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Lie to Me

July 14, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, July 14, 2009: Nothing of consequence… but maybe you shouldn’t believe me?  Maybe I’m not telling the truth.

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This is a bunch a BS, Marty, and you know it!

One of the consequences of writing a novel, particularly one like The Twin Paradox, in which I speculate on scientific principles like special relativity, is that I encounter a paradoxical relationship between fact and fiction. What’s true, what’s believable, what ruins the experience — that’s ultimately what I, a storyteller, concern myself with.  And as I see it, the relationship isn’t a concern merely of novelists, but of all things.  But since I’m talking today specifically of writing, this is where we’ll draw the line.

So, in the world of words on paper, or more recently, illuminated screens, this is how I see it: A real person buys a novel and inevitably wants to be transported to another world.  This world isn’t real, but for all practical purposes, it’s real enough to suspend disbelief.  There’s nothing wrong here because I’m a reader; I understand this.

But I’m also a writer, so I know the way to creating such a world — a fake, suspend-able belief one —  is often treacherous.  More often than not, you run the risk in the story of running afoul of a person’s threshold for believability.  This is tricky, because the threshold isn’t uniform across all people, and, for the most part, it appears to be a factor of personal experience and nothing else.  One man’s truth is another man’s absurdity.  But some people are born critics and, as I understand it, will argue the distinction between blue and sky blue when describing the colors of the rainbow.

Suffice it to say that as I write The Twin Paradox, I’m acutely aware of the possibility — no, the likelihood — that when it is published, and if it gains only a modicum of success, I expect a scientific backlash about my treatment of dear old Einstein and quantum physics.  From the rest, possibly, the believability of a nerdish black man eight years married at age twenty-five will come into question.  Is such a character possible in modern fiction, or desirable?  The consumer market, they say, only speaks the truth…

But I can do relatively little about the last belief (and considering what I just saw in Transformer 2: Revenge of the Fallen, perhaps it’s a fight that isn’t even worth lacing up the gloves for).  As for the scientific inconsistencies, the most apropos response is something Ebenezer Scrooge said: Bah humbug.  One of my favorite movies as a child, Back to the Future, was filled with nonsensical technology.  Any scientist will tell you, and probably with a condescending smirk on his face, that the flux capacitor is the biggest piece of scientific bullshit since the perpetual motion machine.  The number eighty-eight, besides looking like the sign for infinity standing on its end and doubled, has as much to do with time travel as using a stainless steel DeLorean to dissipate heat.

But the thing about it?  In the context of the story, I absolutely could care less about the lack of logical and fact-based rigidity.  It’s hard to say how ambivalent I would be today now that I have an engineering background and have researched special relativity; but when I was little I didn’t care.  The flux capacitor needed to be infused with 1.21 gigawatts of power at eighty-eight miles an hour, and high jinks ensued to make sure it happened before space-time collapsed upon itself.  Not, strictly speaking, the way Einstein would’ve written it, but in the world of Back to the Future, that was all that mattered.

This, in case you haven’t noticed, is something I think about often when I’m plotting for The Twin Paradox, or any story for that matter — my role as a storyteller.  When I watch movies and read books, I find myself analyzing the parts of the story that are coherent and, inevitably, the parts the reader/viewer is asked to overlook and, in some cases, willingly does so.  Because something’s always swept under the rug — like, in Batman Returns, that Bat-bike or whatever it was would’ve never made it off of an engineer’s drawing board, at least not an engineer from Georgia Tech; and in the book, Kiss the Girls by James Patterson, how did Dr. Alex Cross survive being thrown from a speeding car with only minor scrapes and bruises?; and, please, don’t even get me started about Transformers 2.

What I’ve come to discover through all this writing, reading, and critiquing is that my job as a novelist isn’t to spoon feed you facts, because facts (unless you’re Michael Crichton) are boring.  If you wanted facts you’d be in the non-fiction section of the bookstore.  No, my job is to offer you irresistible lies in a bowl, and then watch you shovel it greedily down your throat because you can’t help yourself.  That some stomach-aching truth should come out of the experience is open to debate, but for me the lying and making you believe it is where it begins.

Bustin’ on LeBron, Plus: The American Farce

July 10, 2010

I’ve been on a roll lately — two Wraps in one week, absolutely phenomenal output — and I know how to do it: You ride the tide when it’s in; you sit on the side when it’s out.  I’m riding it, baby, and I’m here again, Saturday morning, o’ traditional.  This is The Weekly Wrap.

