You are not a label

I don’t mind labels. I actually like them. A label is just a sticker. It can be removed. It can be moved around. It can stay on indefinitely.

Labels and categories are only measures of identification. They make things easier to sort through, to know what might occur.

A label is not a scarlet letter branded into your flesh, an Auschwitz tattoo pricked into your arm. People get riled up, proclaiming, “I hate labels!” or “Don’t put me in a category.” Bro, you’re a human being, there’s no singular definition. You’re not pigeonholed or limited to just one label for the rest of your life, sister.

Only time i dislike labels is when they’re inaccurate. Same goes for if someone talks about me: as long as it’s not a lie, fine, go ahead. Truth and authenticity. Truth and authenticity.

If i ask you what you do, please do not start off by saying, “it doesn’t define me.” I KNOW that. I don’t need a qualifier. I don’t want to hear or see you being defensive by a simple question. I don’t want the first words to be a sign of an insecurity.

I didn’t ask you, “Who are you?” Or something as loaded (or philosophical). I just want to know what you do for a living, what your occupation is, your career, your vocation. If i was a person to believe the all-encompassing definition of an individual was their job title or position, i’d be a sad, pathetic, singular-minded and -faceted human being.

The question is an introduction, like a name, to know some portion of the greater definition of you. It’s an easy start to further branches of a conversation. By me asking what you do, i’m interested in a sentence from your story. Use the question as an opportunity to craft the telling of your narrative. Make it your own bard’s tale.

You tell me you’re a teacher, i’ll have an idea that you’re into education, you like to influence folks’ lives directly. I’ll probably then like to know what grade(s) you teach to see what type of disposition you have; can you deal with little children?—do you have patience? Why a teacher and not a professor? Are you a world traveler, picking up English-teaching gigs to keep your wanderlust afloat?

Everything is deeper than the tip, the rabbit hole goes farther than the shadowed entrance you see. The what do you do inquiry is a springboard to more knowledge for me.

It is troublesome when i hear people reply with it doesn’t define me because it speaks that they assume their jobs are who they are. Maybe they didn’t learn this as a youngster: an occupation doesn’t define a man or a woman. Maybe they didn’t have blue collar or no-collar ancestors, those who cleaned toilets, built houses, washed clothes, toiled in factories from sun to sun. Whatever gets the food on the table.

Football Hall of Fame shoe-in, Kurt Warner, was a supermarket bag clerk while trying to make it into the NFL; do you think he believed asking, “Paper? Or plastic?” was who he was? No. He had to make a living, biding his time until he had the right opportunity to do what he loved for a living.

These anecdotes from people’s lives add to their character. Can be an inspiration or a red flag.

Using myself as an example, i’m curious to see how some of my labels look when written and how they interact, how they co-exist and seem to be at odds with each other, but when viewed as a whole, make up my personal artwork:

I’m a Brooklynite. I’m a Sigma. I’m a dread. I’m a momma’s boy. I’m a computer geek. I’m an atheist. I’m a heathen. I’m a Black non-believer. I’m an athlete. I’m a writer. I’m a social butterfly. I’m a homebody. I’m a Cancer. I’m a Gemini-cusp. I’m an HS diploma-holder. I’m an auto-didactic. I’m a bibliophile. I’m a tattoo fiend. I’m a lover.

Now, take any of those entries and let them stand alone: would they accurately give a full story or a definition of me? Of anyone? No. But, they would be bases for further stories to unfold, would be ready to be unpacked further.

Each label, though static in itself, aren’t the only ones that can exist in a given space or on a given person. Put one or six atop another, rip away an old one, one that no longer fits. Embrace the labels knowing they are forever able to be changed or replaced or given company.

Keep an open eye and mind to everything. Live organically rather than statically. It’s what i do, how i am, how i live. Mercurial and quixotic. I speak from experience of doing a lot and nothing.

Post-Racial America? Ha!

Post-Racial America? Ha! I can’t help but scoff at the notion of this term whenever it’s uttered.

We live in a post-racial America in the same vein that god exists: it makes for a cool story, bro—something soothing yet entertaining enough to tell the kids while tucking them in; a story of hope, possible triumph, leaving them with a smile and no ill-thoughts brewing nightmares. But it’s all a fallacy, a charade, smoke & mirrors—as real as having rocks as pets. One should not be a grown adult, experienced in the world and still believe as truth faery tales, crafting organic life and companionship from inanimate objects. I can only tolerate animism for so long.

The notion of god and the too-easily-thrown-around term ‘post-racial’ are both tools of placation—they exist as salves, as balms assumed to work because we want to believe—ephemeral psychosomatic healing. Both are placebos. Both are nothing more than snake oil, though not sold, only handed out, gobbled up with requested seconds and thirds aplenty.

