The Casualties of Masculinity

Of all the things that my masculinity has forced me to suppress I can never get used to losing things. I can’t normalize losing relationships, losing time, and losing what’s pure. I have spent the better part of my adulthood nurturing a little bird and now it’s ready to fly away. It seems too soon but I suppose I would have never been ready. And now that this bird has discovered her own wings I must watch her flutter with great anxiety, trying to motivate her to go higher only with my words. And it all makes me feel very helpless.

I don’t go to Rolling Hills Cemetery anymore. I try not to look at it from the freeway either. There is too much death in that place. There is too much loss for me. If I were to go there and give everyone their due respect then I wouldn’t have enough for me. Some died violently, some of natural causes surrounded by the rest of the family on their death bed but not by me. I wasn’t there. I can’t take the loss of precious things, I never could.

Then there are the ones that float around me like ghosts, clearly out of their minds. They used to be sharp. They used to be hilarious in the cap session and now teenagers point at them and laugh. Indeed, if they could see what they are now when they were 16 then they would laugh too. Some of them speak to me while others don’t. But we used to talk for hours. We used to get turned down by beautiful girls together and fail the same classes and then talk about how it was all a conspiracy. And now, somehow, I am evil. My spirit has been tainted and I no longer know their language. I no longer see what they can see. I’m not down anymore. Not only am I gone but I have to stay gone. We will never be on the same level again. They live on the streets, oblivious to all judgement and free from all of the rules that confine me. When I try to say more than hello to them it sounds fake. For there is nothing to talk about. There are no more connections and I know that but I am a drug addict strung out on nostalgia.

I remember being hurt as a young boy and not having anyone to talk to about it because in my subconscious mind I felt like a man should never allow himself to be hurt and though I wasn’t a man yet I wanted to be one so badly. And then I remember seeing him at school and him listening, like really listening with his eyes and his arms crossed and he—having a far superior physique than mine, though we debated about it all the time—looking down on me with empathy and telling me not to trip and that he had been hurt in the same way. This made me feel like a man. My problems all of a sudden seemed worthy and my emotions had been validated. Then the conversation transitioned into far less pressing topics like an episode of Martin, or a cute girl, or football practice. I never said thank you. I could always come to him and he would never make me feel weak. I never thanked him for it though. Now I lost him. He speaks to himself but he won’t speak to me. Sometimes I try to break into his world with a smile or a question and try to disregard his condition but he never lets me in. Then I stay taking large doses of nostalgia like so many Xanax and like so much lean in my cup, I always drink too much. When I’m high I see that kid who I lost. He was so hopeful and pure. So talented, loving, and incapable of hurting anyone. And then I realize that the day that I lost him was the day that I lost myself. I will never be pure again.

-YB

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Was

was

I think about her more now that she’s dead than I did when she was alive. I think about the disoriented look on her son’s face as he walked in and out of her funeral service. I think about how goofy she was a teenager. How annoying her laugh was, how pretty her face was…I think about the word was. How hurtful the past tense is when referring to young people that you love.

 

I did not think about her when she was alive. I had not seen her in at least 15 years. In fact even when we attended Junior High School together we were never super close but I never thought that death would reach her before her 35th year. I never thought that I would have to use the word was when referring to her. And now I kind of want to see her. I want to tell her not to trip, that things will be ok, that she is loved. And then I’m torn because I feel really fake. If she were alive and I happened to see her I would never think to share anything beyond the exchange of basic pleasantries. I probably would have no idea that she was contemplating suicide but then again, I would never ask.

It’s shameful what death reduces us to. It’s shameful how a person has to die in order to be heard sometimes. Often times when a young man is murdered and waiting to be pronounced dead his cell phone is jumping. Everyone is calling, texting, and sending dozens of messages that all seem to say, “are you ok?” But he isn’t ok. He will never be ok again. Then they DM him and send him friend requests and favorite his tweets and finally they make a memorial on a street corner and everyone has a party in his memory—but he is dead. I could never understand why we disregard the living only to celebrate the dead. Yet here I am. Mourning the tragic death of a woman who I wasn’t even close enough to know was suffering.

I am somewhat obsessed with her now that she will be forever in the past tense.