  • You can’t go a week — this week especially — without talking about LeBron James.  We’re not breaking with tradition here, but as we always do at The Vista, we take it out a new door.  And what struck me about the LeBron Saga, and watching Cleveland fans burn Number 23 jerseys in the street, was the power — and more notably, the danger — of consensus thought.  Picture it with me, if you will: an entire city knowing what is best for LeBron James when LeBron James believes otherwise.  In the tribal days of our cave-dwelling forefathers, this kind of separatist thinking could get ya killed.  Now they just burn your jersey in the street, and all things considered, I guess that’s a demonstration of progress.  But please be sure, Believers and Nons, of the difference between consensus and truth.  They are not the same thing.  Just because 9 people believe it and 1 person doesn’t, doesn’t make the 1 person an idiot.   Endangered, maybe, but not foolish.  Certainly not guilty as charged.  Rock on, LeBron.
  • And speaking of foolish, did you read that letter from Cav’s owner, Dan Gilbert?  Good grief.  Sounded like an episode from Divorce Court — I kid you not.  Here’s what I saw when I read it (embellished, of course): “Lebron quit in the Celtics series.  Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6.  Watch the tape.  But I was willing to forgive and forget as long as he came home.  Man, I wouldn’t have said a word.  But now that he’s with that other bitch, I don’t give it fuck!  It’s on!”  I’m serious, man, you should read the letter.  Very entertaining.
  • Joke of the Week #1: Usher Raymond, co-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment, but had this to say when he heard that Lebron was leaving.  “You know what, LeBron?” Usher said, staring directly into the camera.  “U Don’t Have to Call.”
  • Last bit of news: I saw this story in the New York Times about the the failure of the so-called American Dream, and it gave me pause.  Question #1: Can anyone here give me a definitive definition of what the American Dream is?  I don’t have one.  Question #2: If you believe stories like this, what do you mean by “failure”?…  because my history book tells me that, across time, the American Dream has always failed someone.  The Native Americans saw no parts of this dream.  Immigrants, who founded this country, have continually been denied equal rights, and in the current political climate, we’d rather they just stay the fuck out.  It’s wasn’t too long ago that well-educated women were forced into menial jobs (secretaries and such) when they qualified for work and pay well above that.  I doubt this practice has been fully abolished.  And, of course, let’s not forget African Americans.  They call World War II participants the “Greatest Generation“, but when this generation got home, they stringently denied rights to their fellow black veterans.  If that’s what great generations do, count me out.  So please, People, let’s not delude ourselves into believing the  American Dream was working until 2008 when the stock market tanked, and then suddenly it wasn’t working anymore.  The American Dream has always been privileged, and this turn is nothing new.  But I guess, since the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation are being negatively affected in large numbers, we have to talk about it.  Please.
  • Did I get a little crabby with that last bullet?  Maybe I did.  So here’s a joke to lighten the mood: Joke of the Week #2.  I can’t take credit for it, and I hope it doesn’t lose translation in its written form, but here goes:  A man went to church to pay his tithes, but instead of making the check out to the church, he wanted to make it out directly to Jesus.  “Sorry,” they said, “you can’t do that.”  To which the man replied: “But I can do all things through Christ Jesus!”
  • Funny, man.  That joke is funny to me on so, so, so, soooo many levels.

And that’s the Weekly Wrap.

Next Vista: Wednesday, July 7, 2010: “Lie to Me”

The Black Winning Formula

July 8, 2010
I get serious this week.  None of my conversational acrobatics.  No bullet points.  No jokes that I’m aware of.  My Oh Crap Here Come Da Man voice, Ladies and Gentleman, here just for you — and with little to no prelude.  And on a Thursday.  This is The Weekly Wrap.

If only it were this easy...

Bernice McFadden is a black writer of some renown.  I haven’t read any of her books (maybe you have), but I know her name, and when I saw this story in the Washington Post, obviously I had to read it.  Race, and its varying effects on literature and marketing, is something I often think about.  Looking back, I’ve dedicated quite a few posts to the topic.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to see them.  For me, they are in the past; where this blog is concerned, they are still in the future.

But if I am to be fair to myself, I’ve talked about race and literature, but I’ve also talked about the need for personal accountability.  I’ve joked, perhaps more than once (and again now), that this is the Little Republican coming out in me.  Also in my quest to eliminate blame and unworthiness from my mindset, I’ve pointed an unwavering finger at Christianity.  Religion, in case you didn’t know, is a critical part of the black formula.  As for winning…

Well, full disclosure: I’ve got problems with organized religion, OK?  It won’t get in the way of this post, but to me, if nothing else in this world: Bitching and praying are on the same celestial plane.  You can spend all your time bitching and never get anything done.  You can pray your cartilage away on your knees waiting on the Lord.  Me?  I never fail to do what I can for myself.  Pray, yes.  Bitch, maybe.  But always, always, I get up and do something.

As for race and authorship, it’s clear, at least to me, that I’m of two minds.  Sometimes I bitch, and sometimes I point the finger squarely in my own face.  And I suppose you could say that I pray, but it’s more like preying: I do my work, I gather my internal focuses, I wait on my opportunity to strike.  It’s a rather liberal interpretation of the Bible, I admit, but is there really a difference between praying and preying?

I don’t think so, so when I’m bitching about my failures as a writer, I try to be cognizant.  For me especially — and for all black writers — victimology is a dangerous trap.  Brothers and sisters:  You gotta watch yourself.

But the number of black novelists on the New York Times bestseller list (or the lack thereof) doesn’t lie.  You may disagree with what it means specifically, but it  tells a story.

So does the African American aisle at your local book store.  When I think of my own future marketing strategy, I have to wonder if anyone really knows how to do it — how to market me.  Because if I’m going to be marketed like every other black writer, I might as well do it myself.  The data doesn’t vouch for existing knowledge that works in my favor.  I gather from everything that I’ve seen, and especially what I haven’t, that I have just as good a chance as the next publishing industry lifer to get it done.

And that’s where I think Bernice McFadden is coming from — this is why she wrote this piece.  Racism is implied in the article, and, in my opinion, it leans a little too far in that hopeless direction, but it’s a frustrating situation.  I’m there; I understand.  You look at others, primarily white authors, and you know that they’ve got a winning formula.  For whatever reason — maybe luck, maybe truth — this winning formula casts black people in a supporting role.  When you line up the evidence from “The Help” through “Driving Miss Daisy” back to slavery itself, it seems like a continuance of the same fucking winning formula.

But where’s the black winning formula?  If you’re a black writer and you want to be successful, what do you do?  You can’t say it’s good writing (or the lack thereof) because if you really knew the publishing industry circa 2010, you’d know that good writing does not a bestseller make.  Never has, probably never will.

