Category Archives: Creative Space


Loving the Diversity

With one eye toward my next book, I wanted to take some time to look back on how far I’ve come as an author. Here is the first essay I had published; it was adopted from a research paper for a graduate course I took many years ago. For authenticity’s sake, I kept this piece exactly as it was all those years ago – worts and all. Peace

Our society would have us believe that interracial relationships are becoming more accepted. The racial landscape of America has changed drastically within the past forty years – the Civil Rights Movement helped repudiate laws and overt practices which barred Blacks from receiving rights and being treated equal to Whites; the Women’s Movement overturned laws and social practices which hindered women from making choices regarding their physical appearances, termination of pregnancies, and display of sexualities. Yet, interracial relationships are still taboo. The following are obstacles are inevitable for interracial couples. Overcoming these obstacles, however, will require moving beyond historical racial conflicts and unlearning the lessons on race relations that society continues to erroneously teach. And though our society discourages us from dating outside of our race, the benefits of engaging in interracial relationships have proved to be profound.

One of the first factors to consider when engaging in an interracial relationship are those persons – both strangers and loved ones – who are adamant about showing their disapproval for your partner. For multiple reasons, whether it’s ignorance or the historical conflict of the races, there will be people who will frown upon your choice of dating someone of a racial background different than your own. They will grit their teeth and turn up their noses, give your partner cold stares and scowl when the two of you hold hands, and will practically ignore you whenever you bring your significant other in their midst – treating your partner as if he or she is nonexistent. Such behavior may be expected from strangers. But, your friends and family members may also act so disgustingly. And thus, be especially sensitive when lover complains that one of your friends or family members made a rude comment or scowled their way. Comfort your lover. Promise your lover you will confront the person who has offended him or her, and do so. Do not be afraid to hold friends and family members accountable for their actions. Inviting that friend or relative out to dinner with your partner may seem like a novel idea. But that encounter may end in disaster, with your mate offended and angry, and your friend or relative reaffirming his or her bigoted thoughts. On the same note, offering explanations about whom you chose to date is inconsequential. If your brother truly loves you, he will also love the person you bring home. Depending on your parents’ upbringing and social circle, bringing your mate home to meet your parents for the first time can be a grueling task or a pleasant encounter.

It is also imperative to be conscious of social scenes at the early stages of your interracial relationship. Your lover could end up being the minority in a particular setting, and before you are aware, stares and comments will already have ensued. If your lover begins to feel shunned and left out of conversations, he or she may grow resentful; deducing your actions – which may suggest, unbeknownst to you, contentment with the biased behaviors – as wanting to act as a couple when the two of you are alone; that is, in social scenes you prefer not be “seen” with him or her. To avoid such confusion, properly introduce your partner as such, and fear not demonstrating the public displays of affection the two of you have agreed upon. Include your partner in conversations you are having and try not to leave your mate alone with people s/he are unfamiliar with for long periods of time. Your partner will find comfort knowing you have no reservations about your relationship.

Another lesson to be learned is to cherish the diversity of your partner’s heritage rather than spitefully complaining about the difference between your cultures. The first time you bring your partner home for Thanksgiving, for instance, he or she may be confused to find there are no collard greens, sweet corn bread, or homemade gravy. But just as families of different religious affiliations celebrate holidays uniquely, so too do families of different racial backgrounds. Embedded within each racial group are ethnicities that have cultures and identities all their own – including a distinct cuisine, music, and other characteristics which that group contribute to our society. Germans eat candy out of their shoes on Christmas Eve. A little eccentric you may think at first, but that is exactly what makes our society so wonderful.

Should you feel unable to fully grasp the nuances of your partner’s heritage, try to make a conscious effort to educate yourself about those nuances. Consider reading books by authors who are of the same racial background as your mate, then discuss the readings with your lover. Not only will you and your partner surface upon spiritual elation, but also the barriers of communication will come crumbling down more easily.

Interracial couples may need to work more arduous to break communication barriers than intraracial couples. When communicating with someone from our own racial group, we take for granted therein lies a similar vernacular. Thus, not inquiring about your partner’s true intentions when confused will become frustrating when you’re stuck trying to decipher your partner’s phrases instead of spending quality time together. That which is “All set” to some is “Straight” to others. Italian-Americans know that gravy is not the brown lumpy stuff that goes on turkey; it is the red sauce that goes on pasta. As with any relationship, listen to your partner, rather than just hearing the words flow from their mouths; and when confused, ask questions.

It takes a great deal of patience to remain happy in an interracial relationship. Be patient with your partner, and especially with yourself. When people engage in interracial relationships for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to be anxious – for example, showing their partner affection in public. Try not to be discouraged if initially your boyfriend does not seem to want to hold hands when walking through the mall. Rather, open the doors of communication, and speak with your lover to find out if either of you are intimidated by showing affection publicly.

Another immanent issue in interracial relationships is trust. If the relationship is to thrive, both partners should make conscious efforts to trust their partner enough to take risks. Your lover may offer you a dish that you have never heard of, never mind tasted, like chitlings. Try not to be put off by the aroma. If you trust your partner – and why would you engage in a relationship with someone if you do not trust them – you should trust him or her enough to experience something which may have seemed foreign to you previously. One of the primary benefits to being in an interracial relationship is the opportunity to learn about another culture. Embrace the offers made by your partner. Have a few slices of proscuitto or go to that Alanis Morissette concert. You may just enjoy yourself.

