Writing my Sickness Away

I woke up sick this morning; sick in my mind, sick in my body, and sick in my spirit. I feel like I may be drawn to misery in the same way that insects of the night are drawn to streetlights. Even when things are well for me I always make room in my heart for pain. Or maybe I had too much to drink last night.

It’s always deeper than it is. Last night I sat across the table from an old friend who I have known for over half of my life. We probably see one another an average of once every two years so when we link up we are forced to cram everything that has happened in our lives into one conversation. How’s work, how is your daughter, who are you dating, what you been doing, who do you keep in touch with, how is your family, how is your cousin; and I then I tense up. I cover my ears and brace for the pain because the trigger has been pulled.

 

My cousin ain’t doing so good. He’s on the streets. He stole from my aunty. He has problems separating fantasy from reality. For him there is no real line between the past and the present. They say he’s schizophrenic. Sometimes he takes his medication but most of the time he doesn’t. But of course I don’t say all of this when she asks. “Awe you know, he’s out there doing his thing.” Then I look into my glass and take a sip. Next question please? And the small talk has just gotten a whole lot smaller.

 

 

My mother is the older sister of his father. When I was a young boy and my uncle was full of tall cans of Old English malt liquor, he used to break down in tears as he recounted the story of my mother picking him up out of the Arkansas snow because his other sister had kicked him out of the house for peeing in the bed. My mother then placed him in her bed and after he stopped shivering he slept through the night.

My cousin and I grew up really close. I signed up for football then he signed up for football. He ran track one year and the next year I did too. He was a lot larger and more athletic than me but I had a bigger personality. In essence I ran my mouth a lot but no one ever tried to fight me because they knew that he was my cousin. It worked out really well for me.

 

By our senior year in high school I had given up on sports while he excelled. I ended up going to college to pursue a career in writing and he got a full athletic scholarship at a division one school. It was a major accomplishment for him and everybody considered it to be a big deal. There was a banquet thrown for him and the other scholarship athletes on campus that was attended by my grandmother, his father, a few dozen other relatives, and various local media outlets that were itching to cover a positive story involving black youth. I considered the path that my life had taken to be pretty normal but his was extraordinary. After all, as young black boys growing up in the ghetto, naturally we wanted to one day become professional athletes. When we entered the 10th grade I was about 125 pounds soaking wet with Timberland’s and I knew then that I had no chance at all of going to the NFL, but he still did. He was about to make it, unfortunately for him however, he didn’t view things that way.

He wanted to go to another school, a school that was an NCAA powerhouse and a school that a few ballers who had graduated from our high school the year before we did were attending. They sent him on an official recruiting trip and he had a lot of fun. Too much fun. He committed before they offered. He told the coach he wanted to go there, no question about it. But as national signing day approached they gave his scholarship to another kid. He couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t fair. He cried about it, he told me in confidence. He cried about it a lot. He expressed to me that the whole thing was fixed. That old punk ass coach knew he wasn’t going to offer him a scholi in the first place. That it was all a game. That people were playing with him. Why were people always playing with him?

 

I was a little bit taken aback by his testimony but not too much. I figured it to be a very minor setback, something that he would get over as soon as he got situated in college. There was truth to my assessment but ultimately my reasoning was completely skewed by my on denial.

He was, for his freshman year, the big man on campus. He dominated on the football field taking a starting position from a senior less than halfway through the season. He even picked up a fumble and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown at a game attended by our whole family. In they end, however, they lost that game. They lost nearly all of their games and my cousin was quickly losing focus.

He did a lot of partying and was getting into a lot of trouble. When he came back for Christmas breaks he had several fight stories that sounded like scenes from the old Patrick Swayze movie The Outsiders. By Spring break he had revealed that he had gotten a woman pregnant and was on academic probation and by the end of the school year he was asked not to return to the University.

 

He didn’t sweat it much. He figured he would get more scholarship opportunities, and he did (he actually got a couple more). He spent most of the summer bonding with his newborn son.

 

On one day in August we took the baby on a family tour. We went to our grandmother’s house in Bayview Hunter’s Point and we took him to see our aunty on Havenscourt, and then our cousins on 90th. The little guy slept peacefully and very rarely cried. When we took him out of his car seat and into the cold San Francisco night air he wasn’t tripping. Even when I, at the age of 19, drove way too fast over the Deep East Oakland speed bumps he wasn’t afraid. He was with men that would die for him and he knew it. He was chilling. He was good.

