Pastor-Andy-Thompson-Hoes-remark

The Problem w/’Hoes’

Confession: I’ve been called a ‘ho’ before by a man that did not have any prior knowledge of my sexual tendencies. It was a typical nightclub scene that involved a 20 something Me chilling with my friends.  The whole ordeal was common, so common that many of my friends and I knew how to deal with it, specifically.  Therefore, I spat some obscenities at him as he walked away.  Of course, his use of the slur was a way of exacting verbal retaliation against me because I turned down his advances.  My experience is shared with countless women; being called and/or labeled as a ‘ho’ without any fairness, leaving us with the task of defending ourselves against such an allegation.  A woman can be called a ‘ho’ at any given moment for whatever reason;  her clothing is too skimpy or she discusses sex too freely.  The list goes on.  But then, that’s the problem with ‘hoes’. Unless it’s being clearly defined, we really don’t know who the ‘hoes’ are, do we?

As I watched the clip of Pastor Jamal Bryant’s sermon, quoting Chris Brown when he ecstatically proclaimed ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’ and then recalled Pastor Andy Thompson’s tweet advising wives to not ‘let these hoes outshine you’, I kept asking the question, ‘Why are pastors talking about ‘hoes’?’  I have an inkling of the women that these men are classifying as ‘hoes’ but that does not validate their usage of the derogatory term in the pulpit.  Now, before you start on this ‘it’s just a word’ business, let me point out that this is more than just the mere use of a word. It’s about the sociocultural implications of that word as both of these pastors saw fit to use it while ministering from their positions.

But hey, let’s define the word ‘ho’, shall we?  Of course, ‘ho’ is a derivation of the term ‘whore’ which is a woman (and man, as far as I’m concerned) who engages in sexual activity for the exchange of money.  In the Bible, women who prostituted themselves were referred to as harlots.  Over the years, in the Black community, the term has expanded to describe women who use their sexuality for material gain as well as exhibit malicious and untrustworthy behavior.  But it is also used to define promiscuous women, even though most of those women are typically using sex as a way to fill a void in their lives, usually love.  Because of societal structuring when it comes to women, their underlying issues are not diagnosed so readily as being snubbed as ‘hoes’ for bedding any man who expresses an interest.  We also know that this term can be applied at the discretion of some men and their perception of the women they are dealing with, despite how much this reflects their personal choices.  Regardless of whether these women are prostituting, too charitable with their vajayjays, or whatever, are these women worthy of receiving ministerial help? According to Bryant and Thompson, apparently not, as they made a point to condemn these women in order to exhort the female members of their local ministries, and I suppose, the Church at large.  But why was this necessary?  Furthermore, are they fully aware of every woman’s path that led them to their ministries?  I’m certain that some of the women in their congregations may have a few stories from their pasts that could be deemed as ‘ho’-like behavior (since it really doesn’t take much).  What can be said about those women who are, now, on a spiritual journey to become better?

Pastor-Andy-Thompson-Hoes-remarkFor the most part, especially as it pertains to Hip Hop culture, money and status are the motivators for women who are considered disloyal as Chris Brown’s wack song points out. The song, just like much of current Hip Hop, does not reference any women who do not want to ‘smoke weed, get drunk, see a nigga trapped or fuck all the rappers’.  Brown’s song doesn’t have any redeeming qualities to it, instead it’s just another entry in the sad state of Black music and its’ participation in fueling so much dysfunction in our community; dysfunction that the Black Church is supposed to assist in remedying. However, if there’s pastors alienating people by calling them out and judging them as deviants, how can that happen?  According to Bryant, he was attempting to point out how men are supposed to recognize the good women in their lives and, as for Thompson, he was supposedly advising wives to maintain their ‘shine’ so the ‘hoes’ won’t outdo them and take their husbands.  Whew! As skewed as these so-called messages are, these two pastors should have been much more sophisticated at articulating these points without the need to use shock language or, try so hard to keep it real.

The Black Churchris-brown-loyal600ch tends to have a discriminatory, judgmental eye when it comes to Hip Hop culture, in the first place, but when there’s two young Black male pastors incorporating Hip Hop tropes into their sermons and ministerial points,  it comes off rather hypocritical.  I mean, you can’t stop the rappers from talking about ‘hoes’ when the pastors are talking about ‘hoes’.  Mind you, I know, personally, pastors and theologians who are astute at fusing Hip Hop culture into theological commentaries, but that’s not what Bryant and Thompson are skilled at doing, obviously.  Since these two verbal flips occurred, the messages these pastors intended to convey have been lost, which begs more questions for both of them. Did they get their point across? Who did they help?  If anything, the both of them maintained that good ol’ patriarchal status quo that dominates both Hip Hop culture and the Black Church.

Within both areas, somehow the rise and fall of men depend on the actions of women and leave very little accountability on the heads of men themselves.  In Bryant’s sermon, he was attempting to advise men to listen to the anointed woman of God in order to overcome the enemy.  While his female congregants shouted and amen’d his point, I wonder did any of them realize that he was essentially saying that a man’s spiritual growth is largely dependent upon women and not on his own volition to get a-close to God?  For Thompson, he missed the fact that a man’s character is what determines his fidelity and trustworthiness, not how much or how well his wife ‘shines’ it up.  As with Hip Hop, men wouldn’t have to ‘treat a ho like a ho’ if the woman didn’t act like a ‘ho’.  But they miss the fact that perhaps these women are signing up to be ‘hoes’ because the men are paying and/or kicking it with them while they’re on that level.  Using Brown’s song as an example, he didn’t seem to have any problem with accommodating these disloyal women while dissing them in the same vein.  Since Brown can kick it with ‘hoes’ without any conviction and Bryant has had a moment of disloyalty in his marriage,  this can be regarded as the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think?  Lastly, I am not sure if Thompson is aware of how he underhandedly implicated himself with his tweet.  Has he been watching ‘hoes’ shine or something?

So, how do we fix this, exactly? Well, Hip Hop is still a struggle on this front but, as for the Black Church, I say that it needs to be apart of the solution, rather than aiding the problem.  Bryant and Thompson should chill with the ‘ho’ references for the sake of ensuring they do not mislead their congregants and their intended messages get lost in their flimsy attempts to be relevant.  Considering that women comprise the bulk of the Black Church, it’s not wise, at all, to further discord by being so blatantly sexist.   Furthermore, bear in mind that their local ministries are supposed to be open to every one, regardless of lifestyle and background, so be very careful not to alienate anyone (remember, it’s neither male nor female — Galatians 3:28).  The youth should not be charged with the task of sorting through such a thing, either.  How can they discern intelligently if the pastors are talking about ‘hoes’ just like their favorite artists?  There has to be some kind of balance here.  If anything, can we, at least, depend on the Black Church for that?  While the Black Church struggles with addressing so many contemporary issues in the community, I believe it has to be done from an empathetic, compassionate, intelligent perspective without the judgmental gaze.  After all, the Church is filled with imperfect people desiring to correct the wrongs in their lives.  Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janie & Teacake

Loving TeaCakes

Janie & Teacake

Halle Berry as Janie Crawford-Starks and Michael Ealy as Teacake from the film adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God

“She couldn’t make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women.” — Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I was asked to write this piece, although it’s something that I’ve been wanting to address from my angle anyway; that’s why there wasn’t any hesitation on my part.  It all started with an article link I posted on Facebook by Farrah Gray, a well-known motivational speaker and entrepreneur.  The brief article offered six reasons why every woman should date a younger man.  Humorously quipping that I could have written this entire article and add a few points of my own, a couple of sisters took me up on that. There wasn’t anything in-depth about Farrah’s article.  For the most part, those six reasons have been restated in some form or another in other articles and blog posts.   At the same time, I appreciate him essentially condoning the idea of women dating younger men because, to this day, there’s still some backlash. Considering that the article’s main photo is a picture of him, it’s quite possible he was advertising. :-)

First of all, women dating younger men is not a new phenomenon, not even by a long shot. Over the course of several decades, women quietly entered into clandestine affairs with younger men, sometimes while married.  However, if anything can be said about this dating phenomenon today,  it’s the openness that women are enjoying in choosing to date younger men.  Celebrities such as Mariah Carey, Sharon Stone, Madonna, Demi Moore, Tina Turner, Vivica A. Fox, Jennifer Lopez, and Halle Berry are currently or have been romantically involved with younger men.