Its use is an attempt by White folks to absolve themselves of generations—read: hundreds of years—of defining themselves and all humans based on the socially constructed and oppressively-used idea of varying races amongst humans, with their race as the superior one over the rest. This race thing they’ve championed, used as a political, intellectual, and social pejorative, shaming non-Whites, culturally inculcating us to believe their way is the right way, their looks the right looks, etc.

The denial of racism as purported by public figures such as, Rush Limbaugh, Santorum, Larry Elders, and Geraldo Rivera, is unsettling. They have growing support, or even if not growing, still have an audience that shares their beliefs.

Although there are progressive Whites who are just as ready to move forward, away from skin color and bloodlines, by turning on the sign too early, they’re overlooking the never-gone-away throng of folks who hold these values as the basis of their life; who’ve adapted, learned to adorn a baseball cap and a button up, hiding their true colors, the look in their eyes of contempt, social ninjas, hiding within the crevices of the populace for survival, roach-like. They believe in the superiority of their race. They wholeheartedly believe all others are not worthy. It was only 45 years ago interracial marriage was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It only took two centuries, a score, a decade and a couple of years for us to elect a bi-racial president—but since you only need ‘one drop’ i guess that makes him overwhelmingly a Black man. One point for us.

You never liked the president. Why not?–No, it’s not because he’s Black. It’s because he’s a half-breed. – From Bill Maher’s “Southern Voters” video above

This post-racial term is a panacea for Whites to believe that all their “sins” have been marked as ‘atoned’—that now nothing they say or think is racist; we’ve apparently moved past it. Since we’re now in a society where only merit and prowess are important, everything is by the numbers and the feel for a person, never discussing or influenced by skin color, the need for affirmative action is irrelevant. We’re in a society all of a sudden where the color of a boy’s skin, dressed like any other teenager his age, doesn’t indelibly and alarmingly mark him as ‘suspicious’, make him stalking-worthy, soon-to-be-hunted game.

What a crock of shit.

Non-White folks use it prematurely as hope. Maybe, just maybe, we will not be unfairly judged, or negative stereotypes used against us, viewed through a muddy kaleidoscopic lens rather than reality. Non-Whites who seem happy to champion this term, i cannot help but believe, do so out of naivety, or within an oblivious daze as they walk their paths amongst White folks: they, and their regularly associated with cohort, are not relegated to the same issues as the rest, are somehow in an express, HOV lane, whooshing by the rest, until a 16 car pile-up forces them back into the main pathways as the rest of us. Not so fast, brother. Not so fast. The laws of race still apply to you in this here country whether you want to believe it or not.

Believing one presidential election will instantly evaporate all the poisonous malarkey, the racist inculcation for generations of White folks against people of color, and the Whitewashed, European mindsets of deluded, self-hating people of color against their fellow victims of slavery—Black people specifically—is ridiculous, is naive, is unrealistically hopeful. November 4th, 2008 may have been Raid for a ton, but as we know, can’t kill em all, these nuclear war adapters.

I stumbled upon the image of a ‘Abraham Obama’ and instantly thought, how fitting. It’s a perpetuated myth that Abraham Lincoln “freed the slaves” for the slaves’ sake; as if he did it out of the kindness of his heart; that he did it because he saw the inhumane system of chattel slavery—only the worst kind of slavery we’ve had truthfully documented in our human history. The Lincoln myth is inaccurate. He wrote the Emancipation Proclamation to, and if not solely for one reason, damn near 99% of it: to save the Union. He needed more supportive troops enlisted to fight against the Southern states. If not, we might not be the same US of A we are now. I’d probably be on a plantation, or, most likely, not even born. If your history teachers gave you shoddy lessons, read up on it here: Constitution Daily. I’d also like to point out that though he emancipated slaves in Southern states, because they had seceded, he no longer had jurisdiction over them.

Moving back into the 21st century, the racist shit people say on the Internet is vile, repugnant, so seeped in putrid hate, it’s astonishing only because of how “well” they disguise their disdain and loathing in everyday, face-to-face life, easily unmasking their inner selves when given a buffer of a computer screen or smartphone, all levels of hell spewing forth. May i draw your attention to the images below, Exhibit ABG:

Yes, these are real: a smattering from a neverending litany of Tweets reacting to the web series, Awkward Black Girl, winning a Shorty award.

Oh, and that’s not it. From earlier in the week, probably a day or two before:
the Tweets below are the racist vomit upchucked this past weekend in reaction to The Hunger Games casting of Black actors for—get this—Black characters.