 

When we got him home his mother was exasperated. She snatched the baby and said very little to us because we didn’t matter. She was very displeased and it showed but one got the sense that she felt as though it wasn’t worth talking about. For all intents and purposes her relationship with my cousin was over anyway and when she went back to school a few weeks later she made it official. It was only then that he became truly unraveled.

As I made it through college and experienced my own fair share of drama and got my own girlfriend pregnant and was nearly ousted from school myself the women of the family began to whisper. “You know your cousin ain’t right in the head no more. He’s a little off, a little touched. Do you know what he said to me the other day…?”  And this would always be followed by their laughter, a very disturbing defense mechanism that would piss me off. No one ever really wants to deal with pain so people force humor into things that aren’t funny.

 

Nevertheless I refuted their claims for years. I even argued with my uncle, his dad, about it. I would say he’s just a little down because his football dreams are finally over. It’s only natural. He’ll bounce back I said. All ya’ll are doing way too much.

As the years went by I managed to graduate from college but he didn’t. I established a very solid relationship with my daughter but he was asked by his son’s mother not to come around them due to his strange behavior. I was able to maintain a job— no matter how lame it was—but he wasn’t.

We were about 23 years old I when I got word that he was living in a shelter in Palo Alto so, of course, I went to go see him. By that time I could no longer deny the reality of it all. My cousin was gone.

As elementary school age children my cousin and I, along with all of the other neighborhood children, would play games of hide and go seek deep into the night. Sometimes one of us would fall and scrape our knees and elbows. In which case we would cry a little bit, go inside to get a band-aid, and come right back outside to play. When we ran track my cousin pulled a hamstring. He missed a few track meets but a few weeks later he was right back on the relay team. So when it was discovered that my cousin had a mental illness I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t bring it back. I can’t express the hopelessness that I felt knowing that he would never get better. That he would never fully recover and even worse, there was nothing that I could do to help him.

I tried very hard though. He was hungry so I bought him Round Table Pizza. I saw that he needed shoes so I bought him some. I literally gave him the coat off of my back because he was wearing a dusty old blazer with no hood and the October rain was going to start coming down soon. But giving him all of those material things ultimately didn’t matter because I couldn’t give him peace of mind.

As we walked down a street close to Stanford University he spoke to me in a strange kind of whisper that seemed very distant and very loud at the same time. And he talked to me slowly, reminiscent of Master Splinter in the Ninja Turtle movies. Like he was trying to sound very wise. We passed a bar and he asked to go in. I told him I wasn’t going to buy him alcohol. He then told me that he was trying to use alcohol to stop smoking weed in the same way that heroin addicts use methadone to quit their habit.

We walked into Walgreens to get him basic necessities and he asked me to buy him some painkillers. I told him that I was not going to buy him drugs and he became irritated but quickly got over it. He asked for some candy instead and I obliged.

A few hours later we were back at the shelter and I had to leave him. He said thanks. I said be cool and that was that. Every interaction I have had with him since then has been the same way. He oscillates between his former self and some dreamy voiced person whom I wish I had never met. He goes out of his way to try to get me to remember events that I did not attend and he asks me for money. I cannot help my cousin.

I miss my cousin and it sucks to know that although he is still alive he will never come back. So many memories from our childhood are dead because he can’t remember that he was there with me. And right now I want to call him up but he doesn’t have a phone number. I want to swoop him up but he doesn’t have an address, so I write about it. I write until I don’t feel sick anymore. I write about it because really, there isn’t much else that I can do.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Notes on MLK Day

 

Nothing says nostalgia like taking a day off from work and sleeping in. Adult life is all about catching up and today I find myself catching up on all the hours of sleep that I have missed stressing out over issues that I have very little control over. It’s not a Saturday morning and Garfield and Friends as well as The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show have stopped airing a long time ago but I still feel at peace. Never mind the fact that I have pick up my daughter in a few hours and the rest of my week will be crazy hectic because none of those things matter at present. I’m lying under the covers in my underwear with the blinds to my windows closed so that rays of light must fight to enter my space. I have shelter from the unusual California cold and I am writing. I said I am writing, I am doing that thing that I fell in love with decades ago. On the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. I am expressing myself in a way that would have gotten my enslaved ancestors killed. As I put these letters to this page I realize that in terms of the very foundation of this country I am committing a subversive act. I live to rebel. There is no other feeling like the rush of blood that I get from fighting back. I have always been hypnotized by the notion of going into a forbidden place and letting everyone in there know that I have arrived. To write lines from within this skin is the equivalent of being a vanguard soldier and I will be on the battlefield until I die.