You can’t say it’s a matter of publishers and agents and editors knowing what will sell because it’s fairly obvious they don’t.  As a point, Kathyrn Stockett’s novel, which has been whipped enough by the black community to be an honorary slave descendant (Oh crap!  A joke!), was passed on by upwards of 40 agents.  Who knew it would sell 1 million copies, and so quickly?  Here’s the answer: No one.

Sure, a few black authors get their foot up writing Essence fiction and variants on the Slave narrative, but the question remains: What is the black winning formula for a black writer?  You get Nobel prizes for telling the Slave narrative and invoking whatever pathos, but Nobel prizes and similar awards are specious.  You get to go to Laud-ville and receive foaming-at-the-mouth prasie, but don’t you make any money, and without the money, you don’t open any doors.

Can you say: Lather and Rinse, but no Repeat?

You don’t sell 1 million copies as an Essence bestseller I don’t care what you say.

But wait, what about Terri McMillan… and I laugh, because any scientist knows that it ain’t true until you can REPEAT IT.  So who followed in Terri McMillan’s footsteps?  Who’s made the same kind of money as she has writing the same brand of story?  Where’s “Waiting to Exhale 2010”… but by another black author?  Where’s the movie?  If I missed the soundtrack, please somebody, let me know.

The more important question isn’t who, but will?  Will there be another Terri McMillan?  Is black sisterhood in fours the winning black formula for all-time?  Do black men not have a place in black literature except as antagonists and tormenters?  Will it forever be Slave narratives and its lingering effects through Reconstruction to present day — our Holocaust?  Is there a black person in the United States who can do it again — who can write a novel that every person in the country knows the name of?

And, oh yeah:  Can a black writer make some money doing it?  Open up doors for others.  Lather and Rinse, yes — but REPEAT.  That’s what we need to do.  The objective — the truth — is no farther away than your shampoo bottle.

If there is a black formula I don’t know what it is, but I do know what it isn’t.  It isn’t quitting.  Nothing from nothing leaves nothing — that much is clear.  So despite the repeating evidence to the contrary, if this writing isn’t to be in vain, we have to move forward.  We have to persist without fail, creating our own repeated destiny.  Not just black writers.  All writers.  I’ve made my pledge to stand.  I don’t want to speak for her, but I’m sure that’s what Bernice McFadden meant, too: As tiresome as it is, she’s persisting as well.  Others, like Carleen Brice, and of course her fabulous Meet Black Authors blog, are doing the same.

Preying for an opportunity.

Working on a formula.

Won’t you prey and work with me?

Status Report 2009

July 7, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, July 7, 2009: Microsoft Money is discontinued!  Crying softly, I switch to Quicken.


Last week’s entry, before it turned into an artistic twisting of the term Independence Day, was supposed to be a slice of life — what I’m doing in these trying economic times, and how I’m doing on my personal 2009 goals.  Right-hemisphere of my brain notwithstanding, that’s what I hope to accomplish today.

How does this work?  Well, it starts with the two components of my Self-Reliance Plan.  The first part I’ve mined to the point of environmental ruin.  You know it as Writing.  The second part, which I haven’t taken much time to discuss (for reasons that will soon become painfully obvious), is the stock market.

2009 STOCK MARKET PROGRESS

So let me start with the stock market.  In a few words: It’s not going too well.  Well, no, that’s not exactly true.  The accurate analysis is that I’m not doing as well as I would like to be doing.  And if you beg for yet more honesty, over the past two months as I prepared for the NY Pitch Conference, I haven’t been fulfilling my end of the bargain.  My nightly and weekend stock market homework assignments — it’s gone by the wayside.

So, with the stock market, it’s not like I can give the old tried and true “I’ve done everything right and I’m still not being successful”.  Have you heard that before?  People, especially unemployed college graduates, use that excuse a lot.  I don’t want to fall into that trap.  My results in the stock market are fairly typical of a person who treats it as a second-tier objective.  I still lose more than I win, but there is a silver lining.  The near-crash didn’t kill me, so I can still fight.

What’s that song?  Onward Christian Solider?  Yes.  Exactly.  Only not the Christian part.

There have been glimmers of hope, brief signs of improvement.  June [‘09], in fact, has been great — the first time in a year that we had a net or zero gain for the month.  PCX continues to be a sink hole.  Made some money on MOS.  I’d have specific numbers, but I learned this month that Microsoft is discontinuing my beloved Money and have been in the rigorous (and sometimes confusing) process of transitioning over to Quicken Premier.

Painful, I tell you.  Absolutely painful.  But I need my financial program.  All you other suckers can get down with Cloud, but for as long as I possibly can, I’m keeping it all local.

So my mid-2009 appraisal of what I’ve done in the stock market: holistic improvement more than any incremental surge, with most of those gains coming in the investment arena as opposed to the trading arena.  I can say for myself that, depending on how things go with the writing over the next two months (which I’ll get to shortly), I will continue to focus the majority of my efforts on investing more than trading, on wealth preservation more than generation.  That, as I’ve come to understand over the past year, is the best and most realistic use of my time considering my schedule and obligations.  That is where I hope to see marked improvement by the end of the year.

2009 WRITING PROGRESS

And now, on to writing, which, as you know already, has been a complete success.  My main goal for 2009 was attending the NY Pitch Conference, which I did, and from which I came home with an editor’s email address.  Also this month, two of the three articles that I submitted to competition, “How to Change the World” and “The Words Not Written” placed, with the latter receiving first place on an author blog.

Instead of money (the usual qualification for me to enter a competition), I received a copy of Burn This Book, a selection of essays on censorship edited by Toni Morrison, and a one-hour consultation with the blog administrator, Anne Mini.  All-in-all, I set out in 2009 to get out of my shell and interact with other writers who are trying to do this, and I’m not going to lollygag or be cutesy on the word choice here — I knocked the ball out the park on this one.  I mean, today if you do a search for my name on Google, the link to “The Words Not Written” on Anne Mini’s blog is second behind my LinkedIn account!

