Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Season & Job Search

This Christmas will be the first time in many years that Granny will not hold court from the corner of her living room sofa. She survived past Thanksgiving despite a sobering diagnosis from her doctor and hospice nurse. She waited until family returned from Sunday church service and took her last breath. I was miles away in New York when she passed away. My mother called immediately to relay the news. We went back and forth on the phone, my insisting that Granny hadn't died, she insisting that I'd have to return to help lay Granny to rest.

I was overwhelmed by the news that I'd no longer see Granny in that familiar spot, wearing her housecoat and fuzzy slippers she favored later in life when indoors.

My new job search has been ego-deflating since I returned from Houston for Granny Gums' wake and funeral. I've had no energy or desire to look for a job. I'm having difficulty watching anything on TV that deals with death. I recently watched Steel Magnolias and teared up during cemetery scene. I've never been emotional when watching funerals or death on TV and in movies. I am a big fan of Six Feet Under on HBO.

What is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day without Granny's reminding us to eat black-eyed peas for good luck?

I'm reminded of the play Death Comes To Us All, Mary Agnes, if only for the title that I'm not excluded from the death and mourning. I know the wounds will eventually heal, but it seems just like yesterday that I spoke to Granny on the phone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fallen From Grace - Indie Film Casting Call

CornerStone Pictures and Keneritz Media are casting for an independent feature film - Fallen From Grace

Fallen From Grace is the story of a married immigrant's spiritual separation from his Christian beliefs as he navigates the sometimes turbulent terrain of married life, immigration, and life in the metro New York City area as he pursues the sometimes elusive American Dream. Along the way, he meets and interacts with an assortment of characters that tests his emotional and physical resolve as he works a variety of jobs to remain afloat while pursuing his creative dreams and American citizenship.

This film deals with adult themes, ethnic identity, and contains brief nudity.

We are seeking a diverse, talented, flexible, and reliable cast for principle, supporting, and featured extra roles.

This is a low-budget/no-budget/non-union film. All actors will receive film credit, copy of the DVD, and a free personal photo session valued at $400.

Interested actors please forward a recent headshot,resume, and the role that you feel best suited for. Additionally, there are a few supporting and featured extras.

If you have previously submitted for our casting call, there is no need to resubmit. All headshots/resumes will be kept on file for up to one year.

For more information refer to the film's website:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dispatch from Texas - Granny's Funeral

I traveled earlier to Houston to help one of my aunts tweak the wake and funeral programs for my granny's funeral this weekend. I had thought I'd also collect some of granny's belongings to take back to New York with me, but I couldn't walk into her bedroom. I haven't found the strength to step inside the room where she died.

The best intentions sometimes fall short when in the midst of things; when faced with what we planned from hundreds of miles away, we clam up or alter plans.

The last time I was in Houston was for another funeral, my aunt who succumbed to cancer. I know that death is a part of life. I'd say that while reading online newspapers of tragic events near and far, or the local news. It's not until death takes a loved one from your reach that the philosophizing and emotional distance is no longer enough to shield you from the grief. The television or computer monitor is a buffer from the pain others undoubtedly feel as they're distraught on camera or video.

My two flights to Houston were fraught with wind turbulence. The aircraft felt like a crop duster or toy plane as it bobbed and weaved at various altitudes in attempt to find calm air. I clawed the armrest, sure that the airplane would spiral to the ground. It wasn't as if I wished for death, but a thought occurred to me that I wouldn't have to walk into granny's house without her sitting on the sofa, phone pressed into her lap waiting for a call. I wouldn't have had to put on a suit and polish my shoes this Friday evening before the wake at the family church. I wouldn't have had to stand in front of the congregation and reminiscence about Granny Gums without collapsing to the floor, making a spectacle of myself.

I erased images of an angry mythological Greek god or goddess standing in front of the plane gently blowing against the craft for amusement. I remember praying to God to calm the wind and allow the plane safe passage into Houston. I was en route to eulogize my Granny, and nothing would prevent that from taking place. My cousin Carl picked me up from the airport. We didn't fall apart in the airport when we saw each other, and I don't know that I thought we would. There's usually drama in our family, so we occupied our travel time poring over various relatives' hiccups and disasters.

There's a marked absence in Granny's house, one that was once filled with nine daughters, two sons, and countless other neighborhood children.
Each bedroom was a protective chamber for its slumbering inhabitants. The kitchen where the girls and women in the family sat alongside the stove to get their hair pressed with a straightening comb has changed and now doesn't feel as warm or vibrant. The living room, or meeting room as it seemed to me, where everyone filtered through like a revolving door, is now void of Granny's voice.

Carl and I have been scanning pictures since Monday night. We Were The Williamses. We Were The Party Family! There are so many pictures in various photo albums of us hosting birthday parties, at banquets, at house parties, or picnics. My family was large back then, and even larger now that we're into our fifth generation. One of the biggest tragedies of Granny's death is that she was the glue that held this family together. Now that she'll no longer be physically on earth, I think everyone will scatter to the four winds. Each one of us will leave the funeral and accompanying family dinner changed -- reflective, remorseful, or regretful.

Death comes to us all, but we're never prepared even if it's preceded by a prolonged illness. Death comes to us all, and we're left to think about things left unsaid or undone. Flipping through the various photo albums, I know that granny lived a full and rewarding life. Rarely was she without a brilliant smile, head tilted to one side, with her signature poise radiating from the picture.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

New Book - The Brief History of The Dead

I have started reading a book, The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier, for a different take on life after death. I know my granny is in a better place, perhaps one similar to "The City" in the novel, where inhabitants remain until the last person who remembers them dies. We are into our fifth generation, so I imagine that Granny Gums will be remembered for quite a while.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ode To Granny Gums

My ninety-year-old granny took her last breath today at 2:30 p.m. Houston time, surrounded at home by family. I'm told that my cousin turned off and unplugged the oxygen tank, after checking her pulse, and finding none. She had been unconscious since last Wednesday night. The doctor and hospice nurse had written her off as not surviving through Thanksgiving. She had several stints in the hospital this year, each visit according to the attending doctor would be her last one. She repeatedly proved them wrong as a testament to her will to live.

Granny was born in Texas in 1917, and I can only read about what her life was like back then as an African American girl in the segregated south. She lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam War.

A month ago I was cleaning the living room when I felt my granny's presence next to me, and saw her face in my mind's eye. It was a harbinger of bad news. I immediately called my mother and demanded to know whatever secrets my family was hiding. My mother tried to assure me that all was right as it pertained to Granny Gums (my nickname for her). Mother called again in about an hour to confirm what I felt in my bones three thousand miles away. Granny was in the hospital, and wasn't expected to live more than a few days back then.

Granny would always tell me that I'd live a long time because I'd call her just as she was talking or thinking about me. Granny had so many isms and expressions, her most famous when someone would ask her how she was doing, she would respond: "Fine and dandy, mighty handy, sweet as candy!"

I want to believe that Granny will be around in spirit for years to come to advise and/or warn of potential pitfalls, just as she came to me telepathically one month ago to tell me she was hospitalized. We were very close in life, and I don't expect that to change now that her soul has left her physical body. She can now travel wherever she desires - New York, Germany where my cousin and new wife and newborn lives, or the outer stretches of Kermit, Texas, where my other cousin lives.

