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.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Procrastination, Laziness, and Other Excuses

What happens when we look around our home at a mountain of dirty clothes, outdated Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers magazines that we should've tossed out years ago, or the aquarium that needs cleaning? Are we immediately saddened, or do we say to ourselves that, yes, we will sort the clothes and head off to the laundromat just as soon as we change the water in aquarium, and stack-and-tie the old magazines for the garbage?

I don't think most of us set out to procrastinate, lounge around in bed with the remote control cycling through a week's worth of Netflix movies, with popcorn or Doritos Nacho crumbs accumulating on a dirty t-shirt. It should be more difficult to procrastinate, but it's not. Many people fall into a vicious pattern of procrastination, denying that they are not doing what they're supposed to do, and then blaming everyone within earshot as to why they've not mowed the lawn, washed the clothes, completed the Great American Novel, completed the second or third screenplay draft that will set the movie industry on its ear.

Perhaps there should be a penalty each time we procrastinate. I'm not advocating electroshock therapy or anything extreme, but similar to the previous entry, maybe God would only allow us a set number of monthly excuses before we must take action. We were created with free will, so I don't know how well that idea might play with the folks in communist countries who've always been told what to think and do. What if we could only use each excuse three times, afterward we'd be unable to use it, or we'd forget it altogether?

Does this sound like something out of Science Fiction? A novel by Octavia Butler or Samuel Delaney? It might owe itself to the fact that I've recently been brainstorming and writing a new post-apocalyptic screenplay with two Tunisian brothers that have fast become friends and surrogate brothers. They are very talented, inspiring, and dedicated to the success of the project.

When we meet for brainstorming and writing sessions, I feel empowered, different from when I'm in a Morningside workshop. The surge of energy comes from collaboration that I don't experience when writing or editing alone. What I feel is the possibility of the unknown when Kays or Thameur send pages upon pages of research for our project. They keep me on target with their questions, goals, and artistic vision.

We're in the early stages of forming a collaborative stage and film production company to write, direct, and produce shorts, features, and plays. We're tossing around a few names for the production company (check back here in a few weeks for more developments).

I believe that everything and everyone happens in our lives for a reason. If not for a profile on IndieGoGo, we'd have never met. I've had my moments of procrastination, distraction, and downright laziness, but I've been making progress and overcoming these bad habits (personality glitches) due in part to my Morningside moderator responsibilities and the work we've set out to accomplish in the next few months.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Moments in Time

Is life a series of moments in time strung together to form an hour, week, month, or year? What if we were able to travel back in time and correct a maximum of five past mistakes in a calendar year? Which mistake would you choose: (a) marrying your current spouse, (b) relocating to a new city, (c) a spontaneous shopping spree that splintered your relationship, (d) saying something hurtful to a loved one or friend, or (e) returning a call to a loved one in crisis?

Each moment we're blessed to be alive, is an opportunity for improving our lives, and the lives of those closest to us. However, a large percentage of the human population is consumed or overwhelmed with the minutia of daily living, and unable to see the larger picture.

There's beauty in life's daily moments that we oftentimes overlook. When was the last time you saw a newborn conversing with his guardian angel while sleeping in a crib, a smile the only evidence of the unseen and unheard?

When was the last time you helped an elderly lady cross the street, and lingered long enough to see her life experiences etched around her eyes and the corner of her mouth?

Can you recall the last time you took a mental health day from school or work and pampered yourself in a steaming hot bath with unhealthy snacks at your fingertips and jazz or classical music pouring forth from the stereo speakers? We all need moments to step off the merry-go-round of life to detox our system and recharge our batteries. It's for your own good, and everyone around will benefit from your reinvigorated spirit.

The next time you're rushing past your children, spouse, or straphangers during your morning commute, think about who and what you might be missing. Slow down and enjoy the small and large blessings in a given day.

