Next Door Elegy

modern-front-doors

A man died in the apartment next door
Walls a screeching anguish
Floor a gasping choke
The bellow from his son’s larynx
A gutteral Blues bass lick
It shook the building so hard
I though I heard God apologize

Winter moved in next door
Unpacked a teary blizzard
And froze the last breaths
Of a family’s morning horizon
The frost made the walls
Look like tombstones
I lowered my head in prayer
As I listened to a son
Scream for more sunshine

He repeated his father’s name
Over and over again
As if he was searching the crevices
Of death’s cloak
For a glimmer of light
To rescue from purgatory
The amber alert in the sirens wail
Made the neighborhood
Search for the old man
In the recesses of their fonder memories
The collective gathering of
Hand to hand in pleading with heaven
Blew ripples across the East River
And back
I hoped their window was open
I hoped the old man shivered

The cavalcade of footsteps
Drummed ritualistic along the steps
Police and EMTs
Armed with ice picks and hope
Staccatoed into the apartment
I listened to the orchestra closely
One trying to conduct a son’s calm
Two more playing a concerto
Along the fathers chest
The sound wasn’t right
The notes too flat
A defibrillator to tune
Clear
Clear
They played again and again
I wish I could read sheet music
But I could only play along by ear

When they carried the man away
I wished the stretcher never be ice tray
Wished the daughter had gotten there earlier
10 min before the revival arrived
When her brother said the father had just returned
Instead
She arrived in a panic
To choir disbelief in family unison
Hymnal along her brothers
Tear soaked shoulder
I wished for a sermon of victory
To follow
Not a eulogy

A man died in the apartment next door
Candles outside the building
When I returned
Told the tale
Each step upstairs
Felt heavy
It felt awkward
Showing up at a manger
With an “I’m sorry”
Didn’t feel biblical enough
Not wise enough
But it was all I had to offer
The son of a God fearing man
I couldn’t save him from the mourning
He will carry like cross
From the judas of his senses
The next morning
When he first steps into the living room
Seeking a soul
That is no longer
When his heart feels Boulder
And he has to push that rigid aside
To resurrect a life after

I know no other thing to do
Other than to add them
To the list of things I lay at God’s feet
Each night I ask for grace and mercy
And to end this poem
With Amen

Theatre of the Mind

templeton-intellectual_humility_01

“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from…” Prodigy of Mobb Deep

There is so much being done at various fronts in terms of Higher Ed and I think this quote summarizes why it’s such an intense playing field for multiple entities. It’s also why movements to “transform the academy” have been met with so much backlash. Folks in the Humanities and any minority studies scholars can tell you how hard they fight on their campuses. We have to really think about how we move and what we do going forward. There is this push to frame certain academic and intellectual offerings and flights of fancy. Mainly because they enhance critical inquiry, critical analysis, and critical thinking overall. They foster a greater sense of understanding, nurture social and political awareness, and reinforce and affirm a sense of self.

Take a look at this article in The New Yorker on politics and the UNC system in North Carolin by Jedediah Purdy,  “Ayn Rand comes to UNC”.

See, there is this rhetoric about focusing on skills and subjects that employers need. It falls in line with thoughts around having employable graduates. It increases attention to pre-professional majors. What it doesn’t do is fall in line with what is being discussed (see Daniel Pink and others) in the professional world about marketability. Marketability isn’t about what job related skills you learned or what subjects related to the work environment and industry you took. It’s about your ability to think in ways that grows profit margins and market share. It’s about your ability to navigate relationships. It’s about your ability to manage stress and to make necessary decisions. Much of that involves crafting a well rounded student in an interdisciplinary fashion. That involves the humanities beyond narrowing modes of traditional discourse. That is, if you want to graduate a student that isn’t intended to just be a cog in wheel that tends to underpay and overwork and doesn’t like organized labor.

We are not talking eternal truths and morality of capitalism here.

What’s funny is that the very people who are making these decisions will sit with a glass of wine and talk high culture. They will go on about the works of literature that have impacted them. They will credit music, the places they’ve visited, etc. They will speak the value of philosophy. They also endow programs at private institutions that offer classes that they don’t feel are right for public state supported campuses.

