The Sublime Theater of the Ridiculous

Back when Beauty Jackson was just Cutie Jackson, I used to visit retirement homes and read the bible to residents.  (No. This is not a joke.)  There was one elder sister, a few pigeons shy of a flock, who just took a shine to me.  Whenever I was there, she’d seek me out and talk to me.  She was about 5’10, rather lean, with a booming voiceand always wore an elaborate head scarf.  Doesn’t this sound sweet?  Like the stuff Hallmark movies are made of.  We could have been the black Tuesdays with Morrie.

Except, she thought I was the help.  Not help as in helpful; help as in The Help.  “ANNA, I need you to bring my lunch.”  When I told her my name was Melanie, I got, “Wylangie?  Well Wylangie, I’ll need you to run to the market and fetch me a barracuda sandwich on Cuban bread and a lemonade.”   Then she stood and tapped her foot and gave me the “G’on” look.  For a split second, I thought, “How in the hell am I gonna find this sandwich?”

I learned two things:  1) Crazy broads LOVE barracuda sandwiches (she asked for one every time she saw me); and 2) Any demand, no matter how ridiculous, sounds viable when stated with authority.

This morning, I pulled into Shell, only to realize that I couldn’t find my debit card anywhere.  I can only presume it is somewhere near my computer desk, as the last time I remember seeing it was when I was talking myself out of buying a pair of shoes.  I didn’t have time to go back home, I had to scrounge for whatever dough I had in my car. Five bucks.

Part of me was ashamed.  When gas is $3.42 a gallon, who really goes in the joint asking for $5.00 worth?  I sat in the car for a moment and pondered this, and you know who asks for $5.00 of gas in 2011?  A damn G, that’s who.  I would not cower in the shadow of shame as I use my hard earned money, found in the pocket of a coat I forgot was in my car, to pay for gas to power my free Hyundai with butterfly doors. No SIR!  I decided this is how the scene would play out:

*kicks in door* GET ME THE OWNER!!! I am here to transact business! Salutations! My name is Wylangie, and I am here for the sole purpose of procuring $5.00 of your finest gas, reserved only for the realest of G’s.  I do not like to be kept waiting!  This cash register will not work itself.  Does this establishment offer free drinks for live goons? No?  They let anyone run gas stations these days.  You will be allowed to pump my gas.  Don’t tarry. *slams fiver on the counter, Naomi Campbell walks to the car, gets in and waits*

I submit that the attendant will be stunned into compliance.  I didn’t do it today, but next time, Shell.  Next time.

When He Evolves

My torrid love affair with hop hop has been chronicled here.  My peers and I are the lucky ones who have never known a world without hip hop.  When an emcee clutched the mic, even if he wasn’t telling our story, we felt he was told a valid story.  Hip hop was our rebel music; how little black and brown kids raged against the machine. The thing our parents could neither own, nor comprehend.

But now, we are the parents.  Though I still have a bit of rebel in me, molding two preteen minds forces me to be more “establishment” than I care to admit.  There’s a car advertisement with hamsters dancing to Black Sheep, so hip hop has become representative of the establishment.  My heart will always have a special place for it.  But I often feel like Chris Rock did when he said, “I LOVE hip hop.  I’m tired of defending it.”

As a parent, a woman, and a former black girl who cringed at the idea of selling out, I get weary.  I don’t need Mary Poppins rhyming over a Dilla beat, nor do I always need it to always have a “message.”  But I do still need to feel that thump in my stomach that makes me believe what I’m hearing.  I need to believe that you believe in your product, even if you’re just rhyming about a party.  This “trendy for a check” music is not for me.

When discussing hip hop, the “old school vs. new school” argument is inevitable.  It is just a very silly argument.  One night earlier in the summer, I sat next to a friend at a bar as a sacred cow of hip hop began to play.  “Scenario.”  Yes yes ya’ll.  We bobbed our heads, then cringed when Dinco D rhymed.  “Scooby doo! Whoopdie doo?! The HELL?!”  Objectively walking down memory lane revealed a garbage verse in a song that I loved.  The saying (the source of which I can never remember – maaaaaaybe Quincy Jones?) goes, “There’s no such thing as old school or new school.  Either you went to school, or you didn’t.”  Nothing exemplifies that like Dinco’s verse.

So what are my options?  Do I wait for the stray, albeit lackluster LL party track?  Do I dance to “Racks on Racks?”  (Sometimes I do.  Don’t judge.)  Or do I cherish my Public Enemy and UTFO cassettes, Gollum-style.

