Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas in Huelva-Gibraleon

I woke this morning with any number of titles and ideas for blog entries, articles, and story ideas on my mind. As I stirred from bed and headed to the shower, I felt the stillness of the apartment. The cats were asleep, and my roommate wasn't home. 

Today's Christmas, and yet it feels like yet another day to me. It wasn't always like this. Those of us who still lived with Granny, days leading up to Christmas were always exciting for the grandchildren. Christmas Eve found my aunts and mom cooking, baking, and wrapping last-minute gifts.  

There was the obligatory competition among the children on who received the best gifts as we tore the paper from an assortment of boxes and packages. No one wanted to receive useful gifts such as socks, underwear, or sweaters before we fell prey to labels and celebrity endorsements. 

As time has passed, I identify less with what Christmas should be versus how I feel inside. Jewelry, cars, or Caribbean trips with on-again-off-again lovers mean nothing to me if there's no heart and soul at the center of the celebration. 

I'm not speaking from a place of cynicism. I like giving and receiving gifts just like the next person, but when confronted with rude or unknowledgeable retail clerks, unrealistic or demanding gift requests, and a swarm of shoppers, I'd rather return to a place I visited years ago in Southern Spain. 

I met a Spanish exchange student in the ELI (English Language Institute) back in college who years later invited me to visit her, "Come to see me when you're in Spain!" The turn of events that led me to Spain would make an interesting essay on race and prejudice in another post. For now, I'll concentrate on the time I rediscovered the meaning of Christmas on a rain-soaked Christmas Eve in Huelva

I traveled by train from Madrid where I'd been staying in a private room in a three-star hotel, to spend time with Rosa and her family for about a week before traveling to Paris by bus. 

The short of the long is that I was an odd celebrity of sorts as the only person of color in town. I think they'd seen Africans before, not sure, but I was a different complexion and build, so they didn't know what to make of me. Automatic cameras were at the ready with my face in the center of the frame. I was treated with an admixture of awe and respect, had a few glasses of homemade vino dulce, and was schooled on how to buy fine Spanish leather accessories. 

I remember walking to the center of the town's church for midnight mass, folks arm in arm, singing yuletide songs in Spanish, under a sea of umbrellas protecting us from the steady rain. We arrived at church thoroughly soaked but in great spirits. I miss that sense of family and community rolled into one. After a day or two, my seeming differences had worn off or blended into the tapestry of this quaint town. 

I miss the simplicity of waking up without expectations on Christmas morning as I did as a child, but I'm sure I can find my way back to that place in my heart if I block out the commercialization (bastardization) of an American Christmas that I was thousands of miles away from in Huelva. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Morningside Heights Guide - February 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you all are enjoying your holiday season and are looking forward to a recovered economy and better 2009!

I'm reaching out to you all in Manhattan, specifically those who currently live, have lived, attended university, and or familiar with Morningside Heights/SoHa for useful information, tips, tools, and hidden gems in the area for a new guide that will be released early 2009.

I'm looking for restaurants to review, local businesses to highlight, business owners to interview, and a local hero that has lived under the radar.

What makes Morningside Heights different from Hudson Heights and Harlem, Inwood, or Washington Heights in your opinion?

I'd be forever in your debt. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Walk Of The Chameleon

As long as I can remember, I've been able to immerse myself into whatever it was I was doing. This skill was helpful during my time on stage or in front a camera as an actor. A director wants to mold an actor into an ideal character so that nothing of him remains, thereby beguiling audiences.

Disappearing into a character is good for actors, but might not work as well at a job interview, in a marriage, or when accosted in a dark alley or elevator. I've only been guilty of acting or blending in to get a job. The masquerade lasted a few months or years if I played the role of employee well.

I used to have a friend who'd ask, "Tiger, where are you working this week?" I was adept at getting jobs back then, perhaps out to prove something to someone, but it escapes me now. We'd joke about it, but my early employment record seems anything but comedic now. Some people call me a hustler because of the same ability to walk into a situation and get what I want. I take it as a compliment, acknowledgment of my determination and chameleon tools.

Over the years I've had an assortment of friends and acquaintances, rich, poor, codependent, and downright dangerous, that I walked alongside, counseled, and had reciprocal lessons. I sampled and absorbed the best of them, for better or worse, a veritable all-you-can eat buffet.

No one's to blame for my true nature. I'm a survivor. My childhood and young adulthood wouldn't have warranted a mental health professional, been fodder for a TV show or movies.

There are days I when I feel abnormal, when I think it'd be easier to have remained in Texas as a tenured Ph.D. in English Literature at any number of universities. Ah, wonder. Life as a married professor living in the suburbs with my 2.5 kids, and dog named Spot or Rover. Nice work if you can get it, but the more I thought about that life and career track, the less appealing it sounded to me.

I'm at my best when challenged and able to express my different selves. Humans are multi-faceted creatures. Why then should we settle for what's predictable and safe?

I've experienced yet another metamorphosis in recent months. I've launched a part-time Publicity/Marketing business, Keneritz Media, LLC, a multidisciplinary agency. I work with a diverse list of clients in music, media, and business. My training in theatre, directing, writing, editing, and experience in corporate America is the foundation for my creating a successful enterprise. I'm closer to an ideal balance of colors and talents as a Publicist. My current clients require specialized combinations of me depending upon their career goals and temperament. I think I might be onto something. Being a chameleon isn't a bad thing at all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On The Issues Magazine - Cross-linking

Dear Readers, I've recently been asked to assist a friend and colleague, Stephanie Schroeder, of Pushy Broad Consulting as Project Manager for On The Issues Magazine.

I'm looking for reciprocal links and cross promotion of content in our Café Section.

On The Issues Magazine
is a progressive, feminist publication.
We would also be interested in new contributors to our pages, so please feel free to submit queries or relevant articles of interest. Happy Writing!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Twitter Follower Count?

A person on Twitter posed the question, "Is it better to follow or be followed?" Here's my response:

I signed up for my Twitter account with eyes opened and feet firmly on the ground. I had and still don't have any extra-ordinary expectations for the time I invest online interacting with people I follow or choose to follow me. It can be flattering when I'm followed by people I wouldn't have otherwise known. I'm curious: "How DID they find me? What was so interesting that they opted to follow?" "Is this person trying to boost their Twitter numbers, and have no real interest in interacting with me?" I don't (immediately) follow every person that follows me.

I'm not on Twitter for a numbers game. I must feel a quality connection over mere numbers. I read a Twitter article that talked about personality types, one of which was a Twitter snob. Sorry folks, I'm no snob, but I don't care to read about every mundane detail of someone's life. I always try to offer information tips, tools, and links to my followers when online. Is Twitter an out of control schoolyard sandbox without a set of written and/or understood rules? Perhaps it is.