Anne and I have a consultation scheduled for mid-July during which the plan is to review both manuscripts: The Inner Limit and The Twin Paradox.  By then I will have sent her the Abstracts, First 5 Pages, a 5 Page Synopsis, and a 5-6 Page Middle Scene from both novels.  She’ll read them and, based on her extensive knowledge of the publishing business, give her honest feedback on their merits and marketability, book category, and potential literary agents.  This is a service that she usually charges for, but that I’m getting free for winning her contest, and feedback (and not just any feedback, but learned feedback) is an asset more valuable when you’re starting out than all the first prize cash in the world.

It’s impossible for me say what the next steps are until I’ve had the consultation.  At this moment, I’m piecing together the synopsis for The Twin Paradox, which I should have by week’s end — but I can’t even speculate on what will be said or even how I will respond to it.  The one thing the first part of 2009 has taught me is that my internal crap-o-meter is not as off-center as I once believed.  I know when what I’m writing is good; and I know when it isn’t.  And from that vantage point, even for a novel that is two years old like The Inner Limit is, I can say that there are gems in the material that I will send Anne.  There are gems even in The Twin Paradox, which is why I was brash enough to pitch it in New York when it wasn’t even finished — because I know the concept is good and have optimal faith in my execution.  [In case you haven’t figured it out, I’ve since moved The Inner Limit in front of The Twin Paradox.  It’s where I spend most of my energy these days.]

CONCLUSION

As I’ve said before, there are so many similarities between the stock market and writing that it absolutely quells the mind, which makes my dual pursuit of both intriguing and fitting in a way that a perhaps only an artist would care about.  The truth is: I’ve been doing this writing thing for upwards of seven years, and the stock market thing for two.  Is there any wonder that I would be having more success in one area than the other?  Isn’t it good to know that, as long as I don’t quit and throw in the towel with the stock market, that success is soon to come there, too?

No, there isn’t any wonder; and yes, it is a good thing.  The difficult part, as always, is wanting to have the success when you want as opposed to when it arrives.  When it comes to writing, it’s closer.

Independence Day

June 30, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 30, 2009: A dear friend loses his job.

Quoth the raven: "Independence! Evermore!"

It’s getting harder and harder, with cat tails in both hands and one in my mouth, to keep this Tuesday regimen of self-review and exposition.  Today is actually Thursday, July 2, 2009, two days before Independence Day.  Today, since I’m working diligently toward some form of independence of my own, I figured I’d give a progress report of where I am.

We do these in Corporate America all the time.  In fact, sometime before the end of July, I have to write a self-evaluation for 401K STALWART and push the proverbial bullshit up the slope.

Not that this is a bad process; on the contrary, progress tracking for goal achievement is essential if your goal is, in fact, to achieve your goals.  Luck is a fourth-dimensional phenomenon that allows some people to win the lottery and others to stumble, willy nilly as it were, into success — but we don’t cut our teeth on luck around here; we cut our teeth on practice and rigorous goal-setting.  We make our future and dare that bitch Lady Luck to stand in our way.

But still, things are not the best for 401K STALWART.  If I didn’t tell you before, my first manager with the company (who I no longer report to) was let go as part of a second round of head count cuts, and his last day was Tuesday, June 30 — the end of the month.

Last Friday after work, a fellow co-worker and I, who struck up a good relationship while coordinating on that disastrously planned two-year Puerto Rico project, took my friend and former boss out to dinner at Chili’s.  We talked; we laughed; we bitched (mostly about Puerto Rico and how it was a plan only an accountant could draw up, but also about how or friend had gotten ram-rodded); we drank (they had beers, I had sweet tea with lemon); and then, when it was done, we left our friend, our compadre, to master the waves with a ship only he can steer now.

Tuesday.  June 30.  Glorious.  Frightening.

Independence Day.

You would think, of course, that after the payroll reductions that I’ve survived before, that the lay-off of a former boss would be commonplace to me.  Even the fact that this is the third boss of mine who’s seen the rather unfriendly side of the employee-employer relationship testifies to a certain forced apathy on my part, if only as a coping mechanism.  What’s that saying from the 90s?  Been there?  Done that?  Sure.  Whatever you say.  And if I stick around the slop bin and keep swallowing down this paycheck gruel that they serve, I bet my antacid that I’ll see it again.

Ah, but the hunter comes out in me instead, that wild-eyed hairy thing that can’t conceive of fences and knows not what a collar is.  And though it’s happened before — though I know I will see it again — never is that wild, unflappable urge to get out and hunt and kill for myself stronger than when a friend, someone I’ve rubbed elbows with at the barrel many a-night, is sent out to pasture long before he’s ready.  The call of the wild, Jack London called it.  The call of independence.

I suppose, to a certain degree, I feel this way because I know it can happen to me.  I can go to work one day and, like my friend, get a surprise visit from the HR manager.  It won’t take much.

But it’s deeper than that, more philosophical (as if this is a surprise with me), and, hopefully I’d like to think, more appropriate than simple self-preservation.   Because I see the risk between succeeding in Corporate America and pursuing writing (or any other dream for that matter) on a different spectrum now.  Before, there was light year’s worth of space (and risk) between the two; now it’s more like an astronomical unit.

Why, you ask?  Because it comes down to people.  An accountant looks as the bottom-line of a spreadsheet and says X amount of dollars in payroll must be reduced in this quarter, but they don’t make personnel decisions.  They simply say “Get it done” and MOPs (managers of people) and human resource types decide who among the lesser mortals will fall on the knife.  There’s no greater truth than this in American business, I’ve found: Forget what department you’re in, or what your diploma says — we all work for Finance.  The sooner you figure that out, the happier you’ll be.