 

I find myself becoming less approachable, less tolerable of other people. The memories that I have of her are ever present and I can’t stop thinking about what her future may have been. I post about her. I cherish memories of her that I didn’t even know I had when she was alive. Like that time in the 8th grade when she was my girlfriend for two days and we broke up because I had hard rumors about her “going with” another boy (which were later revealed to be untrue). Little silly things come into my head that make me acknowledge once again to myself that she is dead. Her body has been reunited with the earth. And then I slowly attempt to rise out of bed, though I never seem to get enough sleep.

 

-YB

The unanswered questions of suicide

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Today I saw a poster-sized portrait of a stunningly gorgeous dark-skinned woman as it sat perched atop a very generic looking off white casket. I saw this while in a large church with well over 500 people in attendance (I must say I went to this same church on communion Sunday four days ago and there were more people in there today than there were then). The beautiful lady who was the subject of the ceremony was once very loveable. As an adolescent she was very loud, very goofy, very blunt—in essence she was very hood. As an adult she made a living applying make-up at the mac store in San Francisco. She was 33 years old, and she shot herself in the head.

She left behind two sons. She had the eldest with a young man who I played Pop Warner football with, went to school with, and in our early 20’s we worked as skycaps together at the Oakland International Airport. In 2012 this childhood friend was shot to death during an alleged traffic dispute in West Oakland. In 1996, however, we were all good kids trying (and some succeeding) to be bad at King Estates Junior High School. That’s where their relationship began. He wanted to be way harder than he actually was and she wanted to have way more attitude than she actually did. He was the only one that could handle her (I, like so many others, tried and failed). So it worked for them.

It worked up until they finished high school and had a son together. Then they split a few years later. While he and I were working at the airport I told him that I bumped into the mother of his child. He asked me how she was. I didn’t really understand the question. I responded with, “Cool I guess.” And then he began speaking to me about her mental illness. I laughed in shock because he presented the information as if it were funny. And not because he thought the mental deterioration of his high school sweetheart was actually humorous but because it was the only way that he could convey such painful information to another man without revealing that it hurt him (because no man in our town ever wants to be considered soft). After that conversation I never heard anything about her again until I got the news that she had committed suicide.

It always struck me as being extremely superficial when tragedy befalls a woman and people say, “but she was so beautiful.” As if pretty women are above pain. As if their lives are meaningful only because their faces look good. But in this case I get it simply because suicide is so ugly. And suicide via a bullet in the brain is even more hideous. It is such a brutal way for a woman to leave this earth and it leaves so much confusion. The pastor responsible for giving the eulogy struggled to find his position on the podium, but he finally gave a speech suggesting that because the deceased had the lord in her heart she would enter heaven—or something like that. At any rate it made the hundreds of people in attendance feel good. Perhaps it will offer comfort to her two boys in the years to come. I suppose that was the intent. But hers, as well as all other suicides leaves one indelible question imprinted in my mind; Why they do that?

Suicide is a selfish act. And I say this knowing that schizophrenia is more common than people may think, that deep depression often times goes undiagnosed, and that the stigma surrounding mental health is extremely pervasive in the black community. I also say this as a man who is trying very hard not to pass judgment. But I am a human being and this unspoken sentiment has been growing in my brain like cancer. The very thought that has been pulsating in my consciousness is this: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SUFFER—especially if one was born into blackness. By this rationale I could not help but to look down upon her as a quitter. I stood there in that sanctuary as one man fighting against many. For it appeared as though everyone else had made peace with her decision. I didn’t. I don’t.

It makes no sense to blame the dead for being dead. There is no way for her to wake up and assume responsibility for her actions, or to apologize to her boys for that matter. When I looked at the scowl on the face of her oldest son who walked in and out of the church trying to make sense out of the situation and attempting to understand the gravity of how this moment would change his life but not being able to comprehend—it bothered me so deeply that I found myself cursing his mother in my head. Why? Why she do that? How could a woman who spent so much time in church let the devil catch up to her?

At some point toward the end of the service the pastor told everyone in the sanctuary who had been touched in a positive way by the beautiful dark-skinned woman with the ebullient personality who now lay stiffly inside of her casket to stand up. The whole sea of us stood up tall. Then he asked us to applaud and show the lord some praise for allowing her to touch our souls. We did just that. It was a glorious moment because we loved her. We loved our friend despite all of her flaws because we saw our own flaws in her. People cried, people shouted, and people rejoiced and as I clapped loud and steady I questioned her in the afterlife. Didn’t you know that we loved you? Don’t you know how much you’re hurting us right now? Why? Why you do that?

