Monday, May 31, 2004

Adventures in "High" Black(face) Cinema

Sunday evening, I excursed (yeah, I said it) on a cultural outing to partake of some "high" black cinema: I went to see Soul Plane.

Some of you may say, Gee Ayo, for you to be an Artist (with a capital A), you sure do consume some lowercase art. And I'd have to say, Gee, you're absolutely right.

I view such an excursion as a learning tool. Soul Plane deals with themes common to much of my own creative work - black culture and, more specifically, black stereotypes - so, to stay relevant in my own treatment, I need to keep abreast of Hollywood's latest treatment. Besides, with only one Black film every 3 or 4 months, sometimes I get a little desperate to see a Black face on-screen.

Okay, now for the movie. Let's just say that the only thing lacking to fully authenticate my Soul Plane experience was a BET video-hoe waitress serving 40 oz.'s at my seat. Yes, it was just that ghetto.

Which is not to imply that I did not, at one time in my past, stand in Cedar Grove High's hooptie-filled parking lot - sporting an asymmetric fade, wopping to DJ Smurf beats, leaned against a rattling trunk - debating who was lamer, Kilo or MC Shy-D. Which is to say that deep down - way deep down - there is something in me that should appreciate this film.

Where do I start?

Should I start with the fact that half the viewing audience (the theatre was packed) showed up on C.P. time, i.e., after the opening credits started to roll?

The movie opens with the main character, L.A. native, Nashawn (Dwayne Adway), (surprise) late for his flight on a major airline. The baggage compartments are full and so, instead of going on board with him, his pet dog has to be checked and go as cargo under the plane. Nashawn, it turns out, is the only Black person on the flight (or at least the only one in camera view). And as the last one to board the plane, could he be any more stereotypical? Of course he could!

As this twenty-something listens to his blaring discman, reciting some bla-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat goes my gat lyrics with the matching beatdown hand gestures, the flight attendant taps him on the shoulder to ask him, Chicken or stroganoff? He leans over to the decidedly civilized White woman beside him, puts his nose in her chicken and says, Ooohh dat smell good. I'll have dat. Which is when the attendant tells him they are fresh out of chicken and Nashawn is left to eat the gurgling, marshlike Stroganoff concoction. After he devours it quicker than Little John could say, Yeah!, you can guess what happens.

Nashawn storms down the center aisle of the plane, like he stole something, and proceeds to have the most painful bowel movement in Hollywood history. Great, I thought, toilet humor. Then to top it all off - you guessed it - his ass gets stuck in the toilet.

To his credit, Dwayne Adway's physical humor is remarkable. Wildly flailing his arms, he starts beating on the door, sounding alarms, and in the mayhem, an attendant accidentally releases the door holding the cargo baggage. As he is stuck on the toilet, poor Nashawn witnesses his cute pet dog pulverized in the propeller blade.


Nashawn wins a 100 million dollar settlement and starts his own airline, NWA. Armed with his trusty sidekick cousin/hiring manager, Muggsy, played to hyperperfect buffoonery by Method Man, we have the perfect set-up for the first post-9/11 minstrel show.

But wait, no minstrel show would be complete without White people to experience it! (An aside: If I see one more comedian do a let's-see-how-red-faced-I-can-make-the-only-2-White-people-who-came-to-this-show routine, I'm cancelling my Black card.)

The Hunkee family's - yes, Hunkee - (Tom Arnold and company) flight on a major airline has been cancelled, but the agent finds them a flight that will get them back to New York on schedule... on NWA... at Terminal X.

Terminal X, it turns out, is Terminal Malcolm X (yes, it's that kinda movie), which looks a lot like the Five Points MARTA station, the Five Points Flea Market, and Run & Shoot rolled into one: there's the 99 cent store, the half-court basketball with the chain-link net, enough hoochies for a Luke video, etc.

The results of Muggsy's high-flying hiring include: ultraghetto security played by comedienne Mo'Nique (who gave an on-point performance), a chronically-chronicked pilot in Snoop Dog, a supersexual Latina flight attendant, and a gay flight-attendant named Flame (imagine Biggie Smalls with lip gloss). And I almost forgot, the plane itself was niggerized, too; it was chromed out, had hydraulics... and Spinners.

(Is it just me, or have Method Man and Redman just become a straight coon duo since delving into acting? From the Speed Stick commercial to the new film they're co-starring in, it's frankly embarrassing. I can't take these brothers seriously.)

Now don't get me wrong, I got more than a couple of laughs on this 100 minute flight into Nigger Heaven. There were a number of memorable moments: Economy class was more suitably called "Low Class." It came with poles for standing (like on the bus), 13" B&W TV's whose reception improved when the attendant placed aluminum foil on the rabbit ears, and wall-to-wall Colt 45 advertisments. Instead of individual meals, passengers passed around boxes of Popeye's chicken, One piece only! Don't be greedy! There was an on-board nightclub with a guest list, a Lil John & the Eastside Boys video shoot (I recognized 2 guys I used to play baseball with), and an on-board jacuzzi, complete with plenty more - you guessed it - video hoes.

And during Tom Arnold's adventure into the restroom, the attendant (D. L. Hughley), handed him a Caucasian adaptor, to make the toilet seat smaller for a Caucasian ass.

Plus, there was lots of raunchy, sexual humor. There was Mr. Coordinate (from Boomerang), playing a blind man, who got his rocks off ostensibly by fingering this old woman seated next to him on the plane, but who we found later was actually fingering a loaded baked potato left in her seat. Then there was the Latina flight attendant who, after Snoop the pilot had OD'ed, could not recall how to land the plane standing upright. Instead, she had to relive an experience screwing a pilot in the cockpit, assuming various sexual positions (spread eagle, doggy style, etc.) to help her remember which knobs the pilot pushed in landing the plane. There was also the nymphomaniac couple (featuring comedienne, Sommore), who after having sex in first class, in the lavatory, and in the cockpit, found themselves living out an asphyxiation fetish on the landing wheels for one last f*ck as they thought the plane was going to crash: We gonna go to heaven with one... last... good... nut. Nigga stay focused!, cried Sommore.