I'm not interested in everyone who follows me. I'm not interested in people who forget they've a Twitter account, spammers, or those on a constant mission to push products. I enjoy the time I spend on Twitter, but don't take it or myself too seriously when online. Is Twitter here to stay, or the latest online craze? Twitter can be addictive if you're not careful. Twitter is a tool. Use it at your discretion, but it's probably best not to mandate rules. I live in a democracy until further notice. It's better to be true to yourself and allow the gurus, superstars, and pundits do what they will to keep themselves happy.

Guilt should have no place on something that is meant to be fun, interactive, and entertaining. Enjoy life!

This cartoon sums it for me: Twitter in Real Life: The Follow-Back

Monday, October 20, 2008

Give Yourself A Gift of a Writer's Workshop

Are there others out there who are looking for a good writing workshop, but have been unsuccessful? Have you joined groups that didn't last more than a few weeks or months?

Why is it so difficult to find a thriving writing group like those listed in Writer's Digest Magazine or The Writer Magazine? How many others out there would like to join a group of writers en route to publication and production?

Are you apprehensive about paying for eight or ten classes or sessions where you might not get the individualized attention your writing deserves because of the number of students?

We can all agree that some of the good things in life are free: a hug or a kiss from a loved one, an encouraging word, or timeless advice from an elder.

But what about free writing groups that are so laid-back and loose that there are new faces every meeting, or meetings that aren't scheduled regularly? While they may bash fee-based groups, they overlook the fact that people get what they pay for. Lack of organization can oftentimes lead to disruption of meetings and eventual empty seats around the workshop table.

We're looking for writers who are enthusiastic about their own and supportive of others in the workshop. It's also important that the community of writers are mature and able to take criticism and debate, rather than argue or justify their work.

We've had a successful group that's lasted years and we are looking to add members in our Memoir/Creative Nonfiction, Screenwriting/Playwriting, and Fiction Workshops who share the same commitment and philosophy.

Past members have gone on to publish in literary magazines and with traditional publishers.

If this sounds good to you, check us out online, http://www.morningsidewriters.com, and click on the appropriate group heading and application.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Office Politics and Disturbances

I work in an environment that leaves a lot to be desired. It's a cramped space, and the owners need to invest in improving the workspace, rather than hoarding the money away for a rainy day. Back to front, the storefront is in need of repairs and expansion, or the offices need to be relocated altogether. 

I know we're in a financial crises, but I don't think that's reason enough to have mended a drafty hole in the bathroom wall. One best wear a pullover sweater during colder temperatures if all the bits and pieces are to remain intact. 

The space is small bordering on claustrophobic, and many of my new coworkers were never taught to use their inside voice, and without proper cubicles and distance between desks, voices carry and crawl up the back of the neck. The resulting migraine headache, preventable. 

I've worked for small business owners before, but never a family-owned business in a cultural enclave replete with different customs and belief systems. I initially thought of this experience as a form of affirmative action, but it's not the same. 

Working in this place is like stepping into a time machine to a place before passports were needed. A time of feudal villages, warlords, and autocracies. 

Regardless of the industry or office size, politics exist in the daily operations. It's wrong for a small business to be run like a family, even if it's family-owned and operated. 

I'm grateful for the opportunity to prove myself, but don't look forward to jumping through hoops or being subjected to the whims of an immature, moody boss. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cultural Awareness

The five boroughs of New York City are vast, and if one is unfamiliar with the various subways, buses, gypsy cabs, it would be easy to get lost in what might feel like a strange land. The double-edge sword of living in New York is that we can become desensitized to other ethnicities. An inherent danger of a perceived melting pot is living in cultural enclaves due to fear, ignorance, and intolerance.

I've always been aware of myself as an African American having been born and raised in the southwest, but it wasn't until I relocated to the East Coast did I understand that my view had to change.

America attracts people from around the globe, and nowhere is this more apparent than in New York. While I don't think there's a danger in living in such close proximity to our neighbors, but the evening tells a different story with regular cultural clashes, police brutality, and hate crimes against minorities and immigrants. 

Morning commutes to work, school, or job interviews, the subway car is filled with a cacophony of accents, dialects, and laughter. We're stuffed inside like sardines, breathing on each other as we grab hold of the safety pole as the express train bolts underground. 

What do our parents teach us about people who are different? What can our parents teach us if we've never encountered someone from a remote region of the world?

My mother didn't raise me to be racist or intolerant. Life in Texas isn't representative of life in New York, but things were simpler back then. Houston is so big that conceivably a group of people could isolate themselves and never encounter a different ethnic group. I grew up in a predominantly African American community: church, grade school, civic organizations. It wasn't until junior high that I had Mexican classmates who were bussed in from the surrounding areas. 

It wasn't until high school that I'd had Asian, white, or international classmates. Imagine my surprise and or naiveté when I encountered non-black students who weren't as intelligent or more intelligent. Black students were taught that we had to be 150% better than our white counterparts on the other side of town. 

It took a few weeks to make friends in the more culturally-diverse high school I transferred into. There were mornings I didn't want to wake before the crack of dawn and wait for the big yellow bus, but I know now that there was something better in store for me in the tony River Oaks location.

I learned, slowly, to embrace people and situations previously unfamiliar. Some of those lessons have remained with me, while others are still hard to grasp. Cultural acceptance is an individual choice, and can't be taught, legislated, or mandated. 

We sometimes have to remind ourselves that an overhead racial slur, a veiled or obvious slight at work, or an in your face attack, too, is an individual choice. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Writing Group Dynamics

Five years ago I formed Morningside Writers Group, after an unsuccessful search for an existing writers group that worked. I didn't know at first what worked meant initially. I went on gut instinct.

What didn't work for me back then:
  • traveling more than an hour from home or work to attend meetings.
  • mixing writing genres in one group.
  • combining inexperienced writers better suited for a beginning writer's class with seasoned and/or published writers.
  • defending creative work. If it's not on the page, please don't expect me to read minds.
  • habitual tardiness or absences.
  • lack of commitment; not seeking publication, production, or sales.
  • inability to see beyond the top of one's nose or fingertips.
  • inability to play in the sandbox with others.
I can see now how and why the original MWG blueprint might have been flawed. I didn't have a measuring stick to gauge writing abilities versus writing potential. I didn't have a Clinical Psychology degree to navigate the different personality types.

One of the biggest mistakes was that I didn't screen and restrict the number of members. I tried to recreate a surrogate (artist) family in NYC that I had in Houston. These were strangers, no more likely to greet me on the street save for their interest in writing, and the new fangled thing I'd coined as Morningside Writers Group.

The process felt and can feel like Times Square during rush hour, sorting through writers and their application samples. Some people are just passing through, testing the waters, poking around, and perhaps spying. All aren't destined to join and maintain writing group memberships.

Building and maintaining a thriving writers group is hard work, and five years later, there are a few regrets. If I could offer advice to anyone wanting to start a writing group, I'd say proceed with caution, expect disappointment when some applicants don't meet membership criteria, and welcome surprises when eventual group members meet and surpass expectations.

