Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Random Attack by Teen Gang

This is a broadcast e-mail I sent my mailing list:

Dear All,

Please be forewarned this holiday season if you see a gang of African American teens approaching you that they may up to no good. I was sucker punched and knocked to the ground one block from my apartment Tuesday night (9 p.m.) after leaving a coffee shop.

After I collected myself, my neighbor called the police. It turns out that there's a gang or perhaps several small gangs of teens who are randomly attacking, robbing, and chasing people during the day and well into the night. The cops know about this gang (these gangs) and can't seem to do anything about the problem because of the nature of the attacks. The cops believe that this is a gang initiation of sorts.

They have their routine choreographed. The attacker is in the first part of the swarm. S/he attacks, and runs away while the 'second string' feigns comfort/disbelief. If said victim does not fall for the ploy, the 'third string' tries to continue the intimidation. What saved me was an oncoming livery cab driver and car that happened by. All fled toward Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

I'll be fine after a night's rest and a shot of whiskey. Who am I kidding! Two or three shots of whiskey. My head's pounding and my ear's ringing as I type this e-mail.

I don't know if they're working Uptown only . . .

* * *

My first instinct was to turn around and walk back inside the coffee shop, or to cross into the street. I didn't want to be noticed by that many rowdy black kids. I wanted to be invisible. I wanted not to have stereotypical or racist thoughts. I should've have followed my gut instinct. Had I listened to the still, small voice inside, I'd not be sitting with a towel doused with alcohol and filled with ice against my head in between sentences.

I saw fire engine rage as I pulled myself to my feet. I imagined I had a gun to shoot into the crowd as haphazardly as they chose me as their next victim. I imagined gutting the obnoxious person who lurched forward to spit on me, but missed, with a serrated knife the same way my uncle cleaned the fish we caught in Galveston.

I looked over to see a livery cab driver and another car waiting for the signal to change. I wondered where were the cabs or other passersby when I wanted or needed them. I felt alone in the darkened area that used to house a hardware store and bogeda.

I've lived in New York for many years and nothing violent has happened before now. Immaturity and violence knows no race, creed, or nationality, yet I was offended as an African American by these kids who have no regard for life or personal property.

As I rounded the corner to my building, it felt like a scene from a movie. I was floating above myself, sure that I was in fact dreaming or imagining a scene to write in a future fictional work. My reflection in the first floor lobby mirror brought me back to reality. I was indoors, safe. Fears of being outside alone after dark had been realized in a matter of seconds within steps of my home.

I'll recover from this episode, a bruise for a day or two, but wiser for having survived it. I wasn't robbed, stomped, or disfigured. Days before Thanksgiving, I am thankful not for turkey, ham, or sweets, but for my health and life.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Writing Group Moderator Blues

When I originally set out to form a writer's group, I didn't expect I'd have difficulty recruiting other well-read, skilled, and dedicated fiction writers. Over the years, it's been anything but. My earliest attempt to form a writer's group was a mixed genre of aspiring fiction, playwrights, and people who didn't quite have a handle on screenwriting.

We alternated meetings in our apartments in the various boroughs, except Staten Island and the Bronx. Mainly because none of the assembled lived in either place, and I personally wouldn't have trekked over to Staten Island (sorry to the Joeys and Veronicas over there).

Those early meetings were filled with neophytes and people who will most likely not publish because they had too much going on in their lives. People with razor sharp tongues ready to rip fellow writers apart, and their manuscripts fit for lining my cat's litter box.

I cooled on the idea of writing groups and concentrated on full time work. Perhaps writing groups weren't for me. So I enrolled in a writing correspondence course to work one-on-one with a writing mentor/editor to shape my novel in progress. That felt sterile and distant. I wanted to sit in the same space with a person discussing my writing and see their face, not climb the stairs, trying to imagine the sound of their voice. I needed a human interaction. Not the USPS as an intermediary.

I think my need for human interaction is borne out of my having grown up in a large southern family. I trace all my strengths and shortcomings to these origins. Aren't most things a double-edged sword? Too much of something can be bad, too little, not enough. Or honing in on me specifically, I'm an oldest child, raised to take care of my younger brothers in my mother's absence when she returned to work.