I’ve seen a lot of rappers age out, either by riding out their fame, or creating beef with new artists, the majority whither away.  Then there are rappers like Jay Z, who still command crowds, but for those of us who knew him when, realize he doesn’t pack his “Reasonable Doubt” punch.  And, quite frankly, should he?  Why would a 40 year-old married executive with an expectant wife carry the same message as a 26 year-old kid fresh out the dope game?  Hip hop no longer belongs to the street kids just trying to be heard, being underpaid and undervalued by their labels.  It is a haven of savvy artists who have ascended the ranks as power players and attorneys, who can be just as predatory as execs in the early days of hip hop, if not more so.  Quick, name a consistently successful Bad Boy artist who is not named Sean.  I’ll wait.  *hears the clock strike infinity*    Where is the happy medium in hip hop’s evolution?

At home.

More specifically, in Phonte’s latest release, “Charity Starts at Home.”  I’m sure you’ve read a million reviews of this album.  I doubt I can praise it any more eloquently than his blogging fans already have.  But as a 30-something B-man or B-woman, I can’t stress how much you need a LEGALLY procured copy of this joint in your collection.  This is the CD that our parents wish they could have had, to help them understand hip hop.   There’s an “I’m grown, and I still don’t have all the answers” quality about it, that appeals to everything I’m currently experiencing as a 30-something.  CSAH is unique because it doesn’t try to be old school, create new converts, or convince the whipper snappers this is what they invented.   It simply is, in a way that transcends any “school.”  Phonte gave us art, stripped of bravado.  In fact, it is stripped of everything but expression.  It speaks the artist’s thoughts in with raw, flawless honesty.

And it makes me remember why I still love H.I.M.

A Few Things

Let’s start with the most important matter:  In 2011, you STILL can’t mix dark and light liquor.  Post-racial America, my behind.  Al Sharpton does not get his hair laid for me to heave after a wayward swig of Jack Daniels after I’d been drinking vodka.  No.

You’re going to see my name in print.  Again. This is actually starting to get awesome, ya know.  Check me out here.  I’m realizing that I want to get that overwhelmed excited feeling every time I see my name in print.  Every time.  It’s crazy how good that feels.  To be fair, this is technically more important than the dark/light liquor thing, but I just felt a little silly.

You ever wake up and think, “It would be way awesome if I was tangled up into another person?”  If your answer is no, I can only imagine either already woke up tangled up into another person, or you’re confused about how awesome that is.  To each his own though.

Oh, Jonathan Vilma and his magical smile, Goapele, Melissa Harris Perry AND Kim Coles all follow me on Twitter.  These are each people I consider talented personal heroes.  Yes, it’s just Twitter, and I won’t be at the family cookout, but it’s an awesome thing to me.  If Donna Brazile ever follows me on Twitter, given that she is my aunt in my head, I’ll be intolerable for at least a week.

I also wanted to give you this awesome thing:

If the sloth can believe, well so can you.

God, I’ve built my wings.  Please bless me with the wind to soar.

Amen.

“Dark Morning”

I’m thankful to God for early mornings.  My mom instilled an appreciate for “dark morning,” in me the first time she woke me (just me) up at 4:30, and dressed me.  We could see our breath in the station wagon as we waited for it to warm up.  She took me to Tastee Donuts and we sat at the counter.  It was just us, a few truckers, the waitress and her red bouffant.  I can’t remember what we talked about, but the feeling of camaraderie stuck with me.  When all is still, and most still sleep, I feel slightly more connected to other early birds.  That’s the time introspection is most effective; when I’m most primed to come to terms with who I am and who I’m not.

I like my morning vulnerability.  I’m more likely to reveal my soft underbelly of thoughts before sunrise.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t had coffee.  Maybe it’s because I have a fair amount of faith in my early morning kindred.  Maybe it’s because, sleep is a great experience for me.  I don’t own the recently popularized “no-sleep” mentality, adopted by so many moguls in training.  Sleep is the good stuff, so when I sleep, I go IN without apology.  Apparently, in addition to snoring, I contentedly moan in my sleep.  I can’t attest to that.  What I do know is that when I wake up, there’s a lot of cat stretching and lip smacking, as though I had the finest of canaries as a snack.  Waking up that way, I can only assume, makes me more open.

When you go out to mill among other early birds, there are always a few more doors opened for you with an extra good morning thrown in.  You’re far more likely to get extra butter on your biscuit or cream in your coffee when you’re at the right place early in the morning.  You speak softer and lean in closer, because you want to preserve the stillness by not waking the “others.”

But don’t call me a “morning person.”  I most certainly am not.  I have a healthy appreciation for all of life’s moments and secret joys.