The big damn deal, initially, is that any woman who dated a younger man was setting herself up for ridicule or shame because the only thing that a younger man could possibly want from an older woman is her money.  The term ‘sugar mama’ applies here. While I am certain that this has occurred several times, I do not exclusively apply it to dating younger men, but rather to the dynamics of that specific relationship.  In other words, it’s not one cause and one effect at all. For a lot of women with hangups about dating younger men, they signal out the maturity level as a factor, as if this can be predicated by age these days.  We’re living during a time when there’s 50 year old men wearing durags, oversized white tees, sagging jeans and using the word ‘thot’ with frequency while their attitudes towards women suggest stunted mental & emotional growth.  Meanwhile, there’s 24 year olds rocking slacks and cardigans with highly progressive and well-thought out views on social issues, which makes for great conversations.  Also, their music playlists feature Cameo, the Isley Brothers, the Whispers, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Peabo Bryson alongside Drake, Daley, and Schoolboy Q.

In conversations with many women, they have expressed that younger men don’t take an interest in them and my response is that, in actuality, they’re  the ones not paying attention because there may be one or two younger men within their immediate environment checking them out. Dating younger men is really not that much different from dating men of any other age. The same discretion in choosing a younger man applies just as it does with other men, or else a woman will have a mess on her hands.  Let me be clear.  I am, in no way, implying here that a woman exclusively dates younger men, unless that’s her choice.  For me, I love men, in general, with a special kind of love for Black men.  If I meet a man, we click, and it just so happens that he’s fifteen years younger than me (I’m 40), I’m not going to make a big deal about it.

Truth be told, if you’re a single woman over 35 and need to expand your dating options, adding younger men is a wise decision; considering that a woman’s dating pool shrinks as she gets older.  In some sense, it becomes inevitable.  Many men past 35 are deep in the throes of married life so they’re off the market.  For those men who may have had the misfortune of divorce or a string of failed long-term relationships, it’s not unusual for them to be emotionally, mentally, and financially wounded as well jaded and guarded.  I have had the distinct experience of being in a relationship with a recently divorced man of my age. It was exhausting because I felt like I had to constantly prove myself.   That’s a blog post for another day.  While it is possible for a younger man to have some emotional baggage as well, it is not as common.

Now, this is the blog of a writer and Literature/Arts Lover, so I always have to make a connection between Art and Life.  As it goes with cultural productions such as books, films, music, theatre, etc, there are some instances where we see this particular dating phenomenon as a centerpiece.  Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937, and speculatively inspired by a relationship she had with a younger man that ended abruptly (this may explain partially the symbolism of Teacake’s death).  Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft starred in 1967’s iconic film, The Graduate, where Bancroft starred as the older Mrs. Robinson who seduced the younger Benjamin Braddock.  In 1997, playwright John Henry Redwood’s  The Old Settler, introduced the theatre world to Husband, a younger man who came between two estranged sisters during 1940s Harlem.  The stage play continues to be produced at various theatres around the country.  In the early nineties, the Queen of Raunch Millie Jackson released an album featuring the hit single, ‘Young Man, Older Woman’ and, as you know by now from UnSung, she wrote, directed and starred in a stage play of the same name in 2002. Even on the hit sitcom, Living Single, there was an episode from Season One where 26 year old Maxine Shaw, portrayed by Erica Alexander, entered into a steamy thing with an 18 year old first year college student, portrayed by Terrence Howard.

Aside from Hurston, another hugely popular work is Terri McMillan’s novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the film adaptation starring Angela Bassett as Stella and Taye Diggs as Winston Shakespeare.  Similar to Hurston as well, many people speculated that McMillan’s novel was inspired by her marriage turned scandal to a man twenty years younger than her and from the Caribbean, just like Winston.  Of course, she continues to deny it. Now, for all of the cultural productions that I’ve named, I believe there is still some space to continue to explore this dating phenomenon from other angles. For one, as it intends to mirror real life, it’s presented as an anomaly followed by scandal or drama, rather than a normal and personal preference of self-actualized women.

For me, I’m more of a Janie than I could ever be a Stella because there’s nothing to be found, I haven’t lost my groove.  You see, Janie from Their Eyes… was a woman who understood herself but she lived during a time when women were required to push themselves inside societal constraints.  While much has changed since the 1930s, those pesky constraints continue to guide the actions of far too many women.  I have made a decision to live my life out loud and chase as much color, beauty, and wonder as possible.  I understand myself as a woman who wants to continue to learn, grow, and experience dope things in life.  Just as I’m working to earn a living doing something that I love, I’m releasing myself from those constraints that threaten to choke my livelihood and steal my joy.  And, just like Janie, if freedom and love comes by way of loving TeaCakes, then so be it.

writers-block

About Writer’s Block: “Why Are You So Afraid of a Blank Page?”

writers-blockAny writer worth their salt has suffered from writer’s block. I’m sure of it. If I meet someone who says they’re a writer and claim to have never dealt with it, I’d think they were lying or perhaps writing is simply a hobby and not a serious profession.  For the most part, writing is hard work anyway; work that many of us lovingly endeavor to do because we cannot see ourselves surviving outside of writing.  However, there are times when Life dams our creativity and, even more so, our ability to produce anything that resembles literary, theatrical, or cinematic dopeness.  Usually, writer’s block results in blank pages, which are a writer’s kryptonite.  Blank pages will weaken a writer’s confidence because they represent the nothingness that we don’t want. Instead, we want pages filled with words connecting to other words that unfold into a beautifully crafted narrative. We want quotations indicating dialogue — this means our characters are expressing themselves and engaging each other.  Blank pages are terrifying, so we don’t look at them very long, therefore, we move about, making excuses as to why we are unable to get to work on the writing.

This short film below by kA’RAMUU KUSH is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of suffering from writer’s block. The main character is a writer named Axl Ellington who is obviously dealing with a personal issue that is affecting her creativity.  As she sits in her tiny apartment, intimidated by the blank page, she goes through a series of listless activities while her emotional state wavers from disgust, anguish, frustration, sadness, and anger. Even though she is developing a few noteworthy concepts for her writing, she is unable to focus primarily on them because of what she’s harboring inside. Finally, she attempts to write from her current emotional state, which is quite a hilarious scene to me.

As I watched this short film, I recalled my own experiences with writer’s block.  I’ve had my fair share of unproductive nights, frustrated and pissed off because I have one measly paragraph before me or three lines of dialogue from one character (when they’re supposed to have a monologue) and half a sentence of a stage direction.  The people in my imaginary world are restless and waiting on me to play God with their lives, while the people in my real world are worrying the hell outta me and I’m dealing with situations beyond my control.  But, just like Axl, I learned that every aspect of my living has something to do with writing, whether I realize it or not. As long as I made a point to write from my current condition, something worth keeping always materialized.  Reading has always been an escape for me, so when writing is not providing the salve, then I open a big book and lose myself in it.  Also, for me, music is a medicine; the more I listen to music, my writing life is much healthier.  Lastly, I really don’t agonize anymore when I have nothing to write. I just wait it out.  That’s the major benefit of being in complete control of every aspect of the creative process. I set my own deadlines and don’t have to worry about anyone constantly checking & pressuring me about the final draft.

What are some of the things you do to get over writer’s block? Share away in the comments section, but first, check out ‘Dear Me’. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

orgasm-upset

Faking Orgasms

It’s a metaphor, but I made you look, didn’t I? This post is about art and living as an artist, I promise. Just follow me here.

Creative energy is at the heart of both coital activity and artistic expression.  Let’s make the connection here. When using creative energy to engage in sexual activity, humans can create another unique human being. It ain’t called procreating for nothing.  Likewise, using creative energy through artistic expression results in dynamic works whether they are songs, paintings, novels, etc. The free flow of creative energy, whether during sex or artistic expression, can cause a heightened sense of pleasure, which essentially is called an orgasm.  When certain pressures occur in life or there are barriers that disallow a person from expressing themselves freely, creative energy can be blocked, thus causing a slowdown in artistic expression or gratification during sexual activity.  The inability to achieve this heightened sense of pleasure or orgasm can cause repression in an individual.   