Think about this way, the more time we spend alone to gather our faculties, the more quality moments in time we'd have, and thus we'd not have to step into the time machine unless it was crucial. I'm sure time travel, if it were possible and accessible to the common man, not just the world's rich or elite, would take its toll on the mind and body. Proceed with caution. You wouldn't want to return from a trip and realize you left your grandmother's signet ring on a nightstand in the past that you can't revisit because you weren't paying attention, distracted by a beautiful stranger sitting in the distance on a hillside, enjoying a moment in time, as ducks or geese glide by on placid lake.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

When Writers Attack!

My job as a moderator for three of the four Morningside Writers Workshops can be fraught with anxiety and walking on eggshells. Recently an older writer who had been auditing the Memoir Workshop, and wanted to transfer into the Fiction Workshop because he felt he'd be better suited to make believe rather than pen truthful, realistic creative nonfiction lashed out via e-mail because I explained to him why our workshops have been successful.

I present this only to show the hazards in dealing with volatile people within an intimate workshop setting. His name and expletives will not be included -- it would serve no purpose.

The exchange began with my submitting an essay draft that I wanted feedback on, and he fired back that, "
It is unprofessional to submit first or rough drafts."

It was obvious in reading this that he wanted to impose his countless years as a newspaper journeyman onto a workshop that encourages experimentation and nurturing over harsh criticism and magazine or newspaper editorial deadlines.

My reply:
Each writer chooses what to submit and when, and it’s our job to meet the writer where they are on the page and offer our constructive feedback.

We are submitting work that we want to develop and eventually publish. Each writer sets a personal and professional standard, and one of the goals of the fellow workshop members is to hold the writer to that standard. No one knows how many drafts have gone into a piece before a writer has submitted.

My stating my previous submission is a first draft is that I feel it’s a culmination of all the thoughts and revisions to a point that I was ready to have it read and commented upon. No one likes to be constantly taken out the woodshed or feel they need to be perfect. Morningside is a workshop where writers gather to share, experiment, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and above all else, improve their writing through successive drafts. Everyone in the various workshops seeks publication and representation.

If you feel the methods and practice in place are not to your liking, I accept that, and would wish you every success in finding others who share your beliefs.

He apparently didn't like my reply:
"Christ, are you ever a pompous asshole! Hold on to your little realm of petty power for dear life, pal. **** you."

I opted not to be cheeky or outraged with a follow-up response telling him that he shouldn't take the Lord's name in vain, and that I appreciate his showing his true colors and removing the wooden stick that seem to cause him discomfort.

A moderator's job is to lead the workshop, maintain order, motivate workshop members, and carve out time to write and submit. I'm not power hungry, and I don't strive to sit on an ornately decorated dictatorial throne. Writing groups aren't for everyone, and Morningside, as it turns out, wasn't right for this guy. I wish him well in his continued journeys.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where Do Ideas Come From?

My mother is a skilled, experienced pastry chef, and a few of my aunts are creative in various ways. Where do they get their ideas for pastries, home decorations, lesson plans, and how to appease a colicky baby that won't fall asleep at three o'clock in the morning?

I don't recall my mother using recipes, but I imagine she had to have read them along the way and added her unique spin to her signature peach cobbler, pineapple upside-down, and German chocolate cake. How did my aunt teach elementary school for over thirty-five years without burning out? Yet another aunt has a knack for decorating and rearranging furniture in small and large rooms in different configurations, replete with hanging plants and framed family photos that seemed to have required one of those crews from a reality home makeover show on The Style or Learning Channel.

My maternal granny had dancing ability, and her husband cooked from scratch without recipes. Is creativity genetic? Are some of us more creative than others?

I've read and reread books on creativity and idea generation over the years, and still return to the premise that there are no original ideas. The delivery or execution of something tried and true is what makes it unique. Everyone's an expert and no one is an expert.

Will reading On Becoming A Novelist or The Art of Fiction by John Gardner generate ideas for writers? I purchased The Seven Basic Plots a few years ago for Morningside Writers Group, but found it cumbersome and tedious. Better than we workshop our fiction, screenplays, and creative nonfiction than rely on formulaic approches to writing.