Sure many of these moments were funny, but the underlying conceit of let' see how awkward we can make these Hunkees feel on this flight wore off really quickly. Again, how many times will we sit through:

Dance, White people, dance. Ha.

Now, speak slang, White people, speak slang. Ha, ha.

Now, lust after Black bodies, White people, lust. Ha, ha... ha.

Did I enjoy myself? Well, I would have enjoyed myself more if I were high or drunk. Then, did I enjoy the movie? I'd have to say I'd have enjoyed it more on video. What troubles me is that this film, even though its a parody, loosely represents what someone thinks Black folks would do with/want in an airline.

Would I recommend it to you?


Well, let's just put it this way: If you think BET's programming caters to your Black entertainment needs, then Soul Plane will more than cater to your cinema needs. But in order to get the full Soul Plane experience, it'd probably be best to visit your local barbershop and get Ray-Ray to sell you the bootleg version for $5 - with Shaniqua's 3-ft high hair sitting directly in front of you, and all.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

On a Fieldtrip to the Jim Crow Museum, Kenya Learns (the Meaning of No)

Here is a gavel no Negro ever struck.
Here, a 1st base no Negro ever reached.
Here is a bus seat no Negro ever took
And here, a pulpit where no nigger ever preached.

Here is a ballot no Negro ever cast.
Here, a lunch counter where no Negro was ever fed.
Here, a frontdoor no Negro has ever crossed.
And here, burial soil that never touched the nigger dead.

Here is a payphone no Negro ever used.
Here, a diving board no Negro ever used.
Here, a Coca Cola machine no Negro ever used.
And here, the swearing Bible no Negro ever used.

Here is a water fountain to never wet a nigger’s lips.
Here, a toilet where no nigger ever shit.
Here, a textbook no nigger has ever read,
Full of a knowledge no nigger will ever get.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Temple of the Falling Star

Falling stars are most dazzling to watch.
Government’s steel eye is always watching.
I don’t believe in Time, so I don’t wear a watch.
Watch what time I get there.

I believe that God exists.
I believe that God does not.
I believe God is so vast, within Him, He both exists and does not.
God is a subset of Himself.

I believe that rules are made to be broken.
I can’t count how many rules have broken me.
A ruler could never measure how much.
I believe I am saying too much.

I believe the only good Nigger is a dead Nigger.
The only good cracker, a dead Cracker.
The only good Spic, a dead Spic.
The only good Chink, a dead Chink.

Kill these words. Kill them dead,
And bury them deep in the bowels of the Earth
Till they decompose, maggot, and rot
Into compost for a New World.

Once there was a New World of red men and women,
Peace pipes and black rivers of hair.
Their carcasses piled in the mountains of Georgia
As their last totem pole blazed and fell.
Who are these savages which butchered their children?
I believe in karma, America.

I believe tomorrow is a cure for today
Even if today is wasting away, T-cell by T-cell, 160 pounds devoured by a virus, an army of hundreds of thousands of millions of locusts blackening each drop of blood till fevers, night sweats, thrush, cancers and sores opening and whose body is this? and doors slamming and pneumonia recurring and phones disconnecting at 140 pounds and raw and vomiting and forsaken and broken and wheezing and diarrhea worsening till 120 pounds and falling and rib cage and mirrors don’t recognize and friends abandon, but God gave you feet, and feet are for standing, and standing is for something, something worth living, a life if

tomorrow is a cure
for today.

I believe in the silence between the prayers.
I believe in the Blackness between the stars.
I believe that I am remarkable.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be.

I believe the loveliest sunset I ever saw
Was on my very own front porch
After a hard day’s work.

Friday, May 28, 2004

T and U in '82

T: Oooooooh, I'ma tell!
U: Shut up. Naw you ain't.
T: Unh-hunh, I'm a tell Mama.
U: You ain't tellin coz you ain't seen nothin.
T: I ain't playin. I seent it all. Y'all was over in those bushes {points toward those bushes} and the bushes was movin and y'all was-
U: Okay! Okay! I'll buy you a bubble gum.
T: Nope.
U: I'll buy you some Pixie Stix.
T: Double nope. Unh-unh.
U: I'll buy you some gummy worms and a Hello Kitty ring pop.
T: {Considers. Eyes widen, then narrow.} You ain't got no money for no ring pop.
U: I will. And you won't hafta walk behind me on the way home from school.
T: ...
U: You can walk beside me.
T: {Cheesing.} Okay!

{They walk in silence for a couple of minutes}

T: I got one question.
U: Naw.
T: C'mon, just one question.
U: I said naw!
T: I'ma-
U: Dog, girl, what is it?
T: How come yo bref stank... {mashes her nose} like you been eatin fish?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Life After Idol

Considering the near nervous breakdown I had over missing a previous American Idol episode due to Comcast drama, I suppose this somehow obligates me to comment on last night's American Idol Season 3 finale.

Unless you've been, say, blindfolded and held captive by Americans beneath an Iraqi prison, you know that Fantasia Barrino is the latest American Idol. Fantasia edged Diana DeGarmo by just over 1.3 million votes (with over 50 million total votes cast.)

To tell you the truth, I didn't even watch the final night of competition on Tuesday. And I only half-watched the two-hour Grammy-like production last night. I'm glad Fantasia won, and she fully deserved to win. No doubt about it.