7/14/51

Today is my mother’s 60th birthday.  I can’t say “it would have been.”  It is.  I’m broken hearted about it in a million different ways.  The death of a loved one is not something you get over.  It’s something you take day by day and live through, at best.  Not everyone survives it, so I’m sitting on 6,081 personal victories.

On her birthday and the anniversary of her death, I get really sad, and understandably so.  I was in my car, and the first song that came on was “No Woman, No Cry.”  I switched to Beyonce, and “I Was Here” eventually came on.  No ma’am.  There will be other days to remember her with Gladys Knight, Carole King and James Taylor.  Today won’t be that day though.

One of my favorite memories was us sitting in bible study, and someone said something funny.  My mother was very well respected and many people saw her as an example, but she could not shake the giggles.  For the longest time, she stared at the wall, shoulders silently shaking, as she tried to compose herself.  Then, she lost it.  She erupted into this earth shattering laugh, and it gave everyone else license to do so as well.

I know that she believed firmly in people claiming their humanity, and there is no way she would not have wanted me to cry if I felt sadness.  But I was reminded today that Mama loved to laugh, so today, I honored her memory with joy and laughter.  There was a tear or two, but they didn’t overtake me. I’ll never be okay with her being gone, but today, I’m okay with being.  Here’s to 6,082.

What I wouldn’t give for a room

“…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.”
– A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

My greatest adversary is fiction.   Being a woman who tries hard in real life to offer bare-faced – albeit tactful – honesty, creating stories out of thin air is a struggle.  It’s not that I can’t do it; my imagination is a force to be reckoned with.  The truth is, once i get those fiction writing juices flowing, great things happen.  Getting those juices flowing, however, is a problem in and of itself.  Because I am a woman without a room.

To have a “room” isn’t just a physical place, although it is necessary.  It is having the existential room to breathe.  I would like the right to say, “This is the thing I do, and unless the earth’s core sees the light of day, you are not to disturb me.”  And it is not just about being “Mama;”  It is being woman, sister, lover, daughter, girlfriend.  That nurturing spirit makes people believe they hold rights to your time.

I don’t fault them. I LOVE being there.  I adore the fact that my friends know that if they need me, no matter what time, I’m going to make myself available.  I have no problems with them.  It’s the “oh, I see you can’t call nobody,” people, or the people who immediately swan dive into their issues before you have the chance to tell them you don’t have the time, that get my goat.  I won’t even get on my kids.  Would you believe that there have been times that I have carried my laptop to the toilet with me, in hopes that at least the sanctity of my gastrointestinal needs would be respected.  It only works half the time.  When I am “befriended,” that brings up a whole new crop of issues.  My last dating situation led to a sharp decline in my writing, because dude was flat out monopolizing my time.

I know how it works with men, and it’s what I admire most about you.  You stake your claim to time and space, and everything else has to work around it.  “This is what I’m doing.  I’ll be back.  Don’t call me.  Don’t text me.  Don’t send a carrier pigeon.  I. Will. Holler. When. I’m. Finished.”  And that’s the end of the story.  Anyone who steps into that zone is met with the simple question, “Didn’t I tell you I’d be [doing this] until [time here]?”  Love that.  But I believe most women at least have the natural inclination to bend their situations around people.  Not that women are lacking in drive of focus, and not that we can’t.  Just far more often than not, taking time for ourselves is not our knee-jerk reaction.  Women who do that are seen almost as revolutionaries.

Time, large chunks of it at that, is a critical element in fiction writing.  You need to be all in.  It takes time just to remove yourself from your own psyche and decide, “Okay, I know what I’d do, but what would she do?”  It requires the type of thought that doesn’t come in five minute bursts between telling your dad you’ll call him back, sending your best friend a text and screaming at your kids to “stop fighting because you do NOT want me to get up from this computer and change your life.”  (Yes.  I’ve said that to my kids. And…?)  The more I struggle with this novel that has come to mean so much to me, the more I realize the importance of carving out this crucial space for myself.

To my sisters of the quill, here’s to creating our own room, and only emerging when it is time.

I Love You

“Oh she may be weary
And young girls they do get weary
Wearing that same old shaggy dress
But when she gets weary
Try a little tenderness.
– “Try a Little Tenderness” Otis Redding

“We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of black women for each other.  But we can practice being gentle with each other by being gentle with that piece of ourselves that is hardest to hold, by giving more to the brave bruised girlchild within each of us, by expecting a little less from her gargantuan efforts to succeed.”
– “Eye to Eye:  Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” Audre Lorde

How many times have you walked into a public service office, allowed your eyes to scan the room, and almost immediately decided you didn’t want “that black bitch” to assist you?  It could be something as simple as the way she chews gum – the fact that she chews gum at all – that makes you decide that any interaction you have with this woman will be difficult and combative.  Her skill set is irrelevant.  You don’t have time to deal with this black bitch and her attitude.  So you approach her, visibly annoyed, a black bitch with an attitude in your own right.