An unfortunate aspect of all groups is a revolving door of personalities, face, and writing abilities.

Above all else, those foolish enough to organize and moderate a writing workshop or workshops, as I do, know that it will require business acumen, superb organizational skills, and the patience of Job. The inside joke is that I created an affordable one-year MFA program.

I'm often asked why I formed MWG. My background is in performance (acting, choir, and dancing). I moved to NYC to perform on Broadway, but I (a) lost interest, (b) was tired of unscrupulous and oversexed playwrights, directors, and producers, (c) was fed up playing children, teens, and or perpetual best friend.

I was inspired by other actors who took control of their personal lives and careers, and made the leap to writing. I read and give feedback as an actor/director would. I believe in staging fiction, and the actor as writer.

If the writing doesn't come alive on the stage in my mind, it needs work in my opinion. I appreciate and welcome opinions other than my own, and to that end, I created a twelve-item critique form that most complain about completing at first, but eventually come around. I know the critique templates have been floating in cyberspace for years, hopefully guiding writers to improve subsequent drafts.

I set out to create a writing community, and I've been successful more so than not, despite a myriad of setbacks, online attacks for people not granted interviews, or accepted into the workshops after an interview or audit session. There are good and great writers, just as there are good personalities. At the end of the day, chemistry is important when forming and sustaining creative or artistic groups.

I've built a solid foundation on which writers can produce quality work and receive detailed feedback before submitting to contests, editors, agents, and publishers. I have to remind myself regularly why I keep Morningside operational, rather than writing in a dimly lit corner in a local coffee shop or bar as some opt to do because they've been burned by other writing groups, or just don't play well with others.

Why do I do it? I'm a natural big brother and mentor, and I want to see others do their best, as they bring out the best in me. I'm hardwired for groups since my earliest beginnings.

Monday, October 13, 2008

United We Stand

It’s always sad when we’re prejudged on the basis of race, creed, and gender at work, school, or in politics. No one wants to fill a perceived void to make upper management or the front office feel as if a good deed has been done. The opposite would be a homogenized school or workplace devoid of variety: voices, styles, ethnicities, and faces.

We covet who and what we find familiar. Blacks, browns, yellows, and olive tones tend to seek out each other, whereas a majority of whites, and those misguided souls who think they’re white, aspire to be white, or are actually successful in passing for white, congregate and try to isolate themselves from everyone else.

We are not born prejudiced or racist, but are taught to be by our parents and family. Granny Gums was famous her southernisms. On the subject of racism, she’d say something along the lines of, “What if you were blind and didn’t know I was Black, and only able to judge me on how I treated you?” This doesn’t hearken back to America’s severe racial divide, but makes sense in the context of black domestics keeping house and raising white kids.

Why do we fear other people? I don’t want to take anything from anyone else. I only want what’s fair as I pursue my happiness. However, that’s probably not the consensus in America and worldwide.

America’s in the midst of making history, and yet the pervasive woes are skin color, religion, and creed. This country was built on the backs of African slaves, indentured Japanese servants, and various Native American tribes who were cheated out of their land.

The distant history is still present in too many minds, which clouds recent developments, improvements, compromises, and inroads within the last fifty years. These states are not united, and the hang-ups that divide us seem insurmountable.

Twenty-two days aren’t enough overcome, coddle, and cajole deep-seated hatreds and institutionalized racism. Unfortunately this country isn’t ready, willing, or able to move beyond its turbulent past and embrace a new beginning.

Is it impossible to elect a biracial African American male as president of America? No, it would take a vision that many refuse to consider and share.

Hear my battle cry, and vote for Barack Obama on November 4th!

Hear me roar if you fear that change won’t happen – it takes you, me, my brothers, family and friends registering, and actually casting our votes!

We can change this country together if we want, but what will that cost each of us? I’d rather not wait until November 5th to discover that fear, rumor, lies, and insecurities were reasons Barack Obama wasn’t elected President. It’s within our hands to begin restoring this country so that all people who call this land home can come together as one.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Which Writing Group Is Right For You?

Are there others out there who are looking for a good writing group, but have been unsuccessful? Have you been burned by other groups? Have you joined groups that didn't last more than a few weeks or months?

Why is it so difficult to find a thriving writing group like those listed in Writer's Digest MagazineThe Writer Magazine? How many others out there would like to join a group of writers en route to publication and production?

Are you apprehensive about paying for eight or ten workshops where you might not get the individualized attention your writing deserves because of the number of students in a class?

We can all agree that some of the good things in life are free: a hug or a kiss from a loved one, an encouraging word, or timeless advice from an elder.

But what about free writing groups that are so laid-back and loose that there are new faces every meeting, or meetings that aren't scheduled regularly? While they may bash fee-based groups, they overlook the fact that people get what they pay for. Lack of organization can oftentimes lead to disruption of meetings and eventual empty seats around the workshop table.

We're looking for writers who are enthusiastic about each other's writing. It's also important that the assembled group of artists are mature and able to take criticism and debate, rather than argue or justify their work.

We've had a successful group that's lasted years and we are looking to add members in our Memoir/Creative Nonfiction, Screenwriting, and newly formed Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction divisions who share the same commitment and philosophy.

Past members have gone on to publish in literary magazines and with traditional publishers.

If this sounds good to you, check us out online, http://www.morningsidewriters.com, and click on the appropriate group heading and application.
or

Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Hispanic Heritage Book Giveaway!

Hispanic Heritage Month Giveaway – September 15th – October 15th

Morningside Writers Group and Harlem Writer are hosting a FREE Hispanic Heritage Book Giveaway sponsored by Hachette Book Group.

Answer one of the following three essay questions below and submit your response as a Word or PDF attachment by midnight on 10/15/08, to info@morningsidewriters.com, with the Subject: Hispanic Heritage Contest Giveaway.

Format: Please submit responses using the following guidelines (Courier New, 12 pt, double –spaced, 1” margins on all four sides).

Word count: 500-750 words

1. What are the most important contributions Hispanics have made to American culture within the last five to ten years?

2. What is your most memorable cross-cultural experience with a native Spanish-speaker? (If you’re Hispanic, what is your experience with someone outside your ethnic background?)

3. What is the importance of cultural awareness and heritage in a changing national stage?

Contest Rules:

1. The contest is open to US or Canadian residents only with a valid mailing address. No P.O. Boxes.
2. Applicants must use a valid e-mail address and home or cell number.
3. The top five essays will win the eight books below:
  1. Dream in Color By Linda Sánchez , Loretta Sánchez
  2. Gunmetal Black By Daniel Serrano
  3. The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters By Lorraine López
  4. Bless Me, Ultima By Rudolfo Anaya
  5. Brownsville By Oscar Casares
  6. The Hummingbird's Daughter By Luis Urrea
  7. The General and the Jaguar By Eileen Welsome
  8. Tomorrow They Will Kiss By Eduardo Santiago

Books will be mailed to contest winners courtesy of the publisher.