I've fond memories of Granny. My fondest being of her transporting me under the cover of dawn in a wheelbarrow to her house when I was five years-old. I was wearing footed pajamas, school clothes on a hanger, and lunchbox in tow. It was probably a five minute journey, if that, but we were together in the quiet of the early morning.

Granny was my biggest supporter, along with my aunt Margaret Ann, who'd walked to every daytime assembly during my three years in junior high that I was on stage regardless of if I only said, "Good Morning and Welcome." I don't think she had a favorite grandchild or great-grandchild, but some of us were closer to her than others. It's a given fact in a family as large as ours that there would be cliques, alliances, and hurt feelings.

Granny was the go-to person for family and neighbors alike, running errands and sitting with recent widows and widowers in their living room or front porch. She was known for her energy, spirit, and beautiful smile.

I remember her being a human shield when a few of the grandchildren were about to get a spanking. We'd sit suctioned at her side, careful to not blink for fear of one of our mothers snatching us from Granny's protection.

Granny gave me a nickname, Keneritz, one day after struggling to recall my christened name because my younger brothers and I have similar-sounding names, as do three of my cousins. Some of my relatives refer to me using this nickname, and I've coined my budding production company with the same moniker.

I know I didn't imagine my granny's visit, nor are my feelings for her fleeting. She is the strongest woman I've known to date, measuring in at 4'11", and probably one hundred pounds. Her strength was emotional and spiritual. I remember she was firm in her faith and belief in God, but that didn't rule out her telling me years ago that she communicated with my deceased grandfather, despite the raised eyebrows from her children. I look forward to speaking with her in my dreams and waking life.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reality TV

What has happened to network and cable TV? I used to enjoy watching comedies, dramas, and documentaries, but since the advent of MTV, the airwaves have been inundated with reality TV programs. Are the Nielsen Ratings accurate? Do more people prefer not to watch quality, albeit political and controversial writing such as David E. Kelly (Boston Public, Boston Legal, the practice)?

I'm guilty of sometimes watching Kimora Lee Simmons, America's Next Top Model reruns, or Dancing with the Stars, when I should be writing, revising, or reading one of the books on my reading list.

It'd be easier to turn off the TV, or tune into another channel. I like watching National Geographic and Animal Planet, but oftentimes the cat fights between the aspiring models, world travelers, and personal assistants to the aforementioned celebrities can be more entertaining than watching a brown bear or jaguar hunt prey in the wild. The only deaths on these reality shows are emotional and spiritual, unlike the inevitable end when a bear or large cat claws a gazelle or deer.

Reality TV has a traffic accident quality to it. I laugh when incompatible people try to make a love match, cringe at the drunken displays on balconies or rooftops, and avert my eyes when housemates plot and scheme against each other. There seems to be an endless supply of people who'll submit embarrassing audition tapes, post on YouTube, or stand in line in the freezing cold or searing heat.

I think the only reality show that's yet to air is a Creative Writing Show, that would pit would-be short story writers, novelists, screenwriters, and poets against each other for an agent and two-book publishing or studio production deal. There's a similar concept online at Gather, and of course every November there's National Novel Writing Month.

My main gripe with reality shows is that they're duplicates of each other. Are there no original ideas in Hollywood and New York? Tyra Banks created her profitable franchise, and I've channel-surfed through several shows that pit female and male models against each other, the most ridiculous being America's Most Smartest Model, where one of the penalties is eating sugary, fatty foods, which would ruin a model's physique.

Then there's this show, Flipping Out. What can be said about shows on Bravo TV? Obviously there's an audience for these shows, but why do they proliferate? Every original show has its detractors and copycats. How many home improvement, cooking, designing, modeling, hooking up shows can we watch? If we're all watching TV, we're not doing anything after we're home from school or work. Sitting in front of the TV only adds pounds to our bottoms and inches to our waistlines. Wait, there are fitness and exercise shows when we're too fat to move from the sofa, remote control in hand.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Family Legacy and Lore - Writing A Memoir

I am in the early stages of gathering information that will become a family memoir. As with many other people who've written, or are planning to write a memoir, I think my family is worthy of a book-length manuscript.

Where to begin and what to write? My family wouldn't populate the state of Texas, but a small fishing village. We were awarded the largest family plaque at church years ago, before our numbers increased. I've lost count, or perhaps we've opted to stop counting how many grandchildren, great-grand, and great, great-grandchildren my ninety-year-old granny has. The last count was twenty-two grandchildren, and thirty-three great-grandchildren. We are moving into our fifth generation.

Granny originally had twelve children - nine daughters and three sons. Only two of the male children survived beyond infancy. As of this writing, both of my uncles and two of my aunts have died, along with two of my cousins.

I've been reading memoirs, creative non-fiction, and how-to write memoir books, with the express intention of learning from others who've gone before our family.

We have a large family as you read above. The question remains on why should I spearhead and write our story? Writers have written biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs for centuries. What do we hope to impart to a reading public? What makes our stories of breast cancer survival, diabetes, high-blood pressure, gossip, and betrayal unique?

Growing up in my family, I thought there was no end to aunts and cousins who were in every room, on the front or back porch, or in the spacious backyard. We exemplified that the motto that it takes a village to raise child. Sometimes this was a source of conflict among my aunts when commenting upon childrearing skills, or lack thereof.

I used to think that we were a less glamorous version of a nighttime drama. The women in my family were determined to raise boys who'd become strong men, with varying degrees of success.

Granny's house was kid central for children in the neighborhood. We'd play hopscotch in the street in front of her house using chalk from sheetrock we'd find here or there, dodge ball, or hide-n-seek at night.

I remember climbing the pecan trees in the backyard for my aunt who made the sweetest pecan pies, or just cracking the shells with my teeth, careful not to choke on the chalky fragments. There was a treehouse, clubhouse for our bicycles, and camping outside when some of us joined the Cub or Boy Scouts.

We temporarily had a horse in the backyard, Jenny, who broke free and escaped down the street after a neighborhood boy pummeled her with rocks. We were told horrible stories of her ending up as glue, especially scary for our young minds when it was time to buy back-to-school supplies: Elmer's Glue.

Granny Gums has been the family matriarch for as long as I remember. I don't remember my uncle who drowned on his high school field trip, or my grandfather who had a heart attack on the front porch swing, both within two months of each other in 1973. I remember my uncle who was a cook in the Army, who'd park his white mobile home next to the front window in driveway. I remember the plastic-covered furniture in his living room in Augusta, Georgia, where he'd relocated to after his tour in the Army.

We have to sort through what we remember, and what would be interesting for others to read. I know everyone in the family won't participate, or be happy with the finished manuscript.

I have a few memoirists on my winter 2007-2008 reading list: Augusten Burroughs, Nick Flynn, Mary Karr, Jeanette Walls, and Tobias Wolff. Each one writes differently, and focuses on specific aspects of their pasts. We're not setting out to write Roots, but a compelling story that others will enjoy, share, and perhaps learn something about our lives.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Finding My Literary Voice

Over the past few years, I've tried to define literary voice as I strip away the excess en route to establishing my unique voice. Each person has a way of expressing themselves, and I've come to realize that my short stories feature strong ethnic women and their emotionally weaker male counterparts. I didn't set out to create less than ideal men, but know that my absentee father, title and subject of a poem written years ago, shape my perceptions and reality of what a man can be.

