Monday, September 27, 2004

Nihongo: a Report from Japanfest

I MUST ADMIT THAT before I came across the listing in the Week at a Glance section of this week's Creative Loafing, I had no idea Atlanta's Japanfest even existed.

As Atlanta has become more colorful in its growth over the last few decades, many of the newer hues have begun staging annual festivals proudly pronouncing their presence in the city: the dragoned Chinese New Years Festival in February, the irie Caribbean Festival in May, the saucy Latin American Festival in September. But a Japanese festival?

According to the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Atlanta barely had enough Japanese residents to have a sushi sampling, much less to stage a two-day festival. I figured there'd be a karate demonstration, maybe a viewing of an anime flick. Then, I visited the websiste and browsed the schedule of events. Boy was I wrong.

Taiko drumming, Japanese archery, a Bonsai exhibit, Sumo wrestling, Zen meditation, lantern-making, Judo, Samurai swordsmanship, Okinawan dance, a contemporary Japanese pop singer, a mini operetta, a tea ceremony, and on and on. Now I was really intrigued.

You can see Atlanta's Chinese-American presence in red Mandarin signs along Buford Hwy, smell the Carribean presence wafting like ganja through Memorial Drive and the West End, hear the r-rolling Latino presence... well, everywhere. Yet, the Chinese-, Carribean-, and Latin-American festivals approached nothing of Japanfest's scope as far as cultural offerings went.

If there are barely 4000 Japanese nationals in Atlanta, then how and why in the world should there be such an elaborate festival? And who was attending? And more importantly, where was all of the talent coming from? If they were all flying in from Tokyo, how could the ticket price be only five dollars? It didn't add up.

So, on Saturday morning, I set out to visit Stone Mountain Park for the 7th annual Japanfest to get to the bottom of it for myself.


"Can't they take some of those flags down?" _a__i_ asked as we passed yet another Rebel flag, approaching the Stone Mountain gate.

"As soon as they take those three Confederate generals off the side of the mountain," I said.

Prior to this point, I had not considered the Confederate symbolism of Stone Mountain and how it related to this festival. And I didn't really want to think about it either. But Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson's giant faces stonily staring out 400 ft. above us like gods made it awfully hard to forget.

Japan, I chanted to myself, Japan.


Inside the festival, in a semicircle to the left, forty or fifty food vendors posted colorful sans-serif signs advertising COTTON CANDY or FUNNEL CAKES or LEMONADE or HOT DOGS or BEER; and a crowd of easily 5,000 people milled about - elderly and children; middle-aged and adolescents; Whites, Latinos, Asians, Blacks. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought I wandered onto the set of a poorly-plotted B-movie: We are the World Meets Burn on the Cross. I double-checked my program to make sure I was at the right event.

To my relief, directly ahead and off to the right, were a dozen or so tents and stages, where I assumed we would find something Japanese about Japanfest.

An elderly Japanese man with brown, smiling eyes enthralled a crowd with graceful sleights of hand: fashioning an intricate dragon out of a golfball of wax, slicing a thick stack of paper cleanly into fluttering squares with a paper knife, balancing a spinning top on the tip of his samurai sword. We oohed; we ahhed; we were in his palm. He was a master showman.

He closed his set with what looked like a Japanese version of Ring-Around-the-Rosey. Summoning four, five, six eager children from the audience of various ethnicities, he handed each a flag of a different nation. And without words, he urged them into a circle, parading round and round him until there were ten. Then, he did something I find hard to explain.

In the center of the circle, on a post next to him hung what seemed a simple lantern. Dangling from it, a long string. The showman took the top he'd used in a previous trick and somehow spun it up... up... up the string and into the lantern, where it popped!

Then, the lantern bloomed - or rather unfolded in various stages like a fireworks display in paper and wood - until a colorful banner billowed out that read, Peace on Earth. Then, he had us all repeat after him, Peace on Earth, Peace on Earth... But I wondered if he, too, could feel Stonewall Jackson's eyes.

I must say that I wasn't feeling very peaceful.


Next, we checked out Sumo wrestling! I was pretty excited. I'd never seen a real live Sumo wrestler before.

And I still haven't. When we got to that stage, there stood a very un-Japanese-looking man named Packy, wearing a silk robe that kept flapping in the breeze. It made me nervous.

"You see this here? This is called a mawashi," he said as he held the loin cloth up for all to see. "This is what traditional Sumo wrestlers wear. And this is what I have on under this robe."

Oh god, I thought. I was glad I hadn't eaten lunch yet.