This leads me to a larger point about life as an artist in a world where art is not appreciated for its true value.  While I’ll decline to state whether I’ve faked an orgasm, I will admit that I am doing some faking in one area of my life. Why? I want to keep the peace much like a sexually unsatisfied woman in a relationship/marriage.  I realize that, at this time, it’s better to fake it because the ‘relationship’ benefits me in other ways; although I’m highly unfulfilled.  If you’re an artist, like me, who has to hold down two full time jobs; one that pays the bills and one that involves your craft, then you’ll know where I’m going with this. I think. Every morning, we rise to a new day and prepare ourselves to scamper off to do work that most of us don’t like to secure a paycheck. After all, it’s easier to create when you have a place to sleep, utilities, and food to eat.  During the hours of your workday, you’re drifting & struggling to pay attention so you begin faking it, you know, pretending that you’re fully involved with your tasks, but in actuality, you’re daydreaming about a new ‘lover’ which is a creative concept or lusting to get home so you can ‘make love’ to your current creative project.  For me and, at least, one other writer, Isabell Allende, writing is a lot like making love and finishing a project gives me a heightened sense of gratification and release, similar to the cool down after an orgasm.  Also, I tend to bask in the ‘afterglow’ by running my fingers along the printed pages and gently turning them while I delight in reading the words over and over again. I don’t get this kind of satisfaction at the corporate slum.  Sitting in a sterile office environment under florescent lighting, at a terribly designed cubicle, I feel as though I’m lying with an unskilled lover with sloppy kisses and he’s groping me too hard.  But I have to pretend I like it for the sake of a salary. 

Ok, maybe I’m going a bit far but I am making a point here.  If you’re an artist, faking life is just as bad for your well-being as faking orgasms with a lover.  The problem with faking orgasms is that the underlying dissatisfaction will spill over into other aspects of the relationship, creating tension and disconnection. In a similar fashion, as artists faking life, this will inevitably affect our crafts because it will block our creativity, thus disconnecting us from our true selves.  Who in the hell wants that? Blockages of our creative energy will leave us more than repressed, as artists, I believe that if we don’t share our gifts with the world, it will poison us eventually.  So, from one artist to another, we have another year approaching, let’s make a commitment to stop faking it and end this relationship that leaves us sexually (read: creatively) unsatisfied.  Work hard at constructing ways for your craft to carry you financially. We owe it to ourselves and the world to get this figured out. Lord knows we don’t need any more repressed people on this planet making life unnecessarily difficult. 

Just so you know that I wasn’t chilling on Pluto while writing this, read this article from Psychology Today that links sex with creativity. 

blackcouple

Short Story: Cocoa Butter

Note: This short story will be moved to another one of my websites, The Womanhood Chronicles, once I am done with updating it.  The website will feature the creative writings of myself and other women writers. Meanwhile, enjoy this short story that was originally written in 2001, however, I’ve revamped it.

COCOA BUTTER

Ms. Uptown sits in Republic Coffee near the window on every visit.  The young dark-haired girl with the thousand tattoos and fifty piercings smiles at her as she enters and motions in the direction of the window seat if it’s vacant. Otherwise, she heads over to the occupants and informs them of the one hour sitting policy when the coffee shop is crowded before telling Ms. Uptown that there will be a short wait, but she is welcome to sit in the lounge area until the table becomes available. While the window seat was ideal for Ms. Uptown, it was never a fuss if it wasn’t available but because she had become a regular customer of the coffee shop, the wait staff treated her like she was VIP. Of course, she didn’t mind any of that. Why would she?

Most nights at Republic Coffee were cramped with students slumped over laptops, large textbooks with a lot of damn pages, highlighters, pens, and notebooks. On this particular night, it was scarcely populated, perhaps because it was a Saturday night. Ms. Uptown was quietly settling into her space, calculating the time frame that she could waste away.  Most of that day moved slowly and she saw no reason to schedule bullshit all for the sake of being busy.  Nighttime found her unwilling to take on the town so she decided to hide away at the coffee shop and be alone with her thoughts and the works of her favorite authors.  Flipping through some Ntozake Shange, her mind was free to become engaged in the lives of the characters that Shange so brilliantly constructs in her novels.  Rocking a pair of tattered jeans with stilettos, Ms. Uptown adjusted the sweatshirt that she altered so it could hang off her honey-colored shoulders and tossed her iPhone in her bag rather carelessly.  Opening her autographed copy of Lillian, she lowered her eyes onto the pages and with each word she read, the coffee shop, the city, and the world faded away.

While engrossed in the quirky conversation that Lillian was having with her therapist, Ms. Uptown broke away from the fictional world and returned to the clamor of the evening.  She sensed a presence of some kind so she took a steady look around the coffee shop, only for her eyes to land on the table directly in front of her.  He sat alone, with his head resting in the palm of his right hand while the other was positioned on the keyboard of his Mac.  Ms. Uptown wasn’t even sure when he came in; of course, that’s the effect that Shange’s lyrical & vivid writing has on the reader.

Forever the connoisseur of fine men, Ms. Uptown took a bit of time to focus directly on the beautiful surprise in front of her.  The top three buttons of his black shirt were open and the sleeves were rolled up as well so she was able to see his taut and lean muscles.  His goatee was neatly trimmed but he was starting to grow ‘Locs so his hair was in a nice array of knots. She noticed that his ears were pierced but he wasn’t wearing any earrings that night. But his most striking feature was his skin; skin so smooth, she could smell the Coco Butter caked up in his pores.  She knew he made a point to use cocoa butter after every bath.  There was nothing Ms. Uptown liked more than good skin on a man.  According to her, it enhanced the tongue’s ability to cover more spots during late nights.  She was obvious, and oh well, if he noticed, then she would nod her head in approval.  If he greeted her in return, she was gonna light up like a ferry.

He’d seen her already; noticed her as soon as he entered the coffee shop.  But before then, he saw her in a dream.  She came to him one night and set his love jones in motion. Awaking rather suddenly, he turned over to see the Other Her much to his dismay.  Disappointed at the realization that it was a dream, he fell off to sleep again, hoping she would return to his nocturnal world.  In the present day, he would spend time in Republic Coffee, sitting in the back purposely to avoid being seen so he could fully concentrate on his work.  He would see her often as she entered the coffee shop and take the window seat near the front of the establishment.

Watching her as she sat down on plumpness, he’d take pleasure in her process of settling down and preparing to read or write in the brown journal she carried in her totebag.  As he worked on client presentations, he would wonder from time to time about her, glancing from the glow of his monitor and see her, almost motionless, reading while totally oblivious to her surroundings.  Why was she always alone?  With everything in place the way he liked it, he could not find a suitable reason, although he sorted through a few of them.  Was she high maintenance? Mean-spirited? Bitter? Lonely? Desperate? Did she have any people skills? Or, was she simply bat shit crazy?  While he loved a spiritual woman, he was hoping she wasn’t one of those Scripture-quoting divas who used every churchy cliché that their pastors relayed to them.  Too much wondering makes a man curious, so on this night, he opted to sit in the booth directly in front of her.

Ms. Uptown caught his gaze when he looked up from his monitor.  The two of them smiled in acknowledgment of each other.  In those moments, there is a kind of unspoken exchange that takes place.  Somewhere between the eye contact and the smiles, a negotiation is underway where one is determining if the other should approach first.  Ms. Uptown and Mr. Coco Butter were working out the final details of this negotiation through broader smiles and just when it was time to close the deal, a figure from the shadows emerged, well, not quite, but that’s the best way to describe the Other Her.  She interrupted the kinetic energy that was developing between Ms. Uptown and Mr. Coco Butter. Yes, the Other Her was intrusive as she plopped in the booth seat at Mr. Coco Butter’s table and immediately started to sound like an off note in an otherwise beautifully constructed musical arrangement. Talking non-stop, Mr. Coco Butter would attempt to peer past the Other Her to get a glimpse of Ms. Uptown. She balked slightly, shook her head in an ‘hmph, hmph, hmph’ fashion and went back to that crazy ass woman in her book.  She should have known something that divine had a problem.

Mr. Coco Butter was tied up, explaining something to the Other Her that she wasn’t fully hearing anyway.  Ms. Uptown, bummed out by the whole thing, started packing her tote bag and with a smirk, politely strutted her sculptured, cultured ass out of the door.  But, it ain’t over, although Ms. Uptown thought it to be.  She dismissed it as one of those thangs, where brothas of today ain’t worth making up her mind to even approach, let alone sulking because she didn’t get further than she wanted.  As a rule, she just washed it away in her herbal shampoo that night and listened to D’Angelo.  Lying awake at 1:30am, she touched her sacred space lovingly while imagining a blissful night with Mr. Coco Butter.  If she can’t have him in the temporal, then she could, at least, lay claim to him in her fantasy life.