So the MOPs and HR managers have their marching orders and, site by site, staff by staff, they decide who they’re going to keep and who they’re going to scatter in the wind — but what are they basing their decisions on?  They have performance reviews and other supposedly fact-based tools with which to help them draw the line between who stays and who goes, but how is their methodology any different or any more rigorous than an agent reading a query letter or an editor considering a manuscript, or for that matter, a record executive listening to a demo?  What’s the gap?  What makes us think one decision matrix is more risky than the other when people are the ultimate gatekeepers and winning and losing, success and unemployment, are two halves of a paper-thin coin split by subjectivity?

There’s no difference, I offer — absolutely none whatsoever.  We find safety in numbers and use seemingly reasonable statistics to sway Lady Luck in our favor, but when you find yourself unemployed, as my friend did, you see the incorrigible truth: no difference.

Here’s another timely example.  The project manager for Puerto Rico, who spent 2+ years of his life traveling at least 90% of the time (remember, I traveled 50%) — he got his Independence Day back in January only a month after the project was finished.  Why?  Because his manager, a West Point graduate, alpha male if ever there was one, died while driving late one night from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.  Why he was never replaced is a mystery only the higher-ups can answer, but the sad truth is that the Puerto Rico project manager had suddenly lost his layer of protection.  When things didn’t go as well as hoped on the islands, there was no one in those closed-door boardroom meetings to fight the PM’s battles, no one whom the Big Wigs respected enough to listen to.  Consequently, when the marching orders from the accountants came down no one said, “Not my project manager, I need him”, and that reason, and that alone, is why he lost his job.

Work hard and you’ll get rewarded?  Bullshit.  In the land of paychecks and pre-paid healthcare, all it takes is the absence of one strong “Yes” and you’re out on the high seas by yourself.

Likewise, all it takes for me to become a published author, and then perhaps an international bestseller, is the same thing, but inverted: the presence of one strong “Yes”.  From an agent, or an editor, or the head book buyer at Barnes and Noble — it doesn’t matter because it all comes down to people.  Not science or anything else — ordinary people.  Who you’ve got fighting for you in battles you’ll probably never know about until you hear a fateful rapping at your office door.  People make the difference.

I have yet to find that person in my life but the search continues; my hunter’s eyes stay trained to the horizon.  Until I find that person so long, my friend, and safe travels… but soon, it’ll be my Independence Day, too.

All My Single [Black] Ladies

June 26, 2010

Oh boy, I’m going to piss some people off today, because this right ch’ere — this is radical.  I can’t even believe I’m going to do this, but ya know, at this point in my life, I really don’t care.  In fact, just to show how cataclysmic I plan on being, I’m going to start off this Saturday bash on religion with a verse from the Bible, 2 Timothy 1:7:  For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.  So guess what?  This is going to be POWERFUL.  This is going to be BOLD.  This is The Weekly Wrap.

  • How about this, man?  It started off when I was driving to work Wednesday morning.  V-103 had this story.  If you haven’t read it, you should read it NOW.  I’ll wait.  If you have read it, then obviously you have an opinion.  I have an opinion, too, but you can probably tell what it was by my initial response:  I couldn’t stop laughing.
  • Personally, I think that if you can’t find humor in your own beliefs, you need to reconsider what you believe.  It’s a sign that you’re a little too close.  But when it comes to religion, it’s not a laughing matter to a lot of people — especially black people.  Black people start to shake (and I’m not talking about under the Holy Spirit) when the almighty Church is put under the microscope.  Saying something bad about religion is about as bad as those “Yo Momma” jokes from third grade.  Remember those?  The ones that if you were really mature you realized wasn’t worth fighting over?
  • (On a side note, doesn’t “Yo Momma” sound a lot like “O-bama”?  Maybe.  Could just be one of my brain farts.  But if you get mad everytime someone says something bad about our 44th President, this is for you.)
  • In any case, I thought the article was true more than it was false.  Mad true, people.  I’m not even going to go into specifics yet, but it’s fairly obvious to me that black people as a whole identify with church life more than other segments of the population.  It could be spiritual baggage from slavery (some of which was very good), but if you’re a black adult and you’re meeting another black adult for the first time, it can turn into a religious interview really quick.  Third or fourth question, right?  It’s like: “Hi, what’s your name?  Where do you live?  And, oh yeah, what church do you go to?”
  • Mad truth, people.  And if you want to know what I mean when I say Truth, you should read this.
  • But where to begin with this article?  I guess I want to start with society as a whole.  Assuming you can tame your emotions (and your shaking) long enough to imagine a world where religion doesn’t exist, you have to admit that our society puts an inordinate strain on women to find a man, and it doesn’t go the other way.  I mean, we start programming our girls early.  We buy them Fisher Price vacuum cleaners and bake sets so they want to emulate mommy (I call this the I Want to Be the Default Caretaker for the Rest of My Life Program).  We buy them glass slippers and dress them up like Princesses so they can dream about Prince Charming (I call this the I’ll Only Be Able to Find Salvation Through a Dashing and Powerful Man Program).  As a society, we place a loadstone burden on our women to be beautiful, and design all the clothes so that women become more desirable to men.  I mean — what is a push up bra?  Who are you pushing those big girls or those little puppies up for?  Your mother?  Your poodle?  (I call this the I Desperately Need a Man and I’ll Support the Whole Fucking Economy if I Have to to Find Him Program.  It’s all about the money, isn’t it?)
  • So we got all these pre-programmed women out there who want to settle down and do what their programming is telling them to do, but the men are being programmed to conquer the world, have fun, don’t settle on a cow until you’ve milked the herd.
  • But let’s get back to church, shall we?  Droves of single black women sitting in the pews looking for God-fearing brothers who don’t exist.  And before you try to drown out the conversation like Frank Ski and say the Church doesn’t teach that, I have to ask you how you know what all the Churches in Georgia, let alone the world, are telling their congregations.  Because there are two things in the world that currently irk me.  One is the insistence in mass media that one Black person stands for all Black when Black is a plentiful diversity.  The other is people who say Church or Bible as if there isn’t a multitude of interpretation.  There is no one Church; this is no one Bible.  If there was, there wouldn’t be these things called denominations.  Heard of those?
  • And what does God-fearing mean, anyway?  2 Timothy says that we do not have a spirit of fear, yet we should be God-fearing?  How does that work?  Maybe that’s why there are few God-fearing black men — because the Bible story breaks down logically in too many places.  God loves me, or so the Bible says, but in return I’m supposed to fear Him?  It just doesn’t make sense.  For instance, my wife loves me, and she loves me enough that when the time is right she’ll bear me a son or daughter, but in return for her love I’m supposed to say something like, “Girl, I’m scared of you!”  Is that what the Bible is saying?  That I should sound like a UPN network re-run?
  • The biggest conflict of interest in the Bible to me: God can’t be all-powerful because the Bible is specific — He could only have one son.  Which means God does have a limit to what He can do.  Where’s the bible verse that explains that?
  • I’m not poking fun at God, and I’m sure I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before.  I will say, though, that as a writer, there’s no way in the world I could get away with telling a story that has this many logical holes in it.  You all would laugh me off the planet.  And becoming a bestseller and most-printed book for over 1500 years?  No chance (and no pun intended) in hell.
  • So I guess I’ve said all of this to say, unequivocally, that there is a lot of truth in what Deborrah Cooper is saying.  It may not be the absolute truth, but there’s enough there so that if you’re honest, you’ll see that it’s still a man’s world even at church — especially at church.  Black people aren’t alone in this because the subjugation of woman to traditional helpmeet roles is a common practice in all churches, regardless of race.  If you’re OK with playing that role, this article isn’t for you.  If you’re not then it’s time to be BOLD like Deborrah, BOLD like the self-conflicting Bible says, because whether Christians will admit it or not, there is another way.