"I asked and I asked and I asked," he continued, "but I couldn't get any of my friends to agree to stand on stage and wrestle me in one of these. But my friend John, here, came through. Everybody give John a hand."

Double oh god, I thought. There was a half-splattering of whistles and applause.

"I'm gonna count to three. One..."






They both dropped their robes, and I was blinded by avalanches of white a$$!


A whistle.

A couple of claps.

It didn't help that where we were seated, we had to stare at their backs. I couldn't watch.

Packy then rambled for what felt like an hour, but was probably 10 minutes. It turned out he was president of the Georgia Sumo Association and that his wife was in the audience. Aside from that, I can't really tell you what he was saying. What I do know is what he didn't say: That is, why we couldn't see a real Japanese Sumo wrestler.

I started looking at trees, the sky; tapped my foot. If I couldn't see Sumo, I at least wanted to see some wrasslin!

When Packy, the nearly-nude, very full-grown adult, summoned all of the little children in the audience to come closer to him for warm-up exercises, I decided I'd had enough.

" _a__i_," I said. "Uh.... let's go check out something else.


That something else wound up being kyudo, or Japanese archery, which we watched for about 15 minutes and witnessed all of two actual shots.

I didn't realize how long it took an archer to aim and pull. Actually, it gave me a new appreciation for the sport. But something about the Caucasian commentator, telling us the history of kyudo as the Japanese archer mutely performed, reminded me of Western colonialism.

Colonialism \co*lo"ni*al*ism\, n.: a system in which a nation claims sovereignty over territory and people outside its own boundaries, often to facilitate economic domination over their resources, labor, and often markets. The term also refers to a set of beliefs used to legitimize or promote this system, especially the belief that the values of the colonizer are superior to those of the colonized.

But that could just be the air around Stone Mountain.


We wandered past a Japanese-free martial arts demonstration en route to our final stop, Matsuri-za, a 4-member troupe of Taiko drummers, who actually were from Japan, who actually were something to write home about. Showcasing what is a 2000 year-old tradition in the Land of the Rising Sun, choreographed and charismatic, they moved through an engaging half-hour set - pounding the upright drums, beating the flat drums, tapping the sides; moving their bodies in ways to amplify the percussion. From the warlike to the jazzy to the celebratory, as much as it was music, it was dance. And along the way, they even taught us to speak some Japanese: I learned how to count.


I left Japanfest feeling uneasy, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Except that on the way out, Stone Mountain's Rebel flags seemed even more noticeable than they had been coming in.

But at least now, I could count them in Japanese!

Ich.. nee... sun...

Saturday, September 25, 2004

MFA Application Update (3 of 4)

A form letter from Warren Wilson College:

Dear Mr. Heath,

On behalf of the MFA Academic Board I thank you for your interest in our Program for Writers, but am sorry to say that we are not able to invite you to begin the program next semester. In recent years our pool of applicants has grown considerably, and while that is gratifying, it means we are accepting a progressively smaller percentage of the writers interested in joining us.

While I know this isn't the decision you were hoping for, I hope it won't interrupt the ongoing development of your craft. I thank you again for your interest in this program and wish you the best in your writing.


__t_r T__ch_
Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers

Thursday, September 23, 2004

An Everyday God


It has been said that God rides the #98
daily, in a knit pumpkin shawl (when the weather
is cool) from Her job at The Beautiful, where for the past
thirty-one years She's served Atlanta's finest fried
okra, red velvet cake, & the best sweet potato soufflé
ever put on a plate

that every Wednesday She creates
buttery peach pastries for the driver to hand
out on his route as each rider gets off & that once
upon a time (with just the smile
of Her eyes) She saved
a crazed vanishing girl, screaming above the rush
hour cars, from leaping off
the Lee Street Bridge.


It has also been said that God works the door
on Flyy Fridays at the Yin Yang Café & His Afro
is perfect (though we’ve never seen Him pick it),
dancing the boogie in His gold & green dashiki
when the DJ plays “As” by Stevie Wonder, “Shining Star”
by Earth, Wind & Fire (or any cut by Chic)

that He performs impossible miracles like Love
& Friendship, Truth & Forgiving, everyday
with a wife & daughter (without mountains
crumbling or a sea parting.)


But it has also been said that God lives
at the 3rd St. Temple of the Sanctified Holy Faith

But between the Mothers in their new hats
trying to outshout each other; & the whispers
about the new fur Pastor's wife is wearing; & the "secret"
thing between the first tenor and the choir
director - (between all of this)
I had the hardest time finding God


Friday, September 10, 2004

Ayo Does the Republican National Convention (Part 2 of 2)


WHEN I STEPPED OUT ON stage, it took some time for my eyes to adjust to the lights. Stars.

