Archive for March, 2005

A Month in the Life of a Writer

It’s been an unusually emotional month, professionally speaking.

It started with a rejection letter from the anthology, Corpse Blossom. Not all together unexpected, but it hurt nonetheless. By “not all together unexpected” I mean that the news didn’t send me into the typical spiral of “I can’t write”, “I’m not meant to be doing this,” “Why would God give me this so-called gift if no one wants to read me?”, “Maybe this is a sign that I ought to find a different outlet for my writing.” You know, that spiral that makes it hard to be as happy as I would like for my friends who get acceptances (Jen Orosel, David Wilbanks). That bitter, jealous thing.

Luckily, the month picked up. I got an acceptance into Dark Dreams II with my story “Black Frontiers” (the middle story of my black horror western trilogy). The fun of signing contracts, anticipating money, counting down to seeing your story in print, that’s why I got into this. The validation of others. Let’s face it, writers are egotists to varying degrees. Why else yearn to see our names in print? Why else would some go so far as to pay companies to put their work in print (and why so many companies exist to prey on those same egos)? We’re wired, and I don’t think writers are by any means alone in this, to seek something outside ourselves to give us meaning. So, now I’m cool and can stay in this game another minute.

Then I got the acceptance letter from Walt Hicks over at DeathGrip: Exit Laughing for my story “Since We Can Die but Once.” Now, I’ve never been in the position to have two stories accepting within weeks of each other. Well, then I was just insufferable. I was God’s gift to writing. I was ready to call up my web guy and revamp my web site so that I could declare myself “the new master of horror.” You know, put up something catchy like “why wait for the next Steven King? He’s already here!” (The key being to misspell Stephen King’s name, by the way). Maybe, just maybe, I was so bad that a friend of mine left me a voice mail that said “Little people calling pompous ass: get over yourself!”

Which means that maybe my rejection notice from Damned Nation did me a favor and brought me back to reality. It was one I really wanted in, but part of me knew that the story I sent was flawed (yeah, you get that sense about some of your work. Too bad that didn’t hit me until AFTER I sent it out). For some reason, I can’t stop humming “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

And I’m hard at work on a new novella. Devil’s Marionette. I’m digging it. Writing is still fun.

It’s been a good month.

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I Need a New Image

All my life, I’ve been saddled with this nice guy vibe. Go check at my web site picture. Look at me. I’m going for that “he might be dangerous”, “vaguely angry Negro” look. Apparently though, there’s something about my eyes that says, “nah, just kidding.” I can’t escape it. Total strangers, whether at conventions, informal gatherings, whatever, have been known to curl up with me or start opening up and confessing the most personal things. I guess I have one of those faces (if you haven’t read Gary Braunbeck’s “Rami Temporalis”, find it and read it).

Of course it hampered my dating life. Women want to date the dangerous guys. Nice guys are who they settle down and marry. I always wanted to be dangerous. At least for a solid month or so.

It was put most bluntly too me when I was hanging out with my singles group, specifically, at a table full of women (clue one, women feel comfortable enough to flock around me). One of them pointed out that they loved hanging out with me because not only was it great to have a guy friend, but I was as harmless as a big brother. Harmless. Yes, that completed my eunuchization. Please place my testicles in a jar and put them u p on a shelf because I won’t be needing them anymore.

Sure, I’ve been a LaMaz coach for friends of mine (a practice my wife said is done now that we’re married). I’ve been their matron of honor (the official title, by the way, is “honor attendant”). Sure, on occasion I’ve been known to organize mommy play dates because I get bored during the day and can’t find it in me to watch anymore Jerry Springer. These shouldn’t mar my resume of possible dangerousness.

I can be dangerous. I’m in my basement laboratory now, working on my new, more dangerous persona now. I may be unveiling this soon. Watch out, I’m gonna be edgy.

Dang it, (hmm, clue two, he says things like “dang it”), like my mom* used to say, “if you have to say that you’re something, you probably aren’t.” I’m so screwed. Destined to forever be … nice.

*Okay, my mom didn’t say it. I say it, usually to wanna-be Goths who think that they’re soooo dark and evil. My mom’s Jamaican. All her sayings involve fruit, talking animals, and words not in any dictionary I own.

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Something of Mine My Wife Will Read

My wife finally found something of mine that she reads regularly. My blog. You see, my wife’s not much of a reader. Never really had an interest (she hates reading and games. All games.), but she wants to raise the boys to have the opportunity to develop a love of reading. That, you know, goes a long way on that “maybe we can overlook this quirk of yours” train. It used to bug me that she never ready my stories, my children, the things I poured myself into for hours on end with the pains of mental birthing.