On that note, Mr. Coco Butter found Ms Uptown again a few weeks later.  That ain’t hard when it’s meant to happen.  She stood in the Express Lane, examining her blackberries and checking to see if her pie crust was still cool.  Mr. Coco Butter walks by, reading aisle signs and still not finding what he needed.  He’s not gonna ask for help, instead he continues to pace the aisles, until he catches a glimpse of an ass he recalls switching by him on a nameless day back when.  Trying to get a closer look, Ms. Uptown turns his way, as if on cue.  Their eyes light up each other’s soul and both of them, at that very moment, are sharing the same vision of being sticky and wet.  Mr. Coco Butter saw this as an opportunity to correct a wrong.

“I see you again,” he opened. While they didn’t even know each other’s name, there wasn’t a need for formalities. Their souls were already acquainted, making love on a cloud of passion.  Their bodies had to play catch up.

“Yeah. How are you?”  Ms. Uptown returned, even though the Other Her crossed her mind.

“I’m better now.”

“Why is that?” She quickly asked.

“Because I’m seeing you.”

“That’s a line, ya know? But it’s alright because it came from you. Who are you, anyway?”

“Quincy. And you?”

“Territa.  And…who was she?”

“She?”

“Yes. She. The Other Her. That night. At the coffee shop. You were smiling at me and she came to sit at your table…and disrupted that good vibe.”

“Oh.”  He paused before answering, “she’s not going to do that anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Her rights have been revoked.”

“Is that a cute way of saying you broke up with her, Quincy?”

“Of course it is.”

“I’m supposed to believe that.”

“Not if you don’t want to. But it’s the truth either way.”

Ms. Uptown sized him up and looked into his eyes to find a hint of deception. She found none so she proceeded. As they talked, a familiarity drew them closer, right there in the grocery store.  Falling in sync with each other’s steps, they began to look like the future to each other. He asked about the groceries, she mentioned the blackberry pie.  He chimed about the juice easing down his chin as he eats blackberries.  Ms. Uptown’s honey pot sounded the alarm, but she played it cool.  Mr. Coco Butter inquired about her evening.  All of sudden, she was free.  Beginning at eight, the world was at their mercy.  At 10pm, blackberry juice was dripping and secrets were being revealed. By 12am, it felt right.  By 2am, Mr. Coco Butter was deep in Ms. Uptown’s lotion and Ms. Uptown found new places to put her tongue.   That ain’t hard when it’s meant to happen.

Creative Commons License
Cocoa Butter by Chandra Kamaria is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Used by permission of Frankd Robinson, Visual Artist & Activist

Letting Art Imitate Life….

Used by permission of Frankd Robinson, Visual Artist & Activist

So, here I am, deep into the draft for my next stageplay, Honey’s Kitchen. I’m constantly developing the story, the characters, and envisioning the set.  Then, one day in February, a tragic event stopped my creation process dead in its tracks.  I came across a headline about an unarmed teenager murdered by, of all things, a neighborhood watch captain.  By this time, we should all be familiar with most of the details surrounding this painful & devastating moment in the Black community as well as the nation. While George Zimmerman is currently on trial for the death of Trayvon Martin, many of us have went on with our lives, as the media provides some details of the trial while managing to dig up the next event to sensationalize.

Coverage of the case begin to dip shortly after Zimmerman’s arrest, with updates occurring here & there now. The good thing is that many of us are keeping posted the best way we can. Meanwhile, as a community & a nation, we need to determine how to repair the image of Black men and boys in the larger society.

There were some positive outcomes to this tragedy, for sure. It seemed as if the spirit of protest has been revived within the community, especially among the younger sector.  At the same time, some artists took to one of their responsibilities & used their work to make a social/political statement.  Of course, it is harder than ever to hold the attention of the masses due to a ceaseless stream of information on the interwebs. Now, more than ever, I believe that it’s up to the artists to ensure that events of this tragic nature are not buried in history. By using our artistic gifts to speak to this and several other issues that plague our society, we will be able to ensure that it stays fresh on the conscious of the people. That way, we can perhaps generate a spark in many people to be active in their communities. At least, that’s the hope, anyway. 

Considering that Honey’s Kitchen is a work that attempts to deal with apathy in the Black community, it was only divine that I stop the current direction of the script and revamp the plot points to make sure I do my part to keep this case on the minds of people. The stage play was suppose to debut this year, but it’s been pushed back to May 2013 for that specific reason. Perhaps I’ll share a few pages here on the blog so you can see the work as it unfolds.

Justice for Trayvon Martin

   

hattie-mcdaniel[1]

Cultural Translation, or, They Might Read About ‘Madea’ in a History Book One Day.

Cultural Translation: The first time I heard this term, it was being used by a political science professor to describe the late Isaac Hayes.  At the opening ceremony for Kwanzaa 2006, the artist formerly known as Black Moses was standing alongside the former Superintendent of Memphis City Schools (Memphis, TN), Carolyn Johnson as official ceremonial royalty. I recall jotting the term down because it conveyed definitively the work of artists in general.

Music, art, and literature reflects the tonality of society and determines cultural messages during a specific time period.  For instance, within American society, there is a pride taken by many in being such a powerful authority in the world and much of that attitude is prevalent in cultural messaging.  But how this message is interpreted becomes critical in how the country is perceived by the rest of the world (this is essentially cultural translation).  In some cases, this pride could be read as arrogance or perhaps condescension; therein lies the responsibility of ensuring that cultural messages are received appropriately out of respect for history and the peoples of the world.

To that end, Black people in America must also be leery about troubling, or denigrating aspects of our culture being situated as proper reference points for validating ‘how we are’.  Much of Black art and culture has been sacrificed to the god of capitalism, leaving it nullified in splendor and void, in many cases, of any intellectual beauty.  Richness embodies our experience in this world, not just in this nation.  Vital events, people, and cultural property such as books, music, plays, paintings, etc have faded away into obscurity because there is not much of a mainstream movement afoot to initially introduce and later preserve them as definitive cultural identifiers.

Ok, let me just take off the scholar’s robe, get barefoot and see if I can break this thang down.  Seriously, y’all, people like Lil’ Wayne, Soldja Boy, Wacka Flacka, Nicki Minaj, Tyler Perry, and shows like Basketball Wives, Flavor of Love, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta have been included officially in the repertoire of Black cultural production.  You see, the thing about Pop culture is that it remains popular, even after the trend has faded.  For instance, the reason why we know about the Beatles and Elvis, whether we are fans or not, is because during their peak, they were (and still are) Pop Culture royalty.  Pop culture, during any given decade/century, is the source that historians use to document the spirit of the times. Hmmm…..does the presence of the aforementioned people accurately indicate the spirit of the times for Black folks?  

Given the course of how things have been going thus far, we are not in complete control in the telling of our story — so unless a major overhaul happens during this time, who we are and how we were will continue to be told from the perspective of other people (read: White people) besides us.  Do you see how easily the film adaptation of The Help eased into the mainstream? Meanwhile, on our end, we have a grown man that has built a multi-million dollar media empire by largely dressing up as an elderly Black woman with a penchant for cussing, fighting, and misquoting Scripture. If that’s not bad enough, Basketball Wives & the Real Housewives of Atlanta makes Sapphire from Amos N Andy and Hattie McDaniel from Gone With the Wind look like goddesses in comparison. 

In my opinion, there seems to be too much ‘shoulder shrugging’ (nonchalance and apathy) when it comes to things like this. Because of their myopia, some of us are convinced that we don’t even need to worry about our past nor our image and how it affects our present. But, on the contrary, we are suffering tremendously now because of the lies and half-truths that have shaped the collective perception of us — in our own eyes as well as among other groups.  Many of us have embarked upon this tedious journey of trying to uncover and dispel as much historical inaccuracy as we can, but it will be all for nothing if this onslaught of one-dimensional depictions persist.  