And that’s the Weekly Wrap.

Next Vista: Wednesday, June 30, 2010: “Independence Day”

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –> Oh boy I’m going to piss some people off today, because this right ch’ere — this is radical.  I can’t even believe I’m going to do this, but at this point in my life, I really don’t care.  In fact, just to show how cataclysmic I plan on being, I’m going to start off this bash on religion with a verse from the Bible: 2 Timothy 1:7.  For God give us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  Guess what?  This is going to be POWERFUL.  This is going to be BOLD.  This is The Weekly Wrap. piss some people off today, because this right ch’ere — this is radical.  I can’t even believe I’m going to do this, but at this point in my life, I really don’t care.  In fact, just to show how cataclysmic I plan on being, I’m going to start off this bash on religion with a verse from the Bible: 2 Timothy 1:7.  For God give us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  Guess what?  This is going to be POWERFUL.  This is going to be BOLD.  This is The Weekly Wrap.

How about this, man?  It started off when I was driving to work Wednesday morning.  V-103 had this story.  If you haven’t read it, you should read it now.  If you have read it, then obviously you have an opinion.  I have an opinion, too, but you can probably tell what it was by my initial response.  I couldn’t stop laughing.

Personally, I think that if you can’t find humor in your own beliefs, you need to reconsider what you believe.  It’s a sign that you’re a little too close.  But when it comes to religion, it’s not a laughing matter to a lot of people — especially black people.  People start to shake (and I’m not talking about under the Holy Spirit) when the almighty Church is put under the microscope.  Saying something bad about religion is about as nefarious as “Yo Momma” jokes from grade school.  Remember those?  The ones that if you were really mature you realized wasn’t worth fighting over?

In any case, I thought the article was true more than it was false.  Mad truth, people.  I’m not even going to go into specifics yet, but it’s fairly obvious to me that black people as a whole identify with church life more than other segments of the population.  It could be spiritual baggage from slavery, but if you’re black and meeting another black person for the first time, and this person is over 30, it can turn into a religious interview really quick.  Third or fourth question, right?  It’s like: “Hi, what’s your name?  And, oh yeah, what church do you go to?”

Mad truth, people.  And if you want to know what I mean when I say Truth, you should read this.

But where to begin with this article?  I guess I want to start with society as a whole.  Assuming you can tame your emotions (and your shaking) long enough to imagine a world where religion doesn’t exist, you have to admit that our society puts an inordinate strain on women to find a man, and it doesn’t go the other way for me.  I mean, we start programming our girls early.  Buy them Fisher Price vacuum cleaners and bake sets so they want to emulate mommy — I call this the I Want to Be the Default Caretaker for the Rest of my Life Program.  We buy them glass slippers and dress them up like Princesses so they can dream about Prince Charming — I call this the I’ll Only Be Able to Find Salvation Through a Dashing and Powerful Man Program.  As a society, we place a loadstone burden on our women to be beautiful, and design all the clothes so that women become more desirable to men.  I mean — what is a push up bra?  Who are you pushing those big girls or those little puppies up for?  Your mother?  Your poodle?

I call this the I Desperately Need a Man and I’ll Support the Whole Fucking Economy if I Have to to Find Him Program.

It’s all about the money, isn’t it?

So we got all these pre-programmed women out there who want to settle down and do what their programming is telling them to do, but the men are being programmed to conquer the world, have fun, don’t settle on a cow until you’ve milked the herd.  Let’s get back to church, shall we?  Droves of single black women sitting in the pews looking for God-fearing brothers who don’t exist.