I don't know if this is cause for concern that the men I create aren't as strong as the women they're married to or are dating.

I think most writing is autobiographical. With that in mind, my characters and some of the situations that populate my writing are a direct reflection of my Texas upbringing. I grew up with dominant, caring, and sometimes controversial African American women. I try to create men on the page who aren't superheros just for the sake of standing up to the women characters. The most compelling people and characters are flawed. Why then has it been difficult to create three-dimensional men?

There are two noteworthy profiles in the Nov/Dec 2007 Poets & Writers Magazine; the first is Afaa Michael Weaver, the other is Benjamin Percy. I enjoyed each profile for different reasons. Afaa is a poet who struggled with debilitating depression, and Benjamin bases all stories in his native Oregon. What are the lessons, if any? We are more alike than different. We all have bumps along the road, and home is where we always return.

While I've never been ashamed of where I was born or raised, I've yet to fully mine where I come from and the people who shaped me as a child and young adult. It's time I remember who I am when looking in the mirror and in my writing. Perhaps I'll figure out why I originally relocated to the East Coast without knowing a soul, and the root of my disconnected familial feelings.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

House of Spirits

A few years after I moved into my apartment, I had a distinct feeling that I wasn't alone. I felt or sensed that a middle-aged African American man had died in my apartment and hadn't crossed over.

This registered strange to me because I had no understanding of spirits, ghosts, or demons. I was raised to go to church every Sunday, to pray daily, and to say grace before each meal.

The more I thought about this spiritual squatter in my house, the more I tried to rationalize that I was imagining him. I was no more psychic than some of the carnies or women I'd see on the streets of Manhattan. But, I couldn't discount what I sensed on certain days or nights in the apartment. I felt that this ghost was lonely, and blocked me from leaving the apartment when I had every intention of doing so.

The situation intensified one night when I felt pressure at the end of my bed. I had a chill in my body. It was the presence of evil. I was in a deep sleep, and was immediately awakened by this presence. I lifted my upper body and commanded it to leave. It didn't feel like Casper the Friendly Ghost; it felt dark and ominous.

Over the years, I've come to sense that this man committed suicide, that he jumped out of either the bathroom or kitchen window. It sounds otherworldly, and reminiscent of a spooky movie I wasn't supposed to watch as a child, or a magical realism novel by Gabriel García Márquez or Isabel Allende.

Several years ago I happened upon a classifieds ad for a creative writer/editor posted by a woman in Chelsea who I later found out did automatic writing. We met to discuss my creating advertising and marketing copy in exchange for free psychic/automatic writing sessions. The apartment was an obligatory mystical and eerie. I remember not being afraid, but sufficiently skeptical. The woman sat in front of her laptop and connected with her spirit guide, and proceeded to ask questions I posed. She typed the questions and answers in short-answer format. Her spirit guide confirmed what I'd felt up until that point in my life, and warned that I wouldn't rid my apartment of his unwanted presence until I performed emotional, mental, and spiritual cleansing, with ample meditation and candles.

A few of the answers seemed obvious to me, and others off the mark. At the end of our session we debated the merits of my paying her at least five dollars a session, if I was serious about healing what ailed me. Momma didn't raise any fools, and I was in between jobs back then, the reason for my occupying my time and energy. A few weeks later I received a multi-paged astrological chart that detailed my ups, downs, quirks, and affectations, as predestined by the day, hour, and minute I was born. Again, some of the information matches certain aspects of my personality, and others made me scratch my head. I recently re-read the report and answers to those questions, and stared into space.

This reading was brought on by a newfound interest in Lisa Williams, Medium and Clairvoyant, whose weekly Lifetime TV show precedes yet another reality show, America's Psychic Challenge. There are things I don't know for a fact, and others that fascinate me. Is there life after death? Can people see ghosts, angels, or demons?

I know what I felt that night in my bedroom many years ago. And I know what yet another person confirmed when she visited my apartment as we communicated via instant messenger chat years ago. The second spiritual healer didn't identify herself immediately as such, but when she did, she informed me that she was a shape-shifter, and that she traveled the through eyes of animals. Whatever I believed or didn't believe went out the window when she identified over the Internet as we chatted privately, areas of my body that were in pain. She saw colors here and there, she said. Further, she mistakenly entered my neighbor's apartment with a Russian Gray cat, instead of mine with a Calico and Tortoise Shell, all while we typed away.

When she corrected her mistake and entered my apartment, my Calico fled to the back of the apartment where I sat, looking as if she'd seen a ghost, replete with large cartoon eyes that looked as if they'd pop out of her head. It wasn't a coincidence! She confirmed, too, that there was someone or something in my apartment. It was her goal to out-ghost the ghost, which she did temporarily. Back to my not 'being ready' to handle such things on my own.

During her astral visit, I visited her house in Texas, and was able to see a dimly-lit room with dark burgundy curtains, a hand-carved wooden table with glass top, and a small creature sliding across its surface. It was all I could see in my mind's eye. She confirmed that I was accurate. The small creature was her cat. Her father made the table many years ago and gave it to her. One thing she couldn't see while she was here in spirit was a wooden mask I bought in a flea market in the Dominican Republic. She told me it was a mask of protection; that it was protecting me, and blocking her from seeing it.

She later sent me a specially-selected crystal with male energy to watch over me. It arrived in a miniature wooden chest. I carried it in my pocket for a few weeks, and later felt silly or odd, and placed it back inside the chest. I didn't know if I was opening myself to someone or something I shouldn't have.

I still have many unanswered questions that I'd like to find answers. Am I an undeveloped sensitive (psychic) afraid to hone my gifts, or have I watched one too many scary movies?

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'll Take Manhattan, Along the Adirondack Line

New York City is an ideal place for people of all ages who want to unwind, play, and meet new friends in an energetic backdrop. Beginning at the southern tip of Manhattan, the borough offers views of The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, and New Jersey from Battery Park City, which buttresses The Hudson River. Fall is a good season to stroll along the multi-leveled plaza, watch sailboats zip by and stately cruise ships glide by to dock in Midtown Manhattan. While you’re downtown, don’t forget to walk over the cobblestone streets to The South Street Seaport to shop and dine in various retail stores and restaurants. The historical area adjacent to the Seaport has yet more quaint shops and restaurants within minutes of Wall Street and the NYSE.

