Friday, November 30, 2007

Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ode To Granny Gums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reality TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Family Legacy and Lore - Writing A Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Finding My Literary Voice

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

House of Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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