Saturday, August 29, 2015

When Falsely Accused....

He is homeless and people think he stole money from a community center donation envelope so they want to ban him. He is my friend so I bought him groceries and we took refuge from a tropical storm in an empty Miami parking garage. He is my lesson so I remembered the Buddhist perspective of what the mind goes through when it feels 'persecuted.' 

I remember a few incidents of being 'falsely accused' and how awful it feels, like you want to scream but you know no one will believe you because an opinion has been formed that is largely independent of your actions. In the second grade at Highland Oakes Elementary lunch table I was accused of stealing someone's lunch. I became conscious of being the only black person at a table and not being anywhere near the alleged crime. It was my first odd experience of 'wait, what? Who is this person you speak of who steals white girl's lunches and lies?' 

For my inability to confess the crime and produce another lunch I got yelled at in front of other students and detention. She later found her lunch, which she had misplaced. Even though I wasn't near her, she assumed I must have stolen it. There was no apology issued. It was the first significant schism when I realized 'wait, people think I did something despite no evidence. And they are going to punish me based upon an opinion which is not proved in anything.' 

Everyone has these moments throughout their lives whether they are black or white, male or female, rich or poor. It is a test. It is an awful trial.. I reacted badly and told the girl 'I wish I would have stolen your lunch' before knocking her bag to the ground. Since that time I have been given many more opportunities to react in different ways to new and strange accusations. I hope I have shown my character in not letting false accusations drag me out of my centered self. I told my friend that -no matter what he has done and no matter how people treat him- I hope he doesn't let these accusations bring out the need for revenge, hatred, or -even worse- the final surrender of thinking 'maybe I should be as bad as they think I am.'

The storm passed. We hugged and he walked off into the light drizzle.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Saying Goodbye to South Beach

Construction and the stench.
Sulfur everywhere on South Beach. 
Turned down one street and it was blocked:
an enormous pump drilled through the asphalt,
pulling up dark water next to Whole Foods. 

South Beach -and Miami Beach- is being swallowed.
The swampy perfume of rotting limestone 
as the sea rises up through the ground. 
Barricades around enormous pumps screaming 
full force into the night as they fight the Atlantic. 
Floods on dry days and the soaked earth below the surface
cracking the roads open, a pustulating omen. 

Yuppies are still running into Whole Foods,
 swerving their luxury sedans around the signs of demise,
holding their nose against the hell rot of sulfur
rushing to get their $20 kale shampoo
their vegan cold-pressed virginal quinoa hemp yogurt. 
Conspicuous consumption right up until the apocalypse. 
The 'boiling lobster' affect, dying by degrees. 
And now a hurricane creeps toward muddy ruins.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Baby's Feet (a short play of embarrassment)

(Setting: Pilates Class. Wednesday Morning. An Elderly Woman walks up to me.)

WOMAN: You have beautiful feet

ME: ....hhhhhthanks.

WOMAN: They're like a baby's feet.

ME: (*welp, that unsolicited 'compliment' is gonna burn*)....mmmm...

WOMAN: So smooth...

ME: (*Doors opening. Basement floor: Hell*)...ah....

WOMAN: Beautiful

ME: (*what man doesn't like their body being compared to a baby's?!*)...

(Me dies. Slowly. Lights fade.)


Monday, August 17, 2015

Stood Up (Again)

I could see this one from a mile away. I agreed to go out on a date with a guy from okcupid who messaged me a few days ago. The message complimented me on my looks, interests, and spirituality. I replied with similar compliments. A dialogue began about faith, religious practices, and our beliefs. At a certain point the conversation grew stagnant and he turned it toward the physical. This is an area I'm just not good at on the phone. via text, or even in person. After six months of celibacy that was preceded by a few years of chastity in increments of 6 months or a year, I don't have the palette for dirty talk. I can write it in my plays and joke about it, but I have no sense of how to place myself in XXX world. I give the needed information, throw in a few jokes, and try to ease the conversation on to other topics without making it seem obvious. I did this and the conversation dried up.

