Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pen 10 Scribes Submissions Sent Off, Planning to Head to Chicago

I sent off this morning my last batch of stories for the upcoming anthology Pen Ten, to be edited by Rhonda M. Smolarek also known as Olive Rosehips. The anthology will feature stories written in ten lines/sentences are less. Here is one of my stories:

Benson’s Release
“Ok, have a good day-- love you,” Benson pecked Glynda on her cheek and then jumped out of the car in front of the construction site he worked as an engineer. He stood on the curb and watched as his wife drove away in the family’s dusty mini van before pulling out his cell phone; he dialed Vincent’s number by heart.

“Where are you,” he asked, his voice husky with intensity. It had been three weeks since he had been with Vincent and he wanted to see him--the last few weeks had been spent convincing his wife that his interest had not roamed, but, now, he was getting antsy and needed some release; Vincent  provided his outlet of choice.

Chiseled, handsome and cavalier, Vincent, an art teacher, had entered Benson’s life at the very moment that Benson was contemplating how far he had gotten himself wrapped up into a life that was more of what his parents wanted and less of what he wanted or needed. While he was grateful for his two children and the friendship and loved he had found with Glynda, his marriage had never cured him of what he knew about himself since he was a teenager. Benson turned the corner behind his job and walked toward the coffee shop where Vincent would meet him, the spot where they met. Scanning the faces, his eyes rested on Vincent who was engaged in conversation with a woman who was holding a painting canvass. Walking to the table where they sat, he greeted Vincent and Sarah and pulled from the tube he held a scrolled drawing that he had worked on last night. 

“That is beautiful;  we’ve missed you in art class, hope this means you’ll be there tonight,” Sarah said, with Vincent nodding in agreement, tracing with her fingertip the pencil etching of Benson’s wife, drawn with delicate clarity.

I was drawn to this anthology's call for submissions because I have an interest in writing small works that tell a story in a way that a lot is told without saying much. I love vignettes and enjoyed writing them when I was with the Saartjie Project and watching them in movies like A Good Day to be Black and Sexy and Nine Lives. I'll keep you posted on when the anthology comes out!

Right now, I'm buying my plane ticket to Chicago for the 13th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention taking place on Oct 16-17. I'm going to support my boy Turtel Onli who is a member of Liberated Muse's online family and who was featured in the book I edited-->Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul. Turtel is an amazing artist-- so talented, he draws, paints, designs clothes, teaches art and works with youth. I can't wait to head to Chicago. It'll be my first time there. What should I make sure I check out when I get there?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Focusing on the Art of the Matter

So, I closed down my Ning art community LiberatedMuse and maintain just the Facebook, Twitter and Blogger sites for Liberated Muse. The Ning network was started in 2008 with the intent for folks to network, post in forums, blogs, etc. and create relationships on-line. What was happening, and its a good thing, was that folks were coming to the events and networking and linking up, but not so visibly online. So, to save myself work (and money) I decided to just focus on the events, getting the word out about opportunities and such via micro-blogging and blogs and conserve my energy to focus more on my own art. Focusing on me takes some getting used to.

As much as I declare I'm going to focus on developing my own art skills, its been pretty hard putting it into practice. This is particularly true when it comes to doing work with other people. I feel like somehow I always wind up in a position where I'm either in charge, responsible for details that take away from focusing on my own stuff or I'm asked or expected to "assist" where I'm helping someone else get shine for their art or get their art off the ground. While I have been able to monetize my services successfully this year as an editor, publicist and writer, my involvement in collective art activities have usually required I provide these services for free, which have been draining and left me demoralized-- for its like being stuck in a role you are trying to move out of while everyone is trying to pin you back there. This new group I'm working with will hopefully be different.