It's just that watching this season's original cast of 12 showcase their individual voices in a 10-or-so-minute Broadway-style medley reminded me just how mediocre Diana DeGarmo's talent really is. There were at least three singers on stage who could sing circles around Diana. And they did - a friendly reminder of what puts the American in American Idol.

The proof in the pudding is that, at 9:59 p.m. last night, there were three people in the cast with record deals already... and not one of them was Diana DeGarmo.

Good luck, Fantasia!


In other news, I got another rejection slip yesterday. (They're really rolling in now!) This one was from the Indiana Review. I entered their 2004 Indiana Review Poetry Prize contest (which had a $15 entry fee), which subscribed me to their publication for a year. The final judge this year was Cornelius Eady. I normally limit myself to one entry-fee contest per year. This year I've entered two. The other is the Slapering Hol Press Chapbook competition with a first prize of $1000. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Addae Moon's Notes from the Bottle Tree Review, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted my review of Addae Moon's southeastern premiere of Notes from the Bottle Tree.

For kicks, see what a "traditional" critic wrote from Creative Loafing.

Writing on the Pony Express

On Monday, I opened my P.O. Box to a mild surprise: a bill, a credit card offer, another bill, a Dish Network flyer, and an odd letter addressed to me written in... my own handwriting!

Whenever this happens, I start hearing Twilight Zone music. Will a devious mini-Ayo leap out of the box and attack me next? Will my evil castrated twin from a lost village in Yorubaland be awaiting me when I turn around? Did aliens abduct me and force my hand to do terrible things which God wouldn't even name?

When the world snaps back into focus and my heart drops back into my chest, I quickly realize that it's just an SASE. For the unitiated, this would be a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. Which is what you include whenever you're sending an unsolicited submission to a literary magazine. This is so that they can notify you of acceptance or rejection, four or five months after they've "carefully considered" your work.

Because of the weight of the envelope, I knew it was a rejection notice before I opened it. As I'd sent out seven batches of poems on February 16, I figured it was about time (3 months) that I hear back from some of those publications. When I opened the envelope, much to my surprise, it was not from any of those publications at all:

Unfortunately, we cannot publish your work at this time.

The Editors,
New American Writing

New American Writing? I just mailed my submission to them on May 6!

Now, when you consider that they are located in California and that it takes first-class mail an average of a minimum of 3 days to travel interstate in the continental U.S. and a minimum of 3 days to travel back and that there was a two-day weekend when they were likely not considering my material - well, you get the picture. Either they have the world's most efficient editorial staff, or there wasn't much considering done. Consider: cataloguing/indexing my submission, the voluminous backlog of submissions they must already have, and then actually reading and rejecting my four poems!

Really, I'm not upset with the rejection at all. This all goes with the territory. I've been rejected by some of the finest publications in America - just not so fast! Even the New Yorker humored me with a four-month deliberation period. Then, to add insult to injury, at 8.5" x 0.5", it was the slimmest rejection notice I've ever received. I can't even recycle the scrawny slip to write new poems!

In the meantime, I still have eleven batches of poems floating on eleven editors' desks and more writing to do, much more writing to do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Review of Addae Moon's Notes from the Bottle Tree

Last night I checked out the Atlanta premiere of Addae Moon's Notes from the Bottle Tree, part of Horizon Theatre's 6th Annual New South Play Festival.

Set in Atlanta's West End, it is a lyrical tale of an aspiring twenty-something photographer, Jules (Shontelle Thrash), preparing to mount a photography exhibition/art installation that could be her big breakthrough - both careerwise and emotionwise. Careerwise, as Jules struggles against a deadline to select final photographs for her installment, she also struggles to compose artist notes for the press release - notes to define/describe her southern Black art to the New York critical establishment. Emotionally, Jules struggles to come to bring into focus her relationships with the three enigmatic men in her life: her younger brother, Red (Johnell Easter), a shady ex-con, whom she has refused communication for 3 years; her boyfriend, Che (Neal Hazard), a rugged/romantic, struggling sculptor who has turned the corner on his own shady past, and her dead war veteran father from the Gullah region off the coast of Georgia, who exists spiritually in the form of the multimedia (slide, photography, bottle tree) art installation.

What is at stake is the father has left a house to his two surviving children: Jules, who wants to sell it and split the money, and Red, who wants to keep it for the sake of legacy. However, I must admit that I never fully invested in this as the dynamic string to tug me along as an audience member.

What does carry me is the graceful text, which effuses metaphor and symbolism (in a way reminiscent of Williams' Glass Menagerie) - the bottle tree; Jules' struggle in the darkness of her photography studio; the card/con game between Che and Jules; the crescent moon scar which the father, all of his brothers, and Red share. And even though the language frequently soars into the poetic, it stays pleasantly earthbound with casual vulgarities - a muthaf*cka here, a muthaf*cka there - weaving themes of rites of passage, superstition, betrayal, legacy, and sacrifice.

Easter delivers a convincingly duplicitous Red, and Hazard is adequate as Che. They shine in their game of Spades, where the stakes are the way of the straight-and-narrow versus the way of the streets. In contrast, there are moments when Thrash is awkward as Jules, when Moon's words seem uncomfortable in her mouth. I wished for stronger chemistry between her and Hazard and between her and Easter but this was likely hindered by Thrash's flatness with some of the lines. (I have seen Thrash shine in other roles, however, so this may be a reflection of her still feeling out the role.)

Although the dilemma of keeping or selling the father's house didn't grab me, what were largely fascinating were the tensions between Red - broke, corrupt, and freshly out of prison - and Che, broke, turning over a new leaf, and out of the drug game; the push and pull of them against each other; how they in their darkness and light, for better or for worse, loved and protected Jules.