The next stop on our walking tour of Manhattan brings us to TriBeCa and world-class hotels, novelty shops, and locations for various movies and television shows, not mention the tony residences of local celebrities such as Robert DeNiro and Leontyne Price. Manhattan is best experienced on foot, so be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and bring bottled water. Manhattan can’t be fully enjoyed in one day, there’s much to see and do in different neighborhoods, museums, and at landmarks. No trip to Manhattan is complete without a visit to Chinatown, east of TriBeCa, and within a few blocks of the Lower East Side. Crossing Broadway into Chinatown is akin to stepping back into time or traveling to a small village in the Orient. All manner of fowl and fish are visible in restaurant windows and specialty stores as you navigate along the main thoroughfare of shops and kiosks that sell faux designer handbags, athletic wear, and New York memorabilia. Sights, sounds, scents, and multiple mainland Chinese accents and dialects compete for your attention as you traverse along the zigzag streets heading further east. The Lower East Side and the East Village are eclectic neighborhoods, but don’t offer outsiders anything of interest. The allure of these two areas lies in their offbeat and anti-establishment status, a one-time haven for creative types and musicians who couldn’t afford to live above 42nd Street. It still maintains its avant-garde status as a home to painters, singers, and denizens who live on the edge, and or aspire to. The neighborhood hosts an annual summer Fringe Festival.

As the name states, Little Italy, has authentic Italian pastries, pasta, and marinara sauce, and the annual San Gennaro Festival in early September. Visitors can also tour the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral that’s now a parish house. The tight-knit streets in Little Italy are reminiscent of New York City’s yesteryear as brought to life on screen in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.

If culture is what you seek, check out the New Museum of Contem
porary Art in SoHo, and then head over to one of best attractions in the city, Chelsea Piers, a multi-unit sports and activity complex where visitors can play golf, ice skate, climb indoor rock formations, lift weights, go kayaking in The Hudson River, and host birthday parties. Silver Screen Studios at Chelsea Piers have also been used for feature films, dance rehearsals, special events, music videos and commercials.

Midtown Manhattan is home of The Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, and Macy’s Department Store. Visitors and native New Yorkers head to the Observatory on the 86th floor for a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. You’ll never be at loss for entertainment at The Garden with year-round sporting events, solo musical artists and bands, and family shows. Christmas shopping at Macy’s is a must during a fall visit to New York City. The block-long store's window displays are decked out in holiday fanfare and decorations accent the entire store. Santa Claus is usually on hand to grant wishes and check his list one last time before he climbs aboard his sleigh for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in November.

Once you’ve caught your breath from all things shopping, make your way to Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts, where you’ll find an entertainment complex that features renowned orchestras, ballet performances, independent films, and opera. If Wagner, Mozart, Mahler, or Pedro Almodóvar isn’t to your liking, head east to Central Park to see the orange and brown fall leaves, rent a bike and peddle leisurely around the six-mile circumference, or go horseback riding along the Bridle Path.

No visitor should leave Manhattan without experiencing Harlem’s Apollo Theatre on West 125th Street, a place where dreams still come true, while others are dashed on stage during its weekly Wednesday Amateur Night. The audience shows its appreciation for stellar acts with thunderous applause, and cast many would-be performers off the stage with raucous laughter. A final stop on this trip is The Cloisters at Fort Tyron Park, with its collection of art and architecture from medieval Europe. It’s also a great place to shop for last minute gifts and keepsakes before continuing on to your next destination.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Kudos to Venus for Playing in Asia

I was unable to watch Venus play and win in Korea, but I did find her final match on the Tennis Channel during the wee hours of the morning a few days ago. She all but had the title on her racket with three championship points in the second set tie break, but was unable to convert during her error prone match.

The Williams Sisters rarely get love from the American media, and especially a writer from Sports Illustrated who recently complained about Venus playing in Asia for money (don't think so), and after always griping that the sisters aren't dedicated enough to the game because of outside interests (they have a life away from the tennis court, a crime among the tennis elite).

Here's the link where one reader took him to task: Bitter Pill.


Friday, October 05, 2007

October Reading List

I just bought three books the other night to read over the next three weeks: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.

I'll read them in the order of the above images. I've been meaning to get away from my routine in New York City for the longest time, but I can't afford to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia. The Day Trips on the Metro North, buses, and trains in the metro NYC and tri-state area will have to do.

What better author to read while traversing public transport than Toni Morrison?

And after I've taken my excursions, read for pleasure, I'll be ready to do my research for a new novel I've outlined that has a main character with bipolar disorder.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Does The Devil Wear Prada?

I don't know if this is an apt title, but it feels appropriate with the last few days I've had dealing with writers in one of the groups I moderate.

In an ideal world, everything is free and money falls from heaven, but then we wake up and realize that books, magazine subscriptions, website hosting, and trips to Kinko's cost money.

Organizing and moderating a writer's group isn't for the faint of heart. There will always be someone who wants to disrupt a proven system that works. Along came a spider who spun her web and ensnared two otherwise good writers, all because she didn't want to pay the yearly membership dues that are a necessity to keep the group afloat.

I want to say more, but a close friend reminded me to let go and move on. To wish the people who caused the temporary grief the best for their future, and that the Memoir Group would be better without them.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Seeking Writing Group Assistant/Intern

When I set out to create a writer’s nirvana five years ago, I envisioned a community of writers workshopping and helping each other achieve their writing, publishing, and production goals. We have exceeded my expectations thanks the current group members.

When I first started in my living room, it was fraught with upheaval and the occasional triumph as individual fiction writers discovered their voice, style, and if in fact they were writers.

After incorporating and branding Morningside, I relocated to the Sony Building Atrium because I was tired of cleaning up after group members, and that it was a centralized location.

Four groups and several years later, I now need part-time assistance with the administrative, workshop, and website duties for Morningside.

For anyone out there reading, the following is the ad I placed. Wish me luck!

* * *

Morningside Writers Group seeks a part-time unpaid assistant/intern to help with administrative/clerical, workshop, and website tasks.

The ideal applicant has a minimum of five hours weekly to help the founder/moderator in person, electronically, and over the phone. Tasks may include group scheduling/distributing, bookkeeping, Xeroxing, writing and responding to e-mail inquiries, soliciting/interacting with monthly columnists, and administrative needs as they arise.

We could offer writing mentoring or editing if the potential candidate is an aspiring writer (fiction, graphic novel, memoir, or screenwriting) but the administrative tasks are essential above all else.

Please send a cover letter, résumé, and why you'd be interested in working as an assistant/intern.

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

GBIS - Day 4

It's been a hard road getting back in shape since I first posted my goals back in July, two months ago. Yikes!

I posted an ad in the Activity Partners and Strictly Platonic sections on an online classifieds, and received a few responses, all but turned out to be a dud. The remaining jogging buddy prefers to not to run, but is a trooper all the same.

No one put those spicy Doritos, Entenmann's chocolate-covered donuts, or chili cheese dogs in my hands but me.

Some days, I don't want to leave the apartment, let alone get up at 6:30 a.m. to do laps around the Jackie O Reservoir in Central Park. Not surprisingly, I feel better after jogging, so I've got to get more of those endorphins flowing through my body.

It's easier to rollerblade or bike to get back into shape, but it's quicker to lace up the sneakers and jog day or night. Scary are those raccoons looting the trash cans in the evening, masked eyes staring back.

I never thought I'd have to deal with an expanding waistline. I was teased, taunted, and envied for having a 28" waist. A 31" waist isn't the end of the world, just costly because I'd have to buy new clothes if I opted to remain sedentary, writing and editing, more days than not.