Do not believe that the trying to level the playing field of public and private is well intended. It is a filtration process that puts prospective into manageable pools of thought. Public is the control, private is the experimental. This is a white lab coat power struggle mixed with political gerrymandering and right wing ego.

Think about the C Bradley Thompson quote in the article, “If they really want to change the culture long-term in this country, it’s not going to happen through politics. If you think the political system is corrupt, what you’re really saying is the American people are corrupt. And if you’re saying the American people are corrupt, then what you have to do of course is change American culture. And the way you change culture is through ideas…. If we’re giving tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns and we’re giving one-tenth of one per cent to trying to change the intellectual culture of this nation, you are by definition going to lose.”

What is happening in North Carolina is a sign of what is at stake during this political climate. It includes a fight to shape the nature of intellectualism and learning today. Those of us dedicated to widening the scope of thought have to prepare for one wild ride. They ain’t too privy to our kind unless we are teaching where they want us to teach to who they want us to teach.

Now about that increased funding to community colleges….

The problem with Spike: A Modern Greek Tragedy

spike lee
Spike Lee on set

I went to Chiraq with the other fellows from the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. We were invited to see the movie by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (also known as “Skip”). I had been following some of the responses to the idea of the project when it was first announced. I knew that there was backlash over him titling the film using a slang term unfavorably referencing the violence in Chicago. I also read some of the pieces that offered their reaction to the trailer once it was released. None of the responses or reactions were good.

Spike decided to address the criticisms over the trailer. He identified the movie as a satire. Then came the music video by Kevon Carter that didn’t make anything any better. It’s one thing to dig through the #wakeup comments across social media and the ongoing condemnation that results from people believing black people can’t focus on more than one highly discussed thing at one time. You know, #dontbedistracted. It’s another to have someone sing how misguided we are and how we should clean our own doorsteps is a bit much, no matter how beautiful the sound is. He actually sang about Meek Mill and Drake. Sorry dude, I learned way more from that beef about the societal perceptions, the influence of social media, and pop culture relevance than I did from your music video and the movie Chiraq. R&B is not respectability and bullshit.

After seeing some responses that seemed to be favorable from my friends on social media, I was excited to see the movie for myself. To watch it with a group of American and International scholars heightened my excitement. I knew the conversation would be exhilarating. I held hope that this was all just crafty media hype created for a movie that would be so much more than people thought. I wanted to trust Spike. After it was over, we all shared the same look of confusion and dumbfoundedness. I knew how I felt. Many of them didn’t even have some of the cultural contexts to use in evaluation of the film. My heart was heavy for them.

The movie is bad y’all. I mean it is bad. I don’t know if Jennifer Hudson can actually explain what range of emotion she was acting at any point in that movie. They all looked the same. Like she was excruciatingly constipated. Nick Cannon cannot play anybody’s gang leader. He barely passes as a rapper. Hearing him talk in rhyme was gut wrenching. He should have said his lines to J-Hud before she had to do her scenes. It might have inspired her. I didn’t understand the pop up video animations on screen. Sam Jackson probably had some of the best lines even though I have no idea why his Dolemite inspired narrator character was there. This was not an adequate replacement for the Greek chorus.

The writing was not good. The acting was not that good. Some scenes were so heavy handed it was as if the scene had those hand grips that on one ever really understood the purpose for. But every person who did push ups in their room to get cut in High School had them. The pastor who drops Justice Department and Talk Poverty stats during his sermon? Come on Spike. The folks from the church had the hottest gear though. It’ll be bootlegged at some point.

Angela Bassett has the steeliest glare I’ve ever seen outside of Liam Neesom. If Spike had of gotten Martin Lawrence and Bobby Brown to be part of the old men group, then maybe I would have a better feeling about the movie. I think don’t think Angela was acting. I think she throws that glare at breakfast. Whips it out at the mall. I won’t mention Wesley Snipes. Bills gotta get paid. The awkward way they looked at Snoop from The Wire (Felicia Pearson) when they said “lovers” was ridiculous. How she had to represent the whole of the LGTBQ community was just wrong.