A day later the conversation began with the suggestion of meeting. I knew this was probably meant as a pass for sex. Instead I invited him to dinner the next night: my treat. I picked out the restaurant so that it would be in his neighborhood, he agreed. My day went along as planned: I went to boot training fitness class and then yoga. I wrote an article for TPM, edited a short play I finished the previous night, answered emails, and fought off the sneaking suspicion that I had made arrangements with a 'flake.' When it came time to drive, I left late, but still managed to arrive at the restaurant early. It was a quiet Thai food place in gay hub of Ft. Lauderdal: Wilton Manors. The host looked at me and I said "two...we'll see.'

I was sat down with two menus and two glasses of water near a giant fish tank teeming with colorful fish. At a few minutes past our planned meeting I ordered an appetizer. When the appetizer came, I ate it quickly, and considered pigging out on meat as punishment for being gullible enough to be a 'man of my word' and fulfill a promise, even when I was sure the other person was going to flake out. Instead I ordered an entree of noodles with mushroom. As I looked around the restaurant, I noticed that I was the only person sitting at a table alone .Everyone was paired up in couples. There was what appeared to be a mother and son and a straight young couple sitting next to me taking selfies of themselves. Perched by the window, an elderly gay couple sat in relaxed smiles. A short Asian man was there with a tall blonde transexual. Mercifully, the waiter placed me off in a corner so that I didn't feel like I was being watched by all the happy couples. As I paid the check there was that flash of a voice I recognize all too well...

You're never going to find anyone.

You're going to die alone. 

I took a selfie of the date: me sitting in a booth. Even the joking selfie depressed me: who is this sad-looking man? I looked at my eyes curved down by the gravity of low expectations. I pushed the rising din of forecasting voices aside and paid my bill. I checked my email and my inbox had from a journal that wanted to publish one of my plays, while a indie book company sent me cover graphic for an upcoming printing of one of my plays that is about finding love. I replied to the book publisher about how simple, clean, and exciting this new idea seemed to me in this moment.

Outside the restaurant, a steroid duo walked their dog. I drove down Wilton Manors Drive and caught the sign for the Dairy Queen. Yes, this sounds like a good pity stop. U-turning the car around, I parked and went up to the window. I hadn't been to Dairy Queen in years. I stared at the options. Everything seemed a disgusting concoction of colored corn syrup and dairy powder. Places like Dairy Queen used to be a tried and true coping mechanism so I ordered a brownie batter Blizzard. Large. I planted my red spoon in the mud brown goo and started shoveling. I drove and caught the eye of a single muscular guy in a tank top walking his dog. He stopped in his tracks and waited for my car. A fantasy flew by of stopping the car and pretending to be lost. Instead I kept driving and slurping up the fast-melting blizzard of diabetes in my cupholder.

 A few minutes later I found myself at a gas station refilling the tank and chucking the half-eaten mass of brownie byproduct into the trash. I read an email from someone else on my phone who annoyed me in the past. I imagined calling them a 'stupid cunt' and pointing out the flaws in their life. After a minute this vision past and I was back to me.

I drove past old haunts where I used to pick up guys in another era of reckless sexual immolation. These places existed for the anonymous, easy, numbing palaver of encounters I fed off of in my 20s.  It began to rain which added to the overall mood of the evening. I chanted a few mantras and remembered my day: exercise, writing, taking care of my Dad, two publishing opportunities, and now this. This minor slight which avalanched so many insecurities and coping mechanism. I observed how my mind ran through all of these thought so smoothly. The road had been traveled many times before and the trajectory of thoughts flowed with ease. The only difference is that now I'm aware of these emotional swings. A calm settled over me. I couldn't tell whether the existential shroud of silence that blanketed my thoughts was funereal or zen-clarity. Maybe both. As I drove home it occurred to me that this was something I should journal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Remembering Ben Wesley

It was a year ago when I heard the news on the way to a meeting and then rehearsal. I was in a daze and then on a plane. While taking your dog to a vet in the early morning, a truck hit your car and you were gone. With no other witnesses, no charges were filed. And then a blur of condolences. For some reason I was asked to speak at your funeral and your sister -my mother- was not.

The funeral home had a slide show of your life running above you at the viewing. I wanted to be there for hours but the smell of embalming fluid was so strong that I couldn't stay for longer than a few minutes without getting a headache. At night, your sister -my mother- told me about your childhood in South Carolina and Miami.