Then, waves of white-haired White people in twinkling gowns and midnight suits. The drum of my heart was so loud that even the back row could hear it. I froze.

Barefoot, barechested, alone, I stood in fading denim overalls in August-hot spotlight. The stage set, a creaking 1930's Alabama front porch. Weathered white. No mic. I dared not even move for fear the set's splintered planks penetrate my foot - cause me to limp, to bleed.

My eyes wide, I scanned the stage for any comfort - the fat, striped green fruit, the sizzle of pork. If Baba could see me, he would be so ashamed.

Suddenly, I longed to be in blackface, where at least I could be anonymous. What had I gotten myself-

"If you will look to your left you'll see a spectacular view of Manhattan," the pilot interrupted over the intercom system.

Yawning, I scanned the skyline for the Empire State Building. Then, the Chrysler Building. Then, south should be the Twin...

My eyes kept searching for something familiar, but this was all uncharted territory for me - a "South" party in the North, the Republican National Convention, New York post-9/11. As the plane descended into Queens toward Laguardia, I spotted two arenas. One is Shea Stadium, home of the Mets, one of my favorite childhood teams, I thought. But the other stadium is...?


I stood at the Baggage Claim, as my itinerary instructed and waited for my driver - 5... 10... 15 minutes. Maybe they thought I wasn't coming. But that thought should have vanished at the Hartsfield Delta check-in counter. Maybe they didn't like my negotiation tactics. Were they trying to teach me a lesson? How dare they leave me stranded at Laguardia!

My heart rose and fell as one dark-haired driver approached after another, all bearing chest-level signs - ANDERSON, WANG, SUAREZ, BROWN. Anything, it seemed, but HEATH. I wandered outside. Perhaps he's waiting at the curb. But what if he comes to the Baggage claim while I'm standing outside?

I grabbed a bench, fumbled through my bag, pulled the 800 number for the transportation service, and called. I told the operator where I was standing. And as if by conjure, a black-haired driver bearing the name, HEATH, appeared within seconds.

"How long have you been here?" he asked frantically, thickly eastern European.

"About 15 minutes."

"I've been waiting here the whole time." He grabbed my bag. "I didn't see you."

Am I invisible? I thought. But my mouth said, "No problem."

We hustled to the black Lincoln, he tossed my bag in the trunk, and we were off.

After checking in with his office, he asked, "You here for business or pleasure?"

"Uh, business," I said, secretly praying that he didn't ask what type. This was the first time since my in-flight dream that I'd thought about my actual performance. To avoid the discussion, I turned the table.

"So, where are you from?"

We small-talked through the Midtown tunnel. I learned he was from Turkey, had a degree in mechanical engineering, was only struggling in America - more precisely, Long Island - long enough to save to return to Ankara for a life of luxury. He had never been to the South, but he would "definitely be going to Florida."

"When I was flying in," I said, filling a lull in the conversation. "I saw two stadiums. One was Shea... and the other was?"

"Shea...," he seemed to be searching. "Ah, yes, yes. Ashe - The other is Arthur Ashe Stadium. The U.S. Open. It's easy to forget that the tennis is going on with all this fuss about the Republican convention."

Fuss? I didn't think it was possible to cause a "fuss" in New York, aside from 9/11.

"How has it been... with the convention?"

"Big headache! Today, you can go thataway but you can't go thisaway. Tomorrow, you can go thisaway but can't go thataway. All the streets blocked off, thousands and thousands of police.

"And who you think pay for the police? Not Bush, no. Not the Republican party neither." For empahsis, he pointed, then touched his chest. "You and me."

"I never see so many police in my whole life. Who knows where they all came from? On this corner, on that corner. Big, huge headache. I'll be glad when it all just go away."

"So, have you had to drive anyone with the convention?"

"No!" he snapped. I touched my head to make sure it was still intact. It was as if I had asked if he were a terrorist.

After exiting the Midtown tunnel, shrinking among Manhattan's highrises, we navigated what must have been a half-dozen roadblocks. Storefronts were dark. Streets were dead.

What city was this again? It felt like a foreign occupation.

"Here you are," he said, braking abruptly before my hotel. He handed me my bag. I tipped him. But before I could say, Thank you, he was off.


"Mr. Heath, I have good news," the much-too-chipper-for-11:00 p.m.-on-a-weeknight hotel attendant said. "And I have better news."