As i’ve been saying the past few weeks in reply to folks’ “surprise” at the recent “racially-charged” (this term irks me, too!) activities, the racism has never dissipated. It’s only been in a pot simmering. With the heated campaigns for presidental nominations being turnt up with each day, regular citizens throughout the Land of milk and honey are being riled up, their passion for racist ideals curdling, the cause of that putrid smell wafting in from the vents and in the corner.

I was beginning to think with this growing generation, possibly the next, we’d be truly ready for a post-racial society, raising folks amidst diversity, prejudice only against universal mores of laziness, lying, stealing, cheating, reveering hard work, integrity and good-will, but if the above are any indication, we’re still moving at a snail’s pace, possibly even a sloth’s in many regards.

I can’t help but sigh, bend down to tie up my boots, secure my backpack, and continue trudging forward, hoping everyone else is ready to continue on this journey. It’s gonna be a long one. Guaran-damn-teed.

disambiguation: black is a color; Black is culture, history, music

I’ve been sitting on this piece for quite some time. It’s witnessed two Black History Months pass by, actually.

After the resurgence of racial upheaval and tensions (e.g. Trayvon Martin), racist ideologies and commentary spewed forth, tipped over by yesterday’s Gawker post regarding the outrage of the Hunger Games’ casting of Black folks for—get this—Black characters, a piece indicative of a large slice of mainstream America, its pop culture and racist attitudes, i figured it was about time i published this.

Let’s put this out there from the jump: black is a color; Black is an embodiment of culture, of history, of music—a people.

Black people: we are a collective having been put through the ringer of slavery; we have been ripped apart, shredded, sold, re-sold and re-packaged, attempting still today to piece ourselves back together, tattered remains Elmer’s glued, hand-sewn with reused thread; for that, at minimum, ‘Black’ demands capitalization.

There is a stark distinction that needs to be highlighted or else the continued descent in importance of positive names will never cease. It is discouraging and disheartening to see the perpetuated interchangeable use of the words black and Black, of pronouns and “normal” words in general.

Capitalization of a word versus the lowercased version means more than many folks would think. Take for instance the words catholic and Catholic: they may look exactly alike, but their meanings are far from the same. The former means “liberal or open-minded” and the latter, “religious devotee of the Roman Catholic faith.” And, looking throughout history, the atrocities in the name of the Cross, the ignorance and extreme prejudice of today’s world regarding immigrants and homosexual marriage, the perpetual oppression of women, Catholic is not a shining example of being open-minded; it’s the total opposite. But i won’t get into religion. Not now. I’ve a forthcoming website with my brother strictly for that.

black |blak|adjective1 of the very darkest color; the opposite of white; colored like coal, due to the absence of or complete absorption of light : black smoke | her hair was black.deeply stained with dirt : his clothes were absolutely black.2 (also Black) of any human group having dark-colored skin, esp. of African or Australian Aboriginal ancestry : black adolescents of Jamaican descent.of or relating to black people : black culture.3 figurative (of a period of time or situation) characterized by tragic or disastrous events; causing despair or pessimism : five thousand men were killed on the blackest day of the war | the future looks black for those of us interested in freedom.(of a person’s state of mind) full of gloom or misery; very depressed :Jean had disappeared and Mary was in a black mood.(of humor) presenting tragic or harrowing situations in comic terms: “Good place to bury the bodies,” she joked with black humor.full of anger or hatred : Roger shot her a black look.archaic very evil or wicked : my soul is steeped in the blackest sin.noun1 black color or pigment : a tray decorated in black and green | a series of paintings done only in grays and blacks.black clothes or material, often worn as a sign of mourning : dressed in the black of widowhood.darkness, esp. of night or an overcast sky : the only thing visible in the black was the light of the lantern.2 (also Black) a member of a dark-skinned people, esp. one of African or Australian Aboriginal ancestry : a coalition of blacks and whites against violence.

Looking at the above, i cannot help but want to separate self from the antiquated definition of a word—a word used daily by us all. It’s an association that has become an unconscious collective embodiment. From children choosing white dolls over black dolls, to holidays (Black Friday or a white Christmas), to the dark or white knight, to anger and hatred or evil and wicked.

Thankfully, the term “black” is now considered archaic in the eyes of dictionary editors; however, ask anyone—ask yourself—is the connotation still “evil” or “bad” in your mind? Can you picture an innocent person with dark skin? (If one looks at the Hunger Games outrage, a ton of folks cannot.) When we use the term “black humor” what is meant? Or what about “black films?” By the dictionary definition, it would mean grossly tragic, but without a capitalization, there’s room for confusion: is it being a movie made for and/or by a Black person, or the comedic trope for/by Black folks. Ambiguity isn’t a good thing here—hell, it rarely is. Cut the fat off and get right to the heart of the matter.

