dangerous artists

A few weeks ago, I briefly considered not writing.

After years of graduate school, I longed for the normalcy of a 9-5. Giving up my writing seemed to be a good, adult decision. I could just pack away my talent, get a ‘real’ job, get married, have some babies, call it a life.

In the midst of this decision, I received an assignment to do a profile of an accomplished poet. Spending the day with a poet means a lot of laughter, contemplative moments, wisdom wrapped in prettily arranged words. We sat in her sunlit home and talked about the sensation of writing with a dull pencil, and how to operate in the world without a cell phone. We traded the names of black women writers whose work we cut our teeth on. I spent the whole day thinking about Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor and Zora Neale Hurston. I dreamt in stanzas. I stayed silent in a room full of important poets and learned about how to live my life.

Zora Neale Hurston

In the quietness of that day, I realized that i would always be a writer. I saw myself in the older women who insisted upon writing with pen and paper, who teach others through their words, whose lives are, in themselves, forms of art. I thought about the oddity of being offered paid writing assignments without pitches. I thought about how I stood next to influential poets at a time when I was ready to stop writing altogether. I thought about how I became a shell of myself when i wasn’t creating new essays.

The Last Poets

I encountered a reflection of myself in Lindy Walker, a fictional character in Bebe Moore Campbell’s Singing in the Comeback Choir. She’s an elderly, talented jazz singer who stopped singing. When we meet her, she’s drinking and smoking too much. She stopped dyeing her hair. She almost accidentally burns down her home. Lindy is a reflection of her street, which has fallen into disrepair.

When Lindy starts singing again, she and the community begin to blossom.

Her niece tells her:

“I’ve missed [you]. It wasn’t just your singing. It was the way you had of being in this world when you were singing…I remember when you’d walk around the house riffing and scatting, pulling things out of the air and making music out of them. Music wasn’t just your job, it was who you were, what you had to give” (260-1).

The most dangerous artist is the one who abandons her gift. When we stop painting, writing, or making music, we deny ourselves joy. We deny the world our gifts. Our art is a necessary luxury. Our art is a conversation between ourselves and God about the world we see.

The only thing I know for sure is that God put me on this earth to write. It is all I have to offer to Him, to myself, to the world. And when I’m not writing, reading or thinking, I’m not fulfilling my purpose–I’m just taking up space. When I’m not writing, I become a burden to those around me because my friends and family members have to spend extra energy showing me that my art is important.

I want to create dangerous art that transforms the world. But I don’t want to be a danger to myself and others by not writing.

For better or worse, I’m married to the pen.

Dr. RJD

awkward tv dating: LHHA + Preachers of LA

Under the best of circumstances, dating can be awkward. But that awkwardness gets turned all the way up when you have to deal with cameras and nosy reality television cast mates. Love and Hip Hop: The Reunion, The Sisterhood of Hip Hop and Preachers of LA all made me cover my eyes and pray for these people.

*

The Love and Hip Hop Reunion (Part 1) wasn’t terribly exciting. Erica D told all her and Lil Scrappy’s business in the frankest terms imaginable.

Karlie Redd makes me almost ashamed to be half Trinidadian. She’s always turned up on the conviction of her own greatness, and at this point, she’s too #messyboots to cash in.

 

But the real cringeworthy moment was when Bambi announced, “I don’t want to marry Lil Scrappy anyway.” Although the audience watched him cheat on her repeatedly–she was sharing the stage with Erica D and Erica Pinkett–everyone winced. 

Until that moment, I never thought about the awkwardness of trying to carry out a new relationship on television. Even if it is almost 98% staged, it must be challenging to have a connection with cameramen and bodyguards and microphones getting in the way.

Then, on Sisterhood of Hip Hop, there was a TRAGIC date between  Mack Wilds, the gorgeous rapper/actor and Nyemiah, a rapper. 

 

I wanted to close my eyes at the train wreck. Mack Wilds kept complimenting her and asking questions about herself. She was closed mouthed and offered one word statements. The conversation was one sided and PAINFUL. It actually reminded me of teaching on a day when none of your students read. All the girl had to do was dismiss his questions about her past relationships with a smile! All she had to do was ask a question about himself! All she had to do was look interested and meet him halfway. 

