Monday, November 29, 2010

Thankfulness Continues after Our Nation-Sanctioned & Societally Supported Shout-Day

My cutie on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was last Thursday and I'm still basking in its glow. This year was really special for me. My brother wasn't with us, but, thankfully, he wasn't overseas in the war this time. He is in North Carolina with his wife who is expecting their first child. I am so happy for them both and thrilled to know that my brother is safe. I pray each day that he is not sent overseas. My youngest sister is in Mexico, studying a semester there for her minor in Spanish.  So, she was absent as well, so, my daughter, her dad and I spent Thanksgiving with my mom, two sisters, nephew and second cousins.
My honey & my nephew as we played charades
Some of the Whole Foods lemon cake I didn't have room to eat

The easy atmosphere was new to find and it was refreshing. Though I did miss the opportunity to make a turkey this year (check out the photos from last year, remember my bird?) being with my family was so very nice.

My mother and I have been spending a lot of time together lately, more than we have in years, and it has been so rewarding. We've been providing each other support through difficult challenges that we both are going through and it has been so beautiful to have our relationship flourish. Those with rocky mom relationships know what I'm talking about. I think the space I'm in now is a good one to do my thankful list that I do annually year (check out last year's). Here goes:

1. I am thankful for my indomitable spirit. "Thank you spirit for giving the strength to keep getting up."
2. I am thankful for my flexible health. "I will continue to listen to my body as it speaks and shares its needs."
3. I am thankful for my shelter. "In this day of hardship and struggle thank you spirit for providing abundance."
4. I am thankful for imagination. "Thank you spirit for continuing to speak your stories & joy through my soul."
5. I am thankful for my family unit. "Many thanks for allowing me to see the people here for me to meet, know and grow with."

On another note, I would like to thank those who actually read this blog and would like to ask your support in coming out to at least one or two of my upcoming events in the next few months. All of them are so very diverse. From readings of my poetry, to a writing workshop to a staged reading of my play, I have some great things in store. You can visit my website calendar here for details.

Oh, and did you see this?

Well, it's my first chapbook called Revisionist Tale. Yes. Crazy how I've edited an anthology, scripted plays and authored numerous short stories but had yet to put out my own chapbook of poetry. Putting this together myself was so cathartic and enjoyable. It reminded me when I was little and used to staple two sheets of construction paper on top of a stack of white paper and make my own books and declare I was going to be a writer. I see my daughter do that now--making her art books and magazines this way and I beam with pride knowing that her dream is going to become true like mine did. This collection is a collection that represents the very dimensional shadings of my life as a mother, woman, Black person, writer, spouse, leader, daughter, sister, etc. I chose the photo you see for the cover because I think the black and white almost serene look of it is a bit misleading as is some of the life options we have at our disposals at time. My mom took that picture on a photo shoot she did with me the year before my daughter was born.

This chapbook contains poems just from the last seven or so years that have appeared in publications and performances from the last few years (and some that haven't) and a few ten sentence short stories featured in the newly released book Pen 10 Scribes, edited by Rhonda Smolarek. Selling it for $7. So, if you picked up a copy, you would be supporting independent artists! Thanks in advance in your support.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jay-Z & Tyler Perry--More In Common Than Realized

You know I thug 'em, fuck 'em, love 'em, leave 'em
Cause I don't fuckin' need 'em
Take 'em out the hood
Keep 'em looking good
But I don't fuckin' feed em
First time they fuss I'm breezin'
Talking 'bout what's the reasons
I'm a pimp in every sense of the word, bitch
Better trust and believe 'em
In a cut where I keep 'em
'Til I need a nut
'Til I need to be (in) the guts
The it's beep-beep and I'm pickin 'em up
Let 'em play with the dick in the truck
Many chicks wanna put Jigga fist incuffs
Divorce him and split his bucks
Just because you got good head
I'mma break bread
So you can be livin' it up
Shit I part's wit nothin
Y'all be frontin'
Me give my heart to a woman
Not for nothin' never happen'
I'll be forever mackin'
Heart cold as assassins, I got no passion
I got no patience and I hate waitin'
Hoe get your ass in