It’s a frustrating thing when you’re a writer. It’s not like I’m desperately insecure and needy. There’s not a sign on my head that reads “please validate me.” However, as a writer, I communicate through the written word, but it has to be read in order to be heard. Ladies, you can relate to this: it’s like wanting to talk through your emotions or problems and your boyfriend/husband is tuning you out.

Early in our marriage, when the classes really started in the school of learning your spouse, I would try to involve her in that part of my life by reading to her. We’d lay in bed, I’d read my nearly final draft, editing for flow as I went. Then, as artists are wont to do, I started to working on stories that drew on our experiences together. Then the questions started: where’d that idea come from? Is that character you? Didn’t I say that once? I soon made peace with this quirk of hers, quickly tiring of the whole “no, that’s not you,” “no, that’s not me,” “yes, you once said soemthing like that, but no one will know that you did.” Heck, I actually grew to appreciate, even count on it (depending on how personal a story I was working on). Moreso when my barber, my collaborator of my African-American romance went through similar things with his wife (who was a reader … especially of African-American romances). He stopped showing her chapters after the third one, once the questions started coming fast and furious. It didn’t help that we made one of the characters a philandering barber. There’s a freedom to not having to write in fear.

It helped realize something. Spousal support takes different forms. I kind of envisioned someone who would read everything I ever wrote and would offer valuable feedback or critique. Then again, they could, not quite understanding that spiritual alchemy that is the creative arts, simply believe in you. Suffocating you with praise and encouragement. Maybe they carve out time (keeping the kids out of your hair while you’re off in your imagination) or space (a den, a writing cave) to let you do your thing. With the occasional bragging about you to their friends and family.

Or maybe, just maybe, their support could simply take the form of them loving your neurotic, needy butt for who you are, as you are, and what you do.

Well, things finally came full circle. I came home and Sally had that look on her face. You know what I’m talking about. That “you’re in trouble” look. That look that says “I’ve been reading your blog.” That look that says I have to cook something special tonight. That look that says though I decried women’s boxing, I certainly veered into stream of consciousness ramblings about her. I informed her that I deleted the line in my pro-women pronouncements about me not only springing from my mothers loins and greatly enjoying my wife’s.

She then mentioned something about some need of mine not getting met for a long, long time.

Oddly enough, that doesn’t weird me out as the idea of her reading my blog.

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Don’t you hate it when people just post song lyrics?*

Whenever life gets you down, keeps you wearing a frown
And the gravy train has left you behind.
When you’re all out of hope, down at the end of your rope
And nobody’s there to throw you a line.
If you ever get so low that you don’t know which way to go
Come one and take a walk in my shoes
Never worry ‘bout a thing, got the world on a string
Cause I’ve got the cure for all of my blues …

I take a look at my enormous penis
And my troubles start melting away
I take a look at my enormous penis
And the happy times are coming to stay
I’ve got a sing and a dance when I glance in my pants
and the feeling’s like a sun-shiny day
I take a look at my enormous penis
And everything is going my way

(one more time )

I take a look at my enormous penis
And my troubles start melting away
I take a look at my enormous penis
And the happy times are coming to stay
I’ve got great big amounts in the place where it counts
and the feeling’s like a sun-shiny day
I take a look at my enormous penis
And everything is going my way.
EVERYTHING IS GOING MY WAAAAAAAAAAAY!

(Da Vinci’s Notebook “Enormous Penis”)

*And if you think I got in trouble when I had the boys singing “I’m Wanna Pee on You” (from Chappelle’s Show) in the children’s nursery at church, them running around saying “Daddy play the penis song again” is gonna get me killed.

The Spirituality of Smoking

I have friends* that are struggling to quit smoking. As I read their accounts of their ups and downs of their battles, and trying to figure out how best to support them if I can, I can’t help but be reminded of the differing spiritual battles that we all face.

Yeah, I see spiritual implications in everything.

One of the things that I wrestled with for a long time, even without realizing that this was crippling my spiritual walk, was the idea of perfection. You see, the Bible seems to not only demand perfection, but it seems to imply that perfection is attainable now. In following Christ, I know that I have things that I struggle with. No, I’m not gonna share my issues here, that isn’t the point. Nor are they all that pretty, thus why I’m not in the sin judging business. [Not that smoking is a sin. Yeah, I’ve heard some people try and say that the Bible says that smoking is a sin–the body being a temple and all that–but you can only say that if you do some twisting of context that would make young Romanian gymnasts envious].

Then someone pointed out to me that I had a screwed up view of “perfection.” When we read the word perfection, through our modern mindset, we see the Greek ideal of perfection. We can’t attain that. Yet for most of my spiritual life, I was tormented by the guilt of failure because I couldn’t reach this goal of perfection. My life was littered with seemingly endless failures. But when you read perfection more through the eyes of the original audience, you find the Hebrew idea of wholeness. Being complete is something that we can attain.