We can start with the lowercased version: black means dark, gloomy, absence, evil, a sullen or morose mood. Black on the contrary is a pro-noun, an embodiment of history, culture, music; it’s the collective of a people, one bloc that has continued to be striated over something as fickle and asinine (biological charade, socially perpetuated) as the color of skin dignifying different “races.”

Of course i had to quote Malcolm X, who opined an important facet of the words ‘black’ and ‘negro’ decades ago:

The term “negro” developed from a word in the Spanish language which is actually an adjective meaning “black,” that is, the color black. In plain English, if someone said or was called a “black” or a “dark,” even a young child would very naturally question. “A black what?” or “A dark what?” because adjectives do not name, they describe. Please take note that in order to make use of this mechanism, a word was transferred from another language and deceptively changed in function from an adjective to a noun, which is a naming word. Its application in the nominative (naming) sense was intentionally used to portray persons in a position of objects or “things.” It stamps the article as being “all alike and all the same.” It denotes: a “darkie,” a slave, a subhuman, an ex-slave, a “negro.” Malcolm X, malcolm-x.org

At what point did we stop believing in ourselves, respecting ourselves? When did it become less important for self-aggrandizement? Going back to our leaders during the 50s through 70s, we made sure to uplift via literary devices, to show we mattered in the smallest of matters. I’m not a fan of putting other blocs down, i.e. how we would de-capitalize “white” while we used “Black,” but i get it, i understand why—we were taking back our power. Today, though, we are not in that dire climate of the pre- and directly post-Civil Rights Movement era; we have a president with similar blood flowing through him—DNA of our kin.

When i capitalize White, it is for equivalency reasons; it’s to maintain a standard, to stave away ambiguity: they represent the other, the non-Black, they are the Europeans, the ancestral lineage of our slave masters, the current holders of immense power—the “leaders”—in the world. With that said, the Black collective is not limited to those who were involuntary volunteers from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean, but Asians and Natives of what we deem North America, all whom were enslaved, displaced, diseased and/or thoroughly eradicated—our collective histories share a common thorn in our sides, roots ripped out by similar if not the same generations of hands. In many circles, this is known as Pan-Africanism.

We give credence to other groups by using these terms: Latinos/Latinas, Asians, and other peoples—but anything saved for us, Black folks, is not put into printed form with a capitalization, but always in the same way as an ink’s color: black. It’s unsettling.

Even if we were to adopt the terms brown or yellow or any other color, there is no association that is so attached as black—black in itself has its own long history, centuries long even.

When white and black are lowercased, used right now to talk about a person or people, white is still greater: they have more social and economic power than we do in this country, in this world.

Looking back through America’s history, there are tomes where the names of Black people were bestowed on us without our say, and they were lowercased, while White’s were not. Even in the printed form, a medium in which we were not privy to for we were actually banned from learning to use, was a platform for subjugation, even if in such a seemingly trivial way, yet it would slowly termite its way into the mental foundations: we were not deserving of capitalization. I’d liken it gendering of deities in religion, specifically the most powerful one almost universally being made male.

Moving on to a more collective outlook, it was refreshing (reassuring a better word?) several weeks ago during the Linsanity phase to see an Asian writer employing similar tactics in his writing as myself (if a tad bit inconsistent; but i blame that on proofreading lol).

One can be a Black person with White humor, writing black poems in blue ink on white paper, awaiting death by the hands of a White executioner with black thoughts. Distinctions. This is an example of side-stepping ambiguity, but also giving all people their just distinction.

It is the littlest things to me that mean the most. And the littlest things are most overlooked, eventually amounting to grander issues that could have been avoided.

stream of consciousness #0015: inspiration is random on-purpose

Inspired by words from another who’ve i’ve never met physically—an online comraderie twittering—writing about a muse never encountered by either of us for she passed away years prior, this is a piece about the purpose of inspiration coming at us sideways in the dark holding a flashlight for the gloomy eyes to see hope.

Hopeful for enlightenment, we grope, not quite blind yet possessing almost atrophied optics, around murky caverns searching for an outlet. Almost at wit’s end, we hear a shout as a whisper miles in the distance, hope is still upon is; adrenal gland awakens, legs press on, fingers do the talking—touch a sensation mental more than physical, who needs nutrients to continue?

Continuing with labored breath, the scant whisper evolves, bellowing emotions reach eardrums yearning for companionship. Where must the world end, where is the finish line? Is the journey truly more important than the destination final?