The offending litany of  words that I've posted above is from Jay-Z's classic song "Big Pimpin" that was way popular in the late 90's when it came out. I remember this song clearly. I was in my early to mid 20's, about to finish graduate school (I got my MA in 2000) and was a Resident Director at an urban university in Baltimore. Childless, I was already, by this time, fairly done with the radio, always pissed that when I turned it on, there was, yet another song that offended my sensibilities as a self-loving female. The song above was one of the top sellers when it came out so that meant it was played on the radio at least 100 times a day. And, even though the radio and video versions had most of the profanity bleeped out, you still had a clue what was being said. Despite its infectious beats and Jay-Z's mesmerizing vocals (yes, I'm being a bit sarcastic), I managed to avoid becoming a slave to rhythm and allowing it to marinate in my airwaves. I turned it off whenever I had the power of the dial. But, my early censoring of Jay-Z is really not the point or topic of this post. My point in even reminiscing about the song came up after reading an interview in which Jay-Z regretted the words he used in the song "Big Pimpin" after he was taking a look back at the lyrics of some of his past successful albums. Here's an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal interview:

WSJ: You're famous for not writing your lyrics down as you compose them. What changes about them when you see them on the page like this?
Jay-Z: Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not "Big Pimpin." That's the exception. It was like, I can't believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.

Harsh? Huh, to say the least. But, I guess, one can say that Jay-Z was feeding into what was the norm and has continued to be the norm of much of music on urban radio. If a woman is not defiled by being called every negative name one can imagine, then the song becomes an ode to the great sex she provides or how great her ass looks in the club while she's dancing. But, my attitude towards Jay-Z with this admission that he is bothered by his own lyrics when looking back is one of anger when I think of how much he has capitalized off of the music that contains lyrics and sentiment such as this.

It's all great and well Jay-Z that you NOW realize that the lyrics were terrible and offensive, but look at the money, attention and fame that you've garnered from such sentiment. Look at all the mini pimps you validated by this type of song and how in record time, you popularized the word pimp as being something not just boys, but little girls, aspired to be in their own little sphere of the world.

You did all that Jay-Z, I would shout if he were in front of me. But then, of course, I would step off of my soap box and realize that it's necessary to put a pause on it for a second.

For, yes, while Jay-Z has amassed an incredible fortune, one that makes him worthy enough in the first place to be interviewed by Wall Street Journal, he didn't do that by praying for pennies and nickels to drop from the sky. He had an audience to support him, pay for his music and support his musical agenda to become the legendary rapper that he is. There are men AND women who have been willing to look past his lyrics and focus on other things that impress them-- from his uncanny freestyle flow to his clever use of language that has not been replicated since he's emerged onto the scene. Jay-Z could rap about hoes and bitches and 99 problems that don't entail having to be a responsible and loving partner to a woman, just as long as he looked cool and sounded cool doing. Just as long as folks emulated and wanted to be him and bought his records, then he was a win all day.

Jay-Z's fame has not been accidental. He sold us the pimp game and we bought it time and time again. And, we still buy into it, because, shoot, look where its taken him. He owns corporations, makes deals with Microsoft and,  married Beyonce.  To be real, it was probably more risky for him to admit publicly that he had a problem with his own lyrics from the song "Big Pimpin" then it was to even create, perform and promote the song in the first place. But on that same note, while Jay-Z only makes a personal remark on how animalistic ONE song of his is/was, he's not out trying to promote a peace concert, fund a school or camp for girls and self-esteem or any other thing that would appear counter-active to the misogynistic music he's flooded the market with.

