Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How I Loved Teena Marie

So two days ago I found out that singer Teena Marie died and my world was just devastated. I think I may be more harshly affected by her passing then when MJ died, mainly because she inspired me so much as an artist. She was a songwriter, an incredible vocalist and was a very strong woman on top of all of that.

There are so many things she accomplished that I don't even think people associate with her. She is the recording artist who brought to creation the law that record companies can't bind an artist by contract and not put out any of their music after she sued Motown when she was on their label early in her career. Of course, she is one of the only white women to have longevity as an R & B and soul singer and to be so fully embraced culturally. I think that is significant given how race and class obsessed we are as a culture.

Teena Marie snagged me as a fan as early as I can remember. I remember being 6 years-old and grooving to her duets with Rick James and listening to the gossip of the grown-ups who were shocked that this petite white woman was (a) the very same person who grooved us with "Lovergirl" and "Square Biz" and (b) gave such freaky live shows when she performed onstage with Rick James. My kiddie ears were fascinated to eavesdrop on grown folks talking about how she and Rick James would do "Fire and Desire" with such sexual intensity that it was plain to see the passion between them. When I was in college, when my cassette tapes were becoming outdated and I had to switch over to CDs and a CD player, her greatest hits CDs were among my first CD purchases. "Dear Lover", "Out on a Limb", "Portugese Love", "Oh La La La", "If I Was a Bell" and "Square Biz" were played endlessly. "Deja Vu" changed my spiritual beliefs. No lie. When her self-distributed CD Warm As Momma's Oven came out the year after I graduated from college, I played it relentlessly. That is my favorite CD, from start to finish from her. My spouse is the only man I've dated who loved Teena Marie as much as I do. I told him that before her death and teased that that is probably what made me adore him as I do. He is familiar with even more of her hidden gems than I am.

I wrote about her album Ivory this past month, as the album turns 20 years-old this year and I learned even more about her strength. She produced that entire album while also playing many of the instruments, arranging the music, and, of, course, singing all of the songs. She was amazing. She always reminded me of my mother somehow, too, which I think added to my love for her in general. Short framed and sassy like my mother, appearing to look one way but undeniably born from Black culture in consciousness and tastes, she and my mother share similar attributes that I think made her really familiar to me. I will never ever get over how incredibly hyped I was when she tweeted me last month after I shared my SoulBounce piece on her album Ivory and mentioned how much me and my family are groupies of hers.

I can go on and on with why I loved her so. I am so sad she has transitioned, maybe selfishly so, because I'll never meet her in person, but inwardly, I know that death is not the end, but a new beginning. As Lenny Kravitz said in a YouTube share when he heard the news of her passing, "Thank God for Teena Marie".

Monday, December 27, 2010

Spirits of Christmas

the MJ glove that comes with the Michael Jackson Experience Wii game

A remarkable thing happened. I managed to have an incredible Christmas holiday with my sister, daughter and her dad despite the craziness going on in our world right now. To even begin with the craziness, I would have to start with before Christmas.

On Thursday, may great-aunt died. My mother got the news in the  harshest way possible-- via voicemail in a message that said "Kaye, I'm calling to tell you your Auntie is dead."

No lie.

While the news was shared in such a harsh manner, the details of her death-- finding out she had cancer and no one in the family had shared that with us prior to her passing, was even worse. Finding the meaning in it all has been my challenge ever since.

But the Christmas spirit was not to be thwarted on our house. My spouse has the Christmas spirit all up, through and around him. He is Christmas spirit incarnate. While typically laid-back and unassuming, my partner becomes an entirely different person around Christmas time. I imagine him to have the spirit that the legend of Santa Claus is based on, where generosity and kindness just abound in large doses. He decorates our house each year and basically takes the helm with gift purchasing, wrapping and distribution. He finds the best soulful Christmas music and turns our home each year into a virtual Christmas wonderland of coziness. Without his energy this season, I don't know what I would do, because this time of year always drains me.

Our Christmas was delightful. While gift-giving was at a minimum this year, we still shared gifts that we thought the other needed and would love. On top of that, I was able to spend time with my second youngest sister on Christmas, just she and I, for dinner, as she stayed home as she recovered from illness. I was truly blessed on Christmas.