Artist Take Back

So, I put a call out last month for artists interested in producing their own project to come out to join with other artists to put together something where we are promoting our individual work under an over-arching theme, helping with cross-promotion. We met this past Saturday and the energy seems so positive, I hope that momentum happens. I want to produce my play again in the Spring through this venture with, perhaps, some activities prefacing it that engage working mothers in a arts-educational activity that is therapeutic/healing in nature. I'll keep you posted on the details. I'm siced about this group because I put out there early that I'm not looking to be in charge this go round and everyone seems so interested in taking ownership of their art. One of the artists who showed up was a woman I had met last year in Georgia at the Songwriter's Soul Kitchen that singer Vinx holds in his home each year. She drove all the way to our meeting last Saturday from South Carolina (the mtg was in Maryland). Her dedication inspired me tremendously. I can't wait for us to pull this project off!

Beating To a Different Drummer

Speaking of focusing on art, my daughter has decided that the drums are her thing. Her dad has actually been teaching himself to play drums this past year and so she wants to get in on the action. Check her out in this video doing her thing before we walked her to the bus stop for school. Isn't she awesome? Her feet are not long enough to touch the pedal, but she is so excited and passionate about drumming that I don't think her height is going to discourage her.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"No Wedding, No Womb!" is Not and Can Not Be My Mantra

I worked for a Catholic-based organization many moons ago when I was in my late-20's after getting my MA in Mass Communications. About a year and a half after working at this organization and getting promoted and awards for work, I got pregnant with the child who is often the topic of this blog. She's 7, so, that was about almost 8 years ago. I got pregnant by the lead guitarist of the band I was a part of. We weren't married or even courting, if you want to be technical. The dynamics of that relationship is for another blog post. (Note: Today, we live together, did not have a wedding, refer to each other as spouses and refer to our unit as a family). But, the reaction from my job is the topic of this one, as is the "No Wedding, No Womb!" initiative that has been building in fervor on the internet. 

Back to the story: 

So, that organization-- the heads, including my immediate supervisor, had a meeting about my pregnancy and to discuss if I should continue working there and how to discuss my pregnancy to the youth I work with. I can only assume what was discussed because I was not asked to participate. At 29, I was discussed as if I was a problem-child. A disobedient girl who was knocked up by Roscoe down the street and now needed a place to stay. I guess I would have needed a place to stay at some point if they had decided to fire me and I was unable to pay my rent. But, I was ok by their standards. Perhaps they surmised that with a graduate degree and as a supervisor of a youth program, I may have had a little sense. Maybe they felt that I had a enough intelligence to share with the youth that though I was unmarried, it probably wasn't a good thing for them to run off and get pregnant. Whatever they decided, the point is that they decided. They made a decision about my future without as much as two words from me. As an unmarried mother-to-be, they assumed that my daughter's father and I were not in cooperative agreement on the fact that we were going to raise her together. They assumed he was triflin from jump. They assumed that I wanted to get married. They assumed that I was in trouble because I was not married.

This type of behavior by my job is the mentality that empowers folks to believe that they have the right to give "advice" and start initiatives like "No Wedding, No Womb!" Because statistics are spewed out by government agencies and the media, alluding to things like an achievement gap when black children are compared to everyone, then someone or something has to be blamed (not the racist thinking that creates these assessment measures, of course), and, most times, it's us, Black mothers. We've become scapegoats in a patriarchal society that has used the family model as a marketing tool since Biblical days.

What I get when I read blog posts for "No Wedding, No Womb" is judgment cloaked in good intention that assumes that there is a problem with Black people and our inability to parent and work cooperatively. What I hope my own personal story shows is that our social construct in general perpetuates a stigma that is attached to any relationship that is not within the strict template of how family has been defined. And, we know this. Anything out of a nuclear family model is automatically deemed dysfunctional from jump. No father? Oh, you must be f-- up. No mama? Oh, heavens. Then you hate women, right? What, your grandma raised you? Oh, then you must be gay. These ridiculous assumptions wouldn't be so offensive if they weren't how folks responded to the very real and abundant instances of people being born, raised and nurtured within a non-nuclear family construct. These assumptions wouldn't be so sad if they weren't meted out by, sometimes, the very same people who were born from such environments. But, I won't go there just yet. @Blowthetrumpet had asked me on Twitter if I support the elimination of black fatherlessness, and if so, to share solutions and mine starts with telling dads who don't want to parent, "bye". I don't believe that any woman can know for solid sure if her mate will be a good father or not. I've seen men love up on the kids they have by one woman and totally neglect children by another. Why get into the psychology of all that?  I want us to consider how revolutionary we would be if we moved away from the idea of fatherlessness, low marriage rates in our community as a trigger of acheivement risks and economic downfall and turn to the institutions that we exist within that are not accomodating to our roles as mothers-- whether married or not.