4. All decisions are final by panel judges.

Good luck!


Monday, September 08, 2008

Let Go, Let God

I believe that all people and situations happen into our lives under the watchful eye of God. Inasmuch as I believe that, it can be difficult to accept at times. I've been doing my best to strengthen my faith that everything will work out for the best, even when dark clouds hang overhead, and I've left my umbrella at home because I didn't pay attention to early warning signs.

Oftentimes we struggle against ourselves, when it'd probably be best to wait out the temporary storm. When we're beset by malevolent spirits who seek to undo all the good deeds and rattle our foundation, remember that this too shall pass.

Mondays are typically filled with anxiety because it's the start of the work week, but the day follows Sunday, a traditional Christian church day. Why can't we change the script and look forward to Mondays, regarding than grumbling when the alarm clock sounds?

I've been firing off resumes to reenter the job market after several years of freelancing as an Adult Education/ESL/Accent Reduction Teacher. I have to let go of the anxiety that I'll lose something by returning to fulltime work outside the apartment or local community centers within walking distance of home.

Job interviews are meant, we hope, to select the best candidate at that time, rather than filling a racial quota, or reacting to mounting competitive pressures to fill a void at a company.

I'm not looking forward to playing daily games of office politics, wherein I must remember who's a member of which insular clique, and who's the boss's pet.

I will remind myself that upon successfully landing a fulltime job, that it is a job, and that it will not define who I am and what I stand for. I'll be paid contractor, only with a regular paycheck. I'll no longer have to hustle and jump through the freelance hoops of always being five days ahead of my current gig, while trying to complete it.

If need be, I'll step away from my desk and bow my head in prayer.
Dear God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday Gratitude - Granny Gums

I'm grateful for having had a grandmother who instilled in me the importance and power of prayer, patience, and humility.She was the glue that held our family together, and now that she's gone, it feels as if we've all scattered to the four winds off Montauk Point, or have set sail via Galveston.

I don't like feeling disembodied in the aftermath of her passing. Many things were left unsaid and undone. I longed to bring her to New York to show her my immediate world, but knew she'd have been unable to walk as briskly as she did when I was a child.

The fantasy continued that I'd make a name for myself outside of Houston, and return to rebuild her house, and set her up as the matriarch she was and will always be in my heart. The parcel of land wouldn't accommodate a horse stable, swimming pool, and tennis court - that wasn't who she was - but I'd have at least designed her a gazebo in her backyard, just below the pecan tree, where we'd sit and reminiscence about her life.

Granny Gums and I always shared a special bond, and I know that will always be the case. Now that she's separated from her earthly vessel, she can watch over me from on high. I can hear the cadence of her voice, see her sitting on the corner of the living room sofa, nodding at the evening newscast at some local injustice, wrapped in her tri-color bathrobe.

I'm blessed for having known her, and saddened by her physical absence, but know that the most important lessons she taught will sustain me until we meet again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

That Really Chaps My Hide

I'd like to think I'm one of the most patient people on earth, but will settle for in New York City. My patience has been wearing thin over the last few years, and I don't want to become yet another angry, foul-mouthed person bumping into pedestrians on the sidewalks, or raising my fist at oncoming traffic as I walk against the signal.

One of my granny's favorite expressions, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach," has been applicable in my life recently.

Exhibit A: Someone contacted me a few months ago because he wanted to start a Sci-Fi/Speculative Workshop under the Morningside Writers Group umbrella to replace the shuttered Graphic Novel Workshop. Fine. No problem. The online real estate was stagnant. Why not create a new division? The new moderator would be autonomous; I'd be on hand if needed.

I'm chapped at myself because I didn't listen to the quiet, still voice that is my early warning system. I should've walked away from the initial meeting knowing that this person wouldn't actually form the new group. The heretofore nameless sent an e-mail about epiphanies and early life changes, and unrealized goals as reason for bailing after three months of sparse two-way communication and several interested applicants in the queue waiting to launch the group.

I'm all for this person pursuing creative goals elsewhere, but why approach me if there are things unsaid and undone? I'm chapped because it could've been avoided. I hope I can save face and continue to build the Morningside Writers Group brand, but an e-mail seven days before an intended life-changing relocation event, I can do without.

This person obviously bit off more than was needed to be satisfied. Next time, push away from the table and put the leftovers in the refrigerator for another day, or better still, don't pull into the drive-through at 3 a.m. rousing the sleeping attendant. The napping student will be pissed off, and the glutton will have heartache from stuffing greasy fast food while trying to steer the car.

I wish this person every success, but I won't soon forgive the slight. Yes, it's most likely a blessing from God. It's best not to question the timing of the revelation because I sensed this would happen and didn't heed the warning.

Exhibit B: Last night's US Open Women's Quarterfinal match between Venus and Serena. What was that? My arthritic granny would've played with more zeal. Where were the famed power shots and razor sharp angles? The match lasted just over two hours, with commentators citing it was a great match. It wasn't. Tracy Austin and John McEnroe (of all people) were being gracious. The match was painful to watch.

I've two younger brothers, and grew up in a large Southern family. We competed against each other all the time, and after the game of checkers, basketball, kickball, or softball ended, we were the same as when we began. There were no bribes or persuasive talks from our parents to allow one to win over the other as has been long rumored about Venus and Serena. Oracene and Richard weren't in the stands last night, and if they were . . .

Venus totally blew the match. She had ten set points and couldn't convert any of them. During the match Serena look like something the cat dragged in, but was magically refreshed and exuberant during the post match commentary.

Ladies, it's a game. Play on the court as competitors, not older sister looking out for little sister. It'll make for more interesting and competitive matches.

Exhibit C: I've been summoned for jury duty after having postponed three times. I don't want to responsible for sending anyone to jail for petty crimes or white collar crimes. I'm looking for fulltime employment and called to speak with an operator because I feel on the verge of landing a plum writing/copyediting/blogging job. She was so obnoxious. I could see her wagging her finger at me for not yet serving on jury duty.

Does this make me a bad citizen? Why make $40/day (to be mailed weeks later) when I could earn more freelancing or at a fulltime job?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Writing Without Excuses

It's easy to find excuses not to write daily with the Internet, instant messenger programs, TV, DV-R, phone calls to return, and e-mail that seem to require an immediate response. The essays, film reviews, artist profiles, fiction, screenplays knocking about in my head will not spring forth fully formed and onto the yellow legal pad, marble notebook, or computer monitor if I don't plant my butt in a chair or on the sofa and write.

I used to be in such awe of some published writers that I felt frozen when I sat to write, but realized that I didn't set out to be wholly impressed, only enjoy the reading experience.

