Thursday, June 28, 2007

Adventures in Playwriting: The First Reading

TODAY, I DROVE TO EAST POINT to obtain a Tarot reading - not for myself, as one might expect for someone in my precarious situation. Rather, I got a reading for Nigel and Asha, two characters in my first play.

This might seem a rather odd practice - that one would seek a Tarot reader to get a reading for two fictional characters - but they're not fictional g*ddamit - I talk to them everyday!

The reading began with _a_u asking the purpose for the reading.

"Nigel and Asha have received a small inheritance - a very small inheritance from Nigel's Great Aunt," I said. "They're seeking advice on how to proceed."

_a_u whispered into his deck, shuffled his cards, and gave the couple a 5-card Crossroads spread:

which is used when the client is at a crossroads in life and is contemplating a change. The five cards tell you what happens/happened in the 1) Past, 2) Present, 3) Future, 4) Visible World, and 5) Invisible World.
Here is what the reading revealed:



CONTEMPLATION: An iron gun, old yet capable of firing a lethal bullet. This gun was not made for target practice or the hunting of food. It has but one purpose. It has but one target.

INTERPRETATION: There has been violence and/or a possible conflict with the law in either Nigel or Asha's past.



CONTEMPLATION: Honey flows freely from Our Lady's gracious bounty.

INTERPRETATION: This card shows Yemaya as a beautiful pregnant orisha standing in the foaming sea. She is about to give birth. This means that either one is literally pregnant with a child or metaphorically pregnant with an idea. It also means abundance and wealth.



CONTEMPLATION: Favorable outcome when last words are said and last things done.

INTERPRETATION: Keep quiet about your inheritance and you should have no difficulty.



CONTEMPLATION: Rage and hate binds you to your object as closely as does great love. Hate and love are both sides of the same coin whose denomination is union. Will is the name of the Hand that distributes these coins.

INTERPRETATION: Not all will be easy in the transference of this inheritance. There is jealousy, anger, and hatred - perhaps from family, perhaps from elsewhere.



CONTEMPLATION: Accepting one's personal failures. Embracing one's sadness. Usg these sadnesses and failures to build a house of peace and purity, an impregnable abode fit for the indwelling of Obatala (God).

INTERPRETATION: Whatever material goals you are seeking, God will provide them.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not, the reading is pretty in-line with the plot I've envisioned. The most surprising piece of information was that _a_u correctly read that Asha is pregnant.

In fact, she is and has not yet told her boyfriend, Nigel.

If _a_u can see into the world of fiction, maybe I should ask _a_u for tonight's Cash 3 numbers... Maybe not.

Since I've got nothing better to do, I may as well write a play. ;-) Thirteen pages and counting...

Sunday, June 24, 2007


IT'S BEEN A FEW MONTHS SINCE I've updated my 101 in 1001 and, while I haven't achieved a lot of quantity as it relates to mark-offs, I have achieved 3 big ones as it relates to quality:

#9: Get a laptop.

One immediate consequence of becoming unemployed was that I had to surrender my work laptop. It took me about 4 days to realize that I couldn't go back to being chained to a computer desk at home, so I went out and bought an Acer TravelMate 2480. While it's not as sexy as the Powerbook I'd been eyeing for the past year, it more than gets the job done for a writer - and, thanks to GIM Computers, for less than half the Powerbook's price!

#21: Buy a house.

It's been several years in the making, but I finally got fed up with renting. About 3 years ago, I decided to work on my credit, go back to school, get a new job, and save up some cash so that, in 2007 I could make the big leap.

Every Sunday since mid-January, I drove to the neighborhood and imagined myself turning a key in the front door. On March 19, 2007, I sealed the deal on a 3 bedroom townhouse in the SWATs!

Since, I've become one old handyman: painting, hanging shelves,painting, installing light fixtures, painting, and plumbing even.

Did I mention painting?

# 59: Teach a college level course

Thomas Lux and Georgia Tech made a dream come true when they selected me as a McEver Visiting Chair in Writing. While it only lasted four weeks, it was life-changing. Though it felt a little strange to be called Professor Heath, it was the single most natural employment experience I've had in my entire life - almost as if I was born to do it!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

They Called Him Buddy

I WAS SURPRISED AT HOW HEAVY the body was, despite the fact that six of us carried it.

The ceremony was a short, utilitarian affair. It started 2 minutes early, and we were asked not to wear suits.

"Black pants, a white shirt, and a tie," my mother said. "Just make sure the tie isn't red."

As pallbearers, I thought that we might at least wear white gloves, especially in this faraway place of rituals we grew up knowing as only "The Country." So, I was a little surprised at the end of the fifty-five minute ceremony when the pastor said, "Will the pallbearers please rise and exit the church?" and within seconds, I was out in the 95-degree heat with my bare right hand wrapped around the cool steel of the casket rail.