With a running time of only 80-minutes, the one-act production moves fairly fluidly through its 10 or so scenes, each a lyrical snapshot in itself. Echoing the lush textual soundscape is the sound production - at once gritty and graceful: transitions between scenes taking place to the tune of bluesy hip-hop instrumentals; and a recurring looped soundtrack of chirping crickets as Jules works and develops her photographs in the stark urban studio apartment.

In the magical set design (which is at once train station, studio apartment, and her father's yard), the dominant figure is the bottle tree - a folk tradition carried by African slaves to the southern U.S. It consists of colorful bottles (often blue in the Gullah tradition) placed on the ends of the branches, which are believed to ward off evil spirits. Here as a dominant presence, the bottle tree is a constant reminder of the significance of the past within the Afrocentric cultural context of Notes.

Again, the selling/keeping of the house seems a weak driving plot, but Moon's pay-off is much greater than any linear resolution could have possibly produced. Instead of reaching a destination, the play comes together in a climactic moment of revelation and discovery.

In African traditions (as in other pagan societies), the spilling of blood is necessary for spiritual cleansing. After a gambling venture has gone awry, Red stumbles on-stage with a gunshot wound. The spillage of his blood conjures a surreal episode in which the art installation takes on life.

Jules is unable to process the pain of seeing her bleeding brother, which leaves her boyfriend Che to try to suppress the wound. When blood gets on her, Jules reacts in the only way she knows how - with her camera. Which is the same way she reacted as a teenager when their father attempted to enact a rites of passage on Red by carving a scar on his face. In the background, the slide projector flashes images of the father alternately captured in happiness and hysteria and handcuffs as they, in the present moment, relive the past. And serving its purpose of capturing the evil spirits, the bottle tree looms over all.

As past becomes present, death becomes life, and life becomes art. It is all a continuum. Red survives, but the spilling of his blood ultimately reveals and heals all.

Presented as part of Horizon Theatre's outreach to new audiences (read: twenty and thirty-something African Americans), it was interesting to see how the different ways in which the "traditional" audience and the "outreach" audience reacted differently to Notes... For example, a comical allusion to Celie and Nettie's infamous patty cake scene from The Color Purple, only struck a chord with a certain segment of the audience. Likewise, a more obscure deliberate mispronunciation of the Atlanta suburb East Point as East Purnt, flew completely over others' heads. These may have been trivial moments, but what of the larger issues of symbolism regarding blood sacrifice and the signficance of the bottle tree as a cultural symbol? This begs the question: Will the "traditional" critics have the full critical capacity to appreciate and analyze this work? Further, will they seek to expand their critical vocabularies to address this new Black theatre? And even further than that, is it their place to?

No one's newspaper is beating down my door to offer my Afrocentered analysis of Mamet or Kushner. Isn't it the duty of those in the light to spread it?

I'm not seeking to start a cultural revolution. But in the meantime, go see one that's already begun:

Addae Moon's Notes from the Bottle Tree plays Sundays thru Tuesdays, May 24 thru June 27, 8:00 p.m. at Horizon Theatre in Little Five Points, Atlanta.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The High Life, or Portrait of a Crooner in C.P. Time

He stormed down the sidewalk like one regular old
      Buffalo blizzard:
White scarf, matching mink coat, white hood
with a thousand fingers like greedy white tentacles clamoring for his face.
      Black shades.
Minty fresh, he crunchcrunchcrunched through a foot of ice in his white
patent leather boots.
The wind blew. The clouds came. All that jazz.
      He was late,
But you could never tell it.

When he finally got to the club, he dropped
his mink stole, his white three-quarter length coat
like the sun tossing aside clouds.
He was cuh-leeeeeen.
Cool as a polar ice cap. Igloo cool
even. Grabbed the mic. Made
them wait. Right
on time.

Falsetto rich as milk thickened
with powdered sugar.
I tell you, Daddy could blow.
He ended the show,
without even a bow. Gone like a mist
of ice. They searched high,
they searched low, they couldn't find
him. But if they did, he'd be riding

a white line.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A Few of My Favorite Things

A pivotal birthday is approaching for me on July 23. To whom it may concern, this list (in no particular order) should considerably cut down on your Q&Aing:

oreo cheesecake, white chocolate cheesecake, raspberry cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake, turtle cheesecake, sweet potato cheesecake, mocha cheesecake (or just the entire dessert display at Cafe Intermezzo), 91.9 FM Saturdays nights from 9 to 1, sangria, fried catfish wif lotsa hossauce, my mama hushpuppies (like hoecakes wif onions in em), thai cuisine (tamarinds on 14th is my favorite), individuality, the sunset as i take the backroads cruising to bobbi humphrey's "harlem river drive," muscadines, san francisco, jeffrey osbourne, shrimp (though i'm now allergic), fela kuti, dido, double-dutchers, fat albert, the soul clap, mahalia jackson, norah jones, six feet under, libraries, leading by example

songs in the key of life, swimming lessons, michael mcdonald, worn-in jeans, star blazers, d-influence, fuddruckers burgers, adinkra symbols, breakbeats, the police (with sting), red velvet cake, dominique wilkins, astrud gilberto, antonio carlos jobim, virginia rodrigues, "what you gonna do with my loving" by inner city, coconut oil, alek wek, a ferry ride, spanish classes, falcons tickets, uno's pizza, hgtv, wole soyinka's ake, jamiroquai, 60 minutes, the lord of the rings, cuba, coconut rice, obatala, a smile

