Sunday, February 28, 2010

Black History Month Celebration

What does Black History Month really mean for African Americans and other global African descendants who make their way to the United States? February is the shortest month of the year, so the good folks who were compelled to mark our history didn't do us a favor. Was it so difficult to choose a month with thirty-one days when weighing centuries of murder, rape, lynching, and suicides at sea? Perhaps those additional three days would have been too much to bear for the undoubted republicans who signed the legislation.

My personal, familial, and cultural identities are tied to my blackness. I can't and wouldn't deny who I am, but millions of others habitually attempt to do so. My childhood was predominantly African American until junior high when I met and befriended Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

I've always been fascinated by genealogy and family lore, but to date I've yet t follow through. My thinking was that I would get around to interviewing my granny on camera or digital voice recorder. She would tell me what it was like to be a black child in the 1920's and 1930's, in Texas. I missed the opportunity to do so three years after her death. I still wonder what her life was like those many years ago, and further what our ancestors' lives were given that she was born in 1917. 

I'm not naive enough to think our family doesn't have slavery among the ranks, but were always free do what they wanted within the confines of the racist south. There was no escaping who and what we were - Southern Blacks, not that anyone tried to assimilate or pass for white. 

Slavery and its unwitting offspring, racism are seven-headed hydras, and twenty-eight days once a year will never be enough to make right what was and still remains an injustice. 

The argument could extend beyond African slaves who were treated as cargo on The Middle Passage, to others races throughout history that were at one time another a servant to a conquering nation. 

One blog post isn't sufficient to discuss this topic, but I want to add my five cents. I personally feel cheated by Black History Month that takes place in February. 

It wasn't until I'd transferred high schools that I made a point of educating others on the atrocities, setbacks, breakthroughs, and triumphs of African Americans. I can't remember how I managed to do morning Black History Month announcements. It wasn't every year. I think it was only during my senior high. I still recall the white student who sat alongside me, noncommittal expression about his face. He was being obnoxious but tried to wrap it in genuine concern and or curiosity moments before I took hold of the microphone. I remember BLURTING BLACK into the mic one morning, perhaps verbally raising my Black Pride Fist at him and all the non-black students and faculty listening. 

It comes down to individual beliefs, acknowledgment of the history, and a concerted effort never to forget. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Killer Cats at Caroline's

A few years before I relocated to New York City, I met a photographer in Houston at my high school's fiftieth year anniversary. She was smitten with me, but the only thing that registered was New York. I'd previously thought I'd relocate to Los Angeles and work on television dramas, sitcoms, and eventually movies, but shifted my focus to Broadway's bright lights. 
 
When she offered, "If you're ever in New York, I'd love to photographed," I readily took her card, shook her hand, gave her my requisite theatrical grin. I'd later figure out how I'd make it to NYC, but for moment I had a contact that I could call upon. 

I scheduled an audition at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and she volunteered to let me crash at her apartment on West 72nd Street, a few feet away from the entrance of Central Park.  

Prior to the night in question, I'd been allergic to bobtail cats, and to my surprise she had two robust and or overweight cats reminiscent of feline linebackers. The building exterior was swanky, but the one-bedroom apartment was cramped. 
 
The audition is a blur now, but I still remember the minuscule, almost not there kitchenette, the bump-my-knees into one too many pieces of furniture in the living room, the clawfoot bathtub, and the exposed wooden four poster bed. These many years later, I probably wouldn't recognize her if I saw her on the street. She had red hair back then. She was accommodating in a familiar southwestern, hospitable way. I had full reign of the apartment, or so I thought (more on this later). She packed a bag and stayed with an upstairs neighbor.

My first trip New York was one week, but one of the nights that will forever be etched in my memory is when her two psycho cats, perhaps unsure of who I was, or fed up with my presence in their mother's absence, began a slow and methodical stalking of me as I rearranged my clothes in my suitcase.

Before I realized it, both cats had crept into the bedroom, a la National Geographic stalking their prey. Was there power in numbers? The primal, coordinated attack underscored by in stereo growls, hissing, and yowls was proof positive. A simple flick of my hand, "Shoo cat. Get on outta here and leave me alone," wouldn't work on this night. I had invaded their territory, and the spoiled felines weren't having me.

At this point, the yowls intensify. Sitting atop the log legs, glowing eyes locked on me, my heart began to race. I ran through several scenarios in my mind-all should result in their remaining alive even though I contemplated knocking them both off their perches with my deodorant, shampoo, or tube of toothpaste. They were house cats. Shouldn't they back down, scurry away, leave me in peace? 

Not these two cats. They stood their ground, and my fear intensified. I was actor after all, and my face was my calling card. I wasn't going to risk a kamikaze cat attack to my arms and face while trying to defend myself, and not injure my host's pets. 

I remember abandoning whatever was I was doing, and hightailing it into the bathroom and closed the door in the nick of time before a paw with sharp, exposed claw swiped underneath the door. It was on now!

Safe inside the locked bathroom, I felt like a fool. Safe, but foolish. How in the hell did I allow two cats to get the better of me? Those beasts wouldn't let up. They paced back and forth just outside the door, voicing their displeasure with my presence. I didn't care if they shredded my clothes, as long as my skin remained intact. 

I can see the bright white lights in Caroline's bathroom now. I can see one too many bottles of cosmetics, bags of cotton balls, or her female products littering the countertop and shelves as I stand with my back at the door, again trying to figure out what to do. 

There would be no letting up that night. I wouldn't be returning to the bedroom for a solid night's rest. I settled into my temporary home until she'd return the next morning. I spied some of her plush, over-sized bath sheets, and her very comfortable five-star hotel robe. I unfolded two or three of the bath sheets, slipped on her robe, stepped into the bathtub and fell asleep to the feline sentries' dismay.

It was as if nothing happened the next morning when she arrived, called out to them, and poured their morning food into their bowls. I had to be safe with her in the apartment. When I made my way to the living room looking worse for wear, she promptly laughed at me, disbelieving my previous night of torture. Those cats were possessed, and I was to have been their sacrifice to whatever dark force they worshiped.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Seeking Workshop Venues in Manhattan

Morningside Writers Group is seeking additional weeknight and weekend afternoon workshop meeting venues in Manhattan for two-hour sessions.

We are looking for a private and quiet space that would accommodate six to eight workshop participants and access to restrooms. Bonus if the space has a chalkboard, water cooler, and vending machines, but not mandatory.

We are ideally looking for a recreation or community center classroom, small business conference room, or an empty space in a senior citizens residence. We are open to a workshop barter or negotiating an affordable rate in exchange for genre workshops in Fiction, Memoir, Screenwriting, or Playwriting.

Please contact us by e-mail with location, rates, and availabilty with Workshop Venue in the subject. Our target start date is May 1, 2010. Thanks in advance!