Are there any original ideas left in the world? What makes a person, place, or thing unique? David Lynch offers his opinion on this topic in the following video:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Publicist In Town

I'm learning the ropes as a Publicist for artists, musicians, and other creative individuals. I've been reading websites, articles, and networking online with media professionals on Twitter.

An associate approached me several months ago because he wanted to crossover into the Anglo market, now that he's climbed the ranks and established himself in the Hispanic/Latino market. He's a journalist, first, and segued into being a publicist for others. He now feels that his position as a Hispanic multimedia producer warrants a publicist. Working as his publicist didn't happen, but fortunately I kept our meeting notes, and will implement his crash course with new clients I will represent in the coming weeks and months. Everything happens for a reason, and I know that his initial curiosity or faith in my writing ability, personality, and networking skills is a boost for my confidence.

In addition to what the experts list as necessary traits for a successful publicist, I bring a background as a performer to the table. I know what it's like to audition, attend callbacks, and to walk out on a stage even when you don't feel like it.

I wouldn't represent anyone I don't believe in or like personally. There's acting, and then there's acting. It wouldn't make for a good working relationship. I want to be carried away when listening to singers or bands I represent, I look forward to emotional performances by actors, and to be moved by painters or designers' works of art.

I know the journey ahead as a publicist might be tough, but I've the writing/editing talent, patience, and endurance to make this a successful feather in my hat. Feel free to point emerging and mid-career potential clients this way!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reinventing Myself

I remember a time when I thought I'd be a [famous] actor living with my Mexican Ph.D. wife in California, with our beautiful biracial children. She'd oversee the math and science homework, and I'd help with the English and language courses. She'd be my supportive backbone, and the soft place our family would land or escape to when the outside world encroached upon us.

Unfortunately, my schoolboy fantasy didn't come to fruition. I was urged to change high schools for my sophomore year, and never heard from or saw her again. Her life took a turn for the worst, and I began dealing with teen life on the other side of town in tony River Oaks. I had to discover, or rediscover who I was while settling into a new school, replete with international academic superstars that wept if they made a B in Advance Calculus in the tenth grade.

I was a performer, and no one could take that away from me. I might have excelled in Algebra II or Chemistry, but I felt at home on stage or announcing accomplishments during Black History Month to an audience that hadn't been aware or cared previously.

High school was an awkward time for me, as it was and still is for countless others. I didn't foresee myself as an ESL Tutor, Accent Reduction Coach, or Pre-GED Instructor in Manhattan. I just knew I'd fly off to Tinseltown and become an eventual success on TV and in the movies, as [few] African Americans before had done.

The band director at my first high school nicknamed me Web, short (pun intended) for Emanuel Lewis and Spud Webb. I knew I didn't want to be a clarinetist in what was a formidable high school marching band back then. I enjoyed the challenge of learning sheet music and choreography for the weekly halftime shows, but there was something missing. I didn't want to yearn to be the drum major. Perhaps on some level I didn't like the military/group mentality that's necessary for a marching band.

Awash in the madness of overachievers, bulimic classmates, privileged, or otherwise unfair advantaged peers, I sought to find my place. I had never attended a school with a swimming pool. I had never had teachers doctorates. I had never sat alongside students other than African American and a sprinkling of Mexicans prior to student body that ate lunch on the front lawn, few minutes walk from a [restricted membership] country club.

I'm once again wondering who I am and what it is I'm meant to do during my lifetime, and whether I should lock myself to any one course of study or job?

I have had [various] jobs, but have never set out to have career. A former acquaintance used to poke fun at me: "Tiger [his nickname for me, no reference to the golfer], now, where are you working this week?" It didn't bother me because, he, too, floated between jobs. We'd laugh about it, and move on to the next topic.