As with any relationship, follow your heart. If you are indulging yourself in an interracial relationship because you are curious about having sex with the other person, do not expect much romance to blossom. An interracial relationship is an excellent opportunity to learn about another culture, and at the same time find someone who may complete you.

All in all, engaging in interracial relationships can be a vast learning experience, especially more so than intraracial relationships. As a result, interracial relationships have the potential to stay fresh longer because the partners are constantly learning – not only about the person whom they are dating, but also about their family traditions and ethnic customs. Furthermore, when involved in an interracial relationship, you will not only be subjecting yourself to the unfortunate prejudices from opposing racial groups, but also to prejudices from your own racial group – which is, sadly enough, where you will truly experience just how close-minded others are.

Interracial couples also bring the world one step closer to acceptance, understanding, appreciation, and embracing of cultures other than those that dominate our society. Not everyone can engage in interracial relationships, however. For then, we would lose our individually rich heritages.

When you finally find love and he or she happens to be of a racial background different than your own, you would be quite foolish to turn away that person just because their skin color different than yours – a practice our parents instilled in us when our society was far less Civil.

Bane of an Existence

Here is a piece that I had started right after graduating from college, hoping to tap into the darkness with which Edgar Allen Poe wrote.


Bane of an Existence

I will forever remember this night all the days of my existence; it will forever be cemented within my memory as the day in which I lost all that I love – for I no longer love myself after this disastrous deed.

Somewhere buried under all the knowledge we think we have obtained, the wisdom we think we possess, and the experiences we think we are grateful to have, lie disastrous deeds, unfortunate incidents, and grotesque images that we only wish we can forget about.

I was only to blame. And yet blame was the one descriptor that no one, not even officers of the law, dared associate with me.

Whenever I was overcome with sadness, I frequented the priest who presided over the parish I attended during my adolescent years. Yet, he did absolutely no good in helping me to reveal my inner-most thoughts. I became lethargic, confused, and sullen. And while I do not entirely remember the happenings of that night, I do remember particular events, either because they have been embedded within my memory from their intensity or simply because my drunken stupor will only allow me to recall these specific events. It is my sister, however, who has pieced together the incidents I could not and made them as clear as a morning’s day.

On this horrific day, my sister recalls haven spoken to me on my cellular phone after I left my place of work, and after speaking with some of my co-workers, she uncovered how I had been sitting in a bar for quite some time, when an acquaintance, whom she will call Tyson, began trying to cajole me, with incessant chants, to accompany him into becoming nothing more than a grotesquely inebriated monstrosity: “You won’t do it! (clap, clap, clap clap clap)…You won’t do it (clap, clap, clap clap clap),” I can still hear him shouting, with nearly all of the other patrons in the tavern joining in, as the bartender poured a shot of Banana Schnapps (100 proof alcohol) in front of me.  Before the bartender could change the bills which Tyson handed him for the drink, I had picked up the miniature glass, and chugged, not sipped!, the alcohol until the other drunkards congratulated me with a round of applause. Somehow I impressed Tyson by finishing the shot more quickly than he had envisioned, though I am told I only sipped the liquor, that he ordered two additional shots as the bartender was exchanging moneys with the cash register. The bawled up expression the Banana Schnapps left upon my face was an indication of my tongue’s utter disgust, my stomach’s anger, and the burn raging within my chest.

As the bartender poured the next two shots, I began shaking my head in refusal, seeking solace from the burn. “Chase it with this,” Tyson suggested, sliding his beer in front of me.  “C’mon, Ed!  Stop looking at it and drink the fuckin’ thing,” he yelled something to the effect. Indeed, I do recall how the alcohol seemed to send me into a daze; my actions were beginning to feel mechanical and I felt no longer in control. Tyson began chanting again, triggering additional voices, and together they blasted away any chance of reason, second thoughts, or denial. Unable to further resist the compelling forces, the bartender informed my sister how I picked one of up the miniature glasses and threw the alcohol inside my mouth, swallowing almost with ease. And before I could place the glass back onto the bar, there were more incessant screams and the regulars began to pat me on the back; I vividly recall their hands slamming upon my shoulders as if I were being chastising rather than congratulated. Tyson yelled and handed me the next miniature glass and I quickly gulped down that shot and again the incessant chants arose.

And I will be the first to admit that the wrongdoing on my part began at that moment, in that bar, when I refused the alcohol being poured in front my person. I do remember, albeit vaguely, Tyson’s antics being so dreadfully annoying that I wanted do whatever it would have taken to subside his chants. And it is that same lack of conscious control that has now led me to repudiate physical pain, thus my fingernails being bitten off almost completely, the section of my scalp which bares no hair, and the broken bones in both my hands. I will admit that I am not the same sane and conscious fellow I once was because of the deed of which I am speaking.