Before someone reading this dismiss me as some elitist or a hater, let me state clearly that I’m am always looking for a balance; a well-rounded approach to making sure the whole of the Black Experience is properly represented.  I don’t have any problem with Tyler Perry and the other folks, but I’m just worried that much of this stuff is going to make its way into the annals of history as legitimate cultural markers for Black people. See, within our communities, there’s a broad range of cultural productions just awaiting their time in the shine. It’s a good thing that many of the artists who are taking it upon themselves to produce and share the work, rather than waiting on some Hollywood goon to ‘green light’ it.  That might be our only saving grace.  But still, it is very possible that one day, somebody is gonna read about Madea in a history book — are y’all okay with that?


Women Enjoying Glass of Red Wine

The Single Life Remix

This is dedicated to the courageous women who dare to be over 35…..and single. The ones who boldly arise every day to stare down traditional values and dare them to stress us any longer. This is an anointed lot of the Black single woman population who are fed up with the drab statistics and the ‘Woe is me’ set of sistas whose everyday mission is to discuss their singleness and why Black men will not marry. These are the women who frequently field the questions about why they are not married, are they dating, what are they waiting on, and even acknowledge the questions that are not asked such as ‘What’s wrong with her?’ ‘How come she ain’t got no man?’ ‘Is she a lesbian?’

I salute you for am I you. Contrary to the media frenzy, there are some of us out here who have made peace with our singleness. Instead of bemoaning the poor rate of marriage in the Black community and nitpicking every flaw of Black men, we have consigned to a strategy that will allow us to enjoy a fulfilling life anyway — outside of the societal norm of being a wife. Now, please understand, this is not some dysfunctional, bitter tirade of pseudo-independence or some dramatic feminist mantra (i.e. ‘I am a strong Black woman’ or ‘I don’t need a man….’) nor is it some Willie Lynch inspired self hatred that burdens the souls of Black people, especially Black men. Women like us are not interested in tongue lashing the brothas and requiring them to live up to a set of standards that they had nothing to do with establishing. We are that small enclave of women who embrace the reality that perhaps marriage is further down the road, or, not apart of our Divine plan at all.

To become this kind of woman requires a process of pure emotional hell and upheaval. It requires a woman to undo everything that she’s been taught about womanhood (from her family and society) and then reconstruct the experience for herself. The deconstruction can be unsettling, unnerving–all of that. It’s quite uncomfortable and forces you to deal with your unspoken fears by asking the tough questions and considering those thoughts, you know, the ones that are brewing in your heart such as, ‘Will I be alone for the rest of my life?’  Well, the answer to that depends on you.  The simple truth is that you won’t be alone for the rest of your life unless that’s what you want.  End of story.

At some point, every woman should ask herself why does she want to get married in the first place and be brutally honest about the answer.  Is she in some way believing, whether consciously or unconsciously, that she will not be a complete woman unless she’s referred to as ‘Mrs.’? Companionship, love, and sharing a life doesn’t pass as substantial reasons, either. Why? Because, truth be told, you don’t have to say ‘I Do’ and sign a state-issued piece of paper to get those things. In addition, the divorce rate proves that many people may have married for love, companionship, and to share a life — and it didn’t quite work out so well for them.  I’m willing to bet that there’s even more folks held captive in marriages where the love is being questioned, the companionship is no longer there and the last thing they want is to continue sharing a life with each other.  So far, the only valid reason that I have for marriage is raising children — which has absolutely nothing to do with your personal wants and needs.  Raising children requires at least 18-21 years of selflessness and sacrifice.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not disqualifying marriage because I believe in the institution wholeheartedly, however, I think that we, as a society, and, in particular, as an ethnic community, need to readdress all of the suppositions that we have about marriage.  For the most part, it’s being urged as a ‘Must Do’ in our lives which has caused many of us to slap it on a To Do List without so much as a second thought of how it will look and feel, specifically for us.  Instead, we just accept the assumptions as truth and then become baffled when the thing is not working as it should.  I want you to have the second thought about marriage because, in doing so, you may have some profound revelations about your life — which leads me to my next point.

As a woman continues to process this aspect of her life, she should arrive at the conclusion, eventually, that being single is just fine. It doesn’t, in any way, make her any more or any less of a woman.  Also, it’s not about giving up or not believing in love — but rather, respecting love enough to bless you at its whim and in its most beautiful state.  By allowing life to take its natural course and deliver all things in its own time, a woman can now determine how she wants to enjoy those moments while it’s on the way.  That’s the Single Life Remix.  It’s a remix because a woman’s focus is not on trying to turn in her Single status with such a sense of urgency.  Dating becomes a more relaxed, enjoyable experience that allows menfolk to easily disarm and be themselves (so you can really check ‘em out) and, for women, it lets us take a big deep breath and get on some Eat, Pray, Love type of shit. My latest quip has been that I want a love affair that will make even married people jealous. What does that mean, exactly? I don’t know but I have the time and space to explore it.

The bottom line, here, is that one is not greater than the other, being married has its advantages, but being single does, too.  Focus on the advantages — not what you are perceiving as disadvantages such as this so-called epidemic about so many men not being ‘marriage material’.  What in the hell does that mean anyway? From what I can see, any man is marriage material if the right woman gets her hands on him. If you’ve ran into a man that is not ‘marriage material’, then you are not the woman for that job.  When it’s time to shop for bridal bouquets, embrace it fully — I know I will, but until then, let’s just ride this thing until the wheels fall off.  Deal?


babygirlanddaddy

The Good Thing About Having a Not So Good Relationship….With My Father

Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads, soon-to-be Dads and would-be Dads out there.  I just got off the phone with my Ol’ Dude and as usual, he was just as nonchalant and unexcited about the whole thing.  As I jubilantly said ‘Happy Father’s Day’ and ‘Happy Belated Birthday’ (he turned 63 earlier this week), he issued a dry reply, “Mmm Hmmm. Thank ya.”  No big deal.  That’s just my daddy.

I saw the picture above posted on the Good Day to Be Black and Sexy fanpage on Facebook.  It reminds me so much of my father and I in our earlier years.  When I was a little girl, my daddy was my hero. I used to throw temper tantrums when I couldn’t follow him whenever he was going somewhere.  As I grew into a young woman, things changed between us.  It was the typical Father-Daughter conflict, I was growing up and he wanted me to stay a little girl.  Somewhere between my high school and college years, my Dad checked out of my life.  He didn’t go anywhere, physically, but we did disconnect due to some household turbulence and issues, so emotionally, we fell apart.  I realized that he didn’t understand me and he wasn’t truly making any effort to do so because he was being pulled into another direction.  He seemed less concerned about being a good husband and father, and more consumed with working, making money, and hanging out. He wasn’t my hero anymore. 

Over the years, we’ve had some tough arguments and for a long while, I wouldn’t really talk to my Dad at all. Last year, he was diagnosed with Stage III-IV Hodgkins’ Lymphoma, which resulted in a month long hospital stay.  He was placed in Intensive Care two times and on the second visit to ICU, he was placed on a ventilator after he stopped breathing due to complications of pneumonia.  My family and I spent many days praying for him, all the while, my mother and I sorted through our feelings about him over the years.  During those long weeks, I thought about all of the times when we argued and the problems we’ve had as a family.  None of that really mattered, at that time, and I reasoned that it was better to have him here as long as possible — whether we’re arguing or not, than to lose him that way.  After a year’s worth of chemotherapy and continual prayer, my father is alive and well — and, for the most part, he’s still just as difficult to deal with as before.  But he’s here — and that’s the most important thing.  Truth be told, I don’t expect him to get any softer, if anything, he’ll probably become even more ornery.

To give him proper due, my father was an excellent provider as I was growing up. He paid for my undergraduate education from his overtime wages, bought and paid for my first car, helped me out with bills when I was short on cash, and took care of the down payment on my house.  Of course, I would have to get a sermon before he did it, but he would begin to slowly count out the money or make his way to the bank to put it in my account.  At times, when he was actually ‘there’, his advice to me was to be an independent woman with my own things (car, house, money, etc.) and whenever I needed help, I should rely on him instead of ‘these niggas out here ’cause once they start doing shit for ya, they’ll think they own you and shit’.  By the way, my father is not the most tactful person you’d ever meet. Often, we have to remind him that he’s dropping just one too many shits, damns, and m-fkers because he’s completely unaware of it himself.  He’s a certified ‘cusser’. But that’s my Ol’ Dude. 