I want guns like Rafael Nadal, Serena and Venus Williams. Decision made. I'll continue to show up to my start line and jog at least three times a week, just as I show up to the page and computer screen to write and edit daily.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

2007 US Open : Final Thoughts

Gamesmanship: How many tennis matches have we seen where an opponent calls for the trainer as a defense tactic, only to come roaring back to win the set and/or the match?

When the trainer attended to Venus, she refused to take a timeout, but rather continued the match. As Mary Carillo pointed out that neither sister abuses this privilege in the sport.

Prior to The Williams Sisters climbing the ranks in a previously predominantly Anglo sport, I never would’ve have paid attention to tennis — men’s or women’s.

I was caught by surprise by their physical prowess and dominance from the baseline and at the net. Much like I was drawn into the living room from the kitchen years ago when I first heard Jessye Norman's voice rise and fall on a PBS special years ago.

Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to go where we’re most welcomed and comfortable. Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, and Zina Garrison were relegated to Black History Month in my southwestern school system.

Can’t we embrace The Williams Sisters, James Blake, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, and Donald Young for taking up the torch started by Althea and Arthur? Can we not open ourselves to embracing African American, Mexican-American, and Asian-American tennis players? Or is there no room in our collective consciousness for people who don’t fit our comfortable notion of what a tennis player (athlete) should be?

I can only imagine what it’s like to walk into the largest tennis stadium in the world as an ethnic tennis player. Tennis is not a group sport like basketball or football. Doubles players still have telephoto and TV camera lenses trained on their hairlines. I commend Venus, Serena, Vania King, Sania Mirza, James Blake, and Donald Young for keeping their dignity in a sport that had been unavailable to many of their ancestors.

I can’t forget Dick Engberg’s repeated comments during 2007 US Open about Ana Ivanovic’s “Rita Hayworth” looks. Is tennis about all-white tennis outfits and matinee idol looks? Or is it about dynamic athletes doing their best on any given day?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Venus's Semi-Final Match 09/07/07

This is reposted from my comments on today's New York Times U S Open Blog:

I watched the matched from start to finish. It was a good, not great match. I've scanned some of the comments, and don't want or need to get into throwing sand in anyone else's face.

The world in which we live prefers tall, svelte, blonds, over short/solid/lithe and caramel.

I was impressed this tournament by Asha Rolle, an unknown on the WTA until she beat Tatiana Golovin, and almost upset Dinara Safina.

The WTA needs to open its arms and training facilities to a wider variety of people that would truly reflect the international world in which we live.

Yes, Justine CHEATS more times than not, casting sideward glances over at her surrogate father in the stands.

What Serena and Venus have done to REVOLUTIONIZE women's tennis, they can take to the bank. Every sport has its divas, divos, and wanna-be superstars.

I personally do not like Henin. I enjoy watching Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic play as well. There are so many emerging talents that don't get the time of day or live match coverage as do the 'stars' in both men's and women's tennis, which is unfortunate.

You want to talk about prejudice, not only racism, have at it. It's about TV ratings and Q-points on Madison Avenue.

I'd like to see TV and print commercials awarded as a prize AFTER winning a Grand Slam (Sharapova and Roddick are featured in commercials during every Grand Slam, but haven't come up with the goods).

You want to talk about Venus and Serena needing new coaches, racket techniques, cheerful disposition -- add Sharapova and Roddick to that list among many other active players.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

GBIS - Day 3

It seems that as I've aged, my metabolism has slowed down, or perhaps it rests entirely on the fact that I've been a lazy bum these past two years. I guess I could have jogged in a light mist, where it would've been foolish to skate.

My mother told me that one of my older male cousins, too, has put on a little weight. He, too, had been slim without exercise most of his life, not counting sweating in marching band uniforms in high school and college.

It was a given in my family that the women were heavy and the men beanpoles. There's an article online in the health section of the NY Times,
In Mauritania, Seeking to End an Overfed Ideal, that talks about an African city where female obesity was an ideal, and now, they're trying to correct and reverse their thinking.Female or male obesity isn't an ideal. I wouldn't want to live in a society that valued girth over healthy living as a sign of wealth or fertility.

I felt my weight gain as I maneuvered the potholes on my blades yesterday. I'd never had extra weight on back as I twisted, turned, and danced to the music in the outdoor roller rink summers past. I'm not Jabba the Hut, but I'm not happy right now. So much has changed since I last worked in an office with a corporate discount at NYHRC. It's not a stretch that I was more active working five days a week on a helpdesk, attending to the needs of secretaries and V.P.'s

Central Park will have to substitute as my gym of choice from this point forward. I'll miss the whirlpool, sauna, and fresh towels. I won't throw away my carton of Epsom Salt and wintergreen alcohol in the days ahead when I'm achy and stiff from my double-click fitness plan of jogging and skating.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Getting Back Into Shape - Day 2

I opted to rollerblade the six-mile loop around Central Park to complement my jogging the reservoir. I had some trepidation because I'd hadn't laced up and snapped on my skates in quite some time.

I usually wouldn't think about falling on my skates, but a small, still voice tried to prevent me from leaving the apartment. Was it that little red dreadful pointy-tailed creature hovering next to my right ear, or was my fear justified?

I descended the stairs backwards, as always, and checked my reflection in the lobby mirror. Yes, the chubby cheeks in the reflection owed themselves to all those times I bought
Häagen-Dazs Cookies and Cream on sale, two for five dollars at any number of grocery stores on the Upper West Side.

Excuses and fears oozed from me like the perspiration most likely would as I hit the three-mile mark: the street was unsafe due to current construction in the area, someone who knew me at my former lean life (see picture of me African dancing in Central Park below) would see me and snicker at me, hand across their mouth, or I'd be so winded that I'd be unable to complete the six-mile loop.

I swore off the Portuguese bread I recently fell in love with from the store across the street and Doritos that accompanied my tuna sandwiches, as one too many people whizzed by me on their skates and bicycles.

I was successful in my first day back on wheels and working up a sweat. The hills felt like mountains as I pushed-walked-rolled to the top before gliding down, careful to look on both sides, lips closed for fear of insects taking refuge inside my mouth. Twenty-eight days to go! Wish me luck, and please, keep all bad carbohydrates, Oreos, and strawberry cheesecake away.

P.S. There's no middle Sunday play at Wimbledon! The rain hasn't been kind to the athletes this year. The All England club might want to reconsider this, and definitely expedite the new retractable roof before 2009.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Getting Back Into Shape - Day 1

Today was my first morning jogging around The Jackie O. Reservoir in Central Park. I posted ads in the Activity Partners and Groups categories on Craigslist for early morning jogging buddies as I'd two summers ago. Four men and two women responded; the men flaked via e-mail overnight or earlier this morning before the alarm sounded at 6 a.m.

I knew to check e-mail before leaving the apartment as not to sit and search for the anonymous respondents with only vague physical and clothing descriptions as the sun made its appearance just above the park. I wasn't disappointed because I realized that I am responsible for my current condition, and that no one else can shed the ten to fifteen pounds I've gained from my sedentary lifestyle these past two years working primarily from home.

I had the veritable angel and demon on either shoulder as I staggered to get to dressed, all the while trying not to trip over one of my two cats. The angel prevailed, and I was ready to take the crucial first step in dropping down to my ideal weight and waist size. I've clothes hanging in plastic dry cleaner's bags once my metamorphosis is complete.