Today, the day after Christmas, was perfect, also. I can say this honestly, even though it decided to snow and I dislike snow greatly. But, waking up about thirty minutes ago to learn that one of my all-time favorite singers, Teena Marie, had just passed in her sleep was devastating to learn.

I am going to post something later about her. Right now, I'm just reeling. So much is going on.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Preparing for the Myth of Giving

This Christmas is probably my hardest financially since I became a Mommy. My pockets are very empty and I haven't bought even one gift yet. May buy some for my daughter next week, but they will be things like clothes (her belly is starting to look like Winnie the Pooh's in her uniforms and weekend clothes as she gets taller and the clothes get smaller) and art supplies for her to draw. She sneaks into my office and nabs my printer paper and I have no idea how to discourage that without sqeulching her love to draw. We've bought easels, given her notebooks and drawing journals, but she always takes my dang printer paper. So, that just might be what winds up in her stocking this year. We'll see. I want, most of all, to take her on a community service activity or something the day of Christmas or day before. I've wanted to do that every year since she turned 3, but something always came up that I did instead. I regret that a lot, because I think it's denied her the opportunity to grow with a sense of empathy for those who aren't as well off as she is. You can't teach empathy. Not in a conventional sense at least. Empathy is born from giving and service.

We've done good with immersing her into the arts, honing her cultural side. I can say that, at least. I took her with me on Friday to perform at the Hillyer Art Space and I am really glad I did. Since she is a visual artist and the reading took place in a gallery, there was visual art everywhere. The owner of the gallery was so taken with the fact that she was there (she is often the only child at the events I perform at), that he took us on a tour of the Hillyer building, viewing art donated by the man who owned Hechinger Mall. All the art depicted tools or contained a tool in its make-up (i.e. one sculpture was made of paintbrushes that were painted and decorated).

Here are some of the pictures we got. Or, rather, I got. She was supposed to take photos of me performing, but, instead, she was taking self-portraits of herself and videotaping the wall.

My self-portrait taken while in the bathroom. The only one of me taken that night. (sigh)

Self-portrait by Khari. I call it "Mommy's poems were boring the hell outta me"

Fred Joiner, the host of Hillyer Art Space's HOME series. He is awesome.

Khari gets the tour of Hillyer as well as a gift of an art book. She slept with it that night.

Second Khari self-portrait.I call it "Mommy thought I was going to take a picture of her, but, I can't see her from my seat and she told me to stay seated. So..."

Totally awesome sculpture made of paper mache

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snow Be Damned, The Show Must Go On

So, yesterday, it snowed. I absolutely dislike everything about snow. It's cold. It's get dirty quickly. It can turn to dangerous ice. It covers up stuff. It signifies that Fall is over. And, I love Fall. Snow sucks. Yes, I am poking my lip out like a petulant child as I write this.

I tweeted yesterday my disdain for snow and how I don't understand it's purpose and one of my Twitter friends informed my ignorant self that snow helps the earth rejuvenate itself. Well, my thing is why is it necessary, I mean, places like Southern Cali and Florida seem to do alright without that type of rejuvenation. I guess I could move though, really if I hate it that much. I guess I'm just lazy.

But snow still sucks.

So, schools were released early and since I am the family chauffeur and pick up my spouse from work, I begged him to come home early on Metro so I wouldn't have to drive far to get him. He nicely agreed though I know he was annoyed. He doesn't get my fear of driving in snow. All I can say is is that I hit a parked car in a snow storm once, as I was parking the car, determined to not drive and instead walk to my destination.
As I was paralleling parking, BOOM, my car slid into the car in front of me. I had been driving for a week legally when this happened. I haven't been right since.

Inclement weather makes me nervous when driving. After my daughter came home on her bus yesterday--which got stuck on a hill in the snow-- she and I got in the car to get her dad and the roads were awful. Folks were literally driving  5 miles an hour. I was good until I neared the station to pick him up. The car swerved and slid on slush and ice and my stomach dropped. Thankfully, no one was beside me on the road or an accident would have happened. When I picked him up, I told him that we were staying in the rest of the week. He just laughed and patted my arm like you do to people who are slightly off.