I do have to give Spike credit though. He is still gifted, just a little self indulgent at times. I truly think that he believes he can pull anything off. Not this film though. He does draw out some interesting things in the film. There are issues of elder patriarchy, misguided masculinity, and black exoticism brought out. There is attention to the collateral damage of violence in terms of the lives affected. The space made in the movie for the mothers of the victim in Chicago was beautiful (this is Spike’s rebuttal to claims he has treated the violence in Chicago with lack of care or true concern). The whole interaction with the general is funny. Though the setup is ductaped together. Oh yeah, the Opedipus reference was cute. Unnecessary, but cute.

But his goal was to make a movie, not a series of bad improv night sketches. That he did a marginal job of. He won’t hear that though. He is too caught up in trying to defend his decision to make the movie and make it the way he did. But he did not do a good job of translating Lysistrata to modern times. He did not do a good job of replacing the old women and old men choruses that helped frame the original play. He did not do a consistently good job with the dialogue in the film. The acting was passable. The female lead exuded charisma and presence on screen. She was the shining light. Everyone else seemed as confused as I was about what they were doing.

It still carried a message that was internal. It made no real efforts other than pretentious speeches to address the outside influences and factors in the condition that community members in Chicago face. It highlighted how often change in communities falls into the hands of women in the community, but not in a way that reflects the modern history of social movements. The original play was not written with feminist intentions, but it has been used in that way since. Nah, not Spike though.

Sorry bro. That joint was bad.

The preacher was wearing them wristbands Wesley wore in Disappearing Acts. No, I’m serious.

It won’t good.

I Sang Her Away…

singing-on-the-brain

So I was dating this woman that I met while doing work for this non-profit theatre company in Raleigh. It was the time when I learned that not knowing what working in development for a non-profit meant makes it hard to be in charge of development for a non-profit. As I toiled away trying to figure out how to write grants, in walked a vision of loveliness. There was chemistry there from the start. We exchanged flirtatious conversations first, then exchanged phone numbers. We had great conversations. That led to scheduling some dates and we had a good time on each of the dates we had gone on. I was doing much better with this situation than I was with my job. That made me feel good. This woman was a beautifully chocolate with long hair (that she paid for) and a slim frame (this detail is for my friends who seem to think I have a contrary “type”). What was even better was that she was into theater, music, poetry, and fashion.

I was raised to be a gentleman. My mother, grandmother, and aunts taught me this so that I would carry myself as a respectable man. What I heard was that it would make me more attractive to women. Hey, I was young. We had mainly met for our dates (for her comfort) or once she was comfortable, I picked her up. When I am dating someone, I always try to be mindful of the radio in my car and try to appease what I know the rider listens to. I mean, you are still in the “got lots to find out” phase so you talk more than listen. The music is just a backdrop.

I guess that I made a good impression. One particular night she informed me she was taking me out. She had planned the night. I was like cool. I felt like VIP. She picked me up. We were both looking real fly and sexy (especially me).

Now, this is the part where I should state that I don’t mind crazy. I actually am attracted to it. Normal is wack. But see, insane I don’t do. So yes, I knew she was special already. I also knew she was very particular. I’ve dated Type A. Even still, I didn’t expect what came next.

By now, we had gotten to know each other a bit so I’m relaxing. It’s her car so she’s in control of the radio. It’s an R&B marathon. I’m with that so it had the mood just right. We are rolling along and talking. I’m being charming and playful, starting to introduce the smartass that I am. Then a Mary J song comes on. It’s my jam! You know what happens when at Mary J song comes on.

So I’m singing. I’m getting it. Passing her the imaginary mic… No response. I’m thinking we can hit the chorus (she go high and I go low)… No response. I’m killing the second verse (figuratively and literally cuz I can’t sing)… Nothing (not even a smile and dammit I’m cute!). Then she stops me. She says men shouldn’t sing women’s songs. It was inappropriate. Time stopped. My inner voice started talkin like Bernie Mac, “Uh uh no she didn’t…” I’m so confused. She was serious. She said she didn’t date men like that.