My granny was a free spirit, mother of twelve children, and surrogate mother to many others in her neighborhood. I'm not comparing her accomplishments to mine. I know I'm her [genetic] grandson. She danced atop tables in a jig joint as young adult before my grandfather yanked her down with a directive that she'd become his wife.

Where does the knowledge of this history place me in time now? I've worked as a credit collections agent, a rollerskating restaurant host, a software applications trainer, and on a computer helpdesk, all of which were utterly unsatisfying. I needed a job and thought I'd not lose myself while I auditioned for plays and movies. I miss performing on stage, dancing in commercials, and working on a film set. I've started to come full circle [finally].

In recent years, I've focused on writing and editing, and earn my keep as a copywriter. The task at hand is to bring as much as my selves into what I do. I've met and began the foundation for a script with two Tunisian brothers, and from this partnership we'll create a multi-lingual media production company that will pen original short and feature scripts, direct and produce music videos, and commercials.

Who am I now? I'm a Writer/Editor/Businessman. Whatever happened to Urkel? The actor certainly transformed himself from nerd to polished adult. We should all be so fortunate.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cheating Hearts

Why do people cheat? Do we cheat because we're bored, misunderstood, seek adventure, or miscommunication with a spouse or significant other?

If cheating is borne out of boredom, get a hobby, take a class, or work longer hours, read a book. I had a teacher who once chided a classmate after he'd said something was boring: "Boring indicates a small mind; the word is tedious!"

I don't think small-minded people are capable of cheating; it takes cunning, scheduling, and maneuvering to successfully cheat. Should you realize your partner is tedious, do something about it rather than flirting with a co-worker, creating a provocative dating profile, removing your wedding band, or cultivating online emotional relationships and affairs.

There are any number of hobbies you can participate in to avert wandering eye syndrome. Separate yourself from temptation. Deliver yourself from the woman with the undulating hips, the man with devil may care smile. Gardening, bowling, or golfing are soothing hobbies that could serve as the water to extinguish a spark or burning flame in the heart or seat of your pants.

The same goes for continuing adult education. Take a night or weekend class if you feel particularly vulnerable while your mate is otherwise occupied (see above note on boredom).

Enough can't be said on the powerful world of [good] books. I'm not advocating cowardice by encouraging you to read, but quite the opposite. It takes a strong person to resist temptation. If your love life lacks sizzle, read Ana
s Nin, Henry Miller, or other famous erotica authors and academic texts.

When the urge strikes, and it probably will a few times over a lifetime, think about how you'd feel if were the one who's been cheated on and refrain from any such thoughts. Jog a few miles around your nearest lake, pond, or reservoir, followed by a cold shower if all else fails. Hopefully you'd be too exhausted to think about anything else. Hopefully you won't encounter anyone on the running course.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dreams, Prophecies, and Other Tales

In recent months I've been dreaming about my high school in Houston. In each dream, I'm running to a class in a building that's no longer the structure I knew. It's usually dark, and in one sequence, the stairs seem to multiply as I climb, pushing my way through the crowd.

I usually don't put stock in my dreams, as some people believe they can foretell the future, or store our secret inclinations, but I have to wonder why I keep returning to a place that I didn't like very much. The school wasn't bad, just some of my time spent there. It has taken many years later to understand that I felt out of place on the other side of town, not because of the tony neighborhood, but because I wasn't prepared for the racially mixed environment. My world prior to then was predominantly African American with a few Mexican students and five or six Caucasian teachers thrown in for good measure.

What does it mean, if anything, that I keep returning to my first integrated high school? Were there overlooked lessons that escaped me back then that I need to learn now?

I've had dreams that seem as if two or three jigsaw puzzles were tossed into the air and fell on my coffee table for me to decipher. Strangely enough, during tennis grand slams, I've been able to predict if Venus or Serena will make it through to the next round. I fall asleep with them on my mind, and some point during the early morning I open my eyes knowing full well what the online news and Tennis Channel soon confirms.