After the three fiery gulps of alcohol I could stand no more. And as I rose to my feet, the bartender did attest, I found out that I could also stand no more. But, he informed my sister how I stumbled my way out of the door, with no goodbyes or thank yous; for how could I thank those heathens for helping me to inebriate myself when I only wanted a refuge from the maddening occurrences of my household – my daughter, in her third year, was running amuck, and my wife, could hardly restrain the adolescent girl; but to my wife’s credit, she had been pregnant with our second child and was expected to deliver any day. But the chants at the bar did not penetrate nearly as deep as did the frantic behavior by both women: I could no longer stand the wining, “Mommy, I can’t tie my shoe again,” my daughter would sing whenever she yearned for attention; “Oh Ed, I can’t bend down to pick up Maggie’s shoes,” my wife would call out. I could no longer take the tantrums of my daughter, running over my bare feet; I had worked laying brick and my work boots always left my feet swollen until the next morning. She’d barely escape her mother’s outstretched arm, but the scolding was inescapable, at least for me, as she fled with tears in her eyes and another cookie in her hands. And I could no longer deal with my wife, pregnant and all, asking me to help her out of the bathtub, out of bed, out of a chair, out of anything she could get herself into. That being said, will you concur that I was not mad at the time, but simply overstressed?

It seemed that each day of the week I am speaking, my wife and I rushed to the hospital, and each time we were informed that her prenatal pains were a false alarm. And on this particular day of which I am speaking, I remember hoping that her prenatal pains would not ensue until I arrived home for the night. My sister somehow traced the calls of my cellular phone and uncovered that I received a call from my home number, where she only assumes that just as I stumbled into my car, my wife alerted me that her pains were beginning again and that I should meet her at the hospital.

How I managed to insert the key into the ignition and drive the car in the direction of the hospital is beyond my comprehension. I can attest that while I was on the road the cars in the opposing lanes all seemed to be darting towards me, as if we were transfixed in a demolition match. I must have grown annoyed at the passing automobiles, for I recall incessant honks of my horn. It is possible that I veered both left and right in hopes of avoiding the on-comers, but I somehow swerved away from one vehicle, and another steered right into me!

I never lost consciousness, though I always wish I had; for I know the memory of the accident is the Lord’s punishment for my tortured soul. And at this point, I am afforded, or cursed with, my full memory of the proceeding events:

My eyes were closed and when I reopened them, smoke filled the air and a large white pillowy-sac-like object was in my forefront. At this point, the inebriated dizziness I felt only seconds beforehand had vanished and a new dizziness had overtaken my senses. My head and shoulders were resting upon the driver side door, which had detached from the car’s body and was lying on the ground. My lower back and hips were upon the driver’s seat, barely, and my feet hung still in the air. I snaked my lower appendages onto the ground and pushed myself onto my hands and knees, for I had not enough strength to completely rise to my feet; the glass that shattered upon the ground burrowed into the palms of my hands and into my knees as well. I crawled towards the vehicle I’d collided with; it looked as if my own. The crash was so intense that I was thrown from my car and into and out of the other, I began to think. I felt alive but thought of myself as deceased. I was a rejected soul trapped in purgatory!

I soon heard sirens blaring and lights flashing. Blood had been smeared all across the windshield of my car. Incomprehensible voices began to penetrate the air and they prompted me to halt. I was not dead! I was immediately carted off to the hospital where, during my overnight stay, I learned that there were three passengers in the other vehicle involved in the collision, and all had died.

I did not sleep much that night, as I lay awake worrying what explanation I would offer to my wife. I was so dazed from the accident that I could hardly discern any one voice from another. Soon after the stitches were sewn into my neck, back, and shoulders and staples placed into my scalp, I received visitation from the doctor who had performed the bloody tasks asking if I had a next of kin to notify. I spoke the name of my wife and my home telephone number and moments later was told she was on the phone. I lifted the receiver to my ear, when before I could complete the greeting of “Hello,” I heard screams of joy. She informed me that she would be in to see me immediately. Hours passed, and I found both refuge and recuperation in sleep. Upon my awakening, I found my sister sitting in a chair beside to me. She grabbed my hand and kissed it and tears began to run down her face. She delivered to me the most astonishing and disastrous news I do ever remember hearing, or reading, or receiving in any medium for that matter.

When the doctor called my home and asked for Mrs. Johnston, she, my sister, answered in the affirmative, not realizing herself that she would be considered a Ms. Johnston seeing as though she has never married. My sister later helped me to piece together the incidents. With her help, I recalled how I drank myself into a great stupor. Somehow I found myself driving towards the hospital, which I later realized was in the direction opposite of which I had been traveling. But as I drove, I crashed my car into my own. My wife and daughter were the occupants and were on their way to the hospital, where my wife was to give birth to my second child, the third passenger. And the only reason my daughter was permitted to accompany her mother is because she hadn’t seen me all day and was throwing another tantrum and my wife hadn’t the strength to discipline one child when she was in labor with another. My sister was house-sitting, as she has done each time that week, until my wife and I were to return home from the hospital.

I killed my wife and two children! But, I could not be charged and tried and imprisoned for such offenses because the police officers did not check my blood-alcohol levels. Their primary purpose, at the time of the accident, was to check the victims into a hospital, where they could be seen by surgeons. They searched for my identification, and identification of my wife, and before long, realized we were married. And I only assume that the officers made the assumptions that both my wife and I had been driving along in my car, or the car in which my wife and children were driving, when we, rather they, were struck by an oncoming automobile; definitely plausible, since, upon the officer’s arrival, I had made my way towards the passenger door. I later realized how oblivious I had been in thinking I was thrown from one vehicle and into and out of another, as such a predicament is feasible certainly not. Without proof I had been driving drunk, besides my own confessions which I tried offering numerous times but was told since my memory did not permit me to recall each event of that night, my story would not be considered genuine or credible, I could not be tried for the crime.