alvin ailey's "cry" as performed by judith jamison, soul ii soul (i'd die to have a logoed t-shirt), brand new heavies (i'd die twice to have a logoed t-shirt), omar, scrabble, a fish fry, passion, maurice evans, tahitian treat, green lantern, nag champa, the new georgia flag, an ocean breeze, dreams, chaka khan, prince (pre-new power generation), frankie beverly & maze, peter jennings, ralph ellison, cheetarah, verve remixed, tearsa coates {do a google search; you'll find her}, s.o.s. band, sankofa, burnt orange, sage green

a clean bill of health, believing, a mortgage (instead of this godawful rent), accountability, m. night shyamalan's new film, apple jolly ranchers, a green light, "rainforest" by paul hardcastle, sade, new flip-flops (size 11), planet rock, style, miles on trumpet, gabriel garcia marquez, the summer of 86, a roller coaster ride, a better paying job!, yusef komunyakaa, lining out (hymns), brasil, a good dictionary (one suitable for a writer), a tribe called quest's first three albums (people's..., low end..., midnight...), my toes in the sand, learning, teaching, general tso's chicken, autumn, natural light, a sunroof!, frontpage, acting classes, mahogany wood, the buena vista social club, mighty casey's, good manners

ella fitzgerald, pineapple, "rise" by herb alpert, the spring of 90, "baby i'm scared of you" by womack & womack, zaxby's, "don't leave me this way" by thelma houston, frozen margaritas, fish tacos from tacquiera del sol, elaine from seinfeld, michael jackson's "off the wall" album, terri gross (fresh air), banana republic, donnie hathaway, amelie, a booking agent!, nina simone singing "four women", nina simone singing "sinnerman", nina simone, an acceptance letter from the new yorker (yeah right!), a job that utilizes my talents!, an acceptance letter from grad school, a publishing contract, the window seat

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Five People You Meet in Heaven :A Review & Half-a-Rant

I just finished reading Mitch Albom's latest feel-good installment, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Okay, okay, I know. Not cool. But I do this periodically as an exercise - this meaning, read pop New York Times Bestseller type "literature" in order to stay in touch with what the "public" is reading. (Are all of these added quotation marks making me sound like a snob?). This is important because, as a starving artist who one day wishes not to starve, I need to know what kind of material is putting food on writers' tables (and giving them tables to sit at and houses to put those tables in).

So as an exercise to stay in touch with what Everyman--Everyman, who in the book publishing industry actually would be more appropriately called Everywoman, since men don't read--is reading, I read the current 190+ page #3 entry on the NYT Hardback Fiction list because I couldn't justify the time commitment to the 400+ page #1 entry, The Davinci Code. (The only thing worse than an awful read is a long, awful read.) In my previous forays into the Top 10 list what I've learned mostly is that best-selling does not necessarily equate to best-written. Is The Five People You Meet..., a good book? Well, let's see. It was printed on good, sturdy paper; the typeface has good spacing;

I'll go ahead and spoil it for you because, if you're a person reading my blog -that is, a person with taste ;-) -you'll have no interest in reading this book.

In chapter one, the protagonist, Eddie, an octogenarian amusement park ride maintenance man experiences what has been the greatest fear of his life: that a park ride under his watch would have an accident. Via radio, he manages to save the Free Fall ride before it sends its four passengers plummeting 10 stories to their horrifying death. But as the park ride operator prepares to let the passengerless car down, the safety latch on the ride malfunctions as an unsuspecting young girl conveniently sprawled over the ride's guiding rail at its bottom (Think wide-eyed 1920's silent-film heroine in distress with the train fast-approaching. No, I'm not joking.) Eddie dives to save her just in the nick of time, but he is crushed by the fiberglass cart in the process.

So Eddie goes to Heaven where he meets five people, much in the manner of A Christmas Carol, who must teach him lessons about his life. Eddie, of very low self-esteem (because of his unfuliflled dream of being an engineer, because he wanted children and wound up childless, because his father emotionally abused him, etc., etc., etc.), had to discover that he did, in life, have purpose.

Let's all join hands.

The five people he met (I know you're dying to know): 1) a blue-skinned freak who worked in the amusement park, who died in an accident a young Eddie unknowingly caused when his ball bounced into the street ; 2) his captain in the army; 3) his father; 4) his wife; 5) a young girl he attempted to save when he was in the Army at war.

The lessons: 1) There are no random acts; we are all connected; 2) Sacrifice is part of life; 3) Forgive; 4) Love doesn't have to stop when life stops; 5) Eddie's job as a maintenace operator, over the course of his life, saved thousands of children's lives.

That's the entire novel.

That's it. Two hundred pages versus two paragraphs (okay, so it was four.)

Oh, and I forgot, the suspense element. The element that was supposed to pull me through this "novel": whether or not he saved the damsel, I mean girl, from getting crushed at the carnival. Let's see, I met the girl for one page (pg. 18); her only dialogue, "Mom. Mom. Mom"--Oh, I see, was supposed to feel sympathy because she was a child. (Really, I'm not this cynical in real life.)

Let's have a discussion about character.


Okay, now let's discuss the subplots.


How about the narrative arc?


This is the kind of material that the "public" is buying.

Before I totally write this book off, there is a two-minute discussion to be had about what Albom did with setting. The story takes place in Heaven, where the set changes according to the person Eddie is meeting. For instance, Eddie meets the carnival freak at the carnival, the captain on a battlefield, his wife in a house of doors where each room housed a wedding from a different world culture. Thus, we each have personalized life lessons to learn in a personalized setting and consequently, have personalized Heavens: loosely akin to Total Recall.

To be completely fair, it wasn't an awful read. It's just that if you have A Christmas Carol as a reference point, most of Albom's devices seem awkward and underdeveloped. And if you have any depth of a spiritual foundation, the spiritual lessons in this book will leave you empty. But if you enjoyed Celestine Prophecy, then go buy 50 copies of The Five People You Meet in Heaven for your friends!