"The good news is, we've sold out of the room for which you have a reservation...

"And the better news is that you're on the 18th floor!"

At this point, I suppose I should've been saying, Yippee!, or something comparable; but as he handed me my room key, I had no idea what he meant. That was, until I entered the elevator. The only floor above 18 was PH. It took a moment for it to register that that meant Penthouse.

The elevator opened, I navigated a couple of hallways, and I opened my door. It would be the first of many surprises.

A sprawling three-course dessert of mahogany, taupe, and cream - a dining area, a sitting area, a daybed in the wall, a vanilla satin-sheeted platform bed, an ample wardrobe and closet, a glittering view of midtown, Sony electronics, a stand-up shower, a vintage claw-footed bathtub. And on Madison Avenue?

Now this was New York!

Suddenly, I wanted to get lost in the town. But tomorrow would be a big day. After being up for 18 hours - trains, planes, and automobiles; a full day of corporate work - what I needed was a long, hot shower. And some sleep.

Either __t from Turner lied to me, or maybe she really didn't know herself, but it was now clear: Tomorrow's 'South Party' was unequivocally related to the Republican National convention. For a 2-night stay, this room alone cost more than I had asked for a performance fee. And if these were my accomodations for a 3-minute performance at a "side event," I could not even begin to imagine how much money was floating around elsewhere. But I didn't know the half. This was just the beginning.

So I stood beneath the showerhead, closed my eyes. I let the hot water run. Niggers. Rivers. Bombs. Blues. Sugar. Shackles. Sun. Shades. Limousines. Ankara. Scarlet. Cotton. Gin. Ashes. Towers. Temples. T___sa.

T___sa, from Philly, who has always been there for me, was driving up to meet me at this My South party. As stingy as Turner had been with supplying me with information, something was telling me that this party might be a closed event. It did seem strange that they hadn't yet told me if I could invite guests. If I could, I would imagine that T___sa would need some sort of ticket. And with all of the roadblocks, would I even be able to get the ticket to her?

So, I scrubbed my skin as midnight approached.

(I half-wondered if I were trying to remove the brown.)

But I needed to enter tomorrow clean.


"ANOTHER DAY in the city," the dirty blonde sighed as he settled in the elevator with his video camera.

"Where you from?" I asked.

"D.C. You?"

"Atlanta. Here for the convention?"

He rolled his gray eyes, then patted his camera. "Yeah, for the convention. But what can I say? At least I'm getting paid for it. You? You here for the convention?"

"Yeah, sort of. I'm performing at a side event this afternoon."

"Oh." He raised his brow. "You a singer?"

"Naw. A spoken word artist."

Then, he said it. "Are you... Republican?"

"Nope. But I'm being paid to be one today!"


To kill a couple of hours before my noon meeting back at the hotel, I took a morning stroll down Madison Avenue from the 30's to the 20's. The city still felt dead. Cloudless sky. Lots of cops.

I returned to the lobby to meet the four other spoken word artists Turner had flown in and to also have my first face-to-face with the folks from Turner, who I'd only corresponded with via e-mail and phone - most notably, __t, who tried to dupe me into coming to this Grand Ol Party for free.

But that, apparently, would have to wait.

"Hi, I'm S_r_h," said some red-headed woman as she rushed from the elevator. "Are y'all performing at the My South event this afternoon?"

Four of us acknowledged her, then made our introductions.

S_r_h was a vertically-challenged twentysomething from Memphis; Tr___ure was a no-nonsense spike-haired Black female schoolteacher from Mississippi; Co__ was a slim, laid-back clean-cut Black male from Birmingham; and J_hn was a chubby lighting technician from Charlotte, who, in a past life, could have been Jake "the Snake" Roberts.

"__t and C__hy told me to tell y'all," S_r_h began, "that they're not going to be able to meet us at noon. They want us to meet back here at 2:00, dressed and ready to go to the show."

"Did they say anything about tickets?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, they said they have two tickets for each of us."

"And just how are we supposed to get the tickets to our guests if the show starts at 4 o'clock?"

"I'm not sure. You can try either C__hy or __t on their cell phones."

An hour later, I finally met with the neurotic C__hy, whose most notable trait was a right palm, which had permanently evolved into a compact mirror. I got my tickets, and left one for T__sa at the front desk at the hotel.


"Where are you?" I asked.

"I'm right around the corner, like 5 minutes away from the venue," T___sa said. " I'm coming down 10th Avenue now, but the freakin cops won't let me turn down this street."