The Future by Wak

Now, we’ve come to the meat of this post.  You see, Dads have a hard time anyway — and there’s not much sentimental favor that Dads receive, period.  When it comes to Black fathers, even less fanfare is poured on them.  Of course, being a Black man in this country is a complicated experience, but when compounded with being a father, it becomes even more of a quagmire. It’s easier for the society, at large, to determine that most Black men are absentee fathers, thus a host of problems that plague the Black community are seemingly placed squarely on the shoulders of these inactive daddies. With television shows like Maury Povich, a particular sensationalism surrounds the so-called dysfunctionality of Black fathers. Those shows only project the negativism of Black men — but in reality, I know several Black men who are great fathers — or they are trying to be — in spite of the mirky relationships with their children’s mothers (that’s another post). 

All women tend to structure their relationships with men based on their relationship with their fathers — or lack of, and certainly, when it comes to Black women, many of our struggles with having a healthy intimate relationship are a direct result of Daddy issues.  Definitely, I’ve had my battles with being vulnerable and trusting enough when it came to men and that could largely explain why I’m not married now. You see, I took my Daddy’s advice about being independent, which left me unable to truly relinquish any control of myself over to a man for the sake of growing in love with him.  Also, when my Daddy checked out of my life and became difficult to talk to, this transferred into my inability to effectively communicate my feelings with a man.  For a long time, I was quite ashamed of the imperfections of my father and, because of it, developed idealistic, or, rather completely unrealistic expectations of men.  But after growing spiritually and just maturing as a woman, I realized that my task in life, if I wanted to be at peace, was to tell the truth about my father — and remove the judgements about him as much as possible.  I had to learn how to accept his imperfections and love his contemptuous ass anyway.  :-)

Believe it or not, this has helped me tremendously in love.  Now, when it comes to men, my acceptance of my father has cleared the cloudiness of my heart enough to help me determine what I want — and don’t want in my man. I’ve been learning how to try and understand the men that come into my life and be as patient with them as I can.  In doing that, I accept them — just as they are.  In his own jacked up way, my father taught me this powerful life lesson, even if he doesn’t realize it.


Being-Mary-Jane-350x233

I’m Not Olivia Pope or Mary Jane So….Now What?

When the ABC and BET television executives met to discuss the demographics before premiering their shows, Scandal and Being Mary Jane, they had women like me in mind; Black, educated, professional or semi-professional, ages 25 or 30 plus, and highly interested in watching a show starring a strong Black female lead.  Both shows are supposed to be reflections of Black women during this era. Of course, Scandal is based on a dope concept of a high-powered Black woman in the nation’s capital who specializes in crisis management.  As for Being Mary Jane, this show kinda feels like an updated spinoff of the Savannah Jackson character from Waiting to Exhale. Mind you, I applaud Shonda Rimes and Mara Brock Akil for getting a green light on their television series in such a hard industry for women, in general, but Black women particularly.  Unless you’ve been living on Venus for the past fifty years, you know that Hollywood is finally coming around to the idea that Black female actresses can portray more than maids, prostitutes, drug addicts, welfare queens, and crime victims.  So, given that, this post doesn’t really have anything to do with the producers (well, kinda) or the actresses. Look, Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union have to make their money. Who in the hell aspires to be an actress and doesn’t want to do major work during their career?

scandal_2012_624x351To briefly surmise, both Mary Jane Paul and Olivia Pope, regardless of their professional status, have one thing in common — they’re both having illicit affairs with married men, one of them happens to be the white, Republican President of the United States. For some, this aspect is bothersome because it flaws the, otherwise, positive image of Black women as successful and in control of their lives.  Here’s the thing though, a nice rosy television show featuring a strong lead character, regardless of race or sex, without any wrongs would never make it to production.  I’m certain that both Shonda and Mara incorporated the affairs as a way to give the lead characters more depth and complexity, albeit, it’s in typical fashion.  As you watch shows like Revenge and such, white female lead characters are sleeping with married men as well, but the difference is that the story lines are more textured and layered.  So, yeah, I’ll go here. If you just gotta give me a Black female lead having an affair with a married man, does she have to be so weak, insecure, and sniveling about it?  Why can’t we have a Black female lead that likes sleeping with married men because she prefers to remain emotionally detached? That would be far more interesting.  From here, I’m in agreement with Kimberly Foster’s post on ForHarriett.com about Black women always being portrayed as tragically single…and that’s why I say I’m not Olivia Pope or Mary Jane.

Being-Mary-Jane-350x233

A scene from Being Mary Jane starring Gabrielle Union and Omari Hardwick

So where did the tragically single phenomenon come from? Well, I’ve already mentioned it.  It is my belief that it happened in 1995 with the film release of Terry McMillian’s bestselling novel, Waiting to Exhale. It’s been nearly twenty years, and according to both Black and White Hollywood, Black women are still not breathing freely. Prior to that, however, we had a breakthrough in 1986 with Nola Darling in Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It.  The only thing that was tragic about Nola’s singleness was the inability of the three men she dated to accept that she was not a ‘one man woman’. In the context of cultural productions, we are seeing white women forge ahead with progressive ideas about love, romance, sex, relationships, and marriage, while we, as Black women, continue to pursue & approach these things in the most traditional manner possible, despite the growing chorus of Sistas who are beginning to call a lot of these things into question.

Another thing that concerns me is the social commentary and opinions surrounding these two shows. While both of these shows have fueled the ongoing critical discussion about the state of Black relationships, I’m concerned that the dialogue is not as productive as it should be. It seems the shows have provided yet another way to pit Black men and women against each other, as if we needed anything else. If you have a Twitter account, it’s easy to plug into Black Twitter while they’re live tweeting the two shows and see the reactions. As they watch vicariously, many of these people are exposing their own unresolved issues about love and relationships.

Instead of using these two shows to establish some kind of connection where we can talk intimately, honestly, and compassionately about the state of our relationships, we’re using them to perpetuate distrust and suspicion of each other.  Black men are accusing Black women of making poor choices when it comes to men while Black women, on the defensive, lash out about Black men and their apparent failure to commit. How can we win this way? If we’re going to use these shows as a premise to make assertions about relationships, then we need to respect each others’ life paths and experiences while allowing a nonjudgmental space as we share our thoughts.

While I have not been involved with a married man, I have talked candidly with women who have and their reasons were varied and perplexing. On the other hand, I’ve had discussions with women who had to deal with their husbands’ infidelity.  Their stories were also complicated.  Lastly, I have talked with a couple of men who had affairs while they were married and they have much to say as well.  In having those discussions, I learned that we are all complex individuals and that relationships cannot be confined to such simplistic ideals. Understandably, we want to condemn;  profess the right or wrong of a situation and act accordingly. I get that.  But life doesn’t always grant us that opportunity; just ask Gabrielle Union as she continues to deal with the public finding out about D. Wade’s new baby.  We need to keep all of this in mind whether we are watching a representation of ourselves on television or dealing with each other in real life.

A personal note

Beautiful Distractions: Coping w/Crushing While Creating…

It is my belief that, as a writer, you have to be observant of everything. For me, people-watching strongly influences my writing process. While people-watching, I’m picking up on context clues in conversations, nonverbal communication or body language as well as dreaming up various scenarios and their potential outcomes. During the course of observing life, its’ wonders, and complexities, something will happen, like finding myself attracted to someone. If I’m in deep creative mode, I can detach myself from the surface-level attraction and use it as a muse, of sorts. That’s my way of making sure nothing is discarded from life’s observations.  But then, there’s this not-so-often situation when I find myself unable to shake the attraction because it goes deeper than an initial magnetism. Yes, there’s a component of intrigue that draws me even closer to the person, igniting a desire in me to investigate their inner workings.  That’s when I have to admit that I’m officially ‘crushing’. I call these instances ‘beautiful distractions’.

Let’s face it, as humans, we desire to be connected to each other.  It’s how we sustain, really.  All of these external pursuits of living such as our dreams and goals are not complete until we have someone who can share in their revelations and manifestations.  Yet, at the same time, there is a period in life when adding an intimate Somebody to your life can be challenging, especially if you’re compassionate about making sure they receive the sensuality and connection that they need. So, it’s just best to keep them at a distance….or is it? That is the question that I’ve been pondering for quite some time, now.  For many years, I believed that it was a good idea to leave it all alone until I’m in a better place to manage an intimate affair. I do not abide by this anymore. I’ve made some adjustments.  As I found myself being so withdrawn from any kind of intimate contact, I saw my work suffering. It was about two years ago that I realized crushing and creating were connected.