Rounding the curves and descending the hills to my final destination, I thought back to a petite elderly African American woman, perhaps in her late sixties or early seventies, I'd see several mornings a week two summers ago when I jogged with a small group. I called her Foxy, not only because of the pep in her step as she strutted, but because she was attractive and vibrant, her naturally taut caramel skin free of perspiration. I imagined she was quite a heartbreaker in her youth. She was a motivator then, and now as I hoped to see her power-walking to the music on her walkman.

Once at the bridge, I looked over at the tennis courts and wished for the physical conditioning of either Venus or Serena Williams currently playing at Wimbledon. I stretched and watched the other joggers and their dogs trot by underneath the bridge. The first lap was easy. I relied on emotional recall and muscle memory to propel myself around the 1.3 mile track. The second lap wasn't effortless, perhaps I thought too much about my goal rather than shifting into autopilot. I stopped twice on the track, but didn't put pressure on myself. It was my first day back after a two-year hiatus. I completed my second lap, huffed and puffed my way back to the bridge, stretched, and returned home to shower, eat breakfast, and watch The Sisters and James Blake play at Wimbledon, weather permitting.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Preference for African American or Overweight?

I recently watched a talk show with Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, who presented a computerized test on race.

How do you stack up on other sensitive topics such as religion, age, sexuality, or weight? Launch the following website and find out: Project Implicit.

I don't like the way it's designed. Perhaps it's just me. You're asked to go fast, which in itself might cause mistakes. It's as if the test seeks racist results.

My results: "Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for African American compared to European American." This wasn't scientific. Before and I after this test, I will continue to see people as individuals, rather than a collective group.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New and Noteworthy

I recently came across three websites of interest while flipping through an old issue of Essence Magazine while my Adult Basic Education students took their TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) given by New York State.

The first site I'd heard about on Oprah when Susan Taylor was a guest, Essence Cares; the goal of this site is mentoring. "
Our critical call to action simply asks this: that every able Black adult put his or her guiding hand on a vulnerable young person's shoulder. So many of our young people-our treasure and our future-are in peril. At this moment, the negative forces claiming our children are more powerful than our community's and country's efforts to secure them."

The second is Victoria Rowell's organization for foster children. Why this site? One of my aunts was a foster parent to several children when I was growing up. I saw at an early age the emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse some displaced or abandoned children endure.

The final site is Wallpaper Magazine, because I like the look of it, and am considering sending in a query letter or three.

I hope you all enjoy the sites, or get involved if so inclined.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Blogging for Dollars

When I first began blogging, I never thought about making money. It was to complement my then morning pages from the Artist's Way. It's faster and easier to type on a keyboard than to write longhand.

A few months into my blogging, I responded to an online ad to join a "blogging network" by a local would-be businessman that handled the administrative technical aspects of the blog in exchange for my creating original content.

That didn't last for long because I suspected he was not forthcoming with the profits, however small they might have been. We did our best to part amicably after he accused me of a few things over the phone and via e-mail. He gave me a few days to transfer my content for safekeeping.

Two years later, blogging for profit has soared, and people have become celebrities, published authors (blooks), and multimillionaires.

I came across this site, Problogger, a few days ago, and after forcing my lower jaw shut, wondered what I could do to generate income on this blog, or one of my other online outlets. A friend recently pointed me to this article from Business 2.0 Magazine, Blogging for Dollars. Take a look and see if there's anything of interest or use to you.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Should Writers Work For Free?

Long before I realized that I wanted to pursue writing, editing, and teaching as a possible second career, I was always clear on that there would be a learning curve where I wouldn't earn as much as seasoned professionals.

I've earned money since I was fifteen years old. My first job was as a busboy/porter at a regional chain restaurant in Texas. I worked hard during the summer and was compensated for my labor. Why then, after training and rough starts, should I not receive compensation as a writer? There is no reason for magazines, corporations, and laymen seeking my services to expect me to do it out of the goodness of my heart. Goodness will not pay for my ConEd, Time Warner Cable, or weekly trips to various grocery stores.

It's always troubling to speak to someone on the phone or via e-mail and know in my gut that they're cheap and have no respect for artists. Worse is when I visit their office or apartment with nice furnishings, and oh, don't gawk too long at the huge flat panel TV affixed to the wall, just above the fireplace. It's then that I want to prop a rocket launcher on my shoulder and aim at the center of their being.

There's usually a debate in the Writing Gigs or Writing/Editing section on Craigslist on this very subject. It usually figures prominently in other writing forums such as MediaBistro.

Is it insensitivity or trying to get over on writers or editors that causes those who seek our services to insult those of us who earn either a full or part-time living creating and editing press releases, artist biographies, or movie and book reviews?

I especially love to read posts from people seeking writers to write their "amazing, wonderful, shouldn't be overlooked" life stories now that memoirs have become popular. Or those who have great screenplay ideas that must be written this instant, and if the script sells, compensation will follow. Pardon me if I raise my right brow, smirk on my face, as I stifle a guffaw.

At the end of the day, it's a personal choice to work for free. Do I think it sullies the credibility and professionalism of all writers? No. There are gullible people born every minute of the day, and those who'll take advantage of them soon after the doctor has tapped their bottom, signaling their arrival into the world.

Am I my fellow writer's keeper? No. We can learn from the mistakes and miscalculations of others posted in forums and blasted in newsgroups: Writer Beware! This company doesn't pay. This company promised pay, and didn't deliver!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

A few couples I know have broken up in recent weeks, and I wonder if it's the heat that made them cross, or if the relationship ran its course after ten, seven, or five years, respectively.

Relationships can be difficult to maintain in an image-obsessed society of perfect abs, derrière, and polished white teeth. Is anyone to blame? Or should everyone be concerned about health, weight, and nutrition?

There's usually an emptiness leading up to the final decision to separate, followed by packing suitcases, giving away shared items, and alerting family and friends of the inevitable, irreconcilable breakup.

What precipitates a breakup? Some couples are seemingly impenetrable against outside attacks, wandering eyes, and occasional boredom and annoyances that are a part of every relationship. Are the couples that breakup not trying hard enough to hold onto each other, salvage the relationship?

When a couple has been together for more than two or three years, the shared history should account for something. There are any number of books in the Self-Help section of Barnes & Noble or Borders Bookstore. I have four such books in my collection: Life Strategies, Self Matters, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, and thoughts without a thinker. I've read two of them, and never made the time to read the other two. Why? I don't know. There's only so much internalization and self-reflection I can take before I'm tempted to shutdown and hide in a dark room.

I imagine striking out alone after living together for years is painful. Several couples in my apartment building have done so since I've lived here, remnants of their lives together stacked in the lobby for all to see and rummage through like an African vulture picking at a carcass after a pack of lions have feasted. Their lives together frozen in time in the outdated blue dresser drawer and the unopened yellow latex gloves.

I tend to think of country songs by Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, or Loretta Lynn, or court cases when people breakup. But more so than not, heartbreak usually spirals us into depression, sloth, and one too many bad tearjerker movies on cable TV. Pass the tissue, buttered popcorn, and Klondike ice cream bar.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Writing Quotes

"Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them."

