Author: Chandra Kamaria

Chandra Kamaria is a playwright, essayist, culture maven, educator, entrepreneur, and activist. To learn more, visit www.chandrakamaria.com.

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.

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

badass

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.

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.’