How revolutionary would it be, then, to accept the fact that some people won't get married, but will have sex and have kids? How revolutionary would it be also to let a person who does not want to parent walk away and not be judged while the remaining parent, family members are supported, uplifted and rallied around to raise the children in a space where they are acknowledged, cherished, encouraged and supported? How revolutionary would it be to shift our focus from trying to make parents who abandon or neglect their children financially or in any other way "feel" bad and "pay" for their inability to parent and focus on putting in place measures where jobs are providing work/life options that support working parents and encourage their employees to be the best parents AND employees they can be. For, let's be real. It all boils down to economics. 

We are afraid that these kids being raised by moms with no time to fully nurture are going to grow up and knock us in the head b/c, of course, they'll be criminals. We think the moms are going to be on welfare or in some dead end job. We can't imagine that, perhaps, that the moms could possibly be working in a job that is not compatible with her role as a mother-- whether she is married or not.  We can't imagine that perhaps, regardless of whether that woman is married or not, there is someone at her job that knows that she is a mother and assumes that she is not up to par with those around her who are not parents, thus sabatoging her efforts. 

Folks, the war against moms-- whether single or married...but mostly when unmarried, is a vicious one.We still picture unmarried Black women as poor and uneducated when study after study indicates that while socio-economic status impacts sharply whether an African-American woman is more likely to be married or not, this status is not impacting the choice to become a mother.  In a Harvard study of over 170 countries, the United States was one of only four nations without any form of paid leave for new mothers. (The others were Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea).  

Another fact finds that discrimination against hiring mothers and paying mothers fairly is rampant. Mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers who have the same experience, and qualifications; and mothers are offered significantly lower starting pay for the same job as equally qualified non-mothers. And God forbid you try to embark on a career or better yourself career wise upon becoming a mother. In our country, mothers earn less than everyone.  Married mothers earn 73 cents to a man’s dollar. Mothers who are non-married earn about 60 cents to a man's dollar. Lastly, when the question of flex time comes into play, it is found that women with low income jobs also need flexibility, yet are the least likely to have flexible work options—these are also the very moms who are more likely to struggle with access to affordable childcare, and who are least likely to have paid family or other leave.

So, it's clear to me that enabling folks to feel comfortable to talk about unmarried Black moms as less intelligent humans who are supposed to just accept this unsolicited analysis of our situation is a bad thing. So, I publicly state that in no way is  "No Wedding, No Womb!" my mantra, and never can it be. For, while it deconstructs me into no more than a breeder, it also deflects our attention from the very real trigger of inequitable work options that ultimately impact everyone.

Khadijah Ali-Coleman is a blogger and playwright. Her play Running: AMOK speaks to the challenges of 21st women facing motherhood amidst the challenges of relationships, economic struggle and work balance.

NOTE: I had not a clue about the craziness which is the "No Wedding, No Womb" when I wrote this. I had actually met the creator of this movement via Twitter, exchanging niceties and thought she seemed nice enough to network with as a fellow blogger. When I followed conversation about this initative on Twitter, however, under the hashtag #NWNW, I got a taste of what was some of the machinations fueling this and became disheartened.  What was particularly shocking was how I was "blocked" by Christelyn Karazin, shortly after tweeting this blog post, not allowed to converse w/ her on Twitter, though, she had touted in her interview on the Michael Dyson show that she was interested in starting a "conversation" regarding this topic. The blogger who introduced me to her on Twitter also "unfollowed" me, accusing me of misrepresenting myself, when I NEVER indicated that I was in support, but, instead, was interested in being a part of the dialogue.