Duly, I have become the bane of my own existence, thus, the countless attempts at taking my own life; and I am left in this white jacket with my arms strapped underneath.

An excerpt from the book I am current working on/editing:

SleepingGiantQ2

“I want to show you something,” Amanda said, leading Ashleigh inside the brick castle that resembled a dungeon. In and out of small entries, and climbing steps that felt as if they would give out at any minute, they walked to the top of the castle, until they finally spilled onto the roof.

Ashleigh gasped. The view was breathtaking. Row upon rows of trees stretched as far as she could see, yet they felt so close that she could almost touch them. The foliage was the most brilliant shades of canary yellow, pumpkin orange, forest green, and scarlet red that Ashleigh ever remembered seeing. The view was beyond stunning, it was surreal. A view that you could only find on a postcard, or in a Bob Ross painting. Nestled in the mountains, in a small New England town, a small part of Ashleigh began to heal as she allowed herself to feel lost in the beauty and charm of what would be her home over the next four years.

“After everything I’ve been through with your father,” Amanda whispered, as she stood next to her daughter, taking in the view of Quinnipiac. “I’m not going to tell you to not let this affect you, or tell you that time heals all wounds, or something bullshit like that.”

“Thanks mom,” Ashleigh said, leaning her head on her mother’s shoulder. She loved that her mother cursed. It showed that her mother was chill, and actually gave a shit, unlike most parents who were caught up in their image and what people think of them.

“But, I brought you up here today, Ash, because I found this on the Quinnipiac website, and thought you might like to see how beautiful this place is.” A single tear rolled down Amanda’s face. In a few months, Amanda knew she would be losing her pumpkin, her pride and joy, the only reason she left her abusive, ex-husband.

“I know you’re into landscapes and stuff like that,” Amanda continued. “So I thought you’d appreciate this view.”

“It’s fucking unbelievable,” Ashleigh whispered.

Amanda didn’t mind that her daughter cursed. For her, it was the one vice Ashleigh was allowed to have. Besides, she told herself. I can’t really get mad at her when I curse like a sailor. And sometimes, saying fuck makes everything feel better.

“I thought you’d like it,” Amanda added. “I also wanted you to see,” she continued. “That life can get better. I know it may not seem like it now. With everything that you’ve just went through, I know it may feel like life hates you. But it doesn’t,” she reassured her daughter. “I can’t tell you why this happened to you, all I can do is be there for you. And I’ll always be there.”

Ashleigh found a comfortable spot in her mother’s arms, and wept. Amanda kissed her daughter on the top of the head, the way she did when Ashleigh was a little girl.

“I just want you to know that I’m here for you,” Amanda said. “Day or night, whether I’m at work or,” she stopped, searching her mind for the most mundane task to complete her analogy. “Or I’m cleaning the bathroom. And you know how much I love cleaning the bathroom.”

They both giggled. Amanda’s aversion to cleaning the bathroom meant Ashleigh and Kevin were constantly on bathroom duty.

“I’m here for you pumpkin, whenever you need to call, I’m here for you. And I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but there is beauty in life, and you’re going to be attending the most beautiful school in the world.”

Ashleigh took out her cell phone, and snapped a picture of the view. Then she put her arm around her mother’s neck, and took a selfie.

“I don’t want you to let what happened to you, stop you from following your dreams and pursuing your goals,” Amanda said.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Ashleigh whispered.

“That’s right pumpkin,” Amanda said, giving her daughter another kiss.

“What if I said I wanted to study English,” Ashleigh asked. Part of her knew this wasn’t the right time to bring up her a change in career plans, the other part of her knew there would never be an opportune time.

“Then study English,” Amanda said. “Don’t think you have to study social work for me, and don’t think you have to study occupational therapy because you volunteered with grandma. I just want you to be happy, and if studying English makes you happy, study the hell out of it.”

Ashleigh laughed. It was surprising and reassuring to hear her mother’s approval.

“You can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” Amanda continued. “Don’t let some asshole stop you from following your dreams. Do so, in spite of him. In the words of my favorite movie,” Amanda said.

“Cause fuck him, that’s why,” they both said, and Amanda smiled.

An exercise on writing

Dug into my writing jar this morning, and found the word Expansion. Here’s a brief interpretation of Expansion, and what it could mean to one person.

Expansion, as in expanding one’s mind, one’s perspective, or one’s value system.

Theresa took stock of her current state. She could feel her hands and fingers intact. She could breathe – at least she felt as though she were breathing. She could open her eyes, and when she did, he was no longer there.

There in her apartment, in Hoboken, New Jersey. A floor above the guy she saw everyday on her morning run. An apartment shared with her college roommate, her best friend in the entire world. There in her apartment, she hoped she was alone; it was the first time she remembered ever feeling this way – wanting to be alone. Before he came along, she had always associated wanting to be alone with, well, loners – kids at her school she and her friends joked were socially awkward, or weirdos, what the hell is his problem.