My mistake during this difficult transition from reader to writer was investing too much money and time reading how-to books on technique, rather than writing my way into a story or an essay. I became an expert on characters and viewpoint, scene and structure, description, and conflict, action, and suspense by reading and absorbing, not through practical application. The Elements of Fiction Writing from Writer's Digest Books remain in my library as a reminder of looking rather than leaping in the deep end of the pool.

The floodlights blinded me years ago during a Morningside Writers Group Fiction workshop. A member at the time grabbed my hand as would an older sister or mother: "Stop reading those books. You're hiding behind technique." It was obvious to her what I'd been doing because I easily cited writing terms and definitions when giving feedback.

I approached writing as I had acting. An actor prepares with exercises, warm-ups, script analysis, character notebook, rehearsals, and finally performance. Why would I be any less prepared to write and give constructive criticism?

Falling from Mt. Olympus was bumpy. I had to confront my fears of being a fraud head-on. What did I have to say that would be of interest to a reading public? Could I hold my own with writers who had studied the craft and earned an MFA? Was my imagination vivid and detailed enough that readers would suspend disbelief and travel to pre and post Civil Rights Texas?

I've stopped hiding behind the books on technique, and committed myself to making mistakes and learning from working writers in a workshop setting. I continue reading classics and contemporary authors, but I'm no longer depressed by what I see on the page. I don't know what the writer might have gone through to write his or her masterpiece that I'm either stumped, awed, or envious.

Writing and acting are both tightrope acts. When the writing and/or acting is good, everyone applauds, awards are bestowed, and some authors' work is immortalized on film. When the acting is bad, the performer isn't sent to Siberia, but can make a career of playing certain types of roles. When the writing is bad or untruthful, editors and critics denounce the efforts, and it ends up on on the discount shelf at the local bookstore.

Writing without excuses requires emotional, spiritual, and physical stamina. Do you have what it takes to become a successful writer?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Artists in The Concrete Jungle

I've lived on the East Coast far longer than I imagined I would when I first relocated to pursue the blaring lights of Broadway and two of my deceased aunt's favorite soap operas - One Life To Live and All My Children. I've yet to perform on Broadway, and realized that performing on soap operas aren't for me, eighteen hour days notwithstanding.

I originally thought I'd get invaluable training and knowledge performing off-Broadway, and make my way out West, find an agent, land a TV series or three, and several supporting character film roles before returning to New York for my Broadway debut. It's still not too late to realize my performing goals, but I think it will happen with one-man shows or plays that I write and direct in the future.

Most artists in urban cities, unless they have parental support, must live with roommates to survive and audition on a regular basis. Roommates are a necessary evil. Living with a roommate isn't always easy because two or more strangers attempt to coexist while respecting each others' boundaries, not drinking the last two glasses of low fat or soy milk clearly marked with masking tape and magic marker, or forgetting to leave a note when out of state relatives phone.

Roommates require understanding, endless patience (if you intend to live together more than three months), and selective recall. Living with someone in a big city other than a family member or a trusted friend from grade school can wear on the nerves, but the alternative is moving to a more affordable city or your birthplace.

I believe that roommates we seek on some level are extensions of or missing links to our personalities. I think I'd make a great father, and to that end my roommate for the last three years is younger and needs limitless encouragement, nurturing, and support. We have become father and son. I never wanted to raise an adult child, but this is who the universe has sent me for a lesson I'm supposed to learn - I think.

An unfortunate side effect to some roommate situations is that the dynamic can morph into an old married couple, replete with old wounds that refuse to heal, petty jealousies, and competing for attention with mutual friends.

I've lived with several memorable roommates: a human lab rat who subjected himself to all sorts of poking and prodding to earn money, a female kleptomaniac with a penchant for Paloma Picasso lipstick, a gadabout who'd seduced his sister if it meant getting something he wanted, and a peeping tom.

I know it's because I'm an oldest child who as an adult became
an overprotective nurturing father figure that the above sampling of broken-winged souls found their way to my door.

I never set out to create an artist's commune or charitable organization in my apartment, but there were times that might have happened with the assortment of people who followed the beacon from my lighthouse. At the end of the day or just after sunrise, this thing that I do, this way of being, weighs heavy on my mind and soul.

My family and former classmates are in Texas, and it was a hard lesson to try not to recreate or repopulate my emotional life with people who might have resembled those I left behind. It's not healthy. Some of the roommate choices I've made were snap decisions because I wanted to save money, audition more, and live what I thought was an artistic life in New York.

The most important lesson I've learned, and sometimes have to remind myself is that everyone and everything we try to escape, hide, or avoid finds us in subtle and blatant ways. Problems dealing with your mother or father, odds are you will date or live with someone who's just like your parent. Unresolved anger issues? You'll undoubtedly find the one person in your new city that stomps on every landmine you've buried. Never learned how to balance your checkbook and maintain your finances? Watch out. You'll live with a shopaholic whose carefree spending confuses you as s/he tells you the rent will be late again.

My solution to the roommate shuffle is to become financially solvent in the next few years and buy real estate so that I don't have to depend on anyone else to share the expenses.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Turning Over A New Leaf

Monday mornings oftentimes stir grumpiness when the alarm clock sounds, the garbage truck revs outside, and the cat or dog scratch at the bedroom door after hearing you complain about getting out of bed.

The blues don’t only strike at the beginning of the work week, listening to Billie Holiday or Phyllis Hyman, but times when we’re faced with things and people we’d rather not.

What is it specifically about Mondays that cause us to reach over and press the snooze button for the third time before we stumble to the kitchen to eat a bowl of Cheerios or Wheaties that we hope will ignite the brain cells?

Do we think that five more minutes will change our disposition, or perhaps when we wake it will still be Sunday, with another day to prepare for the week?

I've been jogging off and on over the last few weeks to recondition my mind and body. Exercise does a body good, if I can get to bed at a reasonable time the night before rather than trying to catch up on Netflix DVD's that have a fine coating of dust from having rested on the entertainment center for two weeks. The mornings I jog the reservoir, there's a difference in that day's perspective and productivity.

I thought I'd be inspired by the recent Beijing Olympics, but there was too much pressure trying to compare myself to those determined speed walkers.

Monday mornings can be a fork in the road for some. Tasks left undone from the previous weekend or week come to the forefront of the mind, so we want to burrow underneath the pillow rather than confront the task list in Outlook or Post-Its lining the perimeter of the flat panel monitor.

It doesn't help living in the past, nor does it help overextending yourself with too many projects. I've been working on saying no more often, rather than trying to be a people pleaser, afraid of hurting someone's feelings. This character flaw has its origins in Southern Guilt and Hospitality. I'm not a bed-and-breakfast, and have to stop behaving as if I were.

