Saturday, January 3, 2015

F.L.O.W. Book Club: Fire Shut Up In My Bones


If you follow me on social media, you'll know that I'm an adamant literati. Every few days I post a book that I'm reading or flipping through. I always get a ton of requests for suggestions and I'm always happy to oblige. A few months ago, I decided to start a "book club." We were going to read Roxane Gay's "Untamed State." The book was incredible and as the day approached I was eager to discuss it. The book club date landed on the same day as a family emergency, a work emergency, and my upcoming birthday plans dissipating. Thus, the book club fell apart. 

Several women that were going to be tuned in and coming to the club bought the book and although we were not able meet I received great reviews! I was so excited that folks enjoyed the book, as much as I did. A lot of women told me that they wouldn't usually grab a book like Gay's off of the shelf, but they were so glad they did. 

& so it gave me a great idea! 

There are a few sites that I frequent that suggest a book at the start of the month. At the end of the month they reconvene on a post/comments to give their thoughts about the book. That's what we'll be doing, every month, here on Rivaflowz.com!

I'd like to start with Charles Blow's memoir "Fire Shut Up In My Bones." Last fall, Blow, an incredible N.Y. Times writer, dropped an essay that had the essay lovers swooning. I knew instantly that I had to read his book and I added it to my wish list. I even bought my dad a copy, for Christmas. 

Now I'd like to read it with you! Get to your kindles, nooks, bookstores, etc. and let me know if you're down to discuss it at the end of the month, in the comments below.

Looking forward to it!

Welcome to the F.L.O.W. (For Love of Words) Book Club.



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year In Review: On Dating, On Growing, On Learning, On Flying



As the year comes to a close, I'm overwhelmed with emotion about how much my writing has evolved within twelve months. This year, I wasn't able to keep up with my blogging as much as I would've liked to. However, I've definitely made some incredible strides. 

Let's take a look: 

(Click on the titles to read in posts, in full.)



I've been working a compilation of short stories about love during the Harlem Renaissance. You can read a few HERE. While reading texts to inspire prose, for this project, I came across an excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston's biography that GREATLY inspired me. I paired quotes from her work with memories of my own. 

“…I got in trouble with him for trying to loan him a quarter. It came about this way. I lived in the Graham Court at 116th Street and Seventh Avenue. He lived down in 64thStreet, Columbus Hill. He came to call one night and everything went off sweetly until he got ready to leave. At the door he told me to let him go because he was going to walk home. He had spent the only nickel he had that night to come see me. That upset me, and I ran to get a quarter to loan him until his pay day. What did I do that for? He flew hot. In fact he was the hottest man in five boroughs. Why did I insult him like that? The responsibility was all his. He had known that he did not have his return fare when he left home, but he had wanted to come, and so he had come. Let him take the consequences for his own acts. What kind of coward did I take him for?...He was a man! No woman on earth could either lend him or give him a cent. If a man could not do for a woman, what good was he on earth? His great desire was to do for me. Please let him be a man!

For a minute I was hurt and then I saw his point. He had done a beautiful thing and I was killing it off in my blindness. If it pleased him to walk all of that distance for my sake, it pleased him as evidence of his devotion. Then too, he wanted to do all the doing, and keep me on the receiving end. He soared in my respect from that moment on.” --Zora Neale Hurston



I remember making excuses:
This is an investment.
The economy is crazy right now.
It’s harder on a brother.
He’s right; he’s too qualified for that.
My father made no excuses for him.
“If I had to wash dishes, in a restaurant, on the weekend, to make sure my family was secure, I’d do it.”



When insecurity and love’s blindness walk hand in hand, they conquer our most incredible talent:
The ability to detect bullsh*t.



But not even bulls shat as much as he did. How long can you hold a brother down, before he suffocates from devotion?



If you’ve found the right fool, you can probably do it forever. He will always find a way to come up for air and take the oxygen for granted.



Breathe."--Me






Fell in and out of love this year. Wanted to celebrate and understand it. 



"You want to bring them into your world.
Remember those silent spaces we discussed earlier? Use them to your advantage. Fill the cracks.
Tell them about stories you’ve only told to those closest to you. Open your heart a little. Spread your vulnerability, while asking them to let go a little too.
Scene:



It was the first time I was truly sad about rejection. The letter came in the mail and I waited three hours to open it. I finally did and they told me that they didn’t want to take me on. I never wanted to write again.



If he skips over the story to tell you his own story of rejection, walk away. If he listens, offers a shoulder, and tells you that one day you’ll write across the sky…keep him."






I'm still fighting this battle, everyday.