Is psychic ability real, or the province of snake oil salesmen? Do shows like Psychic Detectives and Medium give false hopes to people out their struggling with decisions, loss of loved ones, or their belief in past lives?

One of my more bizarre dreams involved my younger brother pulling me into his dream when were children to battle a bogeyman. I know it happened, and he knew that I was there. We shared a bedroom, if proximity had anything to do with my stepping inside his nocturnal world. We sat silently at the breakfast table, exchanging looks, sure that we'd committed some awful crime during the night that our momma would punish us for. When she saw us glancing down at our plates and across the table at each other, she called us on it: What did y'all do?

We didn't rat on each other with any such tomfoolery as being able to cross into each other's world during the previous night's slumber. I used to think that Pisceans were sensitive to such things, but Christian belief warns against people who use runes and divination.

What do you think about all this? Should we pay attention to and try to decipher our dreams?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Heroes, Gurus, and False Prophets

Little boys and girls idolize their parents when they're knee-high to a duck, but what happens as they age and realize that their parents are beautifully flawed creatures?

Are we so shaken that we can't rebound from such a startling revelation? Do we become sullen or withdrawn when we realize that momma forgot to bake the cupcakes because she was exhausted from having to work two jobs?

My momma and granny were my earliest heroes and sources of strength. Our family structure was seemingly impenetrable to me as a child. I felt nothing could harm me while they were around.

The saying goes that, "little boys grow up to marry their mother, and little girls grow up to marry their father," because there's comfort in who and what is familiar. I love my momma, and loved my granny, but I don't want to marry a woman who reminds me of either them. Each person is an individual, and should not be viewed as a carbon copy of someone we treasure.

There are many wolves in sheep's clothing in the world. We'd all do well to keep a watchful eye on those we allow into our inner circle and confidence. This isn't the sky is falling, but the world I knew as a child at my granny's apron is truly a thing of the past. My hiccups and boo boos can't be soothed by kiss and hug from momma. I don't mean to sound like an alarmist.

It's easy to shift our focus to a teacher, coach, politician, celebrity, or professional athlete when we want or feel that we need someone to guide or inspire us. But again, they are human, and similar to childhood parental disappointments, they, too, will undoubtedly fail our expectations. What can we do in these situations? It's best not to put all our faith and belief in one person, but learn to disperse our energies among several people, hobbies, and tasks.

I've never followed a pied piper, and don't believe anyone should. When they crash to the earth, as we all do, they won't take us with them. It's not be selfish, but a survival tool.

It's easy to fall under the spell of a charismatic person on a college campus, a con artist on the streets of New York City if you're a recent transplant or tourist, or remain at home too long after high school or college graduation with a Svengali type parental figure.

The disappointment we experience when someone doesn't do what we think they could or should can be overwhelming at times. What does this tell us? Are our lives otherwise incomplete if we're not watching The French Open, the NBA playoffs, or a presidential primary?

There's no need for you to sit around moping, dejected, and unable to move from your armchair with the remote melded into your palm. Get out and live your life! You can bet that your self-appointed heroes, gurus, and false prophets are doing the same.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Introducing LeNora Jaye

I'm pleased to announce that I'm launching a Publicity and Promotion service, Keneritz Media. My first client is the dynamic, Indie Nubian Soul Singer, LeNora Jaye, who will release her first album in July 2008.

Visit her MySpace page and listen to several of the advance tracks, and see if you don't share my opinion that she will soon become a force in the music industry.

She's already an Internet and United Kingdom deejay favorite!

Contact me at or for media inquiries and booking requests.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Morningside Writers' Group - Seats Available

We have openings in all three current Morningside Groups for writers in the metro New York City area.

Morningside Fiction Group has two seats available for male writers in our biweekly Thursday evening workshop in Midtown Manhattan. Interested writers please visit the site for application details, or click here.

Morningside Screenwriters and Playwrights Group has two seats available for female writers in our biweekly Monday evening workshop in Midtown Manhattan. Interested writers please visit the site for application details, or click here.