YB

Artistic Suicide Watch

How did I become so afraid? My manuscript is somewhere deep in my subconscious mind buried by my fear of commitment. That story that I began so many years ago hurts when I try to write it down. I don’t like stirring up old ghosts but I know it is the only way that I can truly release them. I’m scared of failure.

I have lived everyday of my life surrounded by death and violence. I have taken a natural attitude towards gunshots, HIV, and the threat of false detainment but somehow that unwritten manuscript frightens me to my core. Those many thousand words have remained trapped in my heart and they have become a burden on my soul only because I allow them to be. At some point I have to believe in my story enough to let it feel the rays of sun that are awaiting its presence here on Earth. I must somehow release the puss from the gory wounds of my life so that the youth of today may be forewarned and so that all of my peers who suffer in the same manner may be consoled knowing that they were never alone.

I run for at least three miles everyday from my past and when I am standing still I hide behind a goofy smile. I live the life of a coward standing on a bridge moments away from committing artistic suicide. Will I jump, will I continue to run, will I hide, or will I finally confront my pain and write?

What does the future hold?

YB

Write or Run

 

 

 

It’s come down to this. My need to perfect my craft has been overcome by my urge to run away from time. My fear for the future has moved me into the past and my detachment from reality has created an unrealistic sense of nostalgia.

 

I work hard during the day and I often times bring my work home with me. I have a child who lives with me on most weekends. I have a 2nd job that isn’t quite as demanding as the first but it still requires my time. I also have to dedicate at least five hours a week to my personal crusade against obesity. For my metabolism has gone down quite considerably as my age has pushed past 30 and the last thing I want is to become a fat ass. So I run.

 

As you can see there are many things that pull me away from my writing but, alas, none of these things should be enough. In my youth I had ambitions of being the literary voice of my generation and for many years I actively tried to make that happen; but as of lately I have been immersed in a prolonged state of reflection. My production has slowed down. There are so many thoughts in my head that need to be released; I need to know what I’m feeling.

 

It has been a while since I’ve been on the literary scene. I haven’t performed at a reading since July but I think I found a new venue. I went to a place last week and the people read work that came from all angles. There were poems, essays, and declarations and there was an abundance of culture. Last week I checked it out and perhaps next week I’ll perform. Then maybe once I have an audience (that I can actually see) I will write more.

-YB

You Need to be at this Event! BEASTCRAWL 7/7/12

Hella SOULFUL 7/7/12

Trust me when I tell you this is the ONLY place to be at 8:00pm on Saturday July 7th if you love good soulful, spiritually uplifting, Baycentric, culturally relevant, dynamic, and downright beautiful poetry and prose.

Join host Roger Porter at “Hella Soulful” for Leg 3 of Beast Crawl. Trust and believe it will be the hippest literary trip in America. The Hella Soulful train is coming on July 7th so drop your worries on the floor and catch it! Whooot! Whoooot!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-DpRcxK_N8

The readers:

Safiya Martinez is a playwright, poet, performer and educator. She is currently working on a one-woman show entitled “So You Can Hear Me” about being a first-year teacher in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She has performed her self-produced works in New York City and the Bay area.

Mica Valdez is a native, mixedblood, two spirit artist working on indigenous global issues to effect social change and protect mother earth. Check out her anthology:http://machafemme.tumblr.com/

Maisha Z. Johnson lifts up silenced voices through her poetry and on her blog, Inkblot, where she writes about the relationship between writing and social change. She is earning an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University.

i.Ameni and his jazzynastyfunkyfolkyhopopindiesoul amalgamates his many flavors into a one-derful sound. Fierce and tender, pure hearted and soulful, he peers into the ugly and the beauty of this world and invites us to consciously create a new one together. Music that slaps, invites your creative intellect, and speaks to your heart all in one.

