1. to excel or be conspicuous; to distinguish oneself in an activity or a field
2. to give forth or glow with light; to emit, shed or cast light.
3. to be bright with reflected light; glisten; sparkle; glint.
4. to appear brightly or strongly, esp. uncomfortably so
5. to be or appear unusually animated or bright, as the eyes or face.
6. to appear with brightness or clearness, as feelings.
7. slang: disparaging and offensive. a black person.
This project just got a little crazier.
I had a little run in with the SF fire department last night. Fine men they were. Quick, and thorough.
After writing, and reading, and sketching for most of the day, I decided I was ready to get my hands dirty. It was time to give the burnt cork paste a second try.
I’ve been using this little stainless steel bowl and mixing in accelerant (rubbing alcohol) until the cork burns to ashes, which takes a lot longer than you would imagine. Corks expand like crazy when you burn them and it takes ages for the flames to penetrate all the way down to the middle. This was my problem with the first batch. The ashes weren’t really ashes. I ended up with blackened pieces of cork bit. Not effective for paste making.
Last night was going to be different. I planned on burning the shit out of one cork. I didn’t care how much alcohol it took or how long I had to stay up. I’d been working on one for about ten minutes on the balcony that faces the street, and other houses. I saw a few people walking around, some folks in the house across the street seemed to be enjoying a late night dinner. Nothing much going on. I put on Window Seat, while I watched the cork burn through the glass balcony door. Does this song have sirens in it? I stepped onto the balcony and watched as a fire truck turned rounded the corner of my street. I naively thought, “they’re not coming here, right?” The first truck passed my apartment as I exhaled.
Then came the second, and the third. And the little fire SUV. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. I went out to the balcony and yelled at the hoard of civil servants gathering below, “Hey, what’s up?!” “What are you doing up there?” they asked. “Funny story,” I responded, “burning corks.” “Can you put that out?” said the one of them. I did as I was told and put out the tiny flame with no more than 4 oz of tap water. Shit. Another batch ruined!
Three firefighters followed me into the apartment, and surveyed the scene.
ME: I’m working on this project, did you know that they used to make blackface makeup out of burnt corks?
FIREFIGHTER 1: Blackface for hunting?
ME: No, blackface for minstrel shows.
FIREFIGHTER 1: Oh.
MARK (neighbor): What are you doing up there!!
ME: (Ignoring Mark) Yeah, they would burn cork into ash and then make it into a paste. So I’m doing that, but I’m just going to paint with it.
MARK: Our landlord is not going to be happy about this!
ME: (nervously, as I’m technically not a tenant yet) I’ve been using alcohol as an accelerant.
Other two firefighters are doing god knows what, one is screaming “corks” through his walkie-talkie.
FIREFIGHTER 1: (taking my DIY kiln in hand) Well next time make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy, in case any accelerant spills.
FIREFIGHTER 1: It’s not a big deal, just do it during the day so your neighbors don’t freak out.
ME: Ok. Sorry guys.
FIREFIGHTERS: No problem!
I think I finally made some new friends, folks!
I tell people all the time that wearing the six items of clothing will be the easy part, getting my head around the historical and cultural implications of what I’m doing has been incredibly challenging. And making blackface paste has been even harder!
It’s not up to me to figure out what this project is going to do, or how it will affect people, cause really, those things are neither guaranteed or predictable. Obviously. So far I’ve managed to freak out the whole neighborhood. Shit. I hope I don’t get exiled from the Castro. At least the Mission is close by. I could easily live in a homeless shelter.
I will take Mos Def’s advice and try my best to “shine my light on the world,” because words have multiple meanings, because people see what they want to, because not everyone asks questions, because some people assume the worst, because others assume the best, because there is only so much I can control, because there is always some lightness in the dark and always some darkness in the light, because I want to challenge myself, and most of all, because I want everyone to sparkle.