Morningside Memoir/Creative Nonfiction Group has two seats available for female writers in our biweekly Wednesday evening workshop in Midtown Manhattan. Interested writers please visit the site for application details, or click here.

We look forward to your applications and writing samples.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Learning Curve - Adventures in Filmmaking

My roommate and I decided to produce, direct, and film our first collaborative feature-length script this past winter after several delays and questions on whether the story would be received by Christian and secular audiences. We felt that the story was original and would stand the test of time, but how would it play in the Bible belt of the South and the cornfields of the Midwest?

The synopsis:
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.

The script wasn't the problem, not even the scenes calling for tasteful semi-nudity. It was our process. We were first-time filmmakers who'd jumped headlong into producing an independent feature without having attended film school or with completed projects on our resume.
We thought it enough that we had faith in God and each other to make the project successful. It didn't happen as we'd thought or planned.

One of the first tests was finding a reputable producer and talented volunteer technical/production crew and passionate, not necessarily religious actors. We were too trusting (re:
naïve) when we met a well-meaning older director who took on the role of mentor. What he said at Starbucks made sense, but during the filming of two promotional trailer scenes my roommate and I felt sporadically overwhelmed by chaos on the set.

My friend donated his swanky high-rise apartment on the Upper West Side for two of the three scheduled scenes intended to garner additional producers, investors, and donations. My focus was split between the bedroom where we filmed a sensual massage scenario and what was going on just outside the room. I didn't want to be a mean or intolerant director. I'd had a few of those back in my early days as an actor, but a film set with multiple personalities isn't a place for a Southern schoolmarm. I should have asserted myself and taken control of my set as the director. I had no place being a people pleaser on that set. My roommate shouldn't have allowed others to touch and manipulate his camera. We were too concerned with being nice guys and not offending any of the volunteer crew and actors.

I don't want to seem ungrateful after the fact. This isn't about naming names or assigning blame. I wasn't scarred by anyone or anything during the filming, but we were left dazed and confused when the producer announced via e-mail that she was withdrawing from the project after our second day of shooting at yet another friend's apartment in Brooklyn. We were devastated, just devastated in that stereotypical southern way. I remember staring at the monitor when the e-mail arrived and calling my roommate to stand at my side as we mouthed the words together. What had we done to deserve this? Was God punishing us in some way for airing our dirty laundry? Was the devil to blame for the producer's unexpected withdrawal?

What I know now is that we should've waited until this summer or fall to begin filming after having raised money and perfected the semi-autobiographical script. It was interesting and odd auditioning actors who were to have played us on screen. Reliving our past setbacks, triumphs, and things we said required stiffening our upper and lower lips.

Writing a story based on real people and events that just happened to be you isn't easy. Self-doubt and judgment crept into each successive draft. We constantly revised potentially embarrassing scenes from real life to make them more digestible and realistic, even though some of things we endured were unbelievable.

My roommate felt that there were too many crew members, but my thoughts were that I'd rather have too many people committed to the project, than not enough. One of my biggest mistakes was wearing kid gloves when I should've bared my knuckles. Southern guy moves to the East Coast and tries his hand at directing a feature film. It's not crazy, but I will do things differently when we restart this project.

There are no classes or books that will help on a live set. There are no case studies or mock sessions that will come in handy. Anything and everything should've been committed to memory before the assistant director calls quiet on the set.

Now that we know, we'll move forward with our on-the-set training of defined professional and personal boundaries and lessons learned, and rise again from the ashes like the mythological Phoenix.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Recovering Packrat

It seems that I woke up one day and was knee-deep in boxes, colored folders stacked on top of the file cabinet, and bags of stuff that I don't remember hoarding away. I've repeatedly promised myself that I'd eat my Wheaties, take my Mega Men multi-vitamins, and ruthlessly clean my home office, bedroom, and living room, and I'm just getting around to sorting through the accumulated mess two years later.