 My heart gets really sad when Black women start making assumptions about Black families where the parents aren't married. To blame non-married and single mothers for the ills of our community is reckless. To do so for celebrity is criminal.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The 7-year Milestone as Mama & other tales

Khari's birthday last year when she turned 6

This week was a countdown to my daughter's birthday which is tomorrow. So, appropriately, it was a week filled with tons of emotions, experiences and celebration. My daughter turns 7 years-old tomorrow, and that means that I have reached the 7 year-old point as mama. Boy, how time flies.

No More Ninny but Time for Boyfriends-- ALREADY!

So, last week, I got an email fro my daughter's teacher telling me that my daughter Khari had been spoken to for writing notes in class. Upon reading the notes, the teacher wanted me to know that my daughter was talking about being so happy about her new boyfriend. Yes, my 6 year-old was giddy over getting a boyfriend.

I got the email while she was riding the bus home. When she got home, I greeted her at the door asking her how her day was. She was vague as usual (6 year-olds give the worst recaps if you're looking for sequential order and descriptive terms upfront. Info comes in spurts and with holes often). So, I offered, "So, anything new happen today." She looked at me, on to me that I knew something. But, she shrugged and said, "Nah."

"Well, your teacher emailed me. I think you have something to tell me." And, then it came out.

He is the brother of her classmate Paul.
He came up behind her, grabbed her hand and asked her will she be his girlfriend.
She said yes immediately.
She doesn't know his name.

When I asked was knowing his name important, she said, "No, not really." I asked how would she call out to him and she said she doesn't really see him much, so it shouldn't matter. Uh, ok?

As she changed out of her uniform, I called her dad. When he got home, both he and I asked her about her boyfriend and how was that different then having a friend that was a boy. She said she would think about that one. The next day, she said decided that she isn't old enough to have a boyfriend, so they broke up. She still doesn't know his name. (*fingers crossed we don't have to cross this bridge again anytime soon*)

Writing Workshop-- A Space Where I Grew As a Person

My first workshop for the day at Southeast Ministry
I facilitated two writing workshops on Wed that were my most affirming yet. They affirmed that this work is my passion. The writers in the workshop were GED students that ranged in age from 18-60. They enthusiastically participated, drinking in the words of the poets from the book Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul that I used as the workshop's text. They then participated in lively discussion analyzing the poems and asking questions as they constructed their own poems. The stories in their poems were bold and honest. Some tentatively stepped outside their comfort zone while sharing, while some leaped out, unafraid and eager to connect us to their words. While some wrote about living with parents who berate them for not living to their full potential, others shared their battle with chemical dependence and ultimate triumph. One writer told how he battles with being open-minded and loving as he admitted to being controlling in the past of those around him. Their words were healing for them. Their courage in sharing and stepping out as writers for the first time inspired me. Many of them shared their poetry with me, allowing me to post some of it on my website. I'll be posting it soon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Music Blog I Write For Wins Award for Best Music Blog

I was thrilled to learn this week that the music blog I am contributing editor for, SoulBounce, won a Black Weblog Award for Best Music Blog. I began working on the site in January and it's been a great experience. An all-female writing team, we provide news on mainstream and indie acts, sharing free cuts, giving music reviews and  unsolicited advice on what works and does not when it comes to good music. The access to the breadth of music out there in the mainstream and underground circles has been incredible. If you aren't a regular reader of the site, I hope you get hipped to it and check it out, if only to read my posts:-) You can click on my tab "Music Reviews" on this site to read some of the posts I've contributed to

SoulBounce won the award in 2008 and was selected this year as the judge's pick and the winner of the popular vote. How exciting!

So, on to a Shameless Plug...

Speaking of blogs, I hope you sign up for my workshop "Blogging 4 Newbies" that's in Maryland in October. You can click here for details.


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