How might that look?

The thing about journeys is that more times than not, the journey is the point, not necessarily the destination. It is through the struggles that we learn a lot about who we are. Yes, we may stumble, fall down, fail, but it’s what you do after that happens that’s the important thing. Do you quit your journey? Do you find an entirely different path to take? Or, do you get up, dust yourself off, then continue on your way? Wholeness can be found in continuing your battles, despite the occasional setbacks.

The bottom line is that my prayers (best wishes, positive energy, whatever makes you comfortable) are with you guys.

*Darn that Bible. We’re to love our enemies (Nick Kaufmann), those who’re easy to love (Stephanie Simpson-Woods), and those in between (John A. Burks).

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Smelly Cat

I have a pissy cat.

I used to have two cats (when we got married, it was pointed out to me that all my stuff was now “our” stuff, but the cats were still mine. Translated: I had to change the litter). Bob, named for an episode of Black Adder, was the older one. A friend of mine was a mechanic working on a car. When she popped the hood, she found Bob. Bob was small enough to fit into the palm of her hand (and she’s all of 5′ 2″ and 100 lbs when wet). She called me up, begged me to take the poor kitten, and coupled with my inability to say “no” to my female friends, I ended up with a cat. But I had to put Bob to sleep mid-last year.

My other cat, Dinsdale, named after a Monty Python sketch, I also inherited due to my inability to say “no” to my female friends. She found him at the Humane Society and insisted that such a cute cat with such an expressive personality had to have a home. And she already had four cats.

Dinsdale is jealous of me. Well, for me. When I first got married, he didn’t take kindly to someone else sharing the house. So he kept peeing on Sally’s stuff. If she had our laundry in a basket, he’d pee on her stuff. If she left clothes around the room, even next to my stuff, he’d pee on only her stuff. If he were particularly moody, he’d pee on her side of the bed. Now, if I came to her defense, he’d pee in the middle of the bed. So I quit defending her.

When each of the kids were born, he’d pee on their stuff. That almost got him kicked out the house. Luckily for him, we had to move, and our neighbors had a mouse problem. So he proved necessary.

Finally, he accepted everyone, or at least grew comfortable with the idea of there being other people in my life. Yet I hate that he relapses as his way of telling me that it’s time to change the litter. He’s taking it out on my couch. I spent today scrubbing my couches, trying to get the smell out of them. One may be past the point of saving. I’ve been told that citrus smells will keep him at bay, but I’m hesitant to spray my couches with lemon juice (I get ill thinking about the smell of residual cat piss mixed with lemonade).

Plus, I’m afraid of where he’ll start peeing next.

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My Wife’s Soul Mate

So I was reading this month’s Ebony magazine because, you know, that’s what Black people do. Actually, it was my mom’s Ebony, but I needed it for research (long story. Hmm, a pun: it’s for a long story, a novella in fact). Then I stumbled across the article “10 Ways to Tell if He’s the One.” So I posed the signs to her–because I’m such a girl–to see if I passed:

1. He Listens to You. “Before your man opens his heart to you, he has to first open his ears.” Well, hate to start the test off on such a rough note. Almost didn’t pass this one, but she gave me a (reluctant) passing grade on this one.

2. There is a Natural Ease and Flow. “…a natural chemistry that defines your interaction.” Check.

3. You Don’t Have to Compromise Who You Are. Relationships are hard enough without having to change who you are. I’m all about letting her be the best “her” she can be. I mean, sheesh, I ain’t changing, why should she. Ah, relational laziness got me a check here, too.

4. You Trust Him. With a bit of hesitancy, I passed.

5. He Enriches Your Life. “Your Mr. Right should stretch your imagination and …” blah, blah, blah. I had her right there.

6. He’d Be Your Friend Even If He Wasn’t Your Man. Luckily, and unluckily, this was often tested. (Um, the longest we were together without breaking up was the time of our engagement, all six weeks of it. But hey, we were great friends).

7. He Pampers You. Got no choice, I’m broke, so a little pampering goes a long way.

8. Both of You Share Common Ground. Similar religious backgrounds, and more importantly, similar worldviews. Check.

9. You Become a Part of His World. Yeah, though that’s not a place she often wanted to go.

10. He Sacrifices for You. “The right man will consider sacrificing for you an honor, not a burden.” See broke comment.

Her parting words: “Good thing you turned out to be my soul mate, otherwise we were screwed. Next time check this BEFORE we’re married.”

