomed young men so excellently only to have them overlooked, obscure—some dark cover on some lonesome shelf without a voice? (Again, I am not talking about being overlooked by the Hollywood-fame world; I am talking about that social space that some mistakenly call “community” and mislabel as “intimacy.”) This mother’s photograph sits at the bottom of the dark space of the cover and the photograph itself is “her baby”, sitting alone in the backseat of a car with the pitch black of the windows, dotted with only hints of light. It is a typical, fractal African expression: bottom-ness sitting within bottom-ness.

So what does Miles Davis have to do with this? Well, Miles put this Blues thang out called Birth of the Cool. My “arrogant” optimism said my development as a “spiritual” person and as—what we call in English—an artist represented the adolescence of the cool. A collection of poetry from my 20s is really a summary of my adolescence when we get African-conservative about humans in time. So the title of my collection and that bottom-position on the cover of the title itself—in that playful typeface—represents the optimism that is strangely imbued in much of the Blues. (And, by the way, it is because of Amiri Baraka, his Black Arts Movement, that I am so able to freely mix Blues and poetry.)

That playful typeface, by the way (again), reminds me of how my mother used to label Tupperware in the kitchen with a magic marker (my mother’s handwriting was way, way better than what’s expressed in the typeface—so this font is more like me trying to label things with my mother marker). Her handwriting was so energetic, happy and optimistic.

Oh yeah: in typical Bryan fashion, I overlooked the obvious: everything I worked on in school, every formal project I completed as a “gifted” child was first reviewed by my mother. So the Blues here is that because my mother now suffers from dementia she will never be able to review this collection of poetry. I was too busy trying to be an adult while the poems were being written to share them with my mother. And now it’s too late.

Songhay Studio: second printing of “the adolescence of the cool,” my chapbook, will be based on open source software

The folks at CafePress.com stopped offering print-on-demand services for books in or shortly after the fall of 2013. It is possible that I was notified that change was taken place but it has come to me (a few days ago) as a surprise.

My only CafePress.com title, “the adolescence of the cool,” was designed in Adobe InDesign 2.0 on virtual machine I built to support my ‘legacy’ investments in Adobe/Macromedia software. To make my life even more interesting, this virtual machine is effectively lost on a corrupted Western Digital Passport drive.

the adolescence of the cool in Scribus on Ubuntu

So, I could build another virtual machine and live in the past or I could bite the bullet (again) and invest in a possible future (that is rapidly shrinking for me). This future is open source software (and hardware). I have decided to use Scribus (which is crappy, compared to InDesign 2.0, but more than enough for a little chapbook)—for the second printing. My screenshot of Scribus on my Ubuntu virtual machine looks damn near glamorous in a 1990s desktop publishing sort of way. Scribus is just about as decent as my last copy of Corel Draw! (in terms of desktop publishing features)—and you not knowing what Corel Draw! Is reveals just how old and how long I’ve been doing this… whatever this is…

Here’s a few Scribus bullets just in case a search engine finds them:

  • My number-one gripe with Scribus is its failure to remember child-window/palette positions. The GIMP excels at this—another open source tool, by the way.
  • Scribus should continue to be a front end for PDF generation—to meet and exceed Adobe Acrobat.
  • For some reason Scribus will make copies of my styles—I still cannot figure out how it’s doing this.
  • Scribus should not bother with competing with Adobe InDesign until it can match Aldus PageMaker—especially in the user experience around flowing text.

There are around 20 people on earth who have the first printing of this book. These people definitely do not know it, but they possess a potential collector’s item! In typical, flaky, artsy/emotional chaos, I cannot find any copies of the first printing for my private collection!

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