"--Folks will take second glances, maybe three. This is fine, when it comes to new folks. However, I’m leery of people who’ve always been in my life and are just starting to pay me compliments or trying to embark on a sudden friendship. Despite my weight, I’ve always been a talented, incredible, and awesome person to get to know. Why now?



--None of my new confidence came from weight loss. In fact, after I lost weight, I became conscious about how different I looked. It took continuous “you are beautiful” chants, in my mirror, to bring about the pedestal I carry myself on now. It took several journal entries, recanting all that I had to offer. It took remembering that I had my father’s smile and my mother’s hips."






I was working on a novel that I decided I wanted to give away for free. It's still in progress, but it's been shown nothing but love. Thank you.



"I looked down at the app and realized that I didn’t press send on my order. Yeesh. I’d have to wait twenty more minutes, for my ride to show up. I pressed send and sat on the steps of the building. I was about to take out a book, when someone sat next to me.
            “You like the stockbroker type, huh?”
            I looked over my shoulder, it was Damali, “What are you talking about?”
            “Your little friend you were out here talking to.”
            “Oh. No, he’s just someone I work with.”
            “Right.”
            I hissed my jamaican descendant teeth, “Listen. You should really be minding your own business.”
He stood up from his seat and the street light hit his face. It was chiseled to perfection, reminiscent of his poetry.
            “I’m just making conversation. You should be minding that attitude.”
            I fell silent, hoping it would get him to go away.
            He spoke again, “I wanted to say that I’m sorry about your dad. He was a good man.”
            He had my attention, “You knew my father?”
            “I loved your father, like he was my own.”
            My cab pulled up as I turned to Damali, to ask him more questions.
            He smiled, “It’s getting late. Catch that cab. You’ll see me around.”






It's been a busy year. I've had to learn not to beat up on myself about things that are out of my control or the hours in a day. 



"That last point is so important. You can’t be present and strong for everyone, if you don’t renew your strength. Finding time for you is the key to sustaining balance. You’ve got to replenish energy, in order to give it.
I am balancing, but I’m still dropping the ball.
& picking it back up.
& dropping it again.
& picking it back up.
Being a woman of superiority, not Superwoman, means understanding that there will always be tribulation, but having the power to overcome and sustain. Things will always get crazy, but they’ll always simmer down again. After the storm, there’s always sun."






& then there are the posts that make their way up, when I'm pissed. 


"You're right. 

I will never love anyone like I loved you. 
No one will ever love me the way you did. 
But there are several different ways to love.
& I'm learning a new style, so I can enact it with a man who's style of loving surpasses your own. 
You're right. 
You're my first lesson on what it looks like.
But you my dear...are the prototype. 
I'm looking for the perfected version of you--the iOS system bereft of multiple glitches and incredulous updates.
I thought about answering your text. I wanted to be spiteful and land a "who is this?" in your inbox. I thought of inquiring whether you knew how broken you'd left me. 
Instead, I didn't answer at all. I reveled in my newfound happiness and continued my day. I wanted to leave you in silence."






I rid myself of a few of these folks, at the start of 2014.


"You probably have a huge compliment sandwich in your texts or your memory:


Bun.
You’re so amazing, but I have to get my ish together before I can take part in anything.
Lettuce.
I really admire you.
Cheese.
You’re smart, witty, beautiful…
Tomato.
You’re a great cook, classy…
Meat.
You’re definitely the kind of girl I can take home.
Bun.
But right now…I’m not in a place where I can be what you need.
Don’t eat that!"






Self explanatory. 


"We think we don’t remember phone numbers anymore, until you want to rid yourself of his.

You change his name in your phone from the pet name coupled with emojis, to the one his mother gave him. You try to be courteous after it’s ended, until he pisses you off. It’s then that you’ll delete his texts and number to rid yourself of him forever.
 & then on a drunken night you’ll realize that you remember it.
You’ll call and smile in between slurs.
He’ll either reminisce with you or ask you why the hell you’re calling.
It’s rarely the latter when the split is fresh.
Don’t be surprised when you find yourself in his presence.
Don’t feel too awful, when you realize that was a mistake."






Because it's difficult and there should be an instruction manual. 



"Kiss us when we aren’t expecting it.
Take long walks with us and tell us your childhood stories.
We frickin’ love stories.
Tell us that you see God in us.
Call us olden things: Queen, Goddess, My Lady, Maven.
Hold us from behind and tell us that we’re your fairytale.
Describe the sky, even though we can see it.
Cross bridges with us.
Tinker with things that seem meaningless, but could provide symbolism somewhere.
Forgive us when we guess the end of Law and Order SVU.
Or anything else that was written form, first.
Hold our hands and trace the lifelines, on our palms.
We will remember this.
We remember everything.
Elephant love."