What lesson awaited me in this 190 page "heaven"? Regarding cliches: If it ain't broke, don't fix it?

Which brings me to a conversation I had yesterday with a co-worker K______, who just finished Angels & Demons and, prior to that, The Davinci Code (both of which also happen to be currently on NYT's Top 10 list.

Top 10 material is typically written at a 6th or 7th grade level. Yet, when we're actually in the 6th or 7th grade, we're reading works like A Tale of Two Cities and Romeo and Juliet. Which were written by full-grown adults to be comprehended by full-grown adults. Yet, when we become adults, the material we (the general public as a whole) choose to read is that written on the level of a middle-schooler. What's wrong with this picture?

I'm not promoting dumbing down our public schools any more than they are, but I'm saying that there's something wrong with the state of literature when the older you get, the less challenging your reading.

But in all honesty, its not about the grade of the reading level, any writer who has sold a 500,000 copies of anything knows it's really about content. And in this regard, Albom hit a homerun. A homerun named God! Of the books in the Top 5 this week, three of them DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons, The Five People You Meet... deal with God. If you venture into the Nonfiction list, it becomes God and diets.

Maybe that'll be my key to becoming an un-starving artist. Keep your eye out for my first book, When Jesus Comes Home to America, He Gets Too Fat for His Robe.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Beginning of a Story Yet Untold

The Turnipseed family came to Lovejoy, Georgia, two hundred and eighty-one years ago. Which makes us older than the country itself. Adewole begat Elijah who begat John who begat Paul who begat John who begat Moses who begat Ezekiel who begat David who begat me.

I am Mary. Mary Alice Turnipseed. Many things were passed down to me--a stubborn thatched roof of hair; an even more stubborn jaw; a pair of eyes placed a little low, like God’s hand slipped when he was making me; but the most notable thing passed down to me was my name.

For the Turnipseed men, this name meant that they were nearly impossible to marry. Each generation was an extinction level event because no woman in Lovejoy could find love or joy in taking on the Turnipseed name. And so all the men became the most flattering, most loving, most perfect gentlemen to compensate; and virtually all found themselves well beyond marrying years with no mate; all became poster children in unrequited love. And over the centuries, it became a ritual for all Turnipseed men, just about the age of 20, to load a burlap sack, containing a pair of overalls and one good suit, and ride a dusty wagon all the way to Atlanta to find a woman willing to overlook his tragic flaw.

And in the tradition of every Turnipseed woman, from Omitola to Ruth to Mary to Naomi to Sheba to Clara to Lucy to me, at the first opportunity, I found a man to marry to get rid of my name. Which is how I married the man whose trembling hand first taught me shame.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Making $en$e without Dollar$

If I told you how much money I make, you'd start me a UNICEF fund.

I haven't gotten a raise in four years. When I tell my friends this, I'm embarrassed. It reveals obvious flaws in the areas of assertiveness, initiative, get-up-and-go--basically a lack of balls.

But honestly it's not for lack of effort, I had my first annual review in four years last month. And what praises my manager offered! They read like fortune cookies:

You have an excellent work ethic.
You possess good leadership qualities.
Realize the influence you have over others; take more of a leadership role.

But you think she offered me a leadership position? Some leadership funds?

Four years, I tell you. I don't have to tell you about the increase in gas prices. (Did I mention that it took me a half-hour to travel 1/10 of a mile in my return commute yesterday?) I probably shouldn't have to tell you about the increase in my rent. Of course, there's the 45% increase in City of Atlanta residents' water bills. You get the picture.

I don't mean to vilify my manager. She's just mouthing the words of her manager, who mouths the words of his manager, who mouths the words of his manager, etc. It's all very demoralizing. What it all boils down to is this: If I want a pay increase, I have to increase myself.

In other financial news, I happened to check my checking account balance on-line. It's NEGATIVE! I haven't bounced a check in years! And there are 11 days left before I get paid again.

So, I went through the previous transactions and it appears that a merchant where I did some outlet-mall shopping this past weekend double-billed me for my purchase!

I called my bank, who referred me to a 1-800 number, who informed me of the procedure for filing a check-card dispute, and they said it takes 10 BUSINESS DAYS TO PROCESS!!! This would leave me with no money for 10 f*cking days!

So I backtracked to call the merchant and it turns out that they are "aware of the problem"; it was "company-wide and everyone who made a credit/debit-card purchase on Sunday was double-billed." Is that supposed to make me feel better? What the hell!

They said they are processing all of the refunds/credits and should have it corrected in 3-5 business days. 3-5 business days! How about I just come back and return everything I bought. How about that? If I could have afforded twice-as-much sh*t, I would have bought twice-as-much sh*t. Aaaargh!!!!

And just when I was complaining about my lack of funds! Is this the stuff of which great poetry is made? This is the pits. I've gotta find another gig. Anybody hiring?

I'm not going to let this ruin my day. What it does is reinforce the notion of self-determination. I am a writer. I live to write. And until I fully embrace and actualize this idea, I will continue to be poor--financially poor and emotionally poor.

The next major project on the horizon is applying to grad school. I've been putting off composing my statement of purpose for like three months. I've stopped and started and started and stopped. Tonight, I will complete and first draft, for better or for worse. I've just got to get on with this thing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


So I listened to the new Wyclef song, If I Was President. If you ain't heard it, you gotta peep it. Wyclef is a genius--truly an artist after my own heart. In the blingfilled climate of today's music industry and in the face of this 1st Amendment-less administration, he records a political anti-anthem which is not only blingless, but also misogyny-less, Cristal-less, 45-less, blunt-less, and less every other awful stereotype which has come to define "hip hop" music. He creates controversy not by illuminating big asses, but by illuminating big issues:

If I was President,
I'd get elected on Friday
Assassinated on Saturday
Buried on Sunday
Go back to work on Monday
If I was President

I gotta admit, I slept on Clef when the Fugees came out. (Hold your stones, hold your stones.) But the brotha is a leader. Go on, brotha. Go on.