I thought I had finished with the awkwardness UNTIL TONIGHT. On Preachers of LA (aka LHHA for Christians), we have Bishop Noel Jones who has made a lovely woman, Loretta, a pseudo girlfriend, pseudo side chick for 17 FREAKING YEARS. THIS WOMAN HAS BEEN WAITING ON A RING FOR 17 YEARS.

Bishop Ron Gibson kept trying to call out Bishop Noel Jones in the most Christian/gangsta way ever, and everything went left at a dinner when he called Loretta a JEZEBEL. That is like a curse word to Christians. It’s a polite way to call a woman a ho. And Loretta done CUSSED at the pastor.

At that point, intervention was needed. They had an after show and brought out matchmaker and relationship expert Brunson. Then it all came out. Loretta has been waiting for a ring and still thinks she’s going to get it. Bishop Noel Jones didn’t know that she expected marriage. They have a business together. They have a DOG TOGETHER. 

These Christian men need to stop with getting all these emotional benefits. It ain’t right. Poor Loretta was trying not to cry and I felt her pain. I wouldn’t want to be in her Louboutins for anything right now. Even if they do get together, she’ll have to remember the painful way it happened. 

I’m gonna go pray for all these people in pain. And the next time I go on a date, I’m going to try not to be awkward. 

RJD

 

7 lessons from ny

1. Find a job you like. Make sure it pays enough for you to enjoy your life.

2. Find a person you like, and date them. Be super watchful.

3. Find a family who loves you–whether they are blood related, old friends, new friends–and stick close to them.

4. Be slow in a fast city from time to time.

5. Talk to strangers, because almost everybody is friendly. 

6. But don’t get hustled in the process.

7. Spend time alone, doing something that makes you happy.

 

RJD

black women, resilience, and joy

On Facebook, I have seen a few black women friends starting/continuing a ‘gratitude challenge’, where they post three things that they are thankful for. At a time when we see the situation in Ferguson escalating, it makes sense that my friends would do a small challenge to keep their spirits high. Here is my contribution–a series of things that made me happy, and a way I can honor all the black women who have gone before me. 

*

1. I wandered around my house in a pretty dress and no makeup, read a book set in the Reconstruction Era, and pretended to be living in the 19th century. No one in my family thought this was odd.

2. I read Langston Hughes’ Tambourines to Glory (1958) and loved every moment of it. It’s about two women who start a church to hustle people out of money–only one actually begins to follow Jesus.

When Laura talks about her mother, I perk up like I can learn some lessons about how to deal with men. She said this: 

“Essie, I got it from my mama. My mother could jive a man back, make him run and butt his head against the wall, lay down his month’s salary at her feet, then beg her for a nickle.” (86)

I thought: #YASSSSSS

3. For at least 15 minutes, I wondered what MSNBC would look like if Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Anna Julia Cooper, and Pauline Hopkins were still alive. They could tell someone to have ALL the seats. They wrote eloquently about Christian theology, Greek mythology, world history, and literature without blinking an eye. They transformed Christian womanhood. But when is the last time I heard a popular pastor reference them in a sermon? 

<side eye>

4. We had fried chicken for dinner. I took a walk with my brothers–my sister was still at work–and I thanked God every single second that they are still alive, safe, and running me ragged with their teasing.

5. Poetry is a necessary luxury. 

In the words of Laura:

“They made women in them days–and I take somewhat after her myself. But the rest of Mama’s children turned out to be nothing–all fell by the wayside–except me, Sister Laura Reed. I’m a strong branch of b—h myself.”

“…Laura poured another drink, lifted her glass, and made a toast to herself in the mirror. 

To Miss B—h!”

– (Hughes 88)

RJD

the time a man punched a woman and nobody cared

When he punched her, the air around the crowd held an electric charge of fear and anticipation.

*

When M. and I got off the subway in the West Village, there was a long line to get french fries from a truck, people standing around chatting amiably, and a general excitement about a night that is on the cusp of becoming a good time. 

