Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Feed Your Mind...

I don't have a television.  Partly by design and partly because I just don't have the money to buy even a used one from Craigslist.  I also can't imagine scraping together money for basic cable which would be the only way to get any reception of television stations at all...
When I returned to the Chi from Paris via Seattle, I had made the decision to jump into freelancing head first and not get a television.  I planned to get myself back into reading and particularly fiction.  And so I've done both, although, the first part of the plan has been difficult. The second part has been surprisingly difficult too.  Anyway, here are the books I've read since September:

1.  Leni - Steven Bach
2.  Mouth Wide Open - John Thorne
3.  Snow - Orhan Pahmuk
4.  The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
5.  The Known World - Edward P. Jones (in progress)*

I'm a little ashamed that the list only consists of five, particularly because I had to read John Thorne's book for a review I wrote that will be published in Gastronomica, but at least I can proudly declare that nothing by Zane or even Iyanla Van Zant is part of it.  I suppose life, survival, etc. has kept me busy.  My head has not always in a good place for reading.  

Next up for me, however:

1.  The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James
2.  The Master Butcher's Singing Club - Louise Erdrich
3.  Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
4.  A Handmade's Tale - Margaret Atwood
5.  Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler
(...the next few I started long ago (we're talking years here)  and I finally plan to finish them)
6.  The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse - Louise Erdrich
7.  Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
8.  A Death in Brazil - Peter Robb
9.  Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison 
10.  Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I am deeply ashamed at never having finished 6, 7, 9, and 10, but I will before spring ends.  

Overall I'm happy with life without television.  Sometimes I long for it, but really, $60+ each month to watch really shitty things is not worth it.  Now, with the end of The Wire and the fact that I can catch Boondocks episodes online, there's no real motivation.  Maybe when those elusive siblings economic/career stability decide to grace me with their collective presence, I can contemplate such a purchase.  Until then, if, in fact that day does arrive, I'll continue working my way through the stacks of unopened tomes that call my bookshelves home and giving my library card a much needed workout.

I finished The Known World last night.  It is quite an astounding book because it felt like a family history, like Edward P. Jones was actually there, as though he was channeling the ancestors.  I don't know what to say.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

El Negro Calde...

While I am rarely moved by celebrities, or anyone for that matter, I have to admit that occasionally I become fixated on people. I am willing to admit to an irrational obssession with Snoop Dogg that lasted from the time he first emerged on the scene on the Deep Cover soundtrack until 2005 when he released Drop It Like It's Hot. Great song, but I was horrified by the video in which, as many of you know, he featured his children along with shots of scantily clad booty girls, shots of him doing the crip walk, and shots of him getting his toke on. Up until that time, he'd put me through many changes as I tried to stick with him through the No Limit Soldier years, through the ridiculous MTV shows and those pigtails he seems so fond of, and even through the -izzle schtick he continued (excuse me, continues) to ply even after he heard countless white people co-opting. 

God knows, I tried. I tried, Snoop. 

But after the babies and the weed and the booties and the crip walk all together on film, I realized it was not to be. I had to let him go.

Anyway, now I've found someone new, but I feel much better about him, it's Tego Calderon.  I'm not ashamed to go into a store and proudly place his CD on the counter and say "Yes, I'm ready, ring me up, please."  I only felt that way once about Snoop, when I bought a replacement copy of Doggystyle, years after I'd purchased the original. 

So, o.k., this man makes me tingly all over. I don't know what it is exactly. There's something incredibly sexy about him. I once read him described as being "perpetually craggy" it fits, at least aesthetically. I could go on to describe why I find him handsome, but I'll spare you dear reader; my tastes often lean toward the unconventional. I just have to say that he has the most beautiful skin color. Amazing. You just don't find that tone among Black Americans, even with the many lovely hues you do find among us, it has to have something to do with the Spanish rather than English (or Scottish, rather) part of the mix.

Anyway, I haven't seen him speak or be interviewed, although back when I was plugged in I had VH1 Soul (the one thing I miss) and saw him in Bling'd touring Africa to learn about blood diamonds. I have only one of his albums (do the kids still say that these days?), the first, El Abayarde and it is really a piece of art. I'd had it over a year and I'd listened, but about a month ago, I really listened. It's quite masterful and so hip hop. Reggaeton, for all intents and purposes, I find wack. That's just my personal opinion, that was strengthened when I learned that artists like Ivy Queen, Daddy Yankee, and Don Omar were clowning at the Latin Grammy Awards a few months ago when Calle 13 won album or artist of the year, I don't remember which one it was. Who knew they served haterade at awards shows? They actually walked out in protest and then made it worse by speaking on it in interviews!!