-YB

My consciousness is driving me crazy/ In memory of Laquan

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What does mental illness mean when you are a black person living in America? Everyday is more distressing than most people will admit and it seems as though the days are getting longer. I was searching for escapism on social media. I found myself on Instagram looking at goofy vines. It worked for a while, until I stumbled across a video of a man being shot to death as he walked down the street. I watched this 15 second video about three times before I read the caption which revealed that the person murdered was not a man, on the contrary he was 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and the person who murdered him was a police officer.

 

I do not think that an American born person who is not of African descent can understand the mental unease associated with having to fear the same people who are paid to protect you. Furthermore, if you are a black man living in America then what is known as paranoid schizophrenia is not a disorder as much as it is a strict interpretation of the world that you were born into because everyone actually is trying to kill you. There was a cover up in the Laquan McDonald murder that implicates members from every level of law enforcement in the city of Chicago. From other officers on the scene, to internal investigations, on up to the chief of police. Even mayor Rahm Emmanuel has blood on his hands. But only one officer is charged with murder and it took over a year for that to happen. So what about all of the other accessories to the killing? Why are they not being held accountable? How can members of the black community sleep at night knowing that there are officers of the law patrolling their communities who do not care if they live or die?

 

Do you know what it feels like for a global movement to be necessary to inform the world that your life matters? That when we get hit it hurts? That when we get cut we bleed? That when we die our loved ones mourn? That we have loved ones? That we know how to love? That we are actual human beings with three dimensions and souls?

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Sometimes I don’t get out of bed. Often times I don’t want to be around people. It isn’t uncommon for me to miss a meal because I just don’t feel like eating and I suppose if I hired some white man with a PhD in Psychiatry to tell me what’s wrong with me he would come up with a whole host of things that I suffer from and prescribe a whole dresser drawer full of pills—but I refuse to give him the satisfaction. I don’t know everything but I know that what the white man calls crazy is very subjective. What is not subjective is the fact that he created all the conditions that have led to this black man’s depression.

 

So how do we process the fact that if you are black in America the term mentally ill is completely synonymous with your consciousness? And the more aware you are that this country does not care about your existence then the more likely you are to implode. I struggle with how to deal with the melancholy truth that mental illness is our normalcy and to be sane is to be oblivious to one of the oldest American conspiracies. And that is that the masses of black people in this country must remain in a state of fear and unctuous servitude in order to preserve this nation.

 

-YB

Soulful V: “Only the Strong go Crazy” is 12/7/13

If you are anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area then you need to get to this event this Saturday Night…Thank me later.

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“Soulful V: Only the Strong go Crazy” is going to shine the artistic flashlight on mental illness in our community. It was the great revolutionary Assata Shakur who once wrote “Only the strong go crazy, the weak just go along” so on Saturday, December 7th at 8:00pm at the Grand Lake Coffee House six of the best independent artists in Oakland (Amol Ray, Demetrius Raiford, Luisa Lejia, Taijhet Nyobi, Victoria Michelle, and Do DAT) will refuse to just go along. We will read dynamic poems, perform passionate prose, and sing beautiful songs to create awareness for mental health.

It’s $5 at the door and a portion of the proceeds will go towards “Beats, Rhymes, & Life” a community based non profit in Oakland that is dedicated to promoting positive mental health outcomes among marginalized youth through hip-hop.

Also please support the closing act DO D.A.T. who will be selling his critically acclaimed album “Skinny 2: Bare Bones” for only $5.

Check the line up!

Luisa Leija’s work arrives in the form of dances, prayers, and invocations of a universal spirit. Her words call us to recognize ourselves within the world we inhabit; a world that equally inhabits us. Drawing from the indigenous traditions of the Americas, Xican@ and Mexican culture, Luisa unifies themes of community, family, history, and ceremony into a seamless journey through the mystery of human existence. A search for transformation, for truth, for connection, is ever-present throughout Luisa’s work, an endeavor that is both timely and inspiring for our present world.

Demetrius Raiford is a writer, poet, hip-hop artist and current student at Laney College. He is originally from San Francisco, CA but now currently resides in Oakland.