They called him Buddy, but he was born J_hn Wesley Byrd. He was my Mother's father, which made him my grandfather. He passed early Friday morning after 88 years from a sudden bout of pneumonia, just short of Father's Day.

If my Mother and her siblings had had their way, the body would have arrived by mule. Instead, a sky-blue hearse delivered his body to Hopewell Baptist Church in Upatoi, Georgia, and a matching limousine carried his seven living children.

The funeral staff granted the family's wishes to keep the ceremony's pace swift. In fact, it left my Aunt Mae on the outside of the church:

"She's still in the limousine," my Mother, Lucille, whispered to her sister, Brenda.

"Why's she still in the limousine?" Brenda whispered back. "The friends and guests are almost finished viewing the body, and they gonna close the casket!"

"She's locked in it," my Mother said. "She can't get out."

"Whatchu mean she cain't get out. Tell her to open the door!" Brenda said.

"Brenda, she's locked in. It won't open from the inside or the outside."

"Oh Lawd," Brenda said. "Clarence," she said to their brother. "'Cille say Mae in the limousine and she cain't get out."

"How she got locked in the limousine?"

"I don't know," Brenda said, "but we gotta hurry up. They gonna close the casket in a couple of minutes."

"Well, she saw the body yesterday," Clarence said.

"Clarence!" my Mother quipped.

"Well, where the driver at?" he asked.

"Ain't that him on the organ?" Brenda said.

"No," my Mother said. "There he is, standing over there. M_rvin, go and see if you can get the driver to help your Aunt Mae. Hurry up, now before the casket closes!"

When the limo driver freed my aunt from the limousine, her first words to him were not, "How in the hell did you lock me in the limousine?" but:

"That's just Daddy having his last word."


The graveyard was maybe fifty yards from the front door of the church, but it felt like Grandpa's 147 pound body gained a pound with each step. Such is this heaviness:

This is the soil where my Father's Grandfather is buried (1886-1965). This is the soil where my Father's Grandmother is buried (1888-1969). This is the soil where my Father's Mother is buried. This is the church where my Father's father was a deacon.

This is the soil where my Mother's mother is buried. This is where, today, we bury my Mother's father.

This is the church where my Mother met my Father.

This is where, today, we bury my Mother's father.

What a wonderful weight to bear.

All of these years, I never really understood how intertwined my Mother's and Father's families were - how small these worlds.

My cousin behind me kept stepping on my right heel. For once in my life, my world shrank to a very singular purpose: Carry this weight and don't fall.

"Turn," I heard a voice say. "Now switch hands." The pallbearers switched hands. "Now, lift up once." We lifted. "Now, once again." We lifted again. "Now, one final time."

And with the final heave, the work was done. Without a fuss, the casket lowered into the ground.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Another Dream of Traveling

IN THIS DREAM, I WAS DRIVING on a freeway. It must have been the Downtown Connector because there were 7 or 8 lanes of traffic in each direction. Driving the car I currently own, I was in the right-hand lane.

Traffic was thick, but moving as I approached an underpass when, ahead to the left, like an enormous harpooned whale, an 18-wheeler began dumbly whipping its tail back and forth across the traffic, sending eight, nine, ten cars behind it crashing against the underpass walls before finally coming to rest, just beyond the underpass, in its great clumsiness, taking another 18-wheeler in its wake.

Great plumes of fire and smoke erupted into the sky as motorists rushed to pull off to the side of the expressway. I, too, found myself in that number - first, counting my blessings, but then, wondering when, if ever, I'd be able to leave this great shadow under this bridge.

My patience would not let me wait to go where I was going, though I didn't quite know where that going might be. But I knew I had to keep moving - car or not, freeway or not - and I began walking back the way I had come - which would be regressing - though away from the smoke and fire.

I didn't get very far, not even from underneath the shadow of the bridge, before I saw cars moving again. I turned around and saw that, not only was traffic zooming beyond the speed limit, but the underpass was not as I had remembered it. Instead of drab concrete walls holding up the bridge, there were now construction and windows with dazzling displays of chic mannequins and mod furniture. Wet cement for a sidewalk, even.

I stumbled into the area where I thought that I'd left my car and found someone official-looking.

"My car," I said. "Where is my car?"

He looked at me dumbly, his face covered in construction dust.

"There it is," I said, locating my car, now, too, covered in dust, but surrounded by store walls. Could it even be gotten out?

"What? I have a ticket? How can you give me a ticket? There was the accident... I only walked away for a few minutes! How was I to know that it would only take minutes to clear?