So, today, I was pleased to notice that most of the snow had melted. I had taken a picture yesterday of the snow on the fence dividing our yard from our neighbor's and realized that while I can't stand snow, it does make some things look better. The fence, which is in tatters, actually looked rustic or something like that with the snow on it. I posted the photo on Fox 5's Facebook just as something to do (they were telling folks to share winter photos of the snow) and they aired my photo this morning on the tv broadcast. The anchor Guivir Dhindsa jacked my name up, but that didn't stop people from emailing me about how they saw my photo on the news.  Here it is. Not much to it, but *shrugs* eh. I'm just happy the snow covered up the leaves we were too lazy to rake up. Now we have to find out who owns that fence so whoever owns it can replace it once the snow melts.
So, I type this as my spouse and daughter have taken the car to do some last-minute Christmas shopping at a mall in Virginia that I think is entirely too far to be driving to in this weather. So, they left my scaredy -pants butt home. No problem. I have to do some last minute touch-ups to my poem I wrote yesterday that I'm including in my reading tonight at Hillyer Art Space. Hope you can make it if you're in the area! Here's the flyer:
And yes, I will be there even if it snows. I'll get a ride if I have to. Snow be damned:-)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday Weekend Highlights & What's UpThis Week

My sweetie took me to see FELA the musical in New York on my birthday this past Saturday and I had a ball. The play was simply amazing. As a playwright, my dream, of course, is to have at least one of my plays make it to Broadway in my lifetime, but even if FELA wasn't on Broadway, it would be a play to see. Good lord this play was phenomenal. The actor Kevin Mambo is worthy of a gazillion awards for his portrayal of Fela Kuti. I've watched documentaries and old footage of Fela performing and speaking and Mambo had it down pat. Phenomenal actor. Fela Kuti was such a character that his life amazes me on so many levels. Here you have a polygamist who said at one point that having more than one wife made sense because if you're married, you're going to sleep around, so you might as well just bring all the women in the house! He said that. And, he married 27 women. But, then, he created Afrobeat and was such a strong leader, almost fearless, you can't just think one way about him. He was an incredible figure and so worthy of a play in his honor.

We took the bus to see the play and the rain didn't come during the day as was forecasted, so we stayed dry and was able to enjoy a bit of NY before heading back home. Didn't take my 7 year-old, and she was amazingly well-behaved regarding the fact that she wasn't coming with us to her favorite city. My baby is growing up! She actually called me from her grandparents house to wish me happy birthday and told me to have a good time in New York. You don't understand how major that is. (This kid is a NYC groupie).

Before we caught the bus, we stopped at 7-eleven to get some bottled juice and picked up some chicken wings. Yes, we were in line for Fela eating chicken wings. (And, they were damn good, too).

Show This Week

This Friday I will be at Hillyer Art Space as part of the HOME series, hosted by DC poet Fred Joiner. I'm excited! Will be reading and performing a mix of my written work and there is an open mic that follows. Hope you can make it! Visit my website at for details.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reflecting on My Birthday Eve

Me @ 16

So, today is my birthday eve. Yup, tomorrow, December 11 is my birthday and I'll be 37. When I see that number, its slightly surreal to realize that it corresponds with how long I've been on this planet. I've been alive more than thirty years. That sounds like I should be a lot more experienced with this life thing and getting "it"-- whatever that may be-- right a lot better than I feel like I am, but when I start thinking like that, I realize I may be chastising myself a little too much. I mean this country is way older than 30 years and there are so many glaring areas in which it hasn't gotten better, or equitable or truly diverse where it counts, so it brings me back down to earth, realizing that age is really all but a number. But, damn. 37 is a pretty big number.