It was a tough way for Theresa to learn about expansion. But now, underneath the covers in her bed, all alone in her apartment, wishing to God he had left, she had become one of those kids. Someone she knew someone else would say what the hell is her problem when she was in their midst.

After what he did to her, Theresa felt herself expand.

The Boogeyman

The shape, the mask, the music. Everything about the movie “Halloween”, used to scare the shit out of me. Back when I was a kid. Who saw shadows even in the darkness. Who heard noises and never knew that houses settled. Who ran from the boogeyman as soon as the lights went out, terrified that he might do to me what he did to them.

All grown up now, I no longer believe in the boogeyman. Not that boogeyman at least. Not the one that wheels a large kitchen knife or has an appetite for blood. No, this boogeyman is different.

I remember telling myself that work – a profession or even a career – was just an entity that helped earn an income. That it didn’t have any other value besides that. Until this past summer, when I began to feel him following me.

I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for a little over 5 months. It’s a never-ending job, really. One that cannot be quantified in the typical 9-5pm time frame…knows no boundaries (my daughter regularly bursts in the door when I am using the bathroom)…and does not allow you to take sick days or go on a break. Sure, it doesn’t produce income in the traditional sense; but it does produce years of nurturance and emotional connection. Priceless memories that I will cherish forever. Teaching my son how to swing from monkey bars. Basking in my daughter’s laughter as she chases bubbles.

And yet, because I have not been acquiring income in the traditional sense, I saw a silhouette of his figure behind every bush. Reminding me that I should be working.

Work. That entity that most of my employed friends tell me they wished they were doing differently. My best friend from college is a veterinarian but wishes he raced cars. Another friend in the corporate world longs for a career making and selling her own wine. Not exempt, in my previous job, I wanted to be an author and leadership trainer. All craving a different life. Or, at least, a different part of life. Even when we have it, we want something different. The boogeyman, feasting on our hopes and dreams, until they become the nightmares scaring us to death.

I try tell myself work shouldn’t define me this much, knowing it’s not the truth. Everything piece of academic and intellectual fruit I’ve eaten since my days as an undergrad tells me differently. That everything I did in college and beyond was for work – so that I could have a job, and always have access to a job. That while work does not have to define you, it should be a strong part of you. That if you’re not working, it had better be for a good damn reason; otherwise, you are the issue – it’s not work’s fault you’re unemployed. That as a man, you have but a few purposes in life, and work is one of them, if the primary one.

That’s when the bone-chilling music runs through me. When I know I cannot escape the thoughts. I. Should. Be. Working. Looking for relief, I step into the next room, and stop. He’s staring right at me. Expressionless mask. Blue jumpsuit. Fingers wrapped around a kitchen knife. Shit, I better run.

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My Canvass

Boy did I need a fix today. The white canvass of a blank screen is my drug. Seeing blank print on this screen is like my high – it takes me far away to a magical place where I have no worries (or at least they don’t worry me as much), where positive vibes are the only sensation running through my body, where I can feel, completely and utterly, safe. Safe to just be. Safe to be me. Years ago, in a distant world, it would have been a notepad and a pen. Now it’s a computer screen, providing me a fix.

We all need something to help us cope with the stressors. Nothing is absolute, so maybe not everyone needs something; but I sure as hell do. My father-in-law would say you need something to take the edge off. I guess he’s right…sort of. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many of my family members, and my friends’ family members, hooked on drugs that I could never understand turning to a substance to ease the pain. I remember my uncle getting into heated arguments with my grandmother, past midnight, walking up the whole block. Shouting, cursing. Talking about what she better not do, spitting off about when he is going to do. He was a high as he wanted to be. Probably off hair-ron…or as it is classically known, heroin. Those memories are burned within my conscious, the way an animal would be branded by its owner.

Still, taking the edge off isn’t what it’s like for me. Neither is it as described in New Jack City, when Pookie cried out, “but that shit just be callin’ me man, it be callin’ me.” That which gets my high isn’t calling me, I’m calling it. Feeling all sorts of mixed up inside, with an irritating itch, and only thing can scratch it. To be taken away from this world, even for a brief period of time. To let go of the inner strife – the frustrations and anger and disappointment – if but for a moment. To feel safe enough to just be, and just be me.

So right now, I don’t need a shot or a drink or a glass of wine. That would only make me resent the amount of time I’d have to work out, to work off the calories. No, I just need the white canvass and the blank print. Because what happened today, was some bullshit.

Please don’t tell me the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” inspired this piece. This poem isn’t so much of a rebuttal (or in any way disrespectful) to Master Angelou’s brilliant work. Instead, it’s meant to be a different take on a caged bird singing, which I felt like, years ago, when I couldn’t find a job for about half a year, and it seemed nothing was going my way. As with many difficult times, you go through a series of ups and downs. On the good days, I could tell myself to remain optimistic and felt like “Caged Birds” Angelou writes about. On the bad days, though, I felt defeated and downtrodden, like this bird.

“Please don’t tell me the Caged Bird Sings”

I often wonder what a bird trapped inside of a cage does all day;

Sitting on his perch…rocking back and forth…chirping as if someone is listening;

Looking at the same four walls,

Sick of the hideous green paint and yellow wallpaper.