"There was fire." I pointed to where there was no fire. "And all of the smoke! And now all of this construction? How dare you give me a ticket! Who do I need to talk to get this removed? I wasn't even gone five minutes! You g*ddamned government official! How the f*ck was I supposed to know..."

And, like a broken record on full volume, I continued my tirade until the tendons in my throat were no longer taut, until long after I was out of breath.

And I had to make a choice:

Go back and get my ticketed dust-covered car, which was now surrounded by four walls, or keep it moving - on foot.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Traveling, Part II

TODAY, I DISCOVERED the meaning of my dream about the red shoes.

I arrived at work around 8:30 with breakfast for my co-workers: pancakes and sausage for _ue___ and French toast and turkey sausage for ___in__. I wore a yellow, long-sleeved Oxford shirt because it was Friday and I was feeling like the sun.

Today, made 4 months at the new gig.

After I finished my own French toast, slopped in syrup and butter, I put on my headphones, turned on my favorite Pandora station, and began my usual business of manipulating cells in Excel.

Suddenly, I got the urge to begin backing up files - my personal files. I was on my work laptop, where I hadn't stored many, but there were a few essential "documents" which had been updated recently (for good reason, apparently) which needed to be protected. So, I shot them to my Gmail account. That's when I received the first tap on my shoulder.

"M_rvin," ___in__ said. "You know they just let ____ go."

"Really?" I said

"Well, right now it is just a rumor, but nobody's heard from her. There's nothing on her desk. We don't know if she went on vacation or what."

"Wow," I said. "How long had she been here?"

"I don't know. Four... five years? It's really sad."

"Yes, that is really sad," I said, stuck my earphones back in, and went back to working.
A few minutes later, I received the second tap on my shoulder. I turned around.

"M_rvin," ___in__ said. "It gets worse. I just heard that they're laying off one person from every department."

"Wow. Now that's pretty serious. Who'd you hear that from?"
She mouthed the person's name.

"M_rvin, hold my hand," she said, playfully - but not playing.

"What are you worried about?" I asked.

Then, she went into the reasons why she thought that she'd be the one let go. Then, she justified why the other Project Manager in the department might be let go.

Then, I said, "Well, I was the last one hired in the department. If there's going to be any letting go, it would only make sense that it would be me."

Then, ____in_ went into all these reasons relating to value and contributions and non-threatingness and likeability as to why, if there was a keeper, I would definitely be it.

"Okay," I said and began backing up my Favorites. This time, I turned off the music.
A few minutes later, I received the final tap on my shoulder, but I heard the person coming.

"M_rvin, can you come down to see me?" said K___, the VP of _e____e. "We won't be in my office. We'll be in the training room."

I thought to myself. Here we go.

Then, I grabbed a pen and pad. Though I usually took my laptop to meetings, this time, I decided to travel light.


When I entered the room with its mystic royal blue walls, K___ was accompanied by _e____, the head of HR. A long white envelope glowed ominously on the table where they sat. I joined them.

The 90-second speech began, "Well, M_rvin, as you know, we're in a financial crunch" and it ended with, "you've been a terrific asset to this company, but, effective today, your services will no longer be needed at _o_____ _ho___ Technologies."

"Do you have anything you would like to say?" he added.

"No," I said, smiling. "No, nothing to say."

"We really hate doing this," said _e______, the head of HR.

"I understand," I said to him. "I understand," I said to her.

_e_____ informed me of when my benefits would expire, my eligibility for unemployment, etc.

K____ added, "We just want you to know that this is in no way reflective of your performance.

If you need any letters of recommendation, I'll be glad to write them. Do you have any questions for us?"

"No. No questions. Thanks for the opportunity to work here."

"Again, we're really sorry and I know this sounds crude, but would you like a box for your things?" _e_____ said, as her hand directed me to, not one, but a tower of boxes stacked in the corner. The grace of her gesture reminded me of Janice Pennington from the Price is Right.

"I'll take one. Yes, thanks."

I picked a box, only there was no brand new car.

If that's all," K___ said, "we'll escort you to your desk."


There is something very genteel about the word, "escort," in this context. The last time I was "escorted" somewhere was as a special guest for a Black history program for the city of Roswell. Another time, I was being escorted to the front of an auditorium as a special guest for a New Year's assembly at a Zulu high school in South Africa. But each time that I've been escorted, there has been a stage waiting for me - a special stage for me to share my talents with the world.

So, as I walked down the graying corridor to my cubicle, my ears rang with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase,
just take the first step.

As I whisked past my former co-workers, their eyes shying away - as if to look at me would be to become me - I felt like a caterpillar about to take flight, or a sun about to rise.

It seems that my dream of the shoes had been my 2-week notice.

Within 5 minutes, I had boxed up all of my things and said my goodbyes. I walked off, donning my new red shoes, into my new life.