Speaking of the Fugees...

Laaaaaaaaauryn! Oh, Laaaaaaaauryn, where are you? Is anybody home?

Come on now, I know we all got problems, but this is getting ridiculous. That MTV Unplugged project was atrocious. You sounded like destruction--self-destruction. You played three chords for 30 songs with no accompaniment. Lyrically, it may have been on point, but you would never know from the sound of the tires screeching.

I'm saying this as your number one fan. I don't know who or what's got a hold on you, but it ain't Jesus. Jesus wouldn't do that to you. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? I'm saying this because I'm on your side. You're one of the most beautiful women in the world, a talent beyond time. And what you're confusing as "all natural" is much worse than any perm. You are brain washed. Seriously, I understand none of us is perfect, but you gotta represent for your Creator; you gotta be accountable for your talent. "Zion," "X-Factor"--you gotta bless the world with the blessing He gave you. Bump all of your baggage. No one doubts your skills. Collaboration is not evil. You have nothing to prove! If you ever read this (yeah right), know that there's a brotha here who can't wait for you to come back. I'm holding my breath.

I'm blue.


A co-worker just told me (oops, now you know I'm writing this at work)--a co-worker just told me that today I look like I should be in a Puffy video. I looked at my short-sleeved silk/acrylic ivory top, my eggshell not-quite-linen pants.

Then my eyebrows switched places.

"A Puffy video?"

"Yeah, you look like you belong in a Puffy video. I mean it as a compliment."

But she could tell that's not how I took it.

"What's wrong?" she asked as I checked my pants.

"Well, I was just checking to see if there were sparkles falling from my pockets."

Seriously, Puffy? I will admit. There were times in my past, when I wore my hair a certain length, and when I wore certain shades, that people would say: Do you know who you look like? And the name Puff Daddy would make its way into the conversation. But this had to do with my complexion and facial features--not my wardrobe.

So, it caught me a little off-guard when she told me that I was dressed like him. Even worse, not at a nightclub but at work. I have a corporate job!

Have you ever seen Puffy's music videos? I bet he used to secretly watch Jem & the Holograms as a child.


(In his defense, I must say that I'm proud of Puffy's entreprenuership. In fact, I patronized his restaurant for Mother's Day brunch. My Moms really enjoyed it--a Black-run establishment with some class. One of the things which make living in Atlanta such a wonderful experience.)


This past Sunday, after brunch at Thumbs Up with C______, we went on a walk around the corner to Martin Luther King's burial site, which was not such a great experience. On our stroll, we came across a house for sale. If you ever visited Atlanta and the King Center pre-Olympics, you know the Sweet Auburn corridor was a dump. Well, it ain't now. I tell you, this is the neighborhood where I wanna live. But Lord knows I can't afford it. I can't even spare a G to spell gentrification.

Anyway, we came to the Reflecting Pool--serene and blue as sky--when we noticed a crowd of children gathered in a circle. As we drew closer, we noticed they were dropping leaves and sticks in a hole. A hole that was the Eternal Flame!

My heart started to race. Where were the parents who were allowing their children to throw trash into the Eternal Flame at the King Historic site? Then, it seemed that they were trying to resurrect the fire--that the flame was out! Where was CNN? Where was Oprah! As we came up behind them, we saw wave patterns in the air above the opening. So, there was heat. And then the children began to disperse. But it was still alarming. How weak it was--that flame.

Which brings me to the King Center. For those of you not from here, let me fill you in on the drama. The grounds are a dump. It's embarrassing. People come from as far away as India and Japan to experience King's dream in real life. It's straight up nightmarish. Corretta and company have fought tooth and nail against the Federal government and other organizations coming in to run the center.

Hello, Coretta! It is not a crime for you to get the hell out of the way so that someone who has the means to bring the King Center to its full glory can bring the King Center to its full glory. You've had 35 years--THIRTY FIVE YEARS! Clearly, you ain't doing it. There's no excuse for that wretched bookstore, the rust, the rickety railing around the Eternal flame. Look across the street. The National Parks site has a state of the art Civil Rights museum, a garden of painted murals and rosebushes--something worthy of the great man your husband was. As a resident, I feel ashamed showing the grounds to out-of-town guests. Thirty-five years, Coretta. Thirty-five.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


It's official. I'm an American Idol junkie.

When my world didn't end last week as Latoya London got voted off, I thought I had it under control. But then, I rush home from the gym tonight, turn to FOX... and there's a blue screen!

It's 7:53. My first reaction is panic. Anything but no cable!

I began frantically switching channels: 05, 27, 53, 59... all blue! Then (as I have worked on a satellite help desk for nearly five years) I do my superduperdeluxe two-minute troubleshooting drill. I pull out the TV and VCR to tripledoublecheck the cabling (as if it had moved by itself), I quadraplecheck the settings on the TV and VCR, the wall jack, the surge protector, play tapes in the VCR--all to no avail. It's 7:58, and Fantasia's surely boboing backstage!

Did I pay the bill? Yes. What the hell else could be wrong. So, I call my friendly neighborhood 1-800-COMCAST and the delightful representative takes my name, my address, my phone number and reports, We regret to inform you that your area is experiencing an outage. As of this time, there is no ETA for when it will be repaired.