And before try to drown out the conversation like Frank Ski and say the Church doesn’t teach that, I have to ask you how you know what all the Churches in Georgia, let alone the world, are telling their congregations.  Because there are two things in the world that currently irk me.  One is the instance in mass media that one Black person stands for all Black when Black is a plentiful diversity.  The other is people who say Church or Bible as if there isn’t a multitude of interpretation.  There is no one Church; this is no one Bible.  If there was, there wouldn’t be these things called denominations.  Heard of those?

And what does God-fearing mean, anyway?  2 Timothy says that we do not have a spirit of fear, but yet we should be God-fearing?  How does that work?  Maybe that’s why there are few God-fearing black men, because the Bible story breaks down logically in too many places.  God loves me, or so the Bible says, but in return I’m supposed to fear Him?  It just doesn’t make sense.  For instance, my wife loves me, and she loves me enough that when the time is right she’ll bear me a son or daughter, but in return for her love I’m supposed to say something like, “Girl, I’m scared of you!”  Is that what the Bible is saying?  That I should sound like a UPN network re-run?

Perhaps the biggest conflict of interest in the Bible to me: God can’t be all-powerful because the Bible is specific — He could only have one son.  Which means God does have a limit to what He can do.

I’m not poking fun at God, and I’m sure I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before.  I will say, though, that as a writer, there’s no way in the world I could get away with telling a story that has this many logical holes in it.  You all would laugh me off the planet.  And becoming a bestseller and most-printed book for over 1500 years?  No chance (and no pun intended) in hell.

So I guess I’ve said all of this to say, unequivocally, that there is a lot of truth in what Barbara is saying.  It may not be the absolute truth, but there’s enough there so that if you’re honest, you’ll see that it’s still a man’s world even at church — especially at church.  Black people aren’t along in this because the subjugation of woman to traditional helpmeet roles is a common practice in all churches, regardless of race.  If you’re OK with playing that role, this article isn’t for you.  If you’re not then it’s time to be BOLD like Barbara, because whether Christians will admit it or not, there is another way.

The Power of Cheese Grits

June 23, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 23, 2009: A week after my win at Author! Author! I’m still reveling in the sweet spoils of victory.

You thought it was about the prose and it was really about the polenta.

A week ago, nay, only seconds after I had completed last week’s entry, something happened in my writing career that has never happened before — something that, for the briefest of moments, almost convinced me to scratch what I had written and craft something else entirely.  The email from Anne Mini of the Author! Author! blog looked foreign in my inbox and my feelings about it even more extraterrestrial.  But the fact of the matter is: I’ve done it.  At last.  Seven years after beginning this, I’ve placed first in a writing contest.

Granted, the competition for this award probably wasn’t as stiff as some of the others but, at the same time, I have to say “The Words Not Written” was potent unlike any contest entry that came before it, even the much heralded (at least in these pages) “How to Change the World”.  I wouldn’t have been able to write “The Words Not Written” without having written “How to Change the World” first — that was when the authorial breakthrough occurred — but it stands on its own for one reason and one reason alone.

The Author! Author! Contest, which I heard about only a month ago and whose blog I have been reading only since December of 2008, included no monetary reward and, as such, was the first contest of that nature that I’ve entered in years, maybe even ever.  Previous to this, a Contest didn’t rank if there wasn’t at least a $1000 first place award affixed, and therefore perhaps at least a $250 award for third — you know, just a little dough for my troubles.  And yet, the moment I put cash prizes second (nay — cash wasn’t even in the same friggin’ zip code when I wrote “The Words Not Written”!) I produce my best work, and accomplish a major goal.

Must be some profound lesson in that.  I’ll spare you the ignominy of spelling it out.

What I will tell you is that, even after I had written and submitted “The Words Not Written”, I wondered what people would take away from it.  It’s an intricate essay; full of layered meanings and surprising trapdoors like foxholes; tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that could be mistaken for humor; an offhand reference to my passion for cheese grits (among other things); and, I hoped when I wrote it, an unmistakable truth that shone through at the end like a ray of light from the heavens.

Yes, I wondered what would happen when people read my essay, what they would think, what they would say.  Yes — even before I learned that I had won — I had a feeling for what that something would be.  It wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be the unmistakable truth, because the essay was written from an insider’s perspective, with inside jokes and references to things non-publishing types could care less about.  Some would get it undoubtedly but not most, and, from my family not many at all, if any.  So, assuming readers liked it, or felt the energy in it, there would have to be something for them to latch on to, a common denominator that resonated much longer than slick prose and heady allusion.  Call it the Everyman Denominator, and I knew what it was from the beginning.

Cheese grits.  When it was all said and done, I figured the only thing people would remember about me, and about my essay, was the fact that I loved cheese grits.

It’s only been a week but one of the comments from the readers of Anne Mini’s blog made reference to this, and my wife’s aunt sent email congratulations that make me shiver at the thought of the gaylords of cheese grits that I will have to endure the next time I visit New York.  I love cheese grits but damn!  I’m afraid now for whatever remains of my capacity to digest dairy products.

So what’s the lesson here?  The lesson here is that writing is not about the money; it’s about the food.  As long as I know the secret now I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but boy am I ever going to miss cheese grits.

d last week’s entry, something happened in my writing career that has never happened before — something that, for the briefest of moments, almost convinced me to scratch what I had written and craft something else entirely.  The email from Anne Mini of the Author! Author! blog looked foreign in my inbox and my feelings about it even more extraterrestrial.  But the fact of the matter is: I’ve done it.  At last.  Seven years after beginning this, I’ve placed first in a writing contest.