"Okay, you're probably not gonna have time to go to the hotel and get back here before 4. I have a ticket on me that you can use to get in. I'm standing right outside the venue on... let's see... West 35th. I'll wait right here. I can just hand you the ticket when you drive by."

"Sir," the head security officer interrupted. A dozen or so uniformed men converged.

"Yo, hold on," I told T__sa.

"You're gonna hafta step inside," the officer continued, approaching me. "We're securing the area."

"But I need to hand someone a ticket," I said.

"We're securing this area. You have to get out of the entrance."

"Well, if I stand outside, will I be able to get back in?"

"Yeah, if you have a ticket," he said in a tone that said, Gityoassinside.

So I shuffled back inside the venue.

"T___sa, let me call you right back."

I stared out into the street and sighed, despondently. But she is so close, I thought.

"What she look like?" asked another security officer, who had apparently been listening in on my conversation.

I looked at him quizically.

"What's her name? What she look like? When she comes, tell her to ask for Jer___ in Security and I'll give her the ticket."

At this point it was 3:50, 10 minutes before performance time. I didn't have many options.

"Okay. She's tall, about 5'9". She's..." I pointed to one of the security officers. "About his complexion. Her hair is brown. She usually wears it... You know what? I have no idea how she'll have her hair today."

He laughed. "I think I'll be able to spot her."

Then, it occurred to me that, at this event, he wouldn't have much trouble spotting anyone of color. I called T___sa back and gave her the instructions.

"Be sure to call me if you have any problems, aight?" I said.

Showtime was soon, so I had to release it.


A South Party in New York?

Upstairs, expansive white loft walls were covered with paintings from the Mississippi Museum of Art - a folk piece $1200, an antebellum one $3700, another $5000. Endless tables of Southern artifacts and books.

The centerpiece was a 5-piece blues band of timeworn Black musicians, a section lined off as a dance floor. A dozen white-haired men in navy blazers with khakis or other summer fabrics, and seersucker suits spun around dainty, tipsy women in florals and tweeds. Hundreds upon hundreds, a veritable ocean, of White people with wine glasses mingled and moved from station to station - this chef preparing gumbo; another, Asian/American South fusion; another, rum and chocolately desserts.

If you were colored, you were either performing or "the help" (Really, both.) Dominican servers, Korean servers, Black servers carried silver platters of crab cakes, pulled pork, crawfish, cocktail shrimp; mutely removed empty glasses from manicured hands.

And the party spilled onto the bustling outdoor patio where speakers blared Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James or some other classic Negro as more wine poured and steaming appetizers were served.

Down the elevator, a parallel world. More food, more music, more pricey artwork, another dancefloor. But here, the twang of a White bluegrass band. Still waves and waves of White people. Less dancing, more gladhanding. Then, a holy quartet of weathered Black men in denim overalls, black blazers, and black bowties, who were, at various times in their lives Black or Negro or Colored or nigger in this audience's sour mouths, but who were now the glorious Fairfield Four. Just stage-right of them, a sprawling bar whose mighty flow made the Mississippi River look like a backyard creek.

I could hear the lilt of Arkansas, Tennessee, Carolina, but only "the help", it seemed, were of New York. A party to show off the South to New Yorkers? Hmmmpph.

And not once did anyone ever utter, what seemed to be, the taboo word. I looked through the event program and its endless list of sponsors - BP, ChevronTexaco, TimeWarner, Lockheed, MCI, Motorola, Nextel, Bellsouth, Southwest Airlines, FedEx, Nissan, Siemens... - but nowhere was it written. What I did overhear someone say, however, was that to get admission to this event, it was $1000 a ticket.

South Party, my a$$. This was a REPUBLICAN fundraiser.


In contrast to all of the aforementioned hustle, the Literary Stage was a dimly-lit lounge set with beanbag chairs and couches. The scheduled performers were we, five TurnerSouth spoken word artists, two Southern authors, and a character-actor performing an excerpt from his one-man show about William Faulkner. During our segment, a projection screen behind the stage would show looping video footage of our Turner - My South performances. We were all part of a 45-minute set that would run three times during the course of the evening.

It was anticlimactic. I opened on our stage to a grand total of, say, twenty people. But just as I got lost in the listing of soul food at the end of my first performance, the sun shone in. In walked T___sa.

The second and third times I performed, the audience was a little larger, maxing out at about 50 people. There was no B.B. King. No Today show. No exposure to southern CEO's. Very little of the incentives which __t from Turner had dangled.