Three young Latinas stood in a circle. One was crying, and two were comforting her. I shook my head, because it seemed that they were having the kind of drama that would not matter 5 years from now. Haven’t we all comforted a friend who was devastated by the consequences of a night out? 

An older black man (perhaps in his late 40s or early 50s) walked up to the crying girl and said, “your friends are leaving.” He kept interrupting their conversation. Two of the other girls were angry with him, and I almost stepped in to separate, but then decided the best thing to do would be protect M. and myself. 

A minute later, the man made a wide, preparatory arc with his arm. He punched this woman in the face, and I am telling you the air stood still and our corner of the world was completely silent. A small crowd stood around in shock. A police car was right across the street. The men–bouncers, party-goers, and french-fry eaters alike–stood back in silence. The woman had not touched this man; she argued with him, and yelled, but she held back. 

After he punched her, no police officer came rushing over. In fact, I looked at the police car. It was unoccupied, and there, I suppose, to prevent violence. The men shook their heads and said, “that was uncalled for,” but avoided eye contact with M., who yelled about how chivalry is dead. The women and man seemed to disappear entirely. In the uproar, we did not know where they went. 

*

I disagree with M.–chivalry is not dead. It is a privilege that men grant to women they deem worthy. The Latinas were working class women in jeans and sneakers, women unafraid to jump in a man’s face and tell him all about himself. So the men didn’t bother helping them. No one did. 

unfortunately, some men think like this, regardless of race or class. i do not stand in agreement with this meme, but am posting to show a terrible, terrible way of thinking.

I have studied feminist theories about domestic violence and male privilege. I have read and admired the poignant ways in which black women write about black men who are abusive. Only Hurston could make me fall in love with Tea Cake, who beat Janie in the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God. And Naylor made me want to marry a man like George in Mama Day, who slapped Cocoa. In those narratives, Tea Cake and George both died. It was a sort of literary justice for admirable men who have made terrible mistakes. 

  

This is not one of those stories. 

No, this was real life, right in front of my eyes.

And I knew why a black man could punch a Latina in the face without repercussion. In this country, there are values placed on people based on their race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality. Women of color are not valued in the way they ought to be. The intersection of identities means they occupy a space of oppression. Yes, women of color can fight against this. We all have agency. But on that street corner on Friday night, with no one there to rescue these women, and no one there to argue for them to have justice, it was clear to me that the system of oppression was still very much in place. It’s the reason why we mobilize against the violence done to black men, but forget the names of black women who have been killed. We should march for all of it, but somehow, the deaths of black women, or wrongful imprisonment, don’t quite attract  the same headlines or amount of attention. 

*

Ultimately, all of my academic theories could not have held that man back. I was just a medium sized brown girl in a pretty Guess dress who doesn’t know how to protect myself. Men have always fought for me, and God has always protected me. 

For the rest of the evening, M. and I tried and failed to have a good time. There were too many questions left unanswered. When is it good to step in to protect someone else, and when should you step back and protect yourself? What risks should we take to protect others? If Jesus says, love your neighbor as yourself, and protection is a form of love, how can we love and protect others in a country with an increasing culture of violence? 

I still don’t know.

  

RJD

dating in ny (where have all the christian men gone?)

I anticipated the difficulty of dating in NY, where it is easy to believe that better is always around the corner. Everyone is looking for a better position, a better person, a better life. I decided not to even bother competing with women here–I don’t have money for mink fur lashes–and to get on my grind. I’m so happy being single that I started to wonder if God wanted to make my single status permanent. I mean, did God really want to put a ring on it? 

I decided to worship God and carve a living for myself that would make me happy. Of course, there is nothing sexier than a woman at peace with herself and her circumstances. I chart the amount of interest I have received not to my looks, but to the joy I have in Christ. 

Photo on 6-6-14 at 5.52 PM

The only problem? I keep meeting men who don’t love Jesus. And those are the ones who propose.

It’s not as if I go looking for them. I’m not on any dating websites. I don’t go out in the evenings very often. I dress in a way that pleases God and makes me happy–not really to appease the male gaze.