My Sister, Venus

So I finally broke it to my oldest sister that I’m doing the whole pastor thing. (Well, she may be older. At some point in our youth, I distinctly remember her being four years older than me, but I haven’t checked lately. You see, once she hit 30, she started aging backwards. I don’t know how, but every time I heard her tell someone how old she was, she kept getting younger and younger. I don’t think anyone knows how old she is anymore.)

Even though we were raised in separate households, (I don’t have a family tree, I have a family bush) we’re like twins separated at birth. We have the same taste in television shows, movies, and books. We have frighteningly similar personalities, we’re equally vain, and we’re driven by the path of least resistance (read: lazy).

If I were a woman, I’d be her.

So not surprisingly, the fact that I was doing ministry work caught her off guard. After all, she knew me. The refrain of our conversation was “This is not going to end well.” For some reason, all she said she could picture was “the minister from Poltergeist, scenes from Constantine, and Jim Jones.”

She asked me if I was ordained. The bigger debate for me was whether I should do the whole seminary thing. Ordination, as it turned out, is not that big a deal. Anyone could do it with 15 minutes and the Internet. I told her that pastors were like vampires: each one could turn another.

“This is not going to end well.”

Then she asked if the family was behind me? Again, because they actually knew me. Now, I don’t exactly look to my family to support me in most of my endeavors. In this case, they looked at me with that same arched eyebrow skepticism that signaled “you will soon be in jail for some sort of tax evasion crime.” However, I told her “who do you want telling you how to lose weight: the skinny guy who’s been skinny all his life no matter what he eats or the fat dude that’s lost weight? I’m the fat dude, the sin expert. I put the “mess” in “messy spirituality”.

“This is not going to end well.”

The thing I run up against the most is that people have a very specific idea of what Christians are like and what pastors can do. Especially church folk. Then they torture themselves by being locked into that idea of spirituality. That’s just not me. I might drink more often than they think is okay. I might use language more coarse than they think is acceptable. To quote Michael Yaconelli in his book, Messy Spirituality, “Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. it is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are NOW in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we LET GO is seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.”

Long pause.

“This is so not going to end well.”

You Don’t Know Hell …

… until you’ve spent a whole weekend with the song “Ebony and Ivory” stuck in your head. To the point where I’ve been randomly breaking into song at inappropriate moments.

This is almost as bad as the weekend I spent with Tesla’s re-make of “Signs” in my head.

Coloring Up Your Lives

Back to my friends who are adopting trans-racially. They are a white couple that I love dearly who are having to jump through hoops as they seek to adopt across racial lines. This has led them into the process of adopting a baby from Japan who is half black, half Japanese. There’s been a hiccup in the process, as the baby in question was born with some “health issue.” The adoption agency wants to know if they would want a different baby, as if they had gotten a screwed up order at McDonalds. [I realize that it’s the nature of the beast, but to my mind it all sounds eerily too much like a slave auction block (but that’s probably just me).] They explained that one) they are Christians and two) if this had been their own child, “health issues” wouldn’t have deterred them. So they are still on course to adopt trans-racially.

This is not something that they’ve jumped into blindly. They’ve been studying and preparing as much as they can. An adoption specialist told them that the best way to prepare to adopt across racial lines is to start “coloring up their lives” now. They don’t do anything half-assed and are really taking this whole “coloring up their lives” challenge to heart. The question is: how?

So they turn to me.

You see, I am their black experience. I get that: I’m the “only black friend” to a lot of people. You know, that one friend they feel comfortable enough to ask all of their questions, no matter how dumb they may sound. [And over the years, I’ve gotten some doozies. One person wondered whether or not black people ate salad. I had to keep in mind that they hadn’t met a black person until they turned 21. Their only experience with any minority was via television. Welcome to Indiana! My other favorite was “why don’t black people swim”? Okay, I was less sympathetic and I told them that if black people were good swimmers, we wouldn’t be in this country in the first place.]

I explained to them that they have a luxury that I don’t. They live in a suburb of Indianapolis. Not that they’ve been guilty of “white flight”, but my side of town has seen quite the exodus of white folks with the recent influx of Hispanics. They work at a mostly white company. They go to a mostly white church. Basically, they could go most of their lives and not bump into minorities in any meaningful way. I doubly don’t have that luxury since I have made a commitment to cross-cultural ministry (since I’m sick of the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday mornings being the most segregated hour in this country). I struggle maintaining color in my own life.

Hmm. This kind of puts us in similar boats.

I know that I make it a point to drive. I drive to a multi-cultural church on Sundays. I drive to my barber shop weekly (you don’t think this look comes naturally do you?). I drive to some of the black organizations that I belong to.

How do you color up your lives?