When I was 16, I was so sure that by 21 I was going to be a successful actress, screenwriter, author, singer and business owner that you couldn't have told me otherwise. At that time, my idealism is what mobilized me to go to college and believe that I had more control over my choices then I did. I mean, even upon graduation at 21 with a degree in a liberal arts field, I was optimistic, even when I didn't have plan the first in place. I guess that's around when I started making plans and lists and learning that goals were met by a lot more structure than just wishing them so.
Me @ 20 in college

I started graduate school at 21 at Towson University (when it still had "state" in its name then) and got an assistantship position with the Student Activities office managing a campus venue, a staff of students and 10pm-2am parties on campus. I worked under a woman named Marcie Ermer who will forever be the first work mentor who I ever had who largely created the business oriented woman that I am today. She was so organized and professional but always empathetic. She was great at creating systems and watching her and modeling her work patterns taught me the importance of structure. What I learned in that unassuming position is what I've applied in every job situation I've had in the fifteen years since that I feel has made me successful and made my work replicable which is important.
Liberate Your Muse Card I made last year

As a literary and performance artist who is also a producer, knowing how to navigate and create systems has been invaluable in sharing and monetizing my work. It has also been helpful in reaching many of the goals I set for myself at 16. While I haven't done a screenplay yet, I've written many stage plays and produced two of them as executive producer and director. I've authored work and acted and sing regularly, so those goals were met, too. But what I've done also, that I couldn't have fathomed at 16 is that I've created a meaningful space for me in the world of work based on my integrated skills. Meaning, I'm not just a singer or a writer or a business woman, I'm all of that. I have found value in what my gifts are and have been lucky to be a fit for positions that interest me because my skills are well-rounded.

On this birthday eve, all of this reflection will surely impact the lessons that I share with my 7 year-old. While she currently declares that she will be the first successful artist/vetinarian who will run an art school for pets, I will be in the wings ready to support her if and when that dream changes or if she just needs a mentor who can model for her how its possible to transform wishes, dreams and hopes into reality.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sending Her Into Chaos

2010 will not be missed when it's over. This year, for real, has been incredibly hard on so many levels. While I am so proud of a lot that took place over the year-- my play debuted in the Fringe fest, I had some incredible contract work and opportunities to meet artists in other states-- the tough times have been abundant. What has really been a challenge just in the last four months has been my daughter's start in a public school.

While I've written past blog posts talking about instances at her school that have been of concern, nothing compares to last month's situation that stemmed from a parent-teacher meeting we had with the teacher. Needless to say, it wasn't good. At all. The teacher didn't have a gradebook with her, didn't have Khari's portfolio with her to speak from and was literally chatting and shooting the breeze it felt, unable to convey any info of substance about our daughter's progress. A red flag for us also was when we discussed with her a situation Khari had alerted us about where a boy had been kicking and messing with her and the teacher pulls out a note of help that Khari had written her that she didn't show the counselor or really respond to. We wrote a letter that day to the principal, requesting a meeting, indicating that we were not sending her to school until we met with the principal. Let's just say that we had to go to the area superintendent before a meeting was scheduled at the school and then it was with the Vice Principal and a pupil personnel worker that they had brought in because, at this point, Khari had been home nine days because they had not met our request for a meeting and we felt it was a matter of safety sending her to school and we hadn't met with an administrator yet.

We had the meeting and the Vice Principal appeared very accomodating and willing to remedy the situation, but we learn today that our daughter will be penalized and given a zero for the time she was out, even though I had requested the classwork during the week and the request was not met. The teacher sent the classwork home last week in a stack, giving the impression that if Khari does it then she would have made up the work, only to inform us today that she will be given a 0 for the work and she sent it home just as a study guide.

What is wrong with this picture? A lot.

I sent a message to the Vice Principal via email citing student code of conduct indicating that she has the authority to make Khari's absence lawful and allow her to make up the work. We are waiting to see if she makes that decision. But, I question the integrity of a school staff that makes that even an issue. Advocating for your child basically means rubbing school staff the wrong way which will, ultimately, harm the academic success of your child. I live in Prince George's County, Maryland and this is the caliber of schooling that is being offered. When we made the decision to try PG County Schools, it was after a hard decision of taking her out of the private school she was in that, honestly, was not that much better in terms of instruction quality, though the small classroom size was ideal. PG County Schools are the worst in the state of Maryland and given our experience so far, it is by no means surprising. When you have teachers who don't take their jobs seriously, administrators who support said teachers and have limited skills in customer service and handling conflict, you have chaos. I feel like I am sending my daughter into chaos each time I send her to school. Pray for us.


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