I bet monotony soon sets in – perch…food pellets…water beaker…crash against the bars…perch…food pellets…water beaks…crash against the bars…

His arms probably feel heavy as lead,

For,

Every time he flaps those wings,

He smacks his beak against the cage,

Reminding himself that he’s a prisoner to the cage.

Still,

He chirps high and loud, like birds singing in the trees,

And I wonder if he ever thinks, or imagines, or dreams

What it must feel like to be free;

Does he know what it feels like to have the wind blowing against his feathers as he soars through the sky;

Or to own the skies and have it play second fiddle to a show where he is the brightest star;

Or to fly all the way up to the sun, and kiss her on the cheek, and feel her radiance against his breath.

Alas,

The caged bird doesn’t move much – perch…food pellets…water beaker…crash again the bars…

He listens to their callous laughter, patronizing tweets, and chitter-chatter of how content he should be;

As if they’ve already forgotten what it’s like to gulp mouthfuls of air,

That tastes so pure, and clean, and fresh,

The way he only hears about on those infomercials, which drown out his nightly chirping spree.

The caged bird sits on his branch,

Sulking, and swinging back and forth,

Dreaming what it must feel like to be free,

And chirping

Just to drown out the voices screaming inside of his head

So,

Please don’t tell me that you hear the caged bird singing.

I am that caged bird,

And I am screaming,

And dreaming for the day my soul will find freedom.

Reflections from a Tim Wise Address

Sooooo this happened.

Tim Wise's Autograph - 2

 

Not only did I have the luxury of getting Tim Wise’s autograph, I had the privilege of attending an event where Mr. Wise gave a riveting address. It was absolutely outstanding. To borrow a line from the sitcom “Martin”, it was all that and a pot of grits! I had heard plenty of Mr. Wise’s lectures and talks on online channels, but this was different. Being in the room and hearing the inflection in his voice when he spoke the most salient points, listening to the quickness with which he sometimes spoke (which reminded me of my own fast-talking style), and sensing his frustrations over a student who tried to monopolize the Q and A session, those were just some of the advantages I could have only received by attending the session with Mr. Wise, in person. It was akin to drinking orange juice with pulp. Sure, in essence, pulped orange juice is the same as orange juice without pulp. But the pulp is a flavorful reminder that you are drinking orange juice. Not apple juice or cranberry juice. Not fruit punch of Kool-Aid. But, orange juice. Similarly, seeing and hearing Mr. Wise speak in person, was a flavorful reminder of where I was, and more importantly, why I was there.

The messages Mr. Wise delivers resonates with me for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is that he (being a White male, taking on a supposed Black issue, delivering it to mostly-White audiences) has made the discussion about race and racism easier to have, to the extent that discussing race can be easy, that is.

See, I’ve noticed that whenever I speak about race, racism, or racial constructs, SOME of my friends who are White (and even some who are Black) respond that I’m being too sensitive, that I need to have thicker skin, how it’s only a joke. In much the same way my male friends reply that I can’t take a joke because I don’t laugh when comedians who use rape as comedic material. I won’t laugh at the horror suffered by a survivor of sexual violence, just like I won’t laugh at the pains suffered by someone who’s been afflicted with cancer.

It’s almost as if they’re saying, why do you care so much about this. Well, for starters, the discussion about race or racism is not purely an intellectual conversation for me. It goes much deeper than that. Here’s what I mean, I’d suspect that people who have not been targeted because of their race are able to have a dialogue about racism from a purely intellectual perspective. What they think about racism, much the same way one can talk about a fire that’s happening in another state. It’s from a distance. It’s something that someone else is experiencing. So the thoughts and ideas are conceptual or idealistic. As in, if people are experiencing harassment by law enforcement, they ought to comply because, in the end, officers of the law are here to protect us. Well, in an ideal world, yes, that should be the case for everyone. But, we live in America – a land that, while it has its advantages, it is far from idealistic.

So for me, and I’d suspect this to be true of other Black folks, a dialogue about race, racism, and racial constructs is way beyond intellectual. It’s first psychological, then emotional, and then further down the line, intellectual. Given the same example as above, when people of color experience harassment by law enforcement, it stimulates painful memories of an uncle who told stories of cops taking him down by the docks so no one could hear him scream. Or stories about people like Emmitt Till, murdered for supposedly whistling as a White woman. Or stories, and images, of our enslaved ancestors, whipped, kicked, spat on; raped, pillaged, and torn from their families. Harassment by one officer is never just that. For us, it’s always linked to the historical treatment of our people. Treatment that was legal, at one point in time. I sometimes ask myself why in the world would America find it wrong that police harass Black folk in 2016 if it was legal for police, and any other White citizen, to kill Black folk in 1955? Even in 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated? We’ve had some major accomplishments in the past 50 years, but elements of injustices are still alive and well.

Then, it moves to an emotional level. Fear of being killed. Anger for the way my grandmother was berated by a White cop. Frustration at the calculated prejudice, targeting of Black and Brown folks, yet turning the other way when the same actions (criminal, suspicious, or not) are committed by White folks. The agony knowing officers don’t give a shit about you. The hypocrisy stirring inside – sure your great-great grandfather may have fought for this country. But, he had no more rights than a dog. Not able to vote, own his own home, or pursue the supposed American dream. Now in present-day America, while you may have more advantages than your great-great grandfather, you still are without many of those same freedoms.