I wasn't a packrat (hoarder as it's also known) as a child. I wasn't allowed to be because my mother ran a tight ship. Why then as an adult has my living space fallen into disarray?

Next to the wall is an old three-tier TV cart that I use as a table that's overrun with all sorts of madness (tropical fish food, aquarium supplies, and binders) that needs major dusting. I hope there's nothing alive on the lower self! My tropical fish are outgrowing the tank, but until I clean this mess, there'll be no room for a larger aquarium.

Why did I buy this handcrafted wooden Mexican bench from an online discount site? Was I planning a picnic on my third floor fire escape and forgot to invite guests at the last minute? It's been a storage space for a 20" Dell monitor and duffle bags filled with Xeroxed handouts from my days tutoring ESL and GED in Spanish Harlem.

I'm at the point now that I don't want to be in here, preferring instead to travel to coffee shops or lounges to write longhand or on the laptop. I dare not work through the list of literary hot spots recently featured on Writer's Digest online as an excuse before cleaning up my pigsty. I also think I was embarrassed for recent tearful and apologetic hoarders on Oprah. I pointed, jaw lowered, "Oh my gosh, look at her mess!" And then I turned around and looked at my mess and closed my mouth and sat in solidarity as I stared at junk that filled one of those public storage rooms.

I didn't set out to become a hoarder, and heaven knows if I knew how exhausting sorting through these bags, boxes, and folders would be, I'd have shredded utility bills as soon as I paid them, rather than file them for months on end.

If there any other hoarders out there, I feel your pain, but know that holding onto clothes you can't wear, media or writing magazines, won't do anything for you. Close your eyes and clench your teeth if purging the junk is painful, but just do it.

Back to the trenches. Wish me luck, or better still, come over and help me!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why Do I Write?

I've sometimes wondered why I write when I could take the easy route and stifle my creativity as so many people do. Since the advent of blogging and online magazines, artists, political pundits, and those with an axe to grind connect and commiserate online. I had initial reservations about creating a blog, and didn't know if I'd be able or wanted to maintain a regular online presence. Who would want to read what I have to say about anything? Are there others out there who feel the same as I do?

I didn't dream of a writing career as a child as others do and have. I thought I'd be a (famous) actor on Broadway, film, and television. And then I met Dr. D. Joeris, my high school junior English teacher. She was a throwback to English teachers of yore, chignon bun, large eyeglasses, and snazzy matching business suit. Prior to her class, my attempt at keeping a journal was limited to a locked diary I hid in a dresser drawer.

In Dr. Joeris's magnet school English class in Houston's tony River Oaks neighborhood, I learned to trust myself on the page, traveling to distant lands, and commuting with things natural and otherwise. She'd post a journal prompt in her perfect teacher cursive on the board, and we'd have to write a few pages. One such entry posited: If you could travel with E.T. outer space, where would you go, and what would you do? I don't remember my response, but that was typical of her offbeat nature. It's years later that I realize she wanted us to be imaginative, and always treasure the child within us.

Looking back on her now, she made a lasting impression on me. I didn't know who Joyce Carol Oates was in high school, but in the time following, made the connection to the similarity in their appearance. Dr. Joeris used a microphone from her desk sometimes because of fragile voice, and referred to as little ones.

Dr. Joeris and I exchanged a few letters after I moved to New York, all of which I still have safe in a letter bound case. I know we had an affinity for each other, extending to her gifting me a subscription to Daily Word. Was she concerned for soul in New York, away from the bible belt of Texas?

I write to create, recreate, or redefine people, places, and experiences from my past and present. I write because Dr. Joeris gifted me a monogrammed silver Cross pen and pencil set (which I lost one of the two on a subway seat, and was agitated months later), and I love the feel of the pen when writing longhand.