So, when we look at someone like Tyler Perry, what do we see that is so different? While Perry is a filmmaker and not a rapper, an actor and not necessarily a lyricist, his past work has been viewed by some with contempt (like Jay-Z) but largely accepted, earning Perry millions at the box office. His career was born from his stage plays that revolve around the drag character Madea who is a foul-mouthed, unattractive and over -the-top stereotype of Black women. Despite cries over the offense of it all, folks be flocking to see Perry's movies. He's ousted Spike Lee as the most financially successful Black filmmaker. But, what are the films he makes? Well, it's up for debate. Some call them Jesus flicks-- a plot that exists only to have main characters talk about Jesus and how He saved them. Some call them warped depictions of Perry's own personal demons, particularly the storylines that revolve around the male abuser and docile woman victim. But, it's his latest film project For Colored Girls, based on Ntzoke Shange's 1974 choreopoem has been met with criticism, and with ire. "Stay in your lane", the most conscious and socially astute of us yell with a certain sheen of elitism on the surface, yet, the reality (and irony) is that the lane he wants to move from is the lane that is paying the most money.

Kevin Powell speaks of this regarding Tyler Perry and his production of For Colored Girls in an eye-opening way that is bound to open minds of even the most hardened critic of Perry. He writes:
That is the challenge for Mr. Tyler Perry, as "For Colored Girls" continues to make money and continues to be both debated and disparaged. That is, can Tyler Perry-or will Tyler Perry-strive and struggle to transform the one-man economy his films have manifested, and use his voice, and his power, to push the envelope to make films, Black films, that not only show the vast complexities of the Black experience in America, and on this planet, but to also be spaces, simply by virtue of the genius of the work he produces and endorses for others, that can be healing circles for as many of us as possible?

That's a perfect question that I would also direct to Jay-Z as well. As he comes out with his new book that drops next week, how much of it will share with us how he hopes to transcend and right the very negative energy he perpetuated early in his career and create healing spaces for the very people his music denigrated? Is that even a goal of his as he continues to earn big and live richly off of a legacy borne from misogny? We'll see. But, to be frank, until that happens I probably won't be supporting anything financially that he does, continuing a trend that has been ongoing since the late 90's. I'll also try my best to monitor (and control) my daughter's radio habits, making sure that music like Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin" and its abundant clones don't make it in to her airwaves. Knowing that, in all realness, though, I'm sure he could give a damn.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choose Friends Wisely & Hide Your Food

Children who beg for your food when they see you eating (even though they had food in front of them), always irked me. Somehow, I always reasoned, they had no one around to tell them that was rude and made folks uncomfortable. I'm not talking about a hungry kid who has no food. I'm talking about the child who sees what you have and wants it for themselves even though they have something in front of them that is theirs. When my own daughter does this, I tell her she can have some after I've eaten all that I was going to eat. With typical ceremony, she pouts and then forgets and finishes what is in front of her. Recently, she started just taking my food when my back is turned. I don't like that.

"Why did you just take the last of my sandwich?"
"Because I wanted it."
"But, I did, too. It was mine. You had your sandwich that you picked out and didn't even finish it. Why would you eat the last of my food?"
"Well, Mary Joy eats my food at school. So, I was just doing it, too."

Ah ha. I knew there had to be someone, somewhere telling her that this type of behavior was acceptable. What I didn't expect was to learn that the little girl she eats lunch with eats most of her lunch during lunchtime. Of course, I wasn't thrilled about it. Upon closer investigation, I learned that my kid is most likely is a willing participant in her own bullying.

"So, does Mary Jo have food at lunch time?"
"Yes. She has food. But, she likes mine better. Oh, and her name is Mary Joy."
"Oh, ok. My bad. Does she ask for your food or just take it?"
"She usually just takes it. But, that's ok. She's my friend. She lets me be her friend if I give her my food."

Oh hell no.

So, of course, I'm floored. My 7 year-old is feeding a bully she calls a friend. Apparently, there are other girls that my daughter is grateful to be friends with because then, they won't be mean to her. So, she is willing to not only give them what they want to leave her alone and call her friend, but she hides who she is-- she doesn't sing and share a lot of herself-- so they will like her. I found that out when she told me that her friends wouldn't know what to do with me.

"What do you mean your friends wouldn't know what to do with me?"
"Well, they would probably think you were weird because you sing all the time and do different voices and stuff." She's talking about my "acting" voice.
"Um, well you sing all the time, too. You sing with me half the time. If you like you, they should like me, right?"
"Well, they don't know I sing. They make fun of people who sing."

Oh c'mon now.