So I’m buggin. First I got investigative reporter. There is no way she really means that. She stands pat. Then it becomes that debate scene in Different World with Whitley and Kinu on opposite teams. I come to discover she truly believes this (and some other social foolishness). I responded with some very witty but respectful responses. I questioned some of her theories in a didactic manner. She didn’t like my sarcasm. I didn’t like the rules. The hottest songs out that year were by women and I wanted to sing them!

The relationship ended that night. I just couldn’t take having my singing shackled like that. Lord knows I thought long and hard about it. I weighed her intelligence, cultural sensibilities, and how spectacular she looked in a dress with the list of songs I would have to listen to in silence. Even humming them was off limits. I just couldn’t do it.

Thank God we hadn’t been shopping together yet. I dance to the Musak.

Thinking of the Cultural Arts and Entertainment Scene…

i-love-art

Ok. Look. Every city should have a cultural arts and entertainment planner serving a position commissioned like a laureate and supported through allocated funds to consistently help curators, promoters, artists, and culturalists move in a way that fosters an ever blossoming scene. 
 
Warning…Warning…Warning…What’s next is a mini rant….
I was thinking about things and trying to figure out how to convey it. Then I started digging. Finally I figured out what it was I was trying to articulate. I immediately thought of my friend, poet/artist/organizer Shelly Bell, who says I have a knack for these things. LOL. I hope this makes sense.
 
Let’s take a moment and look at this information from the Harvard Business School. It’s only a coincidence that I am at Harvard for a fellowship and pulled this quote. It just happened to be the one that had what I was looking for the way I was looking for. 
 
“Total quality management. Benchmarking. Time-based competition. Reengineering. Change management. The quest for productivity, quality, and speed has spawned a remarkable number of management tools and techniques….
 
Simply improving operational effectiveness does not provide a robust competitive advantage because rarely are “best practice” advantages sustainable. Once a company establishes a new best practice, its rivals tend to copy it quickly.
 
Strategy is about doing things differently, not simply doing them better than everyone else. And it’s the key to competitive advantage.”
 
What’s that mean to the arts? It means that having the best event ever is great and having a seamless process for how you run that event is even better, but what you do with the event is even more key.
 
The “differently” is the part that I want to focus on. It’s the part that often gets overlooked. Mainly because too many facilitators confuse “better” and “different” and the venues rarely think about it or care. They have their own competitive interests in mind. It’s not their responsibility unless they are an arts organization. It’s the producers and presenters who have to think strategically about how they are programming. They need to remember that expanding the marketplace is always better for the scene than competing for market share.
 
“There is a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness.” – economist, researcher, author, advisor, speaker and teacher, Michael Porter.
Yes, also from Harvard’s Business School. I promise it’s a coinci…never mind. Let’s continue.
 
The broader and more active and robust the market seems the more leverage the producers have. What will also happen is the pool of consumers continues to grow as new people experience what’s being offered across the marketplace. People are engaging with the market more often and having great experiences (because your still focusing on and maintaining operational effectiveness). Word of mouth travels fast. Buzz is built and anticipation for the next offering bubbles. A rising consumer base is hungry for more!
 
As this happens, the best run and operated offerings will solidify themselves as mainstays. The producers and presenters put themselves in position to drive the market moving forward. You win and have helped built a foundation to keep winning. 
 
Somebody ask Cicely Mitchell, who runs The Art of Cool Project (www.theartofcoolproject.com) in Durham, NC about this.
 
So think…how do I expand the marketplace rather than be pushed to fight for market share? What do I really lose by doing so? What are the factors in “different” (time, location, date, space, look, etc.).
 
Habit is what we are trying to break not conform to. If we don’t want our consumer base to be static then why would we be in how we offer our art to them?
Until that position is created and these conversations are being facilitated, we have to think strategically.
 
I’m done.