After my final performance of "Home," I finally got to try to make myself at home. T___sa and I mingled with the first-floor crowd. We sampled. We imbibed. We took it all in. And I got to thinking...

If I were in this same room, with these same people, in the South, I would undoubtedly feel the tension of Race. But for the first time in my life, I feel the tension of something quite different. Being so outside, standing inside all of this excess, never before had I been so aware of my Class.

"So glad to finally meet you face-to-face," __t said.

But all I heard were her green eyes.

"I really enjoyed your performance. Are you glad you came?"

By this time, I was feeling my brandy and Coke. I wanted to say something about the banjo that wouldn't stop plucking in my right ear. I wanted to say something about the greasy old drunk who poked his index finger in my back, "I reeeeeeeally enjoyed you... and you, too!" pointing to T___sa, who didn't even perform! I wanted to say something about the photographer who kept following us asking us to pose for pictures, who seemed more interested in our mingling than even with my stage performance. I wanted to say something about the air conditioning that seemed to seep out of everyone's mouths. I wanted to say, Thanks for trying to invite me to this Step n' Fetchit show to coon for free!

Luckily, T___sa nudged me before I put my foot in my mouth.

"Uh, yes, I'm glad I came. Uh... I... um... this is very nice."

"Yes, it is." She smiled, glassy-eyed. "Isn't it?"

T__sa and I faded to black.

"Let's see," I said to T___sa, finishing off my drink. "Two thousand people... times one thousand a head..."

"That's two million dollars. Ain't you glad you asked for money?"


We stepped out onto West 35th, not far from the Garden, where Bush would speak to this audience tomorrow. I was relieved to see the sun already setting.

A couple of blocks away, en route to T___sa's car, we passed two blue-collar brothas sitting on the pavement.

"Is it over?" one asked.

"You mean the party?" I asked.


"Not yet," I said. Then I added, looking at T___sa. "But hopefully, real soon."

Thursday, September 09, 2004

MFA Application Update (2 of 4)

Here is the response from Antioch University - Los Angeles, my 1st choice school:


Voicemail 1A, 1:08 p.m., EDT:

This is Marvin Heath, an applicant to your MFA program in Creative Writing. I am calling to follow-up and confirm that you have received all of my required application materials.

Please return my call at 770.__9.9_07. I will be in the office until 4:00 p.m., Eastern time. I look forward to talking to you. Thank you.


Voicemail 1B, 1:36 p.m., EDT:

Yes, Mr. Heath, this is Cl_udia F__res at Antioch University. We noticed in your application packet that you have not yet completed your bachelor's degree. Please call me to discuss. My number is 213.___._____.

Voicemail 2A, 4:41 p.m., EDT:

Ms. F___res, this is Marvin Heath, an applicant to your MFA in Creative Writing program, returning your call. Please call me at 770.__9.9_07. I look forward to talking to you.


Voicemail 3A, 12:33 P.M., EDT

Voicemail 4A, 1:57 P.M., EDT

Voicemail 5A, 4:20 P.M., EDT


Voicemail 6A, 12:11 P.M., EDT

Voicemail 7A, 3:19 P.M., EDT

Ms. Fl__es, this is Marvin Heath again. I'm really looking forward to speaking to you. Again, my number is 770.__9.9__7.


Live call, 6:41 p.m. EDT


"Yes, I'm trying to reach Marvin Heath."

"Yes, this is Marvin."

"Hi, this is Cl_udia from Antioch University."

"Yes, it's good to finally speak to you."

"Great. The reason I'm calling is that, in your application packet, you indicate that you have not yet completed your bachelor's degree. What is your current status with that?"

"That is correct. I do not have a bachelor's degree."

"Well, that is a requirement for us to process your graduate application. Are you in the process of completing it?"

"No. I was in a summer workshop with one of your faculty, Richard Garcia, who told me that occasionally you make an exception."

"I see... Well, that is true only if a student is in the process. Say, they are graduating during the semester they are applying."

"Well, if that is, in fact, your policy, that you absolutely will not consider an applicant who does not have a bachelor's degree, then there's no point in processing my application."

"Yes, Mr. Heath. We will be returning your application materials as well as your application fee check, uncashed."

"Thank you for your time."

"You're welcome, Mr. Heath. Good-bye."

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

MFA Application Update (1 of 4)

IF YOU'VE BEEN following, you know I recently submitted applications to 4 low-residency MFA in Creative Writing programs - New England College, Antioch University - Los Angeles, Queens University of Charlotte, and Warren Wilson College. You also know that I'm nervous about my chances because I'm a rather untraditional MFA applicant - most notably I lack a bachelor's degree.