Granted, the competition for this award probably wasn’t as stiff as some of the others but, at the same time, I have to say “The Words Not Written” was potent unlike any contest entry that came before it, even the much heralded (at least in these pages) “How to Change the World”.  I wouldn’t have been able to write “The Words Not Written” without having written “How to Change the World” first — that was when the authorial breakthrough occurred — but it stands on its own for one reason and one reason alone.

The Author! Author! Contest, which I heard about only a month ago and whose blog I have been reading only since December of 2008, included no monetary reward and, as such, was the first contest of that nature that I’ve entered in years, maybe even ever.  Previous to this, a Contest didn’t rank if there wasn’t at least a $1000 first place award affixed, and therefore perhaps at least a $250 award for third — you know, just a little dough for my troubles.  And yet, the moment I put cash prizes second (nay — cash wasn’t even in the same friggin’ zip code when I wrote “The Words Not Written”!) I produce my best work, and accomplish a major goal.

Must be some profound lesson in that.  I’ll spare you the ignominy of spelling it out.

What I will tell you is that, even after I had written and submitted “The Words Not Written”, I wondered what people would take away from it.  It’s an intricate essay; full of layered meanings and surprising trapdoors like foxholes; tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that could be mistaken for humor; an offhand reference to my passion for cheese grits (among other things); and, I hoped when I wrote it, and unmistakable truth that shone through at the end like a ray of light from the heavens.

Yes, I wondered what would happen when people read my essay, what they would think, what they would say.  Yes — even before I learned that I had won — I had a feeling for what that something would be.  It’d wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be the unmistakable truth, because the essay was written from an insider’s perspective, with inside jokes and references to things non-publishing types could care less about.  Some would get it undoubtedly but not most, and, from my family not many at all, if any.  So, assuming readers liked it, or felt the energy in it, there would have to be something for them to latch on to, a common denominator that resonated much longer than slick prose and heady allusion.  Call it the Everyman Denominator, and I knew what it was from the beginning.

Cheese grits.  When it was all said and done, I figured the only thing people would remember about me, and about my essay, was the fact that I loved cheese grits.

It’s only been a week but one of the comments from the readers of Anne Mini’s blog made reference to this, and my wife’s aunt sent email congratulations that make me shiver at the thought of the gaylords of cheese grits that I will have to endure the next time I visit New York.  I love cheese grits but damn!  I’m afraid now for whatever remains of my capacity to digest dairy products.

So what’s the lesson here?  The lesson here is that writing is not about the money; it’s about the food.  As long as I know the secret now I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but boy am I ever going to miss cheese grits.

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 23, 2009: A week after my win at Author! Author! I’m still reveling in the sweet spoils of victory.

A week ago, nay, only seconds after I had completed last week’s entry, something happened in my writing career that has never happened before — something that, for the briefest of moments, almost convinced me to scratch what I had written and craft something else entirely.  The email from Anne Mini of the Author! Author! blog looked foreign in my inbox and my feelings about it even more extraterrestrial.  But the fact of the matter is: I’ve done it.  At last.  Seven years after beginning this, I’ve placed first in a writing contest.

Granted, the competition for this award probably wasn’t as stiff as some of the others but, at the same time, I have to say “The Words Not Written” was potent unlike any contest entry that came before it, even the much heralded (at least in these pages) “How to Change the World”.  I wouldn’t have been able to write “The Words Not Written” without having written “How to Change the World” first — that was when the authorial breakthrough occurred — but it stands on its own for one reason and one reason alone.

The Author! Author! Contest, which I heard about only a month ago and whose blog I have been reading only since December of 2008, included no monetary reward and, as such, was the first contest of that nature that I’ve entered in years, maybe even ever.  Previous to this, a Contest didn’t rank if there wasn’t at least a $1000 first place award affixed, and therefore perhaps at least a $250 award for third — you know, just a little dough for my troubles.  And yet, the moment I put cash prizes second (nay — cash wasn’t even in the same friggin’ zip code when I wrote “The Words Not Written”!) I produce my best work, and accomplish a major goal.

Must be some profound lesson in that.  I’ll spare you the ignominy of spelling it out.

What I will tell you is that, even after I had written and submitted “The Words Not Written”, I wondered what people would take away from it.  It’s an intricate essay; full of layered meanings and surprising trapdoors like foxholes; tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that could be mistaken for humor; an offhand reference to my passion for cheese grits (among other things); and, I hoped when I wrote it, and unmistakable truth that shone through at the end like a ray of light from the heavens.

Yes, I wondered what would happen when people read my essay, what they would think, what they would say.  Yes — even before I learned that I had won — I had a feeling for what that something would be.  It’d wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be the unmistakable truth, because the essay was written from an insider’s perspective, with inside jokes and references to things non-publishing types could care less about.  Some would get it undoubtedly but not most, and, from my family not many at all, if any.  So, assuming readers liked it, or felt the energy in it, there would have to be something for them to latch on to, a common denominator that resonated much longer than slick prose and heady allusion.  Call it the Everyman Denominator, and I knew what it was from the beginning.

Cheese grits.  When it was all said and done, I figured the only thing people would remember about me, and about my essay, was the fact that I loved cheese grits.

It’s only been a week but one of the comments from the readers of Anne Mini’s blog made reference to this, and my wife’s aunt sent email congratulations that make me shiver at the thought of the gaylords of cheese grits that I will have to endure the next time I visit New York.  I love cheese grits but damn!  I’m afraid now for whatever remains of my capacity to digest dairy products.

So what’s the lesson here?  The lesson here is that writing is not about the money; it’s about the food.  As long as I know the secret now I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but boy am I ever going to miss cheese grits.

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