Probably my favorite Jazz concept - besides the "mouldy fig" of course - is the "hang".

The hang is an almost mystical term referring to the social experience created by the collaborative effort of people hanging out together. I like the idea that hanging out is a thing that we create together, a thing that is so real that its quality can actually be rated on an objective scale. That is to say, those of us who find ourselves encouraged to go places by Jazz people often find that their core rhetorical strategy consists of a qualitative evaluation of the social potential of the evening in the form of the following four words:

"It’s a good hang."

A good hang is something a truly hip person (not to be confused with a hipster* ) cannot pass up. By definition.

The other night, I had a good hang with scholar/activist/fellow-Connecticut-escapee Dr. Ruthie Gilmore, whom I had long admired but never actually met. She delivered a lecture entitled "Tossed Overboard: Katrina, Incarceration, & the Politics of Abandonment," which addressed the deep infrastructural relationships between the prison-industrial complex and the federal response to Katrina (which are many and significant). This was followed by a small-group discussion and reception, which was followed by Dr. Gilmore, her husband, a few other faculty and I going out for drinks.

I am a big proponent of the lecture/hang combo, to the degree that I actually feel unfulfilled now if I see someone lecture and don’t have the opportunity to chill with them afterwards. The problem is that I don’t usually have specific Q&A–type questions, but I always still want to explore some of the ideas that they were talking about. People seem to feel the same way when I lecture, too. So: the hang.

As with Jazz players, the hang really brings out the best qualities of intellectuals. You know that people already like and/or respect you otherwise you wouldn’t be there in the first place, so you can let your guard down and really get creative with your concepts in a supportive environment. It really is like BeBop, in that we’re taking the professional skills we developed in front of an audience and experimenting with them backstage just for each other. As with Jazz, much of the best academic work is not born in the library or the lab, but in the hang.

So Ruthie Gilmore is a good hang because she is intellectually brilliant, politically hardcore and just a pleasant person in general. Although, not to take anything away from her, but I’ve always felt that that combination is actually more common than most people realize. Somehow, many people are operating under the false impression that those three qualities are mutually exclusive: if you’re political, you can’t be pleasant; if you’re brilliant, you can’t be political and - more subtly - if you’re really smart, you must be an asshole (see Amadeus, Good Will Hunting, Silence of the Lambs, etc.).

Which I assume is why - despite being smarter and cooler than everyone I’ve seen on TV in the last five years put together - I never see Ruthie Gilmore on TV. After all, quiet as it’s kept, smart radicals are acceptable in certain circumstances, but only as long as they’re SCARY (see Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Emma Goldman, anarchists in general). And how can you be scared of someone named "Ruthie"? And if you’re not scared, you might relax, which is the first step towards engaging with her analysis and learning something. Which is a step towards doing something. And we can’t have that.

Anyway, brilliance, politics and interpersonal coolness were all very much in evidence from all quarters. Good hang.

*I located this Washington Post article – which turns out to be misinformed in several significant ways – by typing the phrase "kill whitey" into Google, which, I am a little ashamed to admit, felt great.