So, after reading all of my damn parenting books, mentoring other kids and teaching workshops on how to advance youth development and all that jazz, you are telling me that my kid can just go to school and be bullied into being less than the star that she is? Well ain't that some malarky.

Of course, I knew this day would come, when she would be peer pressured and friend desperate and all, I mean, don't we all go through that? But, the pain of it all to watch and hear is just, well, it is just overwhelming. I mean, where do you begin? I start with telling her dad who then pulls her aside and says,

"Don't be friends with mean people."

Gee, thanks Dad.

And, so then I come next. I tell her that she shouldn't be friends with people who need to take things from her in order for them to consider her a friend. I tell her that if she doesn't think that someone will like her if she is being herself, then, they are not worthy of being her friend. But, then, she reminds me that she is a big girl. She tells me that she knows how to say no. And, she says, after all, "I probably won't be friends with them that long anyway."

Hm. I guess she gets it better than I do. I'll be waiting in the wings to shake a kid, though, if she needs me. I guess, that's what us mommies are really for anyway.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Great Time at the Mosaic Literary Conference in Bronx, NY

I facilitated a workshop on how to engage youth in "Story Quilting" in 2009 at the conference

So, as I told you earlier, this past weekend was the Mosaic Literary Conference, and I was traveling to the Bronx in NY to present for the third time. I presented in both 2008 and 2009, meeting wonderful educators who work with young people. This recent visit was, by far, my most enjoyable group so far. The diversity of the participants was amazing and this time, I actually chose to forgo a powerpoint presentation to accompany my workshop and just focused on implementing the lesson activities for the group, instead of telling them about them. My session was about using plays and dialogue in novels to spark discussion that ultimately aids young people in synthesizing information and critical thinking about themes that are in the work they are reading.
In 2008, I facilitated my first workshop for the Mosaic Literary Conference, Called Re: Verse then.

The workshop participants were composed of writers L'Oreal Snell, Lora Rene Tucker, and Luis Bernard, two teachers-- one currently teaching English and one who is a former teacher, a marketing specialist, Rochelle Hill, who works for Precision Plus Communications which does community work, and two high school students who decided to take my workshop and who I didin't realize were high school students until the end of the workshop. They gave me thumbs up on the workshop and were the most participatory out of the group, letting me know that my lessons that I shared with the group were actually engaging enough to connect youth to literature. That really made my day! To learn more about the work I do as an educator, visit my other blog site, So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA). I will be posting photos from my workshop there as well as additional links and information for folks interested in implementing some of my ideas in their classroom or after-school program. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

SoulBounce Wins a 2010 Soul Train Award

This past January, I started writing as a contributing editor for the music site The SoulBounce gig was something to do to keep my arts writing skills fresh as I transitioned from my four year gig as arts columnist for the Washington DC-based East of the River newspaper (wanted to do something different-- still have love for EOR...wasn't fired, lol). I didn't realize how much of a big-deal Soulbounce was until I joined the team and within my first week, my post on Donnie Simpson leaving WPGC was picked up and linked by the Washington Post Express blog. Later, a post I did, reviewing the free Stevie Wonder concert at the Verizon Center was commented on by the owner of the Verizon center who produced the concert and other articles I've written have seen comments and incited discourse that I hadn't seen before writing mostly for print media and blogging at leisure. Also, while my articles for as the DC Community Examiner have frequent trolls and occasional posts usually written in ire, it was nice taking a break from writing news and being a music blogger for a site with dedicated regulars who like to discuss their love for new and substantive music.

I am grateful to be part of the SoulBounce team which consists of four other contributing writers and the Editor-in-Chief Kimberly "Butta" Hines and Creative Director Sary "huny" Young who co-own the site. We were notified yesterday that we won a 2010 Soul Train Award for Best Music Site (tying with the music site which comes less than three months after winning a 2010 Black Weblog Award. Now, that's awesome. Thanks to those of you who follow me on Twitter and cast a vote for SoulBounce when I announced that voting had begun. You rock! I probably won't be joining Butta and Huny in Atlanta to accept the award during next week's taping of the award show, but I will definitely be basking in the afterglow of part of the winning team. You can read my articles for SoulBounce at .


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