For real? It's like that? So not hip-hop.

It was astounding because Calle 13 is really, really good. Really interesting and creative. Perhaps I don't understand the world of Reggaeton and if that is any indication, I don't want to. I also understand that right now I could be sounding like white people debating the issue of why a group like Arrested Development represents ground-breaking hip-hop while slamming say, Grand Puba or X-Clan.  However, I do know that hating--even though we all do it from time to time--is not cute.  Especially not on live television.

Anyway, Mr. Calderon, did not walk out. He is actually the model for a character in a book I am writing. I'd love to interview him someday, that is if I didn't get too tingly. 

He has great sensibilities, at least as conveyed through his music. Really innovative.  Did I mention he has a lisp and it sounds cool.  He's not the first MC with a lisp, but...anyway, enough...

I'm no longer conflicted.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


These days I am going through (or should I say, continue to be going through) some changes. Since 2004 really when I sold my belongings, donated my car to a charity and then headed to Paris with the intent of expatriating, my life has been moving on and on and on...


It has not stopped. Now I am in the throes of trying to make a career as a writer. Now, I call myself a writer. Now I am a writer. I have written some beautiful things several, including one of the most beautiful, was even published. I have the makings of a novel in my sacred notebook and in my sacred MacBook. I am doing just about everything I ever wanted, you know: writing, cooking, traveling, even living with abandon pretty consistently these days...the only thing that's missing is loving. But that's not what I plan to delve into here. No.

Now I live in poverty. In the past three months, I made $80 from my writing. Since I decided to make a go of it full-time, I no longer have money or time for the things I once did. I have gone through my savings, borrowed, begged, but not yet stolen, although I have been there too since I started on this path in 2004, and I've learned that no one anywhere should ever say "Never!" Never does not exist when you're really living. Sometimes you have to get that hustle going any way you can (well, within reason) This is not meant to sound high-handed or uppity. I'm no uppity negro (at least not about things like this). Anyway, to the point...

I am living in poverty. Proof: I'm on welfare now. I currently have a Link Card. Which, for those not from the great state of Illinois, means I'm on food stamps. Funny, like a drug, I am on food stamps and I have to admit that I might be hooked. When you take your card and swipe it and it pays without drawing money from your coffers, you feel as though you've been given a gift of some sort, especially when you head through the line at Whole Foods. Something exhilarating about food stamps at Whole Foods, I'm not gonna lie. The looks on the faces of the wealthy white folks...that's another post, another day, another commentary. Anyway, I'll miss my Link Card when this stage of life passes! The truth is, this Link Card, it's my right and I've been contributing to the fund for years so I have no qualms about making a withdrawal as piddling as my $160 a month.

In other areas of my life, I have had to seek rental assistance from the city's Department of Human Services. Who knew that there was rental assistance that didn't involve folding sweaters at the Gap on evenings and weekends after you finished your real day job?

Please don't get me wrong. Don't think I'm making light of poverty and what it does to people, on the contrary. Don't think that this is fun, this poverty stuff, as a great many of our brethren can attest to, is not for suckers. It's hard and I'm not even REALLY poor. In a sense I am doing this by choice, because with my Master's degree and my French fluency and the rest, I could go get a job and stack some paper, just like I was before I decided to let art rule my heart and thus, my life. But yes, it's tough, not only because you have to constantly be thinking about what's what, what will be, what might be, and what isn't, in a way that you don't when your bank account is padded, but because at every turn you have to prove that you are in need and what you say you are: POOR.

I'm learning that the prevailing sentiment is that poor people are criminals. That somehow they want to be poor. Now, of course, some of them are criminals let's just get that out there, because I have a few in the fam who stand out in my mind as shining examples, however, as trifling as they are, I don't think even they aspire to poverty. But overall, I know well in this three-year journey from young urban professional to artist that poverty causes crime in most circles, but again, another post, another day, another commentary.

I have had to produce documents detailing my poverty, I have had to get official documentation from friends and employers substantiating my plight and hope that someone somewhere sitting in an office would believe me when I said that I only had $5.37 in my checking account until God knows when, and "could you please help me out so I can by some soy milk?"  