I'll reorder my priorities so that I can spring out of bed more mornings than not, unafraid of who will call or which e-mails will arrive. Besides, if I want to accomplish half of my goals, I'll have to combat my Monday blues, as I'm sure some of you are dealing with people and things that are rushing through your mind like a pinball machine.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Vote for President - Barack Obama

My mother and I spoke after Barack's acceptance speech, and she told me that she remembered when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his historic speech. She recalled racial segregation in Houston forty-five years ago: second-hand books from the all-white school, how blacks weren't allowed to attend the cinema, or the fact that blacks were only allowed entrance to an amusement park on Juneteenth, the day word arrived that slaves were free.

We didn't watch the speech together, but somewhere out there in the ether, our souls danced and cried together listening to the message of change during Barack's speech.

It was the first time I was emotional listening to a politician. It was unexpected. I thought about my recently deceased grandmother who would've been ninety-one this past February, and what the speech might have meant to her as she would've listened from the corner of her living room sofa in Houston.

I thought about my transfer and adjustment to an integrated high school in then swanky River Oaks. Things were different back then, and one of the reasons I relocated to the East Coast was because I wanted to escape the backwards mentality in Houston. Was there any truth to the stories of yore about The North being a mecca for African Americans? Would life on the East Coast be better for me?

My immediate world didn't change overnight, and nor has it changed drastically in the years I've been here. Racism is subtle and wicked in New York City. There are so many different ethnicities that live in clusters in the five boroughs. Police are still brutalizing and murdering African Americans, minus water hoses and attack dogs.

I cried because of the possibility of my younger brothers and cousins looking to Barack as an example of who and what they could become if they set goals. I released some fear and disbelief in the streaming tears during the speech. In the coming days and weeks, I look forward to breaking down more fears and marking this page in my personal history.

Yes we can!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My American Prayer

Lyrics:

This is my American Prayer
This is my American Prayer

This is the time to finish what you started
And this is no time to dream
This is the room
We can turn off the dark tonight
Maybe then we might see

American Prayer
American Prayer

And this is the ground
That keeps our feet from getting wet
And this is the sky over our head
And what you see depends on where you stand
And how you jump will tell you where you’re gonna land

American Prayer
American Prayer

My oh my
Couldn’t get much higher
Lets not kick out the darkness
Make the lights brighter

And these are the hands
What are we gonna build with them?
This is the church you can’t see
Give me your tired, your poor and huddled masses
You know they’re yearning to breathe free
This is my American Prayer
American Prayer
American Prayer

When you get to the top of the mountain
Will you tell me what you see
If you get to the top of the mountain
Remember me

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In The Stars, Under The Moon

There are relationships and friendships that aren't meant to last. If we pay attention to our personal early warning systems, we wouldn't be surprised when we're left alone, piñata untouched, in the middle of yet another birthday party.

I've never put much stock in astrology and zodiac signs, but in recent years, I've started to reconsider that there might be something to horoscopes, fortune tellers, and people and things that go bump in the night.

Why else would dating and social media portals list a box for zodiac signs, if not for compatibility?

I had my star chart done a few years ago by a woman who did automatic writing. Prior to this process, I knew certain things about myself, my coping skills (or lack thereof) in certain situation, and what types of people I'd be most likely to give food, blood, money, or an extreme, donate body organs. The report confirmed that I'm creative, nurturing, patient, and can sometimes be impulsive.

My mother's a Pisces, my granny was an Aquarius, and according to the time of my birth, I was born on the cusp of Pisces/Aries. Water and fire. Two fish swimming in tandem, or in opposite directions depending upon how you view the symbol. Aries is represented by a strong, horned, bucking, and protective animal.

I think this cosmic birthplace is equal parts blessing and curse. History shows that I'm most incompatible with Geminis, second to Sagittarius, and with certain emotional and moody Pisceans rounding out the top three.

Navigating dual perspectives as a practical romantic/creative isn't an easy path to traverse. At my best, I'm an idea man, protective, encouraging, and supportive. The opposite side of my abundant energy is not having enough time to do everything I want to do without feeling selfish.

How much of our interpersonal and romantic compatibility comes from how and where we were raised? Is astrology a sin as some religious zealots profess? Is it written in the bible that diviners shouldn't be trusted?

Geminis are attracted to me unlike no other, I think because of the Aries rising. When I'm in my creative Pisces mode, Geminis and I fight like the veritable cat and dog -- not enough room for two fish and a set of twins. Would two of you mind stepping outside please?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Increasing Daily Word Count

Beginning September 1st, and for a period of at least six months to one year, I will chart my daily word count. My goal will be to initially write 250-500 word blog entries that will open the floodgates for my fiction, screenplay, and creative nonfiction writing.

I know I'm capable of increasing my daily output once I've cleared away most, if not all of the daily distractions of TV, phone calls, and chatting via instant messenger and Twitter.

My writing goal for the next calendar year is to write three polished and marketable screenplays, one of which is a collaboration with my new surrogate Tunisian brothers, a series of seven to ten essays that will serve as the foundation for a family memoir, and a short story collection of five to seven short to medium length stories.

I've designed a way to focus my blogging efforts with daily headers/topics:
  • Monday Blues and Mayhem. I'll discuss ways I and others deal with the Monday blues and madness that oftentimes great us at the beginning of each work week. Please send information and tips on how you maintain your emotional, spiritual, and physical health. I've recently resumed early morning jogging around The Jackie O. Reservoir in Central Park.
  • Relationship Tuesdays. This topic was sparked by the success of the virtual book tour question: What Do Men Want? I'll add my two cents on dating, couples, and perhaps my own Sex in The City column. I'll also discuss interpersonal relationships, family, and group dynamics.
  • Wednesday Writer's Corner. Wednesdays are traditionally hump day, and it's always helpful to read about successful writers, writing tips, and news to get us over the mid-week slump.
  • Thursday Tantrum. Some people disagree on rants and complaining on blogs, but obviously I feel otherwise if I'm committing to a weekly entry on this topic. What upsets you most? What little or small annoyances that set you to thinking and perhaps gets you stuck, propelling you into a parallel fantasy world?
  • Friday Outlook and Gratitude. Who and what are you thankful for in your life? Who were or are your role models? Who and what brings a smile to your face? What good things are happening in your community?
Take the journey with me for moral support, leave comments, pose questions for future topics, or send links or electronic files for discussion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Virtual Book Tour - What Do Men Want?

Other than a physical relationship, what are some other aspects men want in a relationship?

While I can’t speak for most men, I will venture to speak for the assortment of male relatives, friends, confidantes, and co-workers I’ve interacted with over the years. Relationships frighten some men because they have to compromise certain aspects of their male psyche, or altogether relinquish control to someone other than their mother, sister, or aunt.

If the adage is true that little boys grow up to marry their mothers, and little girls grow up to marry their fathers, it wouldn’t be a huge leap to accept that men covet what they find most familiar.