Ms. Lorde, in her essay addressed the disdain black women show towards one another, as well as how we are inoculated with this hatred virtually from birth.  Strength is massaged into our scalps with rough brush strokes and sharp words, as though we’re penalized for the very act of having hair.  Our rites of passage are quite often mixtures of gruff love.  The compulsion to break the spirits of our girls, as ours were at one time or another broken, only to continue to ensure they remain such as women, troubles me greatly.  No one wins here.

I experienced my first wordless gaze war in middle school.  Neither myself, nor my enemy combatant knew why one was “gritting” on the other; yet neither of us could stop, for fear of losing.  Your guess is as good as mine when it comes down to what we were actually afraid of losing.  Our pride?  Some patch of earth where the powerless refuse to be moved?  It was painfully confusing.

As burgeoning black women, so many of us have hated each other so long, we never came face to face with what actually angered us.  Ourselves.  We were so angry with the tenderness that wasn’t bestowed upon us, or with the the fact that we didn’t demand it, we refuse to grant it to anyone else.  This holds especially true for those who look like us.  When I saw other black girls, I saw thinner, fatter, taller and shorter versions of the knocked (and occasionally ashy) kneed girl that I was.  Loud for no reason other than the idea that being mute was almost as bad as dying.  These silent wars were more about the ache of being pushed so far for so long by anyone who deemed themselves my superior, than any actual dislike for the strange feminine eyes insolently gazing back at me.

Of course, it’s 2011, and rather than bus seats and mall stare downs, we have social networking and rude comments.  Regardless of how it’s dressed, it’s the same pack of wounded girls, not completely sure of the source of their anger.  We exchange hateful words with people, and especially women we may never even physically meet face to face.  I can’t reconcile that in my spirit.

So I quit girl war.  I forgive myself my shortcomings, and I pray that I can be forgiven.  I use every day as an attempt to be better.  In so doing, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to meet and befriend women who are brilliant, amazing, beautiful, strong, and wounded.  Hell, I’m wounded.  But you’d be surprised what happens when you throw down your armor, and just interact with sisters on a human level.  My dear friend Feminista Jones said that you really don’t know what a person’s story.  People who stop their day to be rude, angry or hurtful and direct that toward me already have enough with which to contend.  They don’t need me to be part of the problem.

Originally I viewed this stance as weak.  I need to let people know that I’m not to be played with, right?  I need to prove my strength.  Except, I don’t.  I know that I am strong.  I know that I am powerful.  Making you feel small does not make these assertions any more factual.  It’s not even about being the bigger person.  It’s about knowing that this life kicks us in the ass enough, so kicking one another is self-defeatist.

So, sisters, I love you.  Not in the abstract way.  In the way that makes me do everything I can to smile if I meet your annoyed stare, and strike up friendly conversations just because we always need friendly conversations.  I have yet to be charged a fee for trying to be positive and nice.  I’m a sassy ass firecracker, so I don’t always succeed at this, but I so want to be part of the solution.  I don’t want to fight you.  I’ll do everything in my power to avoid it. You’re already fighting so much.  I know this because I see the same weariness in your eyes that I feel in my bones after a day full of being over-worked and under-valued.  I would much prefer to fight with you.  I’ve installed my own alternator and fed a family of three on $37 for a week and a half – I’m probably the type of chick you want on your team.  Could you imagine a whole team of us gang banging on white privilege and patriarchy rather than each other?

I’d love to see that.

The Stage

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

– Jacques of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

When my twelve year old self read this for the first time, it was as an assignment for my eighth grade speech class.  Even then, those first words struck me as powerful.  We’re characters.  I get it.  Adaptation to our respective roles is an essential part of survival.  The way I behave at a picnic is not the way I behave at work.  But in those different roles, I’m still Mel.  Persona is fine in its place, but not at the expense of your conscience, true self and spirit.  There are times when we allow what is expected to dictate actions and and reactions, rather than our authentic beliefs.

Let your inner self define the role, not the other way around.  I believe in the better nature of people.  I’m sure that though there are some bad apples out there, most of us at least have a skeletal knowledge of what is decent.  We know how we want to be treated.  Be true to that part of yourself.

That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

We go out the way we come in.  That part of life is constant and unavoidable.  Fortunately, we have control over making everything that takes place in-between count for something.