Today, I got my first response in the effort to get on with the rest of my life. This is from the director of the program at Queens University of Charlotte:

Dear Marvin:

It was wonderful to talk with you on the phone yesterday. Again, on behalf of all of us here at Queens, I am delighted to offer you admission to the poetry section of the graduate program in creative writing! Congratulations.

Here's the participant handbook. Please contact me or Mike K___e( with any questions. You will want to do this soon, as we are eager to be of assistance to you in dealing with the student loan issue, as we discussed on the phone.

Congratulations again! We hope you'll join us in January.

F_e_ L___ro_
Program Director

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Ayo Does the Republican National Convention (Part 1 of 2)


Sipping my first cup of coffee, I check my Inbox at work. Much to my surprise, I find this:

M .Ayodele Heath:

I hope you are doing well. We met last December at the My South Speaks contest in Decatur.

I am emailing you to invite you to appear in a My South spoken word performance in New York on September 1, 2004 Turner South is participating in an event called My South: A Celebration on Wednesday, September 1, 2004, 4:00- 7:00 pm/et at Splashlight Studios, New York, NY 529-535 West 35th Street (between 10th & 11th).

The theme of the party intends to celebrate the wonderful art, music & culture of the south - show it off to New Yorkers, other southerners, some CEOs of southern companies.

Your travel and accommodations would be paid for. You would probably need to plan to fly in either Tuesday, 8/31, or Wednesday morning, 9/1 and return Thursday, 9/2. We would love to have you participate and perform the My South piece you did for the Turner South contest along with a few of our other finalists. Please let me know your interest in this event as soon as possible.

__t S__t_

My first thought: Why would anyone be having a Southern pride party in (of all places) New York City? Whatever floats their boat, I think, as long as they're paying for it.

My second thought: Great, a free trip to New York! I wasn't able to take a vacation this summer as I'd planned, and though this won't fulfill my craving of lounging on some Caribbean beach with a pina colada, a Big Apple might be just what my diet needs.

But my third thought: These dates seem suspiciously close to the Republican National Convention. In fact, they are during the Republican National Convention. But surely an organization as reputable as Turner would be forward and tell me, especially as a Black artist, if this were an event as such.

Which leads to my fourth thought: __t didn't mention compensating me for my performance. But this is for a good cause, right? Isn't part of my artistic mission is to be an ambassador for Southern culture?

So, that afternoon after a short deliberation, just before leaving for the day, I e-mail __t back and agree to make a Manhattan appearance.


It's been nearly a week since I've heard anything from the Turner people and I'm beginning to wonder whether this thing is still on. But I also realize that in the entertainment industry, last minute is par for the course.

The event less than a week away, as I'm updating cases in my cubicle after lunch, my phone rings:

"Convergent Media"

"Yes, is this Mr. Heath?"

"Yes, it is..."

"This is __e_sa from Turner." (It's funny how I conjure things up.) "I'm making your travel arrangements for the My South event next Wednesday in New York. When would you like to depart?"

"Tuesday evening - say 6 or 7. Enough time for me to get to the airport after work."

"And... when would you like to return?"

"Early Thursday."

"Okay, I'll be e-mailing you your itinerary shortly. "

"Oh, thanks."




I'm feeling very uneasy now about accepting this gig without requesting payment. Something just doesn't feel right.

The closer the date approaches, the more queasy I am about performing. News headlines are full of stories about tens of thousands of police being hired for security, the foiled bomb schemes, the countless streets blocked off, the protesters; and I am more suspicious than ever about this "South" party curiously planted in the middle of this Grand Ol Republican Party.

After Friday rush hour, I arrive home, and play my voicemail messages, when I receive this message from __t at Turner:

Ayodele, this is __t from Turner South. I am sorry for calling you so late in the day... I've told the other artists, but for some reason I don't think this message got to you.

This My South party is being thrown by the wife of a Republican senator - state senator Pickering from Mississippi. It is not a Republican rah-rah event. It is not part of the convention. It is just that the senator's wife thought that it would be a good idea to show off Southern culture - musicians, TV chefs, visual artists - to show New Yorkers that Southerners are more than just people in overalls with cobs of corn hanging out of our mouths...

I apologize for telling you this at such a late hour. And I really hope that this doesn't affect your decision to come join us. It really is going to be a wonderful event. Again, please call me at 404-8xx-xxxx if you need to discuss.

Something stirs in me like a pea soup, but I can't quite put my finger on it. But I know this for sure: I don't want to go.