Example: my mother is a pastry chef. I’ve been spoiled by her homemade desserts over the years, and no one, absolutely no one else can or will make peach cobbler, oatmeal raisin cookies, or lemon glaze cake like she does. My mother bakes and ships oatmeal raisin cookies from Houston to New York whenever I ask.

Beyond the childhood memories of licking the remnants of the cake mix or cookie dough from the mixing bowl, I think there’s an element of loyalty entrenched in my taste buds when eating desserts at cafés, coffee shops, or restaurants with Michelin or Zagat ratings. I’m a dessert snob, plain and simple.

How does or would this translate into a romantic relationship? Any woman I date or eventually marry, best know that she will be in the shadow of a huge mixing bowl, blender, and spatula- decorative sprinkles, optional.

Is it Freudian or Jungian, that a large part of a man’s past, present, or future relationships is tied to his mother or primary female caregiver? We all want comfort, and seek out what’s familiar; however most men can’t or won’t acknowledge this basic human need.

In a departure from our mothers and female relatives, do we aim for women with qualities that are in opposition to those we love? Do men want to design an ideal woman as some affluent couples do with eye color, height, and IQ with their unborn child?

If most men could design an ideal mate, which women would we choose? Would we combine Lena Horne, Ruby Dee, and Halle Berry? How about Eartha Kitt, Naomi Campbell, and Diahann Carroll? What about Julie Newmar, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie?

Do we want an athletic mate who’ll play weekend baseball after she’s picked up the overbooked kids from extracurricular activities?

Do we want a woman who’ll do our every bidding, not unlike a Stepford Wife?

Men: Ask a close female friend when she was last fully satisfied in the bedroom, and you might be surprised by her response.

Women: Ask a close male friend how many brain cells he exhausts thinking about how he’ll make his mate coo, ooh, ahh, and perhaps reach the high C similar to soprano Kathleen Battle.

Men want validation for a job well done outside the bedroom. I’m not talking about assembling a bookshelf or curio cabinet that was buried, still in the box, behind clutter in the garage or hallway closet.

Men want women to meet them where they are, emotionally and spiritually, and walk alongside them as the relationship evolves over time. A simple, “I see you for who you are,” goes a long way.

Please don’t compare us to your father, brother, previous jock boyfriends, or ex-husband. We’ll do the same with the women in our lives. Comparison breeds contempt and hostility in platonic and romantic relationships.

Women: If you’ve a history of buyer’s remorse, step back and reevaluate why and how you always seem to find Mr. Wrong, according to your best girlfriend.

Men: If you’re prone to shutting down emotionally and skulking about before you call your (mother, sister, aunt) and complain that your significant other just doesn’t get you – stop. Communicate with your mate.

Relationships are about compromises, battles won, and wars lost. Choose wisely or become accustomed to sleeping on the sofa, at your best friend’s house, or worse, your mother’s who’ll side with you most of the time while she’s preparing a hot bowl of grits, scrambled eggs, and coffee.

The secret language of women can be difficult to decipher. I’ve tried to over the years, and growing up in the Southwest with eight strong-willed aunts, my mother, and granny didn’t help. The women would speak in hushed tones to my six female cousins about minding their P’s and Q’s. I still don’t know what P’s and Q’s are, and my mother refuses to tell to this day. When one of the many boys would happen into the living room en route to the kitchen to get water at granny’s house, all conversations would cease.

Women, help us out, please. Men want to be understood just as much as women, if not more, in a society that frowns upon intuitive or sensitive men. Our society rewards aggression and competition.

Download or buy CD's by Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughn (The George Gershwin Songbook, Vol. 1/2), Luis Miguel (Romances), Sade, or upcoming artist LeNora Jaye, as the soundtrack to making up, making out, and starting over when problems arise.

I’d like to know what you think about this topic. Are there more renaissance men than spoiled brats or cavemen among us? Are men constantly at a disadvantage in relationships because of radio and talk show hosts offering unsolicited advice, self-help books, and overprotective parents?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Virtual Book Tour - Relationships

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been invited to participate in a virtual book tour on Wednesday afternoon, August 20th, at 2 p.m. I’m hosting a live chat here on my blog, along with author LaConnie Taylor-Jones, who’s in the middle of her blog tour, hosted by The Grits Dot Com, a Houston-based online reading and book promotion community for readers and writers of all ages.

We’ll discuss what makes a man happy in a relationship, one of the themes in her new book, When a Man Loves a Woman. And she’ll be giving away books, too …

I look forward to interacting with those of you who can login and post comments on the blog. Brew a cup of coffee or tea, and get situated in your comfortable chair or chaise lounge.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Setting Boundaries

Earliest memory of personal space and boundaries takes me back to first grade and the teacher's pet, Sandy, nursing an open sore on her knee she most likely sustained from the previous summer. As I recall, we sat next to each other in the back row in those flip-top wooden and metal square desks in Mrs. Johnson's class.

I felt compelled to smack her on the wound as she picked at the scab. She wailed like an injured wildebeest, which brought Mrs. Johnson over to see what was the matter. She sat teary-eyed and snot-nosed, and pointed at me as the culprit. It feels like another lifetime or world, but the classroom is just as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday.

I've never been troubled by the incident throughout my life, and still can't justify why I lashed out at her. I wasn't a bad child because I knew what would happen if I misbehaved. Call it an early surge of testosterone, or perhaps I was squeamish watching her play with her sore, and all I could do was knock her hand away.

Sandy was a favorite or teacher's pet for the succeeding four years in grade school, culminating in her being crowned the school pageant queen in fourth grade. Backstage at the pageant was my time to cry after not having been crowned king. I promised myself I wouldn't cry, but did so all the same. It was was after that horrible incident that I swore off talent shows and pageants.

My momma first established disciplinary boundaries with Mrs. Johnson after she paddled me and I leapfrogged atop a desk. I couldn't wait until I made it home to tell momma what had transpired in class. (Oh, you're gonna get it!) Momma made her way to class soon thereafter to lay down the law: "You don't hit my child. If he does something wrong, tell his aunt, and I'll take care of him myself." (My aunt still works in the administrative offices at the same elementary.)

Word traveled throughout the teacher's lounge, hallways, and with me each year that under no circumstances was I to be spanked, pinched, or otherwise disciplined. My fifth grade teacher strongly disliked me because of this, and the fact that I'd return from recess, spotless. She didn't know my momma, and the blessing out I'd get if I came home looking and smelling like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown.

She was the most masculine woman I'd ever known, replete with a few curly, errant chest hairs if doubts lingered in the mind. While not invincible, I was untouchable at school. Had she punched me in the chest as she enjoyed doing to the other boys in class, to discipline, fortify resolve, or impart some masculine rite of passage, my momma would've made an appearance. My momma certainly could've taken her back then.