Superheroes

20782-marvel-superheroes-1280x800-comic-wallpaper

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve

My mother always told me I’d be a teacher

I ignored her as many young people do their parents

Set my sights on grander and more lucrative endeavors

So I proceeded to chase an illusion

Someone told me I should have

Spent time lending my talents

To a Tin Man of a system

Only to find myself the victim of heartless disloyalty

But along the way

Me and my pen

Came to terms with the marriage of purpose and blessing

Took a title, then accepted responsibility

And found ourselves in front of a classroom

 

When I called her and told her

I was promoted from artist-in-residence to a professor

My expectation

Was that I’d receive an “I told you so”

She didn’t let me down

Then lifted me up

In prayer

To the God that kept her son from harm’s way

Helped him find his way

Gave him gifts

Taught him how to use them

Then allowed him to teach others

 

I remember the smile I heard through the phone

I carry it with me to campus

Show it off to the students who enter my class

I am shepherd to the extraordinary

Who haven’t been helped to understand

The power they possess

My job is to teach them how to use their talents

Harness their uncanny abilities

And oh my do they have superpowers

 

A young man from southern California

Who had his heart ripped out by betrayal

So he replaced it with burning desire to succeed

Covered in resentment like a suit of armor

And I have to show him that what’s possible

Is in stark contrast to what he’s been told

 

A beautiful young woman in tight ripped jeans

Who only sees the world in shades of grey

Telekenetic, willing objectivity into well crafted essays

With elder siblings who try to murder her self esteem

I tell her that like a phoenix

She will be reborn even stronger

 

I have learned that invisibility

Is the ability to be in a room and be ignored

There is a girl in the back of my classroom

Not unseen

I know that she is there

I let her know

The force field of apathy she puts up

Will not keep me from showing her

That she is fantastic

 

I teach composition and rhetoric

Creative writing

Alchemy

If you believe that learning to work the elements of craft

Can alter what matters

Think and you can write

Listen and you can learn

Read and you can react

Aptitude is a desire

Let me show you how to harness hard work

 

Javonte was trying to claw his way out of the streets

Adamantium mentality said don’t ever be broke

So he stuck to his ways instead of the books

Until he was struck

I keep expecting him to wake up

Because I believe in quick healing factors

 

The freshman cheerleader

Whose desire to fit in

Has her adopting the bad habits

Of the people she comes in contact with

Keeps going rogue from my class

I want to convince her it is her potential

That is untouchable

 

The kid they all call strange that wants to be a doctor

I help hone his eloquence so he can cast spells

On those who might doubt his promise

The football player ashamed of his brilliant analytical mind

Because he is more celebrated for his hulking presence on the field

The NY native who is so absent he’s a ghost

Who randomly straddles desk chair like a motorcycle

Trying to navigate the parallel dimensions

Of the hell at home and the responsibility of school

 

I know people with superpowers

I marvel at the possibilities

Some change into costume before leaving their room

Some can’t mask who they were born to be

Mutants don’t get to have an alter ego

The nerds, cool kids, and jocks

They come to me for answers

I try to help them uncover the secrets

To finding them on their own

I never expected to be here

But I couldn’t imagine not being here

Using my ability to read and influence minds

To school these gifted youngsters

 

I called my mother to tell her I was a professor

My expectation

Was that she would give me an “I Told you so”

She didn’t let me down

Then lifted up my purpose
When she asked “Do you enjoy what you do?”

I replied

Mom, I get to train superheroes

 

The Art of Mis-Interaction

an-old-design-02_grande

“Rhythm is the basis of life, not steady forward progress. The forces of creation, destruction, and preservation have a whirling, dynamic interaction.” – Kabbalah

I don’t interact the easiest. Whew! There, I said it. Ahhhhh. That really is a weight off my shoulders. Not like Atlas weight, but still larger than a whiffle ball.

Look, I really don’t. I do help, support, foster, nurture, mentor, teach, listen to, pep up, stand behind, but I don’t interact the easiest (now this is the point where I have repeated myself, realized it is a refrain and that there will be a poem from this also). It’s like my heart, mind, and spirit are mob bosses arguing over turf as they rally their “families.” I will save you from the extended metaphor of detailing the families based on the boss and the various things associated. Just know I could do it if I wanna. I don’t. Point is that they tend to not make things smooth. I don’t do things smooth. Except how I pulled you in with that cool quote. That was smooth. Admit it. The picture was just icing on the cake. No there is not cake.