A personal noteIt’s not a good idea to dam up your emotionality for the sake of your creative work, after all, our emotions, as writers, often drives our work. How believable would our characters be if we detached our emotions from them? In my writing, I link the emotions from distinct experiences to the characters and story; for instance, in penning a line like, ‘At first kiss, the taste of forever was in his mouth’, that came from somewhere within me, whether it is an imagining or a memory. In my opinion, writing is an endeavor in vulnerability anyway, as Ernest Hemingway stated, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Shange, one of my favorite writers, often mentions the poems written to & from lovers in her works.

In evaluating how to effectively crush while creating, I’m learning more about myself as a woman and a lover.  It’s pretty exciting shit.  The only thing is, I have to make sure the man I’m crushing on understands what I’m doing when I send a mushy, steamy ass poem to him, or else, he could potentially think I’m parched, which is beyond being thirsty. Unfortunately, in this current climate when a mere ‘hello’ can be deemed ‘thirsty’, we can never be too sure. It’s a sad world, in that way. We must change that. But, I digress.  The bottom line, here, is that I’m expressive. I’m a writer, for God’s sake, which is perhaps the most expressive art form ever (I’m biased, of course). I sing songs I love very loudly. I commit to memory lyrics that speak to me. I dance when the groove hits me. I, sometimes, yell joyously, when I’m feeling good. I laugh loudly. I moan when I make love. If there’s any part of my life that is restricted from expression, the other areas of my life suffer as well. I cannot afford that, not as an artist or a woman. So, instead of shunning, distancing myself from the attraction because I’m trying to focus solely on my work, I have to incorporate it into my creative process, perhaps use it as a way to escape when writing starts wearing on me.

Of course, my crushing is not done in vain. I am hoping to seal the deal, in some way. Here’s where reality steps in because I cannot control the outcomes in life as I can in my writing. To complicate the matter, I have to ensure that the outcome does not overly affect my work.  That’s a topic for another post, I think, because the end results of crushing could potentially materialize in new work (and it usually does). My point is that I’m not crushing on a man just so I can take a break & find a way to let off some sensual steam, but instead, I am seeking that man who will compliment my purpose in life. With each crush, I want to explore the possibility of him being the one, yet, I have to accept the end result. Hopefully, it’s favorable for me but, if not, at least I said how I feel. Right, Rhian?

certifiedbadass

On Being a Bad Ass…

certifiedbadassHave you ever noticed the contradiction in how we approach confidence and braggadocio? While we harp consistently on being confident, we also warn against bragging. From my experiences, bragging usually occurs when someone doesn’t have any real proof of their badassness. However, there’s some of us out here that should stop every now and again to toot our own horns. Why?  Well, there’s several reasons, but for the sake of keeping this short, here’s two major reasons. For one, we’re living in a world where people are stingy with their heartfelt compliments.  Even if they feel a certain beautiful way about you, they’ll reserve their expression of these sentiments for fear of appearing vulnerable or because they think it will go to your head….which is rather lame, yes? So, to counter the obvious accolades you deserve from others, make a list of what makes you Great and speak on it from time to time to make yourself feel better about YOU.  Another major reason to applaud your badassness is when your hard work is paying off despite all of the obstacles and hurdles that you keep enduring.

It takes a Bad Ass to press forward in spite of all of the discouraging things that stand in the midst of achieving. When you’re waking up with each God-given day and working towards your dreams and goals, then you have a right to sit down, at any given moment, and celebrate your badassness. Trust me, if you have the right handle on Life, humility is a standard feature because being a Bad Ass doesn’t mean you’re embodying perfection.  It doesn’t mean that you’re above reproach at all, but you should appreciate your badassness on the regular so you won’t lose sight of your gifts and yield to the indifference of the world.  So from one Bad Ass to the Bad Asses that are reading this, here’s to you and your Awesomeness, that special something that makes who you are in this world. Never apologize for it.

“I’m so hip, even my errors are correct.” — from the poem Ego Trippin by Nikki Giovanni

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A scene from HHP's original stage play, FOUR WOMEN.

Stage Plays Don’t Grow on Trees, Ya Know….

Playwright & Business Owner Chandra Kamaria

Playwright & Business Owner Chandra Kamaria

I am a Playwright. Yes, I am Black so that means I do Black plays. Yes, I am a woman so that means I do Black plays that are woman-centered.  But let me be clear. I do not do gospel plays or urban stage plays, which in many cases, are technically the same thing. I have a very distinctive idea about the kind of theatre that I’m doing through my company, Harkins House Productions.  This kind of theatre is targeted specifically to the people who are not Tyler Perry or David E. Talbert fans…and those people do exist. It’s a lot of them, actually.  Since both of these men have been doing stage plays for a number of years now, their fan base is established and lucrative.

My projected fan base is rather small and still in need of serious developing; seemingly when I mention that I do plays to potential members of that fan base, many of them, understandably, assume that it’s Tyler Perry-ish in content.  For the purposes of this piece, Tyler Perry-ish content means there’s a lot of singing, dancing, over the top comedic material, oversimplified themes, and Scripture-quoting, or misquoting if he’s donning a wig and lipstick. Uhh no. Please understand, I don’t have a problem if that’s your thing, but that’s not my writing style or mission as a playwright….and we just need more diversity anyway.  Agreed?

Then, there’s the traditional theatre circuit, which is even harder to enter and much more political. I’m not sure how much you know about theatre, Black theatre in particular, but there aren’t many theatres around the country vying for scripts by Black playwrights.  Even so, if a playwright doesn’t have a relationship with those Executive Directors and other key personnel, their scripts won’t even see the light of day in a playwriting workshop, let alone a stage and a playbill. During the height of the Black theatre movement, the majority of those plays were staged at theatres owned and operated by Black Executive Directors and specialized in grooming Black playwrights, actors, directors, set designers, and such.  As for Broadway, do I really need to get into that? A Black stage play goes to Broadway with such low frequency that, to me, making Broadway a goal of a Black playwright’s career is not even worth it. I take that back, it’s worth it but I just believe that Black playwrights should focus on getting their work to the stage and let Broadway take care of itself, which is what it’s going to do anyway.

augustwilson

Legendary playwright, August Wilson

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun

Even if theatre ain’t your thing, the names August Wilson or Lorraine Hansberry would still ring a bell, yes? All of us in this playwriting game are striving for that kind of legendary status, or at least, we should be, but ever heard of Judi Ann Mason, Alice Childress, Ed Bullins, Pearl Cleage, Sonia Sanchez, Douglas Turner Ward, Marcia Leslie, or Shay Youngblood? It’s okay if you haven’t.  These are a few names of critically-acclaimed Black playwrights who have had many of their works staged and perhaps just as many unproduced scripts collecting dust.  Of course, there’s others such as Lydia Diamond, Katori Hall, Lynn Nottage, and Suzan Lori-Parks who have managed to establish a footing in the traditional theatre world, even secured Broadway runs and many accolades with their works.  But again, unless theatre is your thing, most of the Black audience (this includes my folks and Tyler Perry & ‘nem folks) won’t be familiar with these playwrights.

So, if theatre is such a hit or miss business, why do theatre at all then? Well, for one, I love it and everything about it. The story unfolds before the audience and the immediate responses to certain elements of the story are priceless for the playwright and director. To that end, the greatest power in theatre is the ability to engage the audience while simultaneously presenting messages or themes in an uncensored manner.   For those of us doing this playwriting thing, we also have to be willing to pull off these gloves of conformity and go ‘there’. Trust me, the audience wants to see it, so do it.  Honestly, in order to attract an audience, you have to go ‘there’ because ‘there’ is the edginess & unapologetic reality that Black theatre has been offering for over a hundred years now.

The most vital aspect of theatre is its’ accessibility for underserved audiences.  With so few movies and television shows depicting the depth and range of the Black experience, Black theatre can take up that slack easily because that’s another thing it has been doing since its’ origins — establishing a platform for the myriad voices of Blackness.  Also, Black playwrights have to be good at creating innovative ways to get their work out there. This isn’t a problem so much as it’s an opportunity, which is why I will always applaud Tyler Perry & David E. Talbert, no matter how I feel about their content.  The path that the two of them have forged is to be used as a definitive guide.  At the same time, technology & social media are making it easier to get our work out there and there are still unchartered waters.