I write to record my place in time on earth. I write to communicate with others who share and oppose my views. I write because it is as natural breathing or walking. I write because I can sometimes transport myself back in time to Dr. Joeris's class, as she walked about the room, shaping our sentences, and encouraging each successive paragraph. It's all about the sentences that become paragraphs, and the paragraphs then become pages.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Southern Methodist in New York City

I have been on a spiritual quest as of late, unlike ever before, seeking out a new church home in New York City. I'd prefer Manhattan, but would travel to the Bronx, Brooklyn, or even Queens. Trekking to Long Island would be asking a bit much for Sunday morning service.

I was raised Southern Methodist, which isn't the end all to be all, but has instilled in me certain beliefs (and prejudices). Church life was simpler back then as a child. I wasn't concerned with moral codes or eternal damnation because I left that to my mother and other adults in charge. I excelled in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, participated throughout year on various programs, and enjoyed my time in church.

I don't think I consciously sought to rebel against anyone or anything when I relocated to the East Coast. I just didn't make the time or felt the need to go to church (hopefully Granny Gums isn't turning over in her grave). As I aged, I began asking questions that were difficult that no one was able to answer to my satisfaction:
  • How old is the earth?
  • Were there dinosaurs on earth?
  • Did we evolve from other creatures?
  • How do we know that the bible is accurate?
  • Is God male or female?
  • How can there be a God with all the murder, mayhem, and chaos in the world?
There are so many things we don't know. If we're intelligent beings, shouldn't we question the bible, or accept it verbatim as fact of what happened and what's supposed to happen in future? I was given this link to a YouTube video that adds to the expanding dialogue on religion and Christianity. I'm not going to suddenly abandon everything I've been taught, only that I'm going to reexamine who I am, what I believe, and how I will govern my life.

I fell out of love with church because of some of the hypocrites I encountered back in Houston. How can a minister who's then current wife seduce him away from his previous wife preach and/or lecture on the sanctity of marriage? I believe that all humans are flawed, and it takes more than a public apology by a televangelist to erase the fact,too, that we are all sick with sin, lust, jealousy, insecurities, and thoughts of revenge.

Navigating the bible, churches, religion, and faith can be a very daunting task. What do we believe? Who do we believe? Where do our beliefs end and another's begin? Do we need to see God once, twice, or three times to accept that He is real?

And on the question of gender. The bible tells us that God is masculine, however I recently attended a church in Harlem where some of the assistant pastors repeatedly referred to God as She. Is it subjective based on our personal tastes or belief systems? This same church has a system in place for membership that includes a personal interview and a Saturday class prior to joining, which seemed rather corporate to me. I've not been back since. I visited this church several times because it's within walking distance of home, and I had the intention of joining. I expected I'd have to provide personal and contact information, but not attend a class on how to join their congregation. Is there a certain type of personality or educational background that would count against a perspective member?

My primary goal in attending was to find a public place of worship, not be rallied to protest local, national, or international political and social injustices. I went to congregate, not apply for an office in the religious black panthers.

Over the years in NYC, I've asked friends and colleagues about faith, religion, and spirituality. It's been a mixed bag of responses: I'm more spiritual than anything else. I'm agnostic. I used to go to church, but not anymore.

My southern identity is concerned that some will look at this entry as sacrilegious; that I'll burn in hell for posting this public query. I watch nature programs and think humans are no better than leopards, lions, tigers, or bears that hunt and kill daily. Humans are just as ruthless and savage in corporate America and the inner cities. Maybe I'm still naive in my thinking that the world ought to be a safer, kinder, friendlier place, and that carnivores should start eating vegetation and fruits. Leave those poor gazelles, wildebeests, and deer alone. The child in me thinks and shudders: God created predators and prey. Don't these creatures deserve to live their life in peace (without being chased at breakneck speed, dodging, bobbing, and weaving) just as I aim to do daily?

My search will continue for a congregation that shares enough of my core beliefs, not necessarily religious, that my soul would feel light and free to rejoice at the mysteries of life, earth, and the universe. There's a place of worship in Midtown Manhattan that has evening and regular Sunday morning services that I'll next investigate. Wish me luck. Feel free to join me!