If you’re able to move past those states, then, perhaps an intellectual conversation about race can be had. But it’s pretty hard to be unbiased, when you’re the recipient of all of the biased behaviors. It’d be like someone asking you to give an opinion about home invasions that does not take into account the thousands of times your home was burglarized. Or having an unbiased stance on drunk driving laws, when your parents were killed by a drunk driver. It’s damn near difficult to not see racism in many of the injustices inflicted upon Black and Brown folks when so much of the historical treatment of Black and Brown folks was racial. In many respects, these two worlds are simply not mutually-exclusive. Not, one, bit.

So, to my friends who are White, that’s where I’m coming from. When you hear about a Black teenager that was killed by a White police officer, it may not even trigger an emotional response. But perhaps, an intellectual comment – so sad. And your empathy is good, so don’t get my wrong. But when I hear about a Black teenage that was killed by a White police officer (or vigilante citizen) – Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown – I shutter, knowing very well, the next Black male could be me (although I am far from a teen). Or worse, my son.

We all have fears. Some are irrational and humorous, like people who fear they’ll be eaten by a shark if they step foot in the waters of Lake George. Other fears, however, are warranted, like fearing you might be killed by a police officer if you don’t comply, or sit in your chair as he barks order, or disobey a command, or look him in the eye, or possess anything that could be mistaken for a weapon (whether it be a toy gun or cell phone box), or makes the officer fear for their life. These sort of justifications sound eerily similar to the reasons slave owners gave for enslaving our African ancestors, beating their slaves who were disobedient, punishing Blacks for wanting more rights and freedoms, and legalizing the mistreatment of Black folk who advocated for equality. It wasn’t that long ago that it was legal, that is, not against the law, to beat abuse and murder Black folks who misbehaved.

If America wants me, and other people of color, to lay down our fears, it first must be willing to lay down the ill-treatment of its non-White citizens. Whether Black men, or Persian women. More than that, we should be prosecuting White police officers who kills Black teenagers the same way we prosecute any other murderer. But also, owning up to the racist past that our country was built upon and working to create a more equal tomorrow.

I’m not asking America to pay for the years of counseling I’d most likely need to get over my fears, anxieties, and paranoias. What I am asking is that America stop breathing life into those fears because Black folks aren’t allowed to have mental illnesses, but that’s another subject for another day.

If you Do it Right

As I continue working on A Matter of Semantics second edition, a NEW lesson has worked its way into the revisions. Here are parts of that new lesson, raw and uncut. Enjoy!

But, if you want this unforgettable, magical, intoxicating sort of college experience, you have to do it right, and give the experience all that you have – the full complement of your time, energies, and focus, as though you were in a monogamous relationship. You have to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities your college experience will present and afford you and not just those that are within your comfort zone. You have to allow yourself the ability to transform as a result of the experiences you will encounter, and not fight reality when you realize you have grown into someone new, someone different, or someone your high school friends no longer recognize.

There is no underestimating the impact of the college experience. It has the ability to change your life, for the better.

This life lesson – of dedicating yourself completely, fully, unselfishly – one you can carry with you in every facet of life. Whether you’re in a committed relationship, on a sports team, involved in an organization, or pursuing graduate studies. If you want to get the most out of those experiences, you have to commit yourself.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being content with your backup role on the soccer team, for instance. Nothing wrong with playing for the sake of playing or just to have fun. Nothing wrong, whatsoever, with being on a team, in an organization, or in a relationship just for the experience of it all.

But if you want get the most out of your involvement on that team, organization, relationship, or in this case, college experience, you have to give yourself the permission to be vulnerable and allow the experience to transform you in ways you never thought possible. You have to give yourself – completely, fully, and unselfishly – to the experience. In short, you have to do it right, and that means going all in.


The Long Way Home

I’m taking it waaay back with this piece. This is one of the first stories I composed, in its original form, teenage voice, flaws and all. I was a high school senior and was given an assignment for my creative writing class. I’m not sure what my teacher was expecting, but this is the story that pour itself out, from inside of me. I hope you enjoy it!

The Long Way Home

     Damn!  I knew I should’a waited for the twenty-seven.  I don’t feel like walking down this street, Victor says to himself while riding the bus back to his house.  He looks out of the window and can hardly see anything; it’s very dark outside.  His stop is nearing.  Almost half-heartedly, Victor presses the bell which signals the bus driver that a passenger wants to get off.  He slowly rises out of his slouched position and walks to the nearest exit.  “Back Door” he yells while struggling to push the twin doors open.  The bus driver presses a button on his control panel and with a slight touch, both doors open.  Victor takes three steps downward onto the sidewalk, turns around, and waits for the bus pull off.  He looks straight ahead.  Across the street from the bus stop lies a vacant lot.  Victor is all alone.  He doesn’t like what he sees.  He waits for the cars to pass, looks both ways, and begins his journey:

 

Complete darkness surrounds the city streets as Victor crosses over into the vacant lot.  He again realizes he shouldn’t have taken the No. 13 bus; it may indeed be a long walk home.  He could have waited another five minutes for the No. 27 bus that would have dropped him off around the corner from his house.  Instead, Victor gave in to his impatience and settled for the long walk.  He enters the lot which serves as a short-cut for two adjoining streets.  He flows freely over dirt, candy wrappers, and empty crack viles.  He trots around rocks, broken glass, and used condoms. The sounds of the streets play an unnerving tune on Victor’s ear drums.  He hears random gun shots, police sirens, and skidding stolen cars.  His taste buds are so displeased with disgust that he almost vomits.  Yet, Victor calms himself and tries not to inhale the smells of piss (which has amassed from constant urination), feces (from stray dogs), and weed (from the people standing outside getting high).  Despite the distractions, it’s simply Victor against his journey, one-on-one, man-to-man.  He takes one last step out of the filth and escapes, though he’s far from relieved.