--Charles Caleb Colton

"[W]e can get away with things in children's books that nobody in the adult world ever can because the assumption is that the audience is too innocent to pick it up. And in truth they're the only audience that does pick it up."

--Maurice Sendak

"You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell."

--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"My advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows. Learn to distinguish banality. Remember that mediocrity thrives on 'ideas.' Beware of the modish message. Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint. Ignore allegories. By all means place the 'how' above the 'what' but do not let it be confused with the 'so what.' Rely on the sudden erection of your dorsal hairs. Do not drag in Freud at this point. All the rest depends on personal talent."

--Vladimir Nabokov

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Almost Homeless, Nearly Murdered

I was almost homeless at an early age because my mother and I couldn't, wouldn't, and refused to get along when I was in high school and leading up to my first year in college. Looking back on it now, I'm surprised that it ever came to my living in the YMCA in Downtown Houston, given the size of my immediate and extended family.

When I think back to the incident that resulted in the deadline my mother gave me to vacate, I draw a blank. It could've been anything that caused a riff between us. We fought about my attending a predominantly white high school, my having a phone in my bedroom, money I spent on clothes I bought with my earnings, or her unrealistic idea that she was losing me, and I my identity, to a white majority.

I didn't think about losing my identity while packing the contents of my life up to seventeen in boxes and suitcases. I thought about which family member or friend of family I'd call to offer refuge from my mother's wrath.

As I stood in my bedroom with a solitary calendar on the wall--I'd removed all other wall and door adornments--I flashed back to the previous time my mother put my younger brother and I out of the house. An underage female cousin was in trouble, and my mother felt it her duty to shelter her during her time of need. She'd always wanted a girl, and this was the closest she'd come in rescuing my cousin prior to her procedure. (This reminds me of Daisy's monologue from Baby with the Bathwater by Christopher Durang. In it, his mother always wanted a girl, or a bestseller.)

That episode unfolded with my stepping in to prevent my mother from what I thought would paralyze my younger brother during one of her famous fire and brimstone whippings. We had to iron our school clothes a few days, if not a week, in advance. We were ironing and fooling around when she tore into the bedroom intent on chastising him for something, other, or another. He fell back onto a bed of wire hangers (pardon the Mommie Dearest references), and I interrupted her swing. "Stop, you're going to hurt him."

I thought about one of the hooks working its way into his spine and paralyzing him. She thought I was defying her on principle. She huffed, puffed, and had the apartment not been made of bricks, would've blown the room off the foundation.

Off she went into her bedroom, arms flailing, jaws full of air; my cousin lurking just out of sight. She regrouped, returned, and told us to get out. She forced us out of the house, barefoot, sniffling, coughing, crying. (She was always worried about what the neighbors thought, so she ordered us back inside to put on shoes, get our belongings, and leave.)

Back inside, I called every relative with a phone and a car who we thought would come to our rescue. No one volunteered, but one aunt offered, "Your mother is crazy, chile, I'm not coming over there."

After exhausting all family members, I decided to call her then best friend, may she RIP, who came to pick us up without a second thought about her friendship with my mother. She knew my mother's temperament, that she was wrong, and she was our last hope that night.

Black garbage bags stuffed with clothes, shoes, and anything that fit on top, we waited at the end of the apartment walkway for our rescuer. I recall the look on her face as she peeked through the curtains: Damn, they got away.They don't need me.
Many years later, it was a Mexican friend who lived in the neighborhood, and attended the same predominantly white high school, that backed his black TransAm (Camaro?) underneath the dining room window and helped me load my boxes and suitcases in the trunk en route to a high school friend's house. I'd called a friend from theatre class to ask for advice, help. His father answered and informed me that he wasn't home, but he was more concerned with my emotional state (crying, blubbering). Without ever laying eyes on me, knowing nothing about me, he invited me to stay at their apartment.

Mother had always feared I'd grow up white, which was genetically impossible in my case, but there I was living like a foster child with a white classmate and his father. I stayed there for about two months before I made the next stop to the YMCA. One of my godmothers, may she, too, RIP, pulled up in a her customized burgundy and white Cadillac, and off I went to register for a room.

I remember the residence hall as large, dimly-lit, and not a place I wanted to be, but had no other options at that time. I didn't think to ask, or my godmother didn't offer me a place to stay. I don't recall if it was from a place to strengthen my resolve and independence.


We see a young African American male, late teens, sitting in a darkened room, surrounded by boxes, suitcases, with assorted clothes strewn about the bed and faux leather chair. A wall-mounted TV plays in the background as he surveys the room, perhaps wondering how he ended up in a place like this.


A Rubenesque Mexican maid approaches the young African American male having breakfast, stops, looks around room before offering a verbal warning.

¡Ten cuidado, mijo!

Huh? Oh, okay.

As it turned out, the resident in the room to the left of mine had been robbed and murdered the night before. The motherly maid knew I was new, and that I was in the adjacent room. I think I'd been there two or three days by then. I found out from the murmurs and mumblings of other residents in the hallways or near the showers what had actually happened. It could've been me lying in a pool of blood, staring at my body from just above.

I immediately called my godmother. She picked me up in her Caddy, and off we went to her beautiful home miles away from the scene of the crime. I've never forgotten the maid's facial expression and voice. She responded to me as if I were her child. I'll always be grateful for my angels in life.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Writer's Schizophrenia

I'm working on a series of short stories that deal with troubled, dysfunctional, or characters on the fringe of society. My former life as an actor has prepared me to create characters from the ground up, during improvisational exercises, but acting was a group activity. Writing is a solitary act, and as such can leave me vulnerable to voices, sights, sounds, and memories that build the foundation of fictional characters and the world they lead me to create.

I'd never given much thought to depression or mental illness as an artist despite the number of people who suffer. I won't say afflicted, perhaps because it sounds biblical or like an elective surgery. However, what I've felt time and again comes close to Hayley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, when he says, "I see dead people."

I don't really see dead people, but I can connect to and identify with characters young and old, rich or people, black or white, as I sit at the computer or when one of them wakes me in the middle of the night.

I've also discovered that it's harder to murder your darlings in writing. One such female character refuses to die. She dances on the edge of my reality, having taken her lessons from Salome or Cleopatra. She wasn't working in the story no matter how hard I tried to accommodate her and the other characters. The only solution is to showcase her in a new story in all her cunning, deceptive glory.

It's my hope that readers will identify with the characters I create on the page and screen. I don't wish the creative process on the uninitiated.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Life is oftentimes a series of tests that can be hard to overcome-- nightmares, emotional scars, and hiding out in your apartment or at your best friend's are left in the wake of said tests, trials, and hand-wringing troubles.

I've always taken refuge in my grandmother's strength, will to live, and spirituals as a way to heal what might ails. Nothing could go wrong when Granny was on the scene. Granny was there to impede our parents from spanking us when she thought we deserved a second or third chance. Staying overnight at her house was mandatory on the avoid a sneak attack in the middle of the night or the next day.

Over the years granny's strength has waned, her eyesight not what it used to be, and there now great-grandchildren scattered throughout Houston and surrounding subdivisions. Her will to live remains, even if her body contradicts her. I'd love to live as long as she has and have a similar will to persevere at ninety and beyond.