Taijhet Nyobi teaches poetry and performance art to youth in the Bay Area. Her poetry has been published by Saul Williams and various literary magazines. Currently, she performs with local Bay Area theater productions and independent film projects, and is the 2013 recipient for Astraea’s Global Arts Fund. She is currently starring in the Oakland based web series “Dyke Central.”

Somewhere between a fond love for the double helix, a youth spent making music in various forms, and an attempt at anthropology, you have Victoria Michelle. Frequently noted as a “wordsmith”, Victoria is currently a graduate student in Anthropology at UC Berkeley who has been making her way through the Bay Area open mic scene since April 2012. Her style employs philosophy to a flow in hopes of building a bridge between academic and public discourse. But at the end of the day, her primary goal is to excavate emotion from the depths to provoke the possibility of genuine feeling and thinking. She is currently working on her first chapbook of poetry titled “She” as a reflection her journey as a young woman coming-of-age in her own skin.

Davin A. Thompson, professionally known as Do D.A.T, is an emcee, arts educator and event host, born and raised in Oakland, CA. Throughout his career, Do D.A.T has released four albums, as a member of “The Attik” crew,
as a solo artist, and most recently collaborating with DJ/Producer Malicious.
Listen to his music @bandcamp.dodat1.com

Amol Ray is the son of Indian immigrants and was raised in Saint Louis, Missouri. He has a writing style that is just as unique as his upbringing and he possesses a natural ability to poke fun at the cultural practices that most young Americans view as being normal. He is an alum of the highly prestigious VONA workshop and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, CA. He’s a also a very proud father.

Why am I educated?

Why am I educated if I still have to live from check to check? My car overheated and now I have to borrow $440 to get it fixed. I’m already behind on my student loan payments and child support so I guess owing one more person won’t really make a difference.

 

Why am I educated if my cousin still suffers from mental illness? Of all the fanciful philosophies and culturally relevant literature that I studied while at University I can share none of it with him. He is released from the county jail and comes straight to my doorstep in his county issued slippers. He asks to come in and I allow him to as long as he understands that he cannot spend the night. I give him clothes and food and he takes a shower. He wants to tell me his sad story but I don’t want to hear it again. After all the letters I’ve written and the money I’ve lent him I’m burnt out. I usher him out of the door at about 10:30pm. He bangs on my door again at 6:00am and said he left something at my house, on the table. I check for it but by the time I go back to the door to tell him it isn’t there he’s gone. How is my education going to lessen the grief that nearly overcomes me when I have to tell him that he is no longer welcome in my house and that he must never come back?

 

Why am I educated if I’m still going to live in the hood? I don’t stay on the block for street credibility or because I think it’s fly or because it’s convenient but it’s because I’m trapped. Just like the guys who hang out on the corner or the woman next door with all the children. I can’t leave. I can’t get out. I’ll probably die here overeducated and in extreme debt.

 

Why am I educated if Sean Scott, Ronnie Kid, Lamar Brown, Kevin Reese, and Eric Allen were still going to be blown away? How is my education going to stop a man from shooting 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine to death while she was at a sleepover? Is my education really helping anyone or is it creating a distance between my community and myself?

 

Why am I educated if I still can’t find full-time work? Why did I listen to the propaganda about education opening up all doors and guaranteeing success? Why am I educated and still poor? How does this happen? Is it me? I don’t get it.

 

Why am I educated if I’m still going to be confused?

 

-YB

This is Distortion

 

I thought about someone else the whole time I was with her. It doesn’t make any sense. The young lady who stole my attention isn’t more beautiful, or more dedicated, or more sophisticated. She is only more appealing because she is someone else. My mind runs faster when my body is still. Contentment can be so elusive. Happiness can appear to be so frightening when you’ve made peace with your own misery. When loneliness becomes your most inseparable friend often times you find yourself fighting on his behalf. Trauma from bad relationships can lead to emotional suicide and emotional suicide will always result in self-sabotage.

 

In a strange rearrangement of expectations the perfect lady can become a complete nightmare. Then one seeks to make her imperfect by all means. It is only then that a man can truly love her. Only when the subject of his passion is placed solidly underneath his foot. Only when she becomes weak enough for his love to become visible. He can still make out her image in the ripples of the tide. Her face is less clear but her heart is more tangible than it has ever been.

 

This is distortion.

 

-YB