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.