Nathan Jones is a poet, storyteller, novelist, journalist, a hip-hop enthusiast, and the author of several books, which includes: Revolutionary Erotica, a collection of poetry; the Novel, Black Man in Europe, and Excerpts from My Soul: Read Without Prejudice. Nathan holds an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College, and is currently an English instructor at Skyline College.


Jessica Dailey is a deep, chocolate, thoughtful, militant, cool ass, round the way girl that keeps them grounded. She graduated with her MFA in poetry from Mills College in 2009.

Very High and So Low

 

 

On Saturday night I felt like an artist but today I just feel broke. The ups and downs of chasing an ever-fleeting dream are very pronounced. I was so high a few days ago. I shared a piece of a story that I have been running away from for five years the other night. The story is fictional but the emotions that the protagonist experiences are completely autobiographical. I had a hard time approaching the stage. No matter how many times I rehearsed those few pages, I still sat in the crowd nervous as hell before I was welcomed to the microphone.

 

I didn’t invite any of my family or friends. I didn’t post anything on social media about the event. I wanted to do it alone. The story is about a man who is dealing with a tragedy but even more tragic for him is that he is asked to speak publicly about what he is dealing with.  He must express his emotions verbally and I was there in that café on Saturday night to do the exact same thing.

 

I was scared. I was the only black man in the room and that’s how I wanted it. I didn’t want anyone else in there that would be able to gage the magnitude of the situation. I wanted every comment afterwards to be a disconnected one. I didn’t want to be felt, I just wanted to be heard.

 

I got caught up in my reading. I got into character and played a little bit with vocal intonation and dramatic pause. I read the piece as if I was coming up with it on the spot. I felt like I was that character, in that place where he was, in front of the people that he knew, and I felt that way because I was. If an artist can catch the Holy Ghost then I did. I never got happy in church but I got happy on the stage in front of all those foreign faces. And when I was done they paid me heavily with applause. They paid me with praise. They asked me if I had a card. I do not but I will order some soon.

 

The performance of a writer is bizarre because all you can do is read to your audience. You can’t tap dance or sing in a falsetto. You can’t show the audience your photography or allow them to marvel at the aesthetic beauty of your painting. All you have are your words.

 

I shared my words and they listened. I got really high. I left and went one way while all those in attendance went another. That’s the way I like it. I was a real literary performer. I was a pure artists, an expert storyteller, a gifted individual, but now it’s Monday. The show is over. The curtains have closed and I am one of a hundred million other people forced to work at a punk-ass job that I hate just to keep the lights on.

 

I was so high and now I’m so low.

-YB

My Two Days

February  28, 2012

Last night I was helping my daughter with her homework. It was a writing assignment in which she had to describe the appearance of her room. After reviewing the rough draft I told her to tell her reader where exactly the things in her room are located instead of just saying they are in her room. For example; Instead of saying you have a map of the world in your room say that you have a map of the world hanging on the wall above your bed. She took my advice and wrote what I thought to be a stellar piece. That was yesterday, today I had to give her back.

Specificity is the focus on small things, the ability to pay attention to details that the average person may not notice in order to positively affect the story at large. I only have about two days a week to spend with my child and I spend a significant portion of that time at work. I know that I am positively affecting her life. I know that I am going against the odds as a black man who chooses to handle responsibility and be a father. Yeah I know all of that stuff. I hear it all the time and that’s great. But it’s hard to feel like a father when the court gives you no more that 48 hours to be a parent. It’s hard to adjust to not having any real say in her life outside of what I say in those two days when I’m with her. It’s hard to not feel depressed every week when I kiss her goodbye and she goes to her real home.

Some men can’t deal with the trauma of having their parenting rights dictated to them and honestly I can’t blame them. I can’t say I never thought about checking out of the situation. It’s strange because everyone wants to judge absentee fathers but no one really wants to understand them. I mean how cruel does a system have to be in order to make a man want to leave his children? How is it that fatherhood has become so dispensable in the court of law? I don’t know. I try not to think about it. All I try to do is make my two days count.

-YB