They find me. On the street, when I’m roaming absentmindedly into a coffeeshop to write, wearing a purple book bag, or when I’m talking on a janky phone to a friend, or when I’m out at a restaurant. They pursue me. But when I ask about their faith (I always do, regardless of my romantic interest), they never say they are Christians. They might be ‘spiritual’. They might ‘believe in God’. They may even say they were ‘raised in the church’. But they do not claim Christ.

“He that finds a wife finds a good thing” is often bandied about in discussions about Christian women and singleness. “Be not unequally yoked” is the other verse used. But lets be real: church benches are increasingly empty, or chock full of women, and a few married men. There is a lack of a courtship culture amongst Christians. Some relationship counselors–even Christian ones–are encouraging women to marry men who aren’t Christians to strangle the sensation of loneliness they feel on Saturday nights. And some of the Christian men one meets in church (or a place that is deemed ‘respectable’) do terrible things to women: play them, abuse them, confuse them.

Bishop Noel Jones is THEE worst! Stringing along this woman for 16 years?!?!?!

It is absolutely important to marry someone who shares your faith. I just wish I saw more Christian men pursue my awesome, pretty, fun single friends. I wish there was a culture that held Christian men accountable in their relationships, and in their dealings with women. I wish that Christian men would pursue and treat me with the respect I receive on a regular basis from men who don’t know Christ.

I’m happy being single, but some man out there is missing out on a ‘good thing.’ 

have a good weekend and be blessed y’all!

RJD

cell phones, weapons, and the oppositional gaze

In the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, photographs of protesters and journalists as targets for policemen with military weapons have emerged.

http://muckrack.com/link/okhtA/washington-post-huffpo-reporters-arrested-in-ferguson-mo

I have finally begun to see the importance of cell phones. All of my friends know I ditched my cell phone, got a house phone, and pretended to live in the 1980s for a while. They gently operated around my oddity, by calling me at home, leaving voice messages, running up to my apartment unannounced for tea. That was possible in Western Mass, where there is more countryside than there is people, and everybody is writing a book.

But 3 days ago, a good friend and my unofficial PR agent, R., insisted I take and use her smartphone to stay connected to my social media sites.

This violent summer is the perfect time to have a smartphone. With it, I can turn my gaze onto a nation that is becoming increasingly militarized. I can keep up with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where my activist friends are posting links for important information about the injustices taking place in the U.S. and other parts of the world. 

If someone is being treated unjustly, I can turn my gaze, and that of my camera, onto them. 

dontshoot

Much critical work has been done by feminist critics about the importance and usefulness of employing an oppositional gaze, or looking back at those who, through their set of identities, may have more power than you do. In the classic Black Looks, bell hooks writes: “the politics of slavery, of radicalized power relations, were such that the slaves were denied their right to gaze” (115). But “[s]paces of agency exist for black people, wherein we can both interrogate the gaze of the Other but also look back, and at one another, naming what we see” (116).

In Ferguson, civilians, journalists, and even politicians are under the gaze of snipers and police officers with weapons.

A member of the St. Louis County Police Department points his weapon in the direction of a group of protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in the St. Louis suburb.

Ferguson and the Shocking Nature of U.S. Police Militarization

 

And these civilians, journalists, and politicians are looking right back. They employ an oppositional gaze and then allow us to see what they see by taking photos, by posting on Twitter, by maintaining an online presence through their cell phones. 

AntonioFrench

Alderman Antonio French arrested in Ferguson

So it makes sense that journalists are getting locked up for doing their job. It makes sense that protesters who are gazing defiantly at police, asking for answers, are getting tear gassed. But we can’t stop looking. For some people, all we know about America–it’s dark history of violence, of hatred, of systematic oppression–is being proven. For others, these photographs challenge and tear at America’s image as a country which stands for freedom and equality for all. 

We need to keep looking at Ferguson, because it is by looking, by photographing, by sharing, that we shame the powers-that-be into doing something to protect its citizens. We need to keep looking, because our collective oppositional gaze may be the beginning of positive change. 

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!

They’ll look, I’ll look, and we’ll all pray.

http://www.kansascity.com/news/article1185761.html

Dr. RJD