Mrs. Jackson didn't get to beat up on me physically, but she overstepped the invisible boundary with childish mind games and name calling. I caved in once and purposely dirtied myself during kickball,which made her proud when she saw my grass-stained pants. I was a real boy, if only for that day, and not a pampered prince in a glass house with my aunt standing sentry. I realized then that I had to learn to negotiate boundaries away from my momma's watchful and sometimes overprotective presence.

Boundaries are equally comforting and restrictive. I knew just how far I could go in grade school and remain safely inside my imaginary fortified fence. I don't have any regrets from that time in school, but sometimes I wonder if I'd taken more risks if I weren't covered in my momma's shadow. A rubber band that's wound too tight is likely to snap, sending fragments here and yonder.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Friends, Associates, and Other Tales

What is the definition of a true friend? Is it someone who will always be there for you regardless? Does friendship include an unspoken or unwritten clause of unconditional love? I've never had friends like those portrayed in the movies and on television. Where are my band of friends from Four Weddings and A Funeral? My Thelma and Louise? I've oftentimes wondered if there's a Friendship For Dummies book that I never received, or a class in social etiquette that I opted not to take in college.

Women seemingly make and keep friends longer than most men. I think there's an inherent machismo in male friendships that prevents a close bond between men. In my experience, American friendships are different from international friendships. Southern friendships are different from northern ones. For all the differences, is there any truth in opposites attract?

What about friendships in the animal kingdom where there's less pressure to compete, be the smart one, the funny, or the prettiest one among your friends?
When I brought my second kitten home to provide company for the older cat, there was animosity at first, but it soon faded. Years later, they are respectful of each other's territory and treat each other as sisters. Are there lessons we could learn from our pets or a few episodes of Meerkat Manor?

I gravitated toward classmates in grade school because we shared similar interests or my mother or aunts knew their parents, and we were pushed in each other's direction. I've not been blessed with a best-friend-forever, and perhaps wouldn't know how to adjust to one person having full access to me (thoughts, dreams, concerns, and fears). Or does that hearken back to those scripted friendship movies and TV programs?

I was part of the It Crowd in junior high school. My concerns back then weren't about building lasting friendships wherein I'd fly across the country or world to attend weddings, christenings, and sit beside reading to an injured or comatose friend.

High school was an altogether different beast. There were so many cliques and factions, it made my head swim. Race and ethnicity wasn't an issue for me prior to my sophomore year when transferred to a predominantly white high school. I'd no experience with token or categorized friendships (black, Asian, rich, biker/rebel). One of the more interesting and perhaps sad high school stories involved a girl who up until college application time was white. However, she checked Hispanic on the racial identity box, and the monies and scholarship offers poured in. Imagine her (white) friends' surprise when they discovered she was 1/4 Mexican. It was Houston. Next door to Mexico. It shouldn't have been a surprise that her grandmother was Mexican. To their eyes, she was a fraud, and not a real friend because she had deceived their elitist white sensibilities.

My track record sometimes trouble me because I yearn for mature friendships that are based on realistic expectations: I expect you to be there for me no matter what, and I will do the same for you. I'm done with spoiled brats and fair-weather friends who call or e-mail when they need creative writing, copyediting, or a professional referral.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Presumptive Democratic Nominee

Where do I begin with the presumptive Democratic Nominee, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama? I wasn't alive during the Civil Rights Movement, but I know all too well what life's like as an African American. I grew up in Texas. Need I saw more? Life wasn't filled with thumbtacks on stairwells or a bed of roses.

Dare to dream in my lifetime that an African American male or female could become President of the United States. I don't think any of my grade schoolteachers ever fathomed the idea of biracial man eclipsing a white woman of questionable tactics and beliefs, as the chosen representative for the Democratic Party. Black History Month will take on a new urgency or appeal WHEN Barack is elected and sworn into office in January 2009.

Why is it such a historical moment in American History, when other industrialized nations have had or have women in top governmental and parliamentary positions? How much does America's tumultuous slave history figure into the discussion on race and politics? Why can't most people look beyond skin color and middle names, and embrace a candidate who wants to implement change for the country and the world?

It's not as if he's uneducated or unqualified for the job. All one has to do is look at the current and previous Republic presidencies for proof that this country needs to change. Affordable or universal healthcare in America should be a non-issue. Michael Moore's documentary is evidence that the American healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have long since been broken. I've personal experience with urban healthcare centers as an uninsured American.

Let's talk about the abysmal housing market for a minute. People have been, and will continue to lose their life savings and homes with a Republican in the White House. Affordable housing is fast-becoming a fantasy in New York and other metropolitan areas. The rich continue to gorge themselves on the middle and lower classes. Gentrification isn't the only answer to modernizing American inner cities at the expense and displacement of minorities that have longstanding roots in a community. At the current rate of new business and residential developments in Manhattan, I fear that we'll soon have a major exodus to rural areas where minorities haven't been welcomed, and probably don't want to live.

A friend is fond of saying hot mess. The political, economic, and social arenas are all a hot mess in this country, and I will be casting my vote for Barack Obama to bring the necessary changes to cool things off and right this country before it becomes an afterthought in the global landscape.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

House of Mirrors

Are we reflections of our family and friends, destined to grow in their image, and repeat their mistakes? How much control do we have over our lives until we're eighteen and off to college, the military, or a first job?

My family is large, and at times, controversial. There are so many of us, that we lose count among the symphony of voices, plotting, and machinations. We don't corner the market on Southern Gothic Drama, but come close.

I know I adopted certain behaviors I undoubtedly learned from my mother, while I others I consciously avoid because of my father. Who do I see when I look at my visage in the mirror? Do I see my granny's high cheekbones, deep-set eyes, or my mother's forehead and lips?

My youngest brother's newborn photo could easily be mistaken for mine, and vice versa. Different relatives in my family resemble each other, and recently I looked at online photos of my third cousin, daughter of my cousin stationed in Germany, and she's him in a tiny body. She has the exact expression on her face in various photos. Our faces form a family collage, a multi-hued mosaic ingrained with our legacy.

The passage of time is evident in my face when I'm shaving my face or brushing my teeth. I stretch my face to test its elasticity, and I'm comforted by the fact that Granny lived to be ninety years old, and if I take care of myself, I could live as long.

The downside to be so familiar is that my mother and siblings couldn't get easily get into mischief between of our trademark look, not that they would knowing that their father would chastise them. I think a similar happened with my generation, "Y'all look so much like. Which one are you?" Schoolteachers and neighbors alike would say. Such comments would only spur us to find ways to differentiate ourselves socially, academically, at church, or perhaps sassing a neighbor.

The upside to being a member of an easily recognizable clan was that our generation carried a mystique because of our numbers. We weren't hooligans, but you didn't want to mess with some of my cousins on the playground or in granny's back yard lot.

At the end of a day or the start of the day, there's a comfort in knowing that I belong to a band of loving, supportive, and temperamental misfits that I call family.