On the day of the funeral I folded up my poem and your sister -my mother- came up to the lectern. She spoke about your life. Afterward I read a short poem and sat down. I zoned out for the rest of the funeral. The singers were performing like they were on "American Idol" and the preacher hollered and growled some words of salvation that seemed both irrelevant and sacrilegious to your personhood. I ignored him.

I joked with Piper on the drive from the funeral home to the cemetery about the singers' vocal gymnastic routine, the reeking embalming smell, and the blasphemous charlatan sweating and shouting over your body. We vowed to open up our own funeral home for black families tired of being disrespected in death as much as they are in life. Then I rushed home to take care of my Dad, so that your sister could go back to your wife's house and be with your people.

The next day I was back on the plane to go back to Juilliard for the rehearsals of "Obama-ology." The director had some notes and questions. The dramaturg had some suggestions. I absorbed it all. I edited and revised the script in a haze. It felt like life kept speeding along and there was little time to reflect and grieve. Now a year later, I am still absorbing and reflecting. This is not a quick process. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Backlash against "Stonewall"

The trailer for "Stonewall" made me feel disgusting and depressed. While I reserve judgment on the actual feature, the 2 minute clip I saw that is supposed to highlight the movie gave me that sinking feeling of 'here we go again.' 

Gay people of color already got erased from AIDS movies, plays, tv. And when we do appear -a la Angels in America- we are literally magical servants and sassy queens with no character arc. I mean - fuck- how hard is it to give a brother a character arc? Here: black sister wants a bike and it has some childhood "Rosebud" meaning...and by the end...she gets the bike (or not). Was that so fucking hard to do, Hollywood? And no, she isn't magical and she isn't a nurse pushing someone in a stroller or wheelchair. She just has a basic human need embodied in a physical object. 

"Akeelah and the Bee" was held back in development for so long because movie executives wouldn't greenlight it unless they changed the teacher to a white woman. Why? Well cause I guess people can't look at a lil' black girl learning how to spell a goddamn word without wondering 'is this some sort of radical black agenda?" No, she's just learning how to spell. She isn't a maid, she doesn't have special powers, she's a human being who isn't here to be a servant to white privilege. And that last point is what made it radical and problematic. 

When people of color are unfettered by obeisance to white patriarchy there is a problem. When POC don't act in deference default mode it becomes alarming both on and off screen. Whether it be toward a cop in a traffic stop or the actual history of radical movements like Stonewall, an inability to filter oneself through a white lens leads to violence, death, or getting erased. Either way it's an excising of humanity.

My experience is that many well-intentioned liberal gays in theatre and Hollywood are white upper-middle class ppl who almost exclusively hang out with their own kind. And you know what: that's your choice. But how can you bring an honest lens to complex history and the richness of characters when you exist in a world that -by its intrinsic design- reduces the existence of people of color in the conversation? That's the question I had as I watched this trailer and many other things. Not saying i'm boycotting but when do we get some aesthetic relief from this very narrow group defining what it means 'to be.'

The storytelling choice of writing in a white male twink as the lens for the most important shift in the gay rights movement that was triggered by trans people and people of color comes across as a woefully ignorant of the historical context of people of color being erased in American movies. And it's not helped that director Roland Emmerich's trailer looks like a sepia-toned goop of nostalgia posing as Oscar historical (a la The Patriot). I reserve final judgment, but I am aware of the macro-level of context (including who made it, and other movies in this genre) that this film exists within. 

Some of my friends have already metaphorically told the creators of this movie to 'fuck off' while others are organizing boycotts. I find it depressing that the attempt to dramatize a galvanizing moment in history can cause so much rancor and bile from people who are chronically erased from public awareness. The backlash is sad, dismal, and understandable. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Baked Apple and Sugar Cravings

Me:  I have a sugar craving.
Mom Why don't you bake an apple?
Me (looking up wikihow): Okay I have to pre-heat oven, core apple...
Mom: We don't have any baking apples so just use this small one.
Me: ...Stuff apple with raisins...
Mom: We don't have raisins, but use the blueberries.
Me (using blueberries): Okay I need to sprinkle sugar on top.
Mom: We don't have any sugar.
Me: I found some brown sugar (expired).
Mom: How long do you have to bake it? hour.
***one hour later***
Me: You know...I don't even have a sugar craving any more. Apple tastes good though.