Chains sway behind and below, the walls are now ceilings the floor trapdoors; hopping from crevice to precipice, plateau to cloud; nine rings of torment hover below seven levels of happy hellish memories, all hung together by sinew of the minds lost, not quite strong enough, not almost weak enough to give up, in the middle they laid down, holding up mere apathy at the end. Those on the outskirts soon tasted dewy moisture from the rays of sun lighting dreams
gathered on the way.

Death begats remnants of lives lived, conversations carried, penstrokes fueled by sadness, the sands of time cupped with hands, seeping out slowly, dripping saliva instead of saving—loneliness not an option, only so much solitude one can take; let it all go, scythe swings, fall below.

With digital archives perpetual—until the bunny ceases to beat drums, glasses break, blind we now know, why it continued forward, spinning, never diagonal with any destination in tow—we cease to live finite, able to sow seeds plentiful over pipeways, our pipedreams flood slow, gushing those wanting more, drowning all others able to swim, fighting down- and upstream, they go, go, go.

Built my Online Bookshelf Surrounded by Physical Books

Several times over the past couple of years, i decided to migrate … well, more like copy … my physical books to the digital realm while sitting in the library. That is to say, i haven’t purchased or found a free way to have digital copies of the books—only a catalogue. Man, i should’ve just said that from jump. Anyway…I like instant access to knowledge, to lists—which is probably why i love the Interwebs so much: 24/7/365(6).

Being able to know what adorns two of my walls is a boon to my sanity. I recently discovered a torn plastic garbage with another bag within of books i’ve had since a kid. I think some of the books are my brother’s. Trips down memory lane are resplendent, especially when unexpected.

I figured i’d give more than a cursory look at Shelfari and GoodReads. I ultimately chose Shelfari as my main digital bookshelf since i hadn’t updated my LibraryThing account in quite some time (it was the first bookshelf website i used). I quickly remembered why, too: LibraryThing only allows 200 books to be cataloged before having to pay a fee ($10/year, $25/life). And, more importantly due to my changing tastes, i wanted a site that fit my aesthetic palette—clean and “modern” navigation with a focus on my bookshelf (with covers!).

I hadn’t used GoodReads too much, either, but got back on it once a few social network friends informed me they had accounts by requesting me. Shelfari was recently absorbed by Amazon, which is great since it made for a seamless integration of my 7-year book buying history. A top-notch perk, for sure.

Needless to say, it’s been weird jumping from one rock to the next—reminding me of a child staying at mommy’s house on weekdays and father’s on weekends: some lucky toys are in both places, but only the real important ones have permanent residence at one, probably because they’re rare or have more meaning. Horrible analogy, but whatever.

With everything moving to the digital realm, i’m excited to see how others have gone about constructing their online bookshelf. Are they keeping their books solely on Barnes & Noble or Amazon Kindle accounts’ bookshelves? Or using websites like these? Maybe some combo of ‘em all?

Not much more to say or to ponder, so i’m out. Feel free to find/follow me by clicking the links in the paragraphs above.

Peace out, cub scouts.

Autodidacticism, hello friend.

People ask questions but rarely seek answers. There’s a timidity when it comes to knowledge. Fear not, it won’t bite.

Seeking own knowledge—the path of autodidacticism—will thaw the frozen ascetic within, inflamming a mental tazmanian devil, ready to devour tomes and submerge itself in the wells of experiences. Moving nomadically, each new desire allowed to grow to adolescence, forming relationship after relationship, long-lasting, of course, but some ephemeral, is both the good and bad.

Ask not, want not, so the saying goes; yet wants are still present even without vocalizing them. Fear or uncertainty, possibly uncomfortable with inquiry, are the markers that i believe dissuade people from enriching themselves.

Ignorance is bliss, yet knowledge is torment. If one seeks not, one obtains naught. There must be a pursuit or stagnancy is the only outcome.

Go forth into the world, young or old(er) reader, unleash yourself and enrich the world with your inquiry and curiosity. Trust me, you will not regret it.

the Proust questionnaire

Thursday, while still awake at 3am with my sleep routine out of wack from the mid-week snow day, and excited from finishing the design for version 3.0 of Mental Ephemera, i came across an interesting post at Apricot Tea, the proust questionnaire in my words. I’d never heard of Proust, but i’ve an affinity for questionnaires and love to learn of and about new people, so the title piqued my interest.

As it turns out, Marcel Proust, a French writer in the late 1800s, twice answered a questionnaire, once at 13 and again at 20, with the questions slightly varying each time. The questionnaire was subsequently named after Proust because he is said to have answered