I have had people treat me terribly. First those who assumed that I am just another lazy Black Woman. Probably with a few kids--someone actually checked the yes box on a form and then asked me "How many?" without even looking up.  Another case worker told me that she would pass me on for someone to deal with me.  Yet another fat-punk-ass-hot-ass-breath-having security guard (oooh, sorry, it got personal for a minute) at a social service agency spoke to me in Spanish thinking first that I was Puerto Rican.  When he found out I was not, he was extremely rude and refused to help me. I know this because while my spoken Spanish is rusty, I understand it like it was my own tongue.  When speaking with my downtrodden Latin brethren, he was the picture of courtesy.  Of course, I had to check them all.  I had to tell them all: 'have some respect, show some respect, I am human and I am struggling, just like you are/have/may be one day.'

But none of that mattered.

It was only when they learned that I am a writer with degrees and travels under my belt and shit, speaking foreign languages and shit. It was only then that they showed a modicum of respect. Only when I wasn't just a trifling, po', black ass hood rat (what they assume of every Black Woman who walks in the door) that they began to look at my face. Even my beauty, my big butt, my smile, none of it mattered, at least not that I could tell. It's been an education for real. I don't want to end on a corny note saying things like: "it's all part of the journey..." or "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger..." or "I'll look back on all of this and laugh..." because the truth is, it shouldn't have to be, that's not always true, and I probably won't.

So I'll say, we should stop treating poor people like criminals, because when you are constantly worried you can't possibly be your best self or raise babies who grow up doing the same; we should support the arts so people who try to create beauty and truth don't have to struggle the way that they do; all black people are not trifling, uneducated lay abouts looking for a hand out; that security guard with all of his sin-verguenceria (how's that for Puerto Rican, security guard Garcia?) better be glad the homiez I could have called before moving to France are either on lockdown or dead, or he would be in a world of trouble. Maybe I'll just write a scathing letter to the editor and send it to the Chicago Tribune. How 'bout that, Garcia?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Que Dios Te Bendiga...

I have been inspired to return to blogging after reading a few excellent blogs from a few writer/scholar/hip hop heads out of NYC. It actually feels like a good decision to me after having left the fray a few years ago feeling that blogging was a mite too self-indulgent, and frankly, it is, but putting pen to paper or in this case, fingers to keyboard is therapeutic and I need an outlet these days.

So here I go...

Today I decided to do some work in a coffee shop in Humboldt Park that sells great Puerto Rican coffee (had a cortadito) and even better guava cake (took a pass on that as my bottom seems to be spreading at an alarming rate challenging even my own appreciation for bootyliciousness!). On my way, I passed a botanica that I've passed hundreds of times before without stopping. Today was different. I was drawn to the place, perhaps because I've been immersing myself quite deeply in the cultures of people of African descent in the Carribbean and American diasporas, I stopped in. I actually wanted to see if they had John the Conqueror floor wash, because times are hard up in the cut lately and I was feeling suddenly that a little hoodoo couldn't hurt. I ended up buying candles or novenas, whichever you prefer. This is not new for me, but it's been a minute. At one time, you couldn't enter my place without finding the Seven African Powers on a shelf, table, or mantle somewhere, but a move around the world and back disrupted my little ritual. But today, I remembered, so I picked up the SAP candle and two others for good measure: John the Conqueror (got him, although they didn't have floor wash) and a Fast Luck candle. Now I know that anyone reading this might be thinking overkill, but like I said, times are real hard in the cut! Anyway, for the first time, I had someone fix my candles, the woman had me write my name in the wax and then she brushed one of them with oils. She prayed over it and blessed me and then took the others to add the appropriate oils and herbs, after I explained my situation. She returned and once again prayed over them and blessed me. "...que Dios te bendiga..." she said, as she asked the spirits to protect my health and grant me peace, wealth, and much luck in love, among other things. I have them home burning, it's funny that I feel a bit of comfort now.

The truth is that it makes lots of sense to me. I want to learn more, maybe there's an article in it somewhere or a place for her in the book I'm currently working on. In the meantime, I will keep my candles burning and respectfully continue to ask Yemaya, Oshun, Obatala, Ogun, Elegua, Ogun, Shango, Orula, and Babaluaye to intercede on my behalf.