When I couldn't contain myself anymore, I created a name, bylaws, rules, and structure. I would create a writing group that would last more than three or four months. I would create a writing community that would be the envy of other writing groups. I grew up in Texas, one of the beauty pageant capitals of the south, I knew how to smile and wave. My god-sister had won more beauty pageants in a twenty mile radius, so I knew a thing or two about public relations and winning people over. But a New York crowd. Yankees.

Four years ago Morningside Writers Group was born. Back then, a website was but a glimmer in my eye, as was a screenwriting division. The graphic novel division is new as well.

Along the way, I've met lackluster people who couldn't get out of their own way. I have been publicly attacked from online postings, or after someone has applied to the group and wasn't accepted, they return to the original place of the posting and post a tirade: Who they think they are? I have an MFA! My response. But you can't write your way out of a corner. Your writing is hackneyed, and your personality during the two-way interview was foul and superior.

I've met my share of good people with bad timing. Not exactly salt-of-the earth, but good intentions to write and improve. It can be a gamble bringing five strangers together to workshop fiction, screenplays, or graphic novels. I only moderate/participate in the fiction and screenwriting groups. Someone else has the job of sheriff in the graphic novel group.

My chief complaint is that I'd like to find and build a community of serious writers in the New York City area, not transients, hobbyists, or people with secret agendas.

There are several competing ads online for writing groups, which doesn't frighten me, I know
who we are as a group, and what we offer. Bring on the competition. What concerns me is that I've become a father or caretaker to adults, sometimes foregoing things that I want or need to do to ensure the smooth operation of the group. I didn't set out to be a wet nurse. Only to coordinate the meeting places and times, workshop, improve, and get published and produced.

Time to find my way back to my original goal. Time to cut the umbilical cords, separate the baby from the bathwater and allow nature to take its course.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Medical Mysteries

I began having unexplained headaches about one month ago, and as of today, my neurologist and I can't isolate the reason or reasons for the pain that starts at the base of my neck, and floats throughout my head and temple during the course of the day. This pain, more like a persistent humming doesn't bother me while I'm sleeping, only when I'm awake.

I originally thought it was an extreme case of caffeine withdrawal after I went cold turkey and stopped drinking Café Bustelo, but that apparently isn't (wasn't the case). I'm on my second prescription, and still no relief in sight. The last draw would be a spinal tap, which I'm not rushing to do.

It seems every few years my body breaks down only to build itself up again. People have joked recently that I'm getting old, family members have chimed in that there's this, that, and the other in the family tree (which I don't care to hear, but alert doctors of all the same). At the end of the day or break of dawn, I want the strength I had when was eighteen or nineteen, and not feel like I'm older mentally and physically than my eighty-nine year-old grandmother.

I've never thought I was invincible. Expressionless people in white labcoats can bring the most optimistic person down to earth. I have met and been prodded by so many doctors and technicians in recent weeks, that someone should pay me!

Faith, religion, and God comes to mind during these visits and exams. I was raised to believe that God does not want His children to suffer sickness and pain . . . that the devil is behind all mental, emotional, and physical attacks. I wish the devil would pull up stakes and leave me alone. I'm sick and tired of being sick, tired, irritable, and restless. The battleground is in the mind, and I must admit sometimes I lose small battles along the way when I've curled up in the fetal position in bed rather than leave the apartment for a walk around the neighorhood.

My current roommate has blind faith. Before every test I've taken recently, he's said: You'll be fine. God will take care of you. I've had an MRI and an MRA on my head/brain, both came back negative. There are no signs of aneurism, or other ominous, multi-syllable conditions or diseases that are causing the headache-like symptoms. I have a genetic history of migraines which I outgrew. The neurologist thinks it might be a low-grade chronic migraine. My question: Why does it only bother me while I'm awake? Next question: Why do I feel sporadic tingling in my hands and legs?

I feel as if I've fallen off the wall next to Humpty Dumpty and no one's around to put me back together.

Through it all, I'm doing my best to keep my chin and spirits up -- it's a challenge keeping the boogey man (devil) at bay while in transit to doctor's appointments. It doesn't help that the primary care physician shows no interest in my medical care, but thankfully the referred specialists have better bedside manner.

I need answers to the question of what ails me. Is it all in my head, or is there something really the matter? Is it time I start thinking about moving out of Manhattan to a place with a babbling brook and wild deer because the people, pace, and stress of city living have become too much for the southerner?

Decisions to make, but at least now I've a new pair a glasses to help me see clearly down the road ahead.