People have come and gone in my life, and I try to be grateful for having met them and shared experiences in all forms good, bad, and those I try hard to forget, but reside at the edge of my sanity.

I travel back in my mind to pleasurable memories when the bogeyman, devil, or the rude neighbor downstairs bangs out the same simple rhythm that I played in kindergarten on my wooden chopsticks. I remember Granny pushing me down the street in the wheelbarrow before sunrise in my footed pajamas, her walking along with one of my aunts to every daytime performance at my junior high, or her giving my first drink of coffee, cooled, on a porcelain saucer when I was a child.

Music has a similar soothing and escapist effect on me, be it Billie Holiday's blues, Marvin Gaye or Aretha Franklin's soul, Jessye Norman singing Wagner, Purcell, or Schubert. Add to that a hot-as-I-can-stand-it bath with Epsom Salt and wintergreen alcohol, Granny's recipe for anything that bothers you, as the CD's shuffle as I fall asleep with a towel as a pillow in my clawfoot tub.

I remember when I first heard Jessye Norman's voice. I was still living with my mother and two younger brothers. I was alone at home, and had turned on the TV while I prepared something to eat -- the local PBS station. Her voice rose from the TV and over the sofa and latched onto me. The closest I'd ever come to classical by that point in my life was being forced to take private piano lessons as a child. I made it as far as third grade in piano before being pardoned by mother. Anyway, where I grew up and in my family, little black boys didn't listen to opera. Piano was different, because it was something my mother had wanted for me, for a foolish reason to impress her boyfriend at the time.

As an adult I don't care what other people think of me as African American male. I've only my faith and coping skills (see above) to get me over the hiccups and through the challenges that are part of life on earth.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Child Prodigy

My earliest memory of performing took place on stage in kindergarten when I played wooden chopsticks. My mother told me recently that she'd seen my kindergarten teacher in a retail store, and that she asked about me. She was very nice and kind to all her students.

I can see the classrooms and hallways in my grade school in Houston, and think back to my teachers and administrators who first encouraged me when seemingly no one would or could. In my mind's eye now, the desks and classrooms seem so small and remote.

I don't remember my classmates as overtly competitive, but there were encouraged rivalries among us.

There gospel-singing, tambourine-playing sisters in the glee club, one of which audition for the Houston Idol. The younger of the two sisters, I felt, could have become a household name with professional training and mentoring. She felt her voice was a gift from God, and was best utilized in church.

I don't recall any others with artistic gifts from God. The director of the glee club back then believed in and encouraged us equally. He was determined to get as many of us out of the neighborhood and into better schools and universities.

I can't recall if I performed solo prior to playing piano in my bid to be Mr. Hilliard in 4th grade, when I swore I wouldn't cry as winners were announced. Perhaps it was then that I formed my low opinion of pageants. The king and queen were the teachers' pets. The comedienne classmate and the budding athlete who became a minister would have been more interesting choices.

I didn't come into my own as an actor until junior high, thanks to the opportunities of my 7th grade English teacher who took over the drama department. The previous year was when I learned that I could be replaced in a performance if I locked myself in my dressing room like a spoiled opera star. It was none too pleasing to sit in audience and watch someone else walk through a role I knew I could sell.

I was the default male lead in school plays for two years, I just had to pick up the script and attend rehearsals. I last knew my drama coach as Dr. Owens, but I think she's since remarried. I owe a debt of gratitude to her and a few people at church for putting me front and center on stage or behind a podium to read the bulletin announcements, scriptures, or performing God's Trombones or The Judgment Day by James Weldon Johnson.

High school brought with it new challenges and head-on racism in a predominantly white student body. I transferred from an all-black high school at the urging of my grade school and junior high school glee club director/cultural attaché to all things upwardly mobile.

I knew I was black before I hopped on the yellow banana and was bussed clear across town to the tony River Oaks, but somehow didn't feel my blackness until I was surrounded by white classmates, which was a first for me. It's different having two or three white teachers in a black school who chose to work in the district, and eating lunch Indian-style on the front lawn of a new school, a few feet away from a country club that I imagined had restricted membership.

The new high school was filled with false prophets, spoiled rich kids, and a few who were probably child prodigies in the family and/or respective grade schools. I acknowledge that I was in a different body of water, but I wished the drama school had cast me and other non-white students in lead roles, rather than being relegated to bit players and servants.

One of my fondest memories came from from one of the redneck coaches, "Boy, you can act! Keep on doing what you doing." He'd seen me audition in the auditorium for a role that I wasn't given the opportunity to bring to life even though I was right for the part. The Northwestern-educated drama coach didn't believe in colorblind casting.

When I landed a few print modeling gigs, local commercials, and a national McDonald's commercial, I wanted to poke out my tongue at the overacting son of the famous televangelist, and the saccharine-sweet default female lead.

I'm glad I didn't turn out like Bette Davis's character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Imagine.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Ties That Bind

Am I my brother's keeper? Am I obligated to be a friend to my friend's friend?

Oftentimes friends expect us to follow their lead even when we’ve a gut reaction to the contrary. I think these are a test of the friendship when we have to stand on principle and not be guided down a regrettable path.

My past friends were friends because we shared similar and different beliefs. The friendships I had back in Texas disintegrated because we grew apart emotionally, spiritually, or ties were severed because I relocated to New York. It’s difficult to maintain long-distance love affairs, let alone platonic friendships.

I don’t think I had or have a romantic, swashbuckling idea of friendship, but I think true friends are akin to family. What are those famous friendships on the silver screen? The Goonies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me ,The Women of Brewster Place, Brian's Song, or Harry Potter.

I'm aware that people will have differences, arguments, and not speak to each other for days or weeks over silly infractions or misjudgments, but a honest-to-goodness friend will meet you in the middle to repair the riff. Hopefully the bond deepens, and the friends learn more about the other.

I'm blessed to have had and have good and great friends throughout my years in school and as an adult. I thoroughly enjoy friends who are on the same wavelength during a conversation -- more information is communicated than actually said. I like knowing that a friend is calling even before I answer the phone, or that I can send or receive a telepathic message to call; possible between some parents and children if their bond is strong.

A great friend knows as well as, if not better, than you know yourself. A real friend will tell you the truth when no one else will: "I don't think you should wear those parachute pants anymore. They might have been stylish back in college, but they're past their expiration date."

A good friend will let you sleep on their sofa or in La-Z Boy recliner when you've locked yourself out of the house until your roommate returns because you've no wallet and credit card to call the locksmith. A great friend will let you crash at their place just because you need to see another face without question. Besides, these types of friends know instinctively, witnessed by the few seconds of silent direct eye contact and a nod when the opens.

Friendship is knowing when to say you're sorry, and not apologizing when you don't have to because your friend knows they're in the wrong and won't admit it.

It might be morbid to think about dying and death in the prime of life, but as a writer I do wonder what my friends would say during a eulogy. Would I rise up out of the coffin and correct their syntax and grammar? Mind those dangling modifiers and participles, the ghost of the writer/editor intones in a sepulchral voice from the back of the mortuary.