As he continues his journey, Victor comes across a frightening sight from his childhood: a circular, three story gray house surrounded by roaming cats.  He always trembled upon sight of the house and tonight was no exception.  Right next to the lifeless house lies a similar house with a rectangular shape and a huge side yard.  A streetlight shines down in front of the rectangular house revealing its color, a dull green.  Victor begins staring at the two house, noting their similarities and difference.  Suddenly, he hears sounds of swift movement and chains rattling: “Woof! Woof!  Woof! Woof! Woof!”  Two humungous Rottweilers violently charge in Victor’s direction.  He’s saved only by the gates which seals the beasts in their den.  The dogs’ ferocious barks almost send Victor retreating to the opposite side of the street, nevertheless, causing him to walk with more caution and more quickly too.

Victor’s journey is almost over.  He’s now able to see his house on a street which is otherwise, a ghost-town.  However, darkness is still following him.  All the streetlights are out, save three.  A slight joyous feeling enters Victor’s body as he becomes more relieved.  While looking about, grinning, and almost mocking the darkness and horrors of the streets, Victor notices a small animal lying on the ground.  Somebody done ran over another damn cat, he says to himself, shaking his head in disappointment.  The cat’s gray fur is torn and stained with its blood.  The cat’s intestine, guts, and brains are all over the street.  The feline’s internal organs hanging out look like spaghetti and Victor anticipates the horrible odor the corpse will give off.  If I close my mouth and try not to inhale, I won’t even smell the dead cat, Victor says to himself.  Victor takes a deep breath, performs the arduous task, and in an instant, it’s over.  Ha!  He laughs to himself knowing that he has the streets beaten.

As Victor heads for the home stretch, a car on the opposite side of the street drives slowly towards him.  The car stops.  A dark figure wearing a black leather jacket gets out.  The figure begins to walk in Victor’s direction.  Victor looks to his right, sees another vacant lot, and assumes the figure is going to take a leak.  As suspected, the man in the black jacket darts towards the lot.  He unzips his jeans and takes a piss.  Steam rises above the figure in the cold air.   The man in the black jacket turns around.  He zips his zipper and walks back in the direction from which he came.   On his way back, he stops just before Victor, unzips his jacket, and pulls out an enormous handgun.

“Come up off that cash now, motherfucka”, the man in the black jacket says.  Suspecting that he sells drugs, the man demands Victor’s nightly earnings.  He takes a step towards Victor.  Victor can not see his face.  He only sees a dark figure and the large gun.

“C-C-Cash…”,  Victor replies.

“Yeah!  That loot you just got finished making…Hand it over!”  He takes another step towards Victor.  Victor is now able to capture every detail of the weapon: as dark as night itself, its huge rectangular frame conjures thoughts of the house with the Rottweillers; it appears to be a .45mm pistol.  The man’s finger is gently caressing the trigger.  Victor pleads for his life.  He’s so terrified that he can barely speak.

“I…I don’t got no loot.  I just…I just got off the bus man.  I don’t even clock”, Victor responds.  He pulls his pockets from inside his pants.  He offers a handful of lintballs.

“Then what the hell you doin’ out this time-a-night?!”

“I just…I just came from downtown.  I had to walk my girl home”

The man in the black jacket stares blankly at Victor.  Victor looks up at the man as if he was receiving communion from a priest.  Time seems to stop.  The man in the black jacket opens his mouth.  Victor fears the result.

“Get the fuck out my face”, the man in the black coat utters.

Yes!  He’s spared me, Victor thinks to himself.  Victor’s first instinct is to run.  No.  He can’t.  He slowly walks away.  The man in the black jacket returns to his car.  Victor speeds up his pace.  Before long, he’s sprinting.

While Victor is racing home, he hears a door open.  “Where the fuck the money at”, someone shouts.

“He ain’t have none.”

“What the fuck you mean he ain’t have no money!  He wouldn’t be out this time-a-night if he didn’t!”

“Man, get your ass in the car so we can bail.”

“Fuck that!”

“Come on man, let’s get the fuck outta here.”

“Naw!  He holdin’ out on us!”  Someone shouts to Victor, “Yo motherfucka you ain’t leavin that easy!”

Victor hears the voice calling, but cannot turn around.  He continues running.  Suddenly, he hears a series of shots being fired.  Victor falls after being hit multiple times.  Instantly, he loses his sense of smell.  Before too long, he can neither hear nor taste.  Victor’s vision is still strong.  He can see his own blood as a streetlight shines down upon it.  He starts convulsing.  The sight of his own blood is horrifying.  His eyesight begins to weaken.  He soon goes blind.  The last thing Victor feels is a hand taking off his sneakers and wrestling off his socks.

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