I hate making mistakes. My greatest fear is coming up short (anybody even thinking of tall person jokes I will telepathically kick you in the shins. Felt it twinge? That was a warning). I’ve always despised that feeling. Fail has a way of making you ok with trying again. Screwing up makes you want to run arms flailing into the shadows, go home and pack your underwear, then try jump through your moms full length mirror hoping to get to Narnia. It never works by the way. It takes a lot of regrouping to recover from mistakes. But nobody is perfect right? And avoiding mistakes is more tiring than recovering from making one.

See, the thing is, I believe in people. I just don’t always trust everyone. Yes, that means I am watching many of you very very closely. It also means that a conversation with me is like a tennis match. You keep volleying hopping to gain an advantage but that return is mean. So is the serve.

Another important aspect is that if you give me an impression, I operate off that impression. You might not recognize it because I still operate with respect, compassion and appreciation. I just don’t see you the same. There are stringent limitations that come with that. The energy I expend changes dramatically. Doesn’t matter if you don’t see what you did. Your the one blind to the fact, not me. Your vision is blurry not Flava’s. If you don’t understand the significance of the last two sentences, then I might need to rethink our relationship anyway.

I don’t buy wolf tickets. Talk all you want. I’ve been the “good listener” since 6th grade. Doesn’t mean I’m convinced. Probe all you want. It’s G14 classified over here. You aint got clearance then there is a nice brochure we have prepared that will give you all the pertinent information. Throw out a hook and a line…*I’m laughing* (nice fisherman hat and vest). Unless you lowering yourself in these waters in a cage like them hunting for the biggest shark people, then I ain’t got much for you. Take a risk babee!

If you have G14 classification and If I trust you, then I believe it’s ok to make mistakes around you. Because I trust you’ll talk to me about (or slap me in the back of the head, cuss me out, slap my hand). I hold you close enough to be off, to do too much, to say too much, to be way off, to be dumb. Only thing is…it also hurts way way more when you walk away, back away, don’t respond, won’t communicate, attack, or dismiss. It all looks like falling short to me.

I am a hapless romantic southern gentleman. Maaaan, I aint got time to unpack all the things that brings me. But the book is coming. I promise! No, seriously…I PROMISE!

I’m also very flirtatious. Probably way too flirtatious to not follow up on the flirtation or recognize when the interaction has shifted. Ha! But I’m good at it tho. At least I think so. I did have someone who kept going, “That was what you were doing?” That was traumatizing. I had to spend weeks at flirt camp regaining my mojo. Thank goodness for smores.

I don’t have time to entertain foolishness (I got it from my momma).

I retreat. Sometimes I disappear. It goes with the very private nature. If you don’t have security clearance, then I probably won’t be able to break down why I feel the need to retreat or disappear. So I apologize for not warning you or explaining it. It’s a sucky quandary. I’m complicated.

This post is long as hell. You’ve been subjected to my need to get this out of my head. The poem will be better I promise.

I don’t interact the easiest. For lots of reasons. But I love the interactions I have had. I try to learn from my mistakes. I’m grateful for the people who put up with me. I am sorry for the ones I have shut out. I will change and trust more. Then I won’t. Then I will again. Then I will write more posts and blogs. At least until I become ridiculously stupendously happy. Then I’ll draw daffodils and sing folks songs.

One other thing…

To those that don’t know if they have abused their privileges. I bet I got you thinking now don’t I? Is it me? He did sorta look at me funny 3 weeks ago. His last text message was missing a comma, was it a sign. Hmmm, I wonder. Well, here is some advice. Don’t inbox me, email me or text me. Cuz, you know…limited clearance. I’ll cleverly distract you. Look a new reality show staring Monique and Boris Kudjo. See?

Orangoutang. Cool word… Orangoutang.

Ok, I think that is all. I have made a new post for my blog. Next I’ll publish it. It will go out to my social media pages. Most of friends won’t read it. They all kick babies and pluck the wings off of butterflies in their spare time.

Orangoutang

Say it with me…

Orangoutang