Audaciously Regular

The other night, I sat on my sofa wishing I could blend into it without being noticed, in part because my kids were in the other room arguing.  Over nothing.  How do I know, you ask?  Because I was within earshot.  I’d hazard a guess that 97% of their arguments are over nothing.  They get along when no one is watching, and save the fireworks for me.  Most days I rise to the occasion, but lately more often than not, I’m just whipped.

Typically, I’m good at filling all of my roles.  I’m a “good” mom, daughter, sister and friend.  I bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, clean the aforementioned pan, love, pamper, cheerlead, advise, provide a great shoulder and a welcoming ear.  But I have this terrible habit of being human, so I’m rarely good at all of these things at the same time.  

When I’m being supermom, that means I haven’t seen my friends in ages.  If I’m being powerhouse there for you sister friend, I probably haven’t talked to my dad and step-mom in a month.  Even if I talk to one of my siblings every day, I have four, so someone is left out and lacking.

It spreads you thin.  At times, it makes you resentful.  Being the sofa chameleon the other night gave me an odd cocktail of anger, sadness and defeat.    Sometimes, I get so overwhelmed with the demands life puts on me at any given moment, that I can hardly see straight. There are days where the light at the end of the tunnel feels like a pinhole that moves a mile for every step I take.  Thoughts of being a failure burrow deep into my flesh and attach themselves to my bones.  I cry just as often as I laugh, and the sobs hurt more than the belly laughs heal.  I’m 34, and I still don’t completely have my universe figured out.

But you know what?

To hell with it.  Because I’m in it.  I’ve got my arms and legs wrapped around this life thing, and I’m biting into it for extra measure.  Decorating myself with a bunch of kick-ass adjectives would sound nice:  “strong,” “talented,” “dynamic.”  But the truth is, I’m a regular chick with a dream that occasionally gets scared of how big the dream actually is.  But I’ll be damned that if I turn into the jackass who doesn’t try to get as close to that dream as possible.  Figuring it all out may never happen.  Quitting will never happen.

Straight Outta Convent

Today is my baby girl’s tenth birthday.  Essentially, I have no more babies, which is totally strange to me.  With each year comes a new set of concerns and responsibilities for me as a parent.  They have stronger personalities, more concrete opinions, and even new sensitivities.  (I remember my own puberty, when breaking into tears at previously harmless jokes told by my parents was the order of the day.)  It also means having to occasionally deal with difficult questions:  that includes being on the delivering AND receiving end.  Last night’s cannonball was fired by her:

Mommy, are you trying to be a nun? Then why don’t you get married?

On  another day, that would have gotten me all up in my feelings.  I’m not always loving the single life.  Frankly, I’m not always loving my life.  These streets can be rough on a girl.  There are days when I feel like Atlas, and there’s some fool that keeps punching the back of my knees.  (Yes, this makes sense.) Even though my kids are of age to take certain responsibilities, I still want them to have a certain carefree nature that comes with being kids.  So this requires me to be Atlas, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Elastagirl.  In my down time, I get to play Medusa, but we won’t harp on that.

Suffice it to say, a partner would be lovely.  Not just to “help me carry the weight,” but just to shoot the shit, watch movies and play Scrabble.  Not this new age Scrabble, where you can be in Boston and your partner can be in Bahrain.  I mean real in your face Scrabble.  Break out the paperback dictionary, turn up your lips, “that ain’t even much a word, yo” Scrabble.

But, I’m a mom.  I’m past the notion of hiding behind my kids because I’m afraid of relationships.  (I have.)  I’m past feeling the need to do everything.  (On the cool, I can, but that doesn’t mean I SHOULD.)  I don’t even believe that their happiness trumps all, but it is a weighty portion of the equation.  They want me to be married.  They want another little brother or sister.  They want a cool dude around to balance my womanly craziness. I’ll even be daring and opine that somewhere in all of this, they even give consideration to my own happiness in having a partner.   I just happen to know that forming and maintaining relationships just doesn’t happen to be easy.  I can deal with stealth breakups.  I have a habit of ending things before they even start, and my kids are none the wiser.  I’m loathe to even have conversations with men that are romantic interests around my kids unless we are actually “going somewhere.”  That way, should things end, there’s nothing to explain.  I’m not crazy about the idea of people disappearing from their lives.  I’m not searching for perfect, but healthy and stable is non-negotiable.

But I’m also not blocking myself.  I’m getting out more, meeting more people, and I have my eye on a hottie (or two…a girl needs options).  I’m not searching for a relationship.  I enjoy my autonomy and desire companionship in equal measure.  I’m praying that when the right person comes around, I’ll be smart enough to happily tip the scale in his favor.

So, don’t work on your rendition of “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Melanie” just yet.  I’d be a shitty nun.