I could have killed him. Believe me, I did try to reach out and touch him through the phone, but got stopped mid-birdfinger. I paced and paced. I pulled out the dusty, spare 13" black and white my father had given me for my freshman year in college, even. It wouldn't work. I didn't have any rabbit ears. I started shaking. My breathing hastened. The walls started speaking to me, Surely this is some conspiracy to stop you from voting for Fantasia Barrino.... and I was answering back! I called Comcast three times in the next half hour for an ETA. I had to light some incense to calm myself down.

TMI: I called a friend, who incidentally does not have cable, to leave his phone next to his functioning cable-free TV for the remainder of the show, just so that I could hear Fantasia sing.

Yes, this is the life of a wise wordsmith. Not practicing some Zen meditation, nor nodding to some Fela Kuti cut, nor unlocking some C.K. Williams lines, but rushing home from the gym--Crunch Fitness, no less--addicted to Idol. And my cable still isn't on!

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Drawing Board

I was so proud of myself. I thought that I'd created a snazzy blog entry--a little personality, a little ranting, a little zing. And then, poof! There it went. Off into the Nethernet.

This was a lesson I learned in 1982 on the Apple IIC. Save! Save! Save! Now, I don't have the heart to repeat the entry. It's probably for the best. I confessed my true feelings about Lauryn Hill, and I clowned Coretta Scott King.

It was probably God trying to tell me something. I'll try this again tomorrow.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Abundance of Triflingness

When I'm considering carving the mold out of the bread to have a meal, it's time to go grocery shopping. I've been putting it off for the last week. Not for lack of money, but for abundance of triflingness.

It's so not glamorous, so not sexy, so not exciting; it's so not what you want to come reading about in a poet's blog. So here I go, beginning what I most feared. Letting you see how ordinary I really am. It was pretty uneventful, except that as I helped the cashier bag my groceries, I noticed that the person ahead of me had left a plastic-bagged banana bunch, which he'd paid for. I considered taking it, but thought against it as it violates the laws of every major and minor religion--even agnostic L_____'s, who would likely sick the Karma Fairy on me.

Once L_____ and I were having a conversation about odd jobs we'd previously held. She'd once worked at a coop coffee shop--

In the other room, Helter Skelter, the made-for-TV Charles Manson flick, is blaring. For some reason, I can't cut it off. Within the first two minutes, Charlie had already whacked off an ear with a machete. I tried to turn it off. Then, there was an orgy. Then, I tried to turn it off again and they'd slaughtered a houseful of people. I haven't watched a made-for-TV movie in like 10 years, but I can't cut this one off! How can I be a cool poet if I watch made-for-TV movies! And on CBS, even! So, to save my credibility, I had to leave the room and do something I could call artsy, like write in this blog.

So, L____ worked at this coffeeshop, which was a coop, which she thought was really cool and conscious and environmentally friendly blahblahblah when she began, but, once behind the scenes, she saw how badly they were gouging customers. After about 2 or 3 weeks, she'd had it, and non-acknowledger-of-God that she is, decided that this coffeshop needed to get what it was coming to it.

So one day, she went into the bathroom, loosened a few bolts, turned a few knobs, and sabotaged the toilet! She figured that the money they'd spend in calling in a plumber to fix the toilet would at least start to make up for how badly they were getting over on their customers. And to make herself feel
better, she attributed this to the Karma Fairy. She said if she didn't do it, something would happen to them eventually; she was just speeding along the process.

"So," I asked L____, who, again professes to be agnostic, "is this Karma Fairy--who avenges the mistreated, who judges, and makes all right in the world--is this fairy at all related to... God?"

"...," she said.


So they've finally stopped killing people on the CBS movie. Even though they said parental advisory, I think CBS is gonna get in trouble for this one. Eight o'clock on Sunday night? I mean, if we can't even buy liquor here (Georgia) on Sundays, how can we watch a pile of nude writhing LSD-induced bodies? How irresponsible! We'll never be able to control ourselves.

My bedtime these days is pretty early. So I need to wind down. A lot's happened this weekend--a friend got her law degree, I shaved all of my hair off, I had a performance at the DeFoor's Centre (with a companion write up in Creative Loafing, I met with C____ to give her my feedback on her new novel, I helped A______ pick out some accessories for his new house, I blogged twice, and I went grocery shopping! Lots of change in the air.


I promise these are going to get better. I promise.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A Grand Opening

There's no time like the first time. So, here goes.

That goes for sex, for space travel, for sushi. I know I'm making way too much of this. I debated for months and months about whether I should have a blog, then if I would have a blog. Then, the question: If I have one, will I let anybody know? Then the pressure of: If I have one, how do I open it?

The opening Battle Royal scene in Ellison's Invisible Man could be a start: a dozen shirtless blindfolded black men beating each others' brains out in a boxing ring with a dancing sideshow of nude White women--very American!; or perhaps like Morrison's Paradise, with a dozen dead bodies piled in an apocalyptic Oklahoma. But I'm always so serious. I should be hilarious! Maybe I'll open like Garcia-Marquez in Chronicle of a Death Foretold , dreaming of a gentle drizzle of rainfall only to awaken under a tree with my face covered in birdshit.

But once I craft this blockbuster opening, then will come the pressure of maintaining it. Will I be able to keep the public interested? Will I fall squarely on my face? Or will they all discover (underneath the stereotypical mystical poetic exterior) how dry and excruciatingly ordinary I really am?

So much pressure!

Or I could just be me.

I could just write. Which is what writers do. Which is what I've been promising myself I would do daily for like the last five years. Which I haven't.

So, here's my place to write. That's it. No pressure. No public. No image to uphold. Just a place to write. Once I furnish this place and get comfortable, maybe I'll invite you in. Until then, if you knock, the lights will be out; and I'll pretend no one's home.