A scene from HHP's original stage play, FOUR WOMEN.

A scene from HHP’s original stage play, FOUR WOMEN.

I found my voice as a playwright. I’ve been writing for years, mainly with the intention of being an essayist and novelist (that’s still going to happen, but I digress).  Mind you, I’ve been a theatre patron since 1994, attending several shows done by local theatre companies such as Memphis Black Repertory Theatre, Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company, the Orpheum, Playhouse on the Square, and Hattiloo Black Repertory Theatre. So, I wasn’t a stranger to theatre and had been doing my homework in understanding the industry all along.

After learning how to construct a stage play by reading published plays and practicing, I decided to take a leap of faith in 2010 and staged my first original production, FOUR WOMEN, at the Evergreen Theatre in Memphis.  Despite the structural issues in the script, the show was well-received and that’s what sealed the deal for me.

A scene from HHP's original production The Man Store

A scene from HHP’s original production The Man Store

My second stage play, The Man Store, debuted in May of this year; and again, it was very well attended and received. This script was much stronger and structurally sound than FOUR WOMEN, which indicated my growth, or better yet, my confidence in writing.  Yet, I’m still learning that it’s only as good as the last show and the business of securing funds for the next run is an ongoing endeavor. Here’s where both the commercial or indie theatre & traditional theatre worlds coincide.  Theatre is an expensive business; raising money is a tedious exercise, but it’s a necessary evil, or else, there won’t be a show. When I started my company in 2010, I sat aside money from my salary and continued to do this until this year when the job sent me packing.  Now, I’m creatively developing ways to raise funds. Of course, many have suggested that I apply for grants, but I can’t. Here’s why:

Harkins House Productions is NOT a non-profit company.  The overwhelming majority of performing arts grants are set aside for non-profit organizations.  In addition, do you know how much work is involved in applying for grants? It can be a very time-consuming task and, after all of that, it’s not guaranteed that the grant will be awarded to the applicant(s).  I’m not interested in doing all of that reporting & document chasing for anyone other than my accountant and lawyer, not an Advisory Board or a nitpicking arts funder. I don’t have the patience for that.  Besides, as the economy continues to relapse and rebound, many of these arts funding organizations have cut their grant programs, therefore, many nonprofit theatre companies still have to raise more money through playbill advertising and sponsorships to cover expenses after securing grant monies and charitable donations.  This is why I decided that going the for-profit route was better for Harkins House. I do not regret my decision.

Through sponsorships and playbill advertising, I raise funds to cover some expenses. Of course, as the exposure of the company increases, it will be much easier to secure major sponsors & advertisers.  Meanwhile, I scratch and claw at raising dough. Currently, I’ve launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $2,000 by September 10th. I’m praying that I’ll hit this goal, however, I got a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D ready to go. You see, while I believe in theatre, I also know what I’m up against — a tough economy, an underdeveloped market, and a start up business still cutting its teeth. No doubt about it, there’s people highly interested in the work, but stage plays don’t grow on trees.  With just a few dollars to this IndieGoGo campaign, I can take this money & stretch it out to do another run of The Man Store while I organize a plan for DVD sales and a small tour in 2014. So, won’t you, yes you reading this, help? On behalf of every struggling playwright, it will be most appreciative. :-)

For more details about the fundraising initiative, click here.

Dubois.

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“Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent.” — W.E.B. Dubois, Criteria for Negro Art

 

Racism: Constant Talking Isn’t Necessarily Communication

Chandra Kamaria:

Joseph Boston offers a great perspective & angle to the commonly asked question, ‘Are you a racist?’ Enjoy this post while I get SE back into gear.

— Chandra Kamaria

Originally posted on Joseph Boston:

There is an age old conversation taking place in America. The conversation, whether asked directly or indirectly centers on this most volatile of topics and question. Racism and “Are you a racist?”

I feel this frame of questioning is almost mute at this point because the answer doesn’t really answer the question. Racism exists whether one responds yes or no and the vast majority of racists, not being extremists like the KKK but good, honest, hardworking white people, hear the question with a slanted idea on racism that will inevitably lead to the answer always being “No”.

What these non-extremist racists hear is this  “Do I call minorities names based on the color of their skin?” or “Do I hate people of color solely based on the color of their skin?

Both of these answers while being indicative of racial prejudice which is a by product of racism, never really…

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Love Your Locals

“….But I Live in This City, Though….”

Love Your LocalsWhen you’re an artist of some kind, oftentimes, when residing in a city other than Los Angeles or New York City, you’re told that you have to leave in order to succeed. You’ll hear several individuals using their positions as supportive friends and colleagues to point out the plethora of resources and opportunities in other cities that are much more suitable for what you do artistically.  Granted, it’s understandable why they would offer such advice, especially if they have observed how hard you work at your craft and perhaps how little progress you’re making towards securing a fan base in your city.  However, packing your bags and jetting is not the best move, always.  You have to consider how far you’ve come in your artistic building process.

Let’s use me as an example. This post is inspired by a recent conversation about my new stage play that’s currently in production through my company, Harkins House Productions.  I live in a city where being an artist of any kind is the hardest thing to do here, largely because there’s not a comprehensive infrastructure in place to support the many gifted visual artists, writers, emcees, spoken word artists, singers, musicians, dancers, photographers, filmmakers, graphics artists, etc. based here.  Cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Atlanta, for instance, have these comprehensive infrastructures in tact which are comprised of media outlets, cooperative venues, business incubators, financial backing, and supportive civic & political leadership.  However, in relocating, an artist would have to do some serious rebuilding; something that could actually hinder growth and success rather than spur it.

After listening to a semi-lecture on how much I would thrive if I were to relocate to New York City since I’m doing theatre, my only response was, “But I live in this city, though.” I went on to explain that my three year old production company, which is working on just its’ second original production, probably would struggle even more in New York City, despite the host of theatre venues there.  For one, I would have to work at rebuilding a professional & personal network while learning the city enough to seek out the resources I need.  For what it’s worth, I have that here in Memphis. It may be small and, at times, frustrating to deal with, but it’s there…and that counts for something.

Secondly, I have not been able to pour real work into HHP because I’ve been rising every weekday morning, for seven years, making money for a Fortune 500 company. But, as of March 13th of this year, God released me from that. So now, I’m able to work at implementing everything affiliated with the HHP vision. Before I expand, those elements need to be in place as each one is apart of HHP’s complete business model.  Because of the cost of living, I would have to hit the pavement and find work to cover the bills while I resided in New York City. Here, in Memphis, a dollar goes a lot farther (unless it’s a MLGW utility bill)….and that counts for something.  Thirdly & honestly, I don’t want to relocate. I like the proximity of Memphis to my hometown in Mississippi, where my immediate family lives. My parents are growing older and have had their respective health issues. While they are still chugging along, I still want to be close enough to them so I can care for them, if necessary. That counts for a LOT.

Also, I believe there is great power in the concept of ‘blooming where you are planted’.  From a spiritual perspective, we have to be careful about following these so-called ‘traditional’ or ‘standard’ routes to success.  Think about it. What if part of your destiny is to succeed in one of the most unlikeliest of places? Take all of this into consideration before you submit your change of address card. Have you really done everything you can in your city? I haven’t, which is why I’m staying put for the time being.

Now, let me point out that while securing a local base is critical, I do not believe it will sustain an artistic professional at all. At some point, an artist must expand in order to fully sustain themselves with his/her craft, mainly because your people (fan base) don’t just live in your city. They live all over the world. This is why having an online presence is imperative…and this online presence must have a local, regional, and global reach to be effective.  This is why my mission statement for HHP concludes a sentence with ‘reaches audiences worldwide’ because as the company grows, it will. That’s where I’m headed, but first, I have to take up the monumental task of using Memphis as ‘my Hollywood’* and building a repertoire of Broadway quality productions. Prophetically speaking, something is just supposed to happen here anyway…and many of my artist friends sense this too…that’s why they haven’t left either.

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*My theatre mentor here in the city of Memphis is Playwright/Producer/Actress Ruby O’Gray of the Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company.  Her motto, for over thirty years as a theatre professional, is ‘Memphis is my Hollywood.’