So yes, Miss __t, I do need to discuss. Can we also discuss why you're calling me now to represent your organization when, in the $500 My South competition last winter, your people didn't select me as your winner? Why don't you call the h*nky Ted Turner look-a-like who did win and stole my $500? How about that, Miss __t?

But that would not be very Ayolike, now would it?

Still I do want to know what exactly has me feeling so uneasy. So, I call five people (friends and family) and play them the voicemail message, to get their reactions and see if I can to the bottom of what I'm thinking:

The responses range from M__u:

What's the problem? It's an all-expense paid trip to New York. There was a time when you were paying your own way to New York, finding your own place to stay, and now you have it all being taken care of for you. I don't see your dilemma.

If there's any dilemma, I think it's that you're becoming a diva.

to Pops:

I just saw a special on CNN today where they said they were having problems getting African-Americans at the convention. Not only will you be African-American, but you gonna be on a stage.

I'm not telling you what to do, but don't do it. I don't care what they say it is, they Republicans.

to Te__a:

When will you ever have access to this group again? You couldn't even pay to be a part of this.

And you won't be the only Black person performing there. Beyonce and even Dre 3000 are performing.

So, yes, you should go, but make them pay you for it. I mean, really make them pay you for it. They're desperate. A young Black man on stage during the Republican National Convention. I say ask for $1500. They won't even feel it.

But, it was my Mom (gotta love her), that I think expressed my sentiment best:

Say, somebody invited you over their house for tomorrow.

Then, you show up at their house tomorrow and they tell you, I invited you over 'cause I really wanted you to mow my grass. How would you feel about that?

You'd tell 'em, I wish you told me you wanted me to cut your grass before I got in my car and came over here. Unless, of course, you just like cutting grass.

She equated what I was doing to mowing lawns. That was my ticket. I would go, but only if they paid me for it.


After rehearsing the conversation with my wall, I call __t. Naturally, it is her work voicemail, saying that she is out of the office all day Friday, returning Monday, meaning: She never intended for me to be able to speak to her live until Monday! When my flight is leaving on Tuesday!

Is she trying to time-pressure me into this trip? I fume. I hang up.

And I call right back.

Miss S__t_:

I appreciate you giving me this information, and yes, it does influence my decision.

Had you given me this information in advance, I would have negotiated differently. I have to take two days off from work to attend this event, and I in no way desire to donate my time to the Republican party. I know that you said that this was not a Republican rah-rah event, but the fact is that it is being thrown by a Republican senator, during the Republican National Convention.

I donate my time to work with children at schools around Atlanta, but I am not donating my time to help reelect George Bush. I look foward to speaking to you either at home this weekend, or at work first thing Monday morning to discuss a renegotiation of a performance fee.


"Convergent Media."

"Yes, Ayodele?"

"Yes, __t?"

"Hi, again I apologize for getting this information to you so late..."


"But we really would like for you to be a part of this event. Your piece, I think of all the pieces we reviewed, just really embodies the spirit of what we're trying to accomplish with this event... Everytime I watch the footage of your performance, I smile."

"That's great, thanks. But I'm not donating my time to this cause. If you had given me all of this information up front, I would have given you my performance fee up front. And I am sorry for doing this the day before my scheduled flight, but, again, if I had received this information earlier, I would have given you my fee earlier."

"Well, we really want you to be a part of this. B.B. King is scheduled to perform, there will be CEO's from Southern companies, the Today show is supposed to be shooting, lots of influential people will be there. It will be great exposure."

"That's great, but I'm not getting on the plane."

She tries a different approach, "Well, we're having four other spoken word performers from around the South in addition to some TV chefs from our network... and we're not paying any of them. If I pay you, then I'd have to-"

"That's great that they're doing it for free, but I'm not performing for free. Not for this. I have principles."

She pauses, "So, you're saying, that you have principles and you won't perform for free, but if we pay you, your principles will-"

"I have to take off two days from work for this. I am not donating my time for this cause. If you pay my performance fee, I will be on the plane tomorrow."

"Okay, then what is your fee?"

For a split second, T___sa's $1500 flashes across my tongue, but it won't come out.

"$ _50.00."

"Is that just for one day, or for each day?"

Did she just say what I thought she said? Is it possible, that I can get double what I am asking for? For performing just one 3-minute poem? They really are desperate.

"That fee will cover both days."

"So, if we pay you that you will come?'

"Yes, $ _50.00 and I am on the plane."

"Fine. We'll see you tomorrow."