This year, MadameNoire.com picked up the dating series and it received hundreds of thousands of hits. I received a ton of emails about heartbreak and hurt and I tried to respond to every single one. I shared my personal stories and was given so much love and understanding in return. The dating series will start again in January 2015, on MN. It's the best gift I could think of giving back to you...my dating life in 2014. (Whew.) I hope you enjoy. 


"& I still love him, even though he doesn’t deserve one ounce of it.

I’m not morphing into a mad black woman.
I do not want to throw things and scream.
I am not seeking revenge.
I am not e-stalking him.
& this how I know I’m growing.
Instead…
I have an impulse to live.
I want to paint.
I want to dance.
I want to see the world.
I want to write like crazy.
I am all I have, in the end. We are all we have. With each heartbreak; we grow stronger. Micah was right. We are all frail things propped up on something, but I am strengthened by me.
I am propped up on knowledge: We learn that love is not promised. We learn that hope is a relative thing. We learn that loving us first is more urgent than anything.

Urgent like a mother. "


2015 is going to be one hell of a year. I'm ready. 





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

For Boys Who've Lost Their Magic / When Their B.S. Was Not Enough


I don’t think I’ve ever seen you disrobe.

I was probably reminiscing on something in our past, instead of focusing on the present, when our palms met in dark rooms or the heater was on too high.

Shirt:

You love white tees. I try to find a stereotype about them, something to make you laugh, hidden in my memory. I fail. I’ve always been intrigued by how your tattoos tell a story. Your ink pours from your sleeves, giving life to your arms. How could I have gotten this far without really reading them?

Your sons’ names are tucked under your forearm. A place that speaks of job interviews, the occasional basketball game musk, and the shame you feel for how you treated their mother. Your ex wife’s name, not the mother of your sons, is covered by a hot air balloon. You don’t tell me this story, until after I notice the scrawl of her birthright beneath the fading stripes, until after I’m too committed to feel lied to. I guess it would’ve been too brazen to place a heap of excrement there—the thing she said you were full of—hot air is much more tasteful.

Pants:

How many drawers, tucked in dressers adorned with perfume bottles, with your name, are scattered across your city? How many women think you belong to them?

Around May—around the time I’d convinced myself that we’d become friends—you messaged to tell me that you were in a “relationship.” Despite my wanting to be over you, notwithstanding the eons of times I’d told myself I was over you, I found myself overcome with anger.

How is it possible, that months after telling me that you had no room left in your heart, that relationships were not for you, that you’d aligned yourself with someone? How could someone that insisted that they loved me, over and over again, suddenly and harshly be infatuated with another woman?

The answer is simple: Because, he didn’t want it with me.

Or is it more complicated than that?


Are you the same ol' story wrapped in a new preface? Are people tired of flipping your pages?

Belt:

You don’t believe in beating your children. You don’t believe in abusing women. I’m confounded by your stances. How can a revolving door, a man cloaked in mistakes, believe in anything but himself?

You talk about homeschooling. You wonder if they’d be better off outside of a public classroom, among students who’re sheltered and coveted. I wonder if you know you are a home school, a role model, in front of an audience everyday. You’re a professor of faux pas. You tell one woman you’re celibate, another that you’re looking for something special, a mother that you’re not sure what you want right now, but it can “progress.” You draw chalk lines around black-bored bodies. You teach anatomy like Basquiat, pull parts from lovers and display them on a canvass, which happens to be your skin.

You’re a walking dating ad.

Talmbout’:

I want love you know,
I just don’t know what it looks like,
Have never seen it outside of the realm of
Child support,
Ex-lovers,
And
Arguments
I guess I’m looking for that now

Looking for what?

For a woman who can satisfy me,
I’m never really satisfied
I’m always hungry
I guess they just don’t make women
Who can make me content, anymore

Shoes:

I listen to you speak. I can’t help but feel like the doormat you exchanged for another, last year. I’m sick and tired for the woman you’re “loving” currently. It’s November and you’re no longer in that relationship. She sends a text, while we sit for coffee. She asks, “So you don’t love me anymore? Have you found someone new?” You laugh at this, tap my shoulder as if you’re one of my homeboys, and ask me “Can you believe this trick?” I wonder which one of your ex-lovers you were catching up with, when you laughed at my heartbroken texts.

You’ve lost your magic, boy.

That quickly.

Should’ve lost it long ago, but blind and love and old sayings make you trust in things that aren’t really there. Your heart is a mirage, a figment, something no one’s ever seen before.

_________________________________

I look at you intently. You fiddle with your car keys, with one hand, and scroll through Instagram with the other. You’re too comfortable. You start telling me things about another woman you’ve come across and how you’re not sure if you want her yet, but…

I can’t hear you anymore.

I’m bewildered by your nakedness. You’ve stripped in plain sight and everything I’ve deemed mystic about you turns to sh*t.

I used to see your hands like a pedestal. You used to wrap them around my face and rave about my beauty, used them to walk me down streets that you were proud of. I thought your smile was a light, couldn’t get your laughter off of my eardrums. Your accent was something unique, made you stand out from all the northerners I’d grown accustomed to.

Now your hands are ghosts, I feel like they aren’t even there. I don’t know how many you’ve struck down with them, without force, using their strum to whisper things you know will dissipate. Your laughter disgusts me. I cannot fathom that anyone who has loved you is deserving of the way you choose to utilize it. Your accent is suddenly indistinguishable. You’re like any other southerner I’ve ever met.

I turn my back to you and ask the waitress for the check.

You frown a little, you ask: So soon?

I think of the reverse: Not soon enough.

I don’t know why it took us so long to get here. I’m unsure of how I’d missed all of your poor judgment and dangled sorrow.

But I’m sure of the water in your eyes. I’m sure that when you release women you release them for good. However, you still insist on coffee and conversation when I come to town. You lace your possessiveness all over my social media. You must let the world know that we were united once and perhaps we still are.

You still love me, so much.
You can’t help yourself.
But I can.

I will always love the you I thought you were.
But this man?
The exhibitionist that holds his broken up like a trophy,
The wish and wash that weathers adoration,
The pretend that you keep portraying?

I can never love him.

Wanna see a really, cool trick?

Goodbye.






Sunday, December 21, 2014

20 Thoughts on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, From A Retired Femcee and Hip-Hop Journalist


My timeline and mini-feed is inundated with all aspects of my past and present lives. I spent my teenage years in the cipher/studio circuit and competed in poetry slams, I've been on HBO's Def Poetry, ran around interviewing emcees like Fashawn, Kendrick, Nitty Scott MC and Currensy for Brooklyn Bodega and other publications, I even spent the time I wasn't teaching, in literary workshops with Junot Diaz, Stacey-Ann Chin, Ravi Howard and more. I'm extremely well rounded. Thus, my social media is a spout of analyzed Gabriel Garcia Marquez one second and a rant about top five emcees the next. I haven't carefully curated my lists as most online savants do, but I've definitely lived a life that's done it for me. 

Since the leak of J. Cole's "2014 Forest Hills Drive", and the eventual release, I've been privy to several variations of reviews. I have an indie emcee friend who called it a total snooze fest. I know a producer who's frustrated at the samples he used. I have a financier friend who uses a mathematical equation to judge all albums he listens to. (Yo Kev! Share that equation.) I have younger "brothers" and "sisters", from my alma mater, who are in awe at the album and are calling it revolutionary. 

To each his own. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  

I'd like to put some things into perspective, considering that our views are often predicated by our experience. I don't expect someone who's an avid listener of trap music to instantly cling to J. Cole's new work. I really don't want for someone who is obsessed with overt lyricism, metas, and puns to feel like this album is the extent of his lyrical skill. (Please make sure you've heard all tracks, from his canon, Fayettenam days.) 

My favorite visual artists are Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Before they were the martyrs for hipster coolness. I kid, I kid.) They weren't always my favorite artists. I'd passed Frida's work in a several textbooks and was never moved by it. The same goes for Basquiat. Two instances changed this notion: The first was a book that a friend gave me, after I expressed that I was afraid to change my major, because I thought my Caribbean household would reject choosing the arts as a profession. I was handed Pheobe Hoban's "A Quick Killing In Art", a book about Basquiat, his art dealers, and his troubled past, that included a Haitian father who wasn't accepting of his aspirations. 

The second instance was in a community college classroom (b/c my always striving behind just haddd to take classes during my summer vacation. It was there that I learned the details of the woman with the unibrow that I'd come across in my text books. Knowing her story and knowing Jean-Michel's let me see their work in a completely different way. Knowing that Basquiat was obsessed with Gray's Anatomy explained the words that were plastered on his canvass. His relationship with his father and the pain he felt from it was strewn across several pieces. You can also find his frequent love of women and adoration for several people, in his work. Frida's work, filled with suits, broken spine, fetuses, self portraits and broken hearts are heavier when you know about her accident, bi-sexuality, babying of her husband, and the way she viewed herself. Understanding the history allowed me to fully appreciate the work. Now, I can't walk past a piece of their work and not immediately correlate it with something that affected them or something that affected me, that is eerily similar.

This is how I feel about J. Cole's work.




1) It is the work of someone who felt something and put pen to paper or lip to microphone or chest to speaker. How many artists do that anymore? How much music do we indulge in that isn't premeditated and afflicted by music executives and popular opinion? How can you tell this?  J. Cole explains that the album's theme is based off of the fact that he just bought his childhood home--the place where he'd begun to rap. He also mentions Ferguson and his "frustration" with current white emcees. These are recent events. He even expressed that he couldn't make the credits fast enough for the artwork. Repeat: This isn't a premeditated album. (Not to say that some aren't amazing.) When I was rhyming and I felt something...I recorded it. Sometimes it made the cut, sometimes it didn't. But you could FEEL what I was saying. It was raw, real. 

"I rip a page out my notebook in anger and let these thoughts linger...."

2) This album was a perfect amalgamation of Fayettenam's finest and Cole World Jermaine. J. Cole's first tape was soooo hungry. A mixtape later, he was crooning for the ladies and dishing out Slick Rick stories. (Still an excellent tape.) You can tell industry heads put a bug in the ear of the emcee who recorded at St. John's in between classes. I imagine they sounded something like:

You have to make something for the ladies.
You've got to have something softer.
You need club bangers. 

3) It seems like he's taken this advice and utilized it in a way that brought his work to a completely different level, on his terms. 

4) We watched rapper Cole grow. In his credits, he says something about not listening to the industry's way of making music. We watched him go from raw to mainstream to raw again. He shook some of the commentary off on Born Sinner and completely shed it with 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

5) I love hearing about this cat's sex life. He cracks on himself and let's us in on the thoughts of a man torn between his moral and whorish selves.

6) Fire Squad though.

7) Tale of 2 Cities is OUR story. We've been fighting so hard for it not to be. Run it.

8) Hip-Hop head. That word is EVERYWHERE. 

The folks utilizing it have Young Thug on their playlists and are running through the halls talking about their love for the Coco.

You've got to be kidding me. Sure, there are those fascinated with ridiculous wordplay. That's cool. However, most times I find myself bored with the bravado of lyricism and yearn to hear something emcee is actually feeling.

9) Can you feel Cole on this? 

I imagine him walking through the halls of his home recounting the memories of laid up girls, a city that not many have heard of, Nas on a Discman, his mother's issues, his relationship with God, sixteen bars, and marble notebooks...

"But the only thing like home I've ever known, before they snatched it from my momma and foreclosed it on a loan. I'm so sorry that I left you there to deal with that alone...."

10) The samples are clutch. Screw what that producer dude had to say. Lol.

11) I can tell when things are coming from a notebook. You can just hear it on the track, when you're an emcee. A lot of this was straight from the soul.

12) I needed to hear "Love Yourz" more than anything, right now.

I was fourteen when I wrote my first rap song. The song was called "Invisible" and of course it was about a boy. My other homegirl that was an emcee and another that was a singer joined me in my basement, along with cool-edit pro, and thrift store microphones. I burned it on to three blank CDs: 1 for my parents, 1 for safekeeping, and 1 for the guy it was intended. 

I needed to know that I was alive. I envied girls who rocked nameplates with the dates of their union. I wanted love so badly, but I needed to love myself.

"No such thing as a life better than yours...."

I yearned for validation from an outside source that wasn't worth my time. 

Sometimes I find myself regressing. Lingering on people for validation: 

That I'm beautiful.
That I'm necessary.
That I'm loved.
That I'm amazing.

I know I'm alive. No validation needed. I love mine.

See the simplicity in that story? Did it spark a moment for you? I miss that in hip-hop.

13) Is that a gospel choir on "Note to Self"? 

14) Oh. Cole got money. Renting out the church. 

15) How does he make 12 tracks sound like 17? I was satisfied. 

16) "I got a feeling that there's something wrong. Something that holds us together..."

Absolutely.
I've never had more intense conversations with the brown people that I love. We trade articles and information with a fury, with an anger, with a tiredness that does not sleep.

We all want to start a revolution, but we're unsure how.

17) 
& whoever we be
It don't matter! 

THIS.

18) I want to rhyme again. 

19) J. Cole is the most important rapper right now. I didn't say he was the best....I said he's the most important.




Now...GO GET YOU SOME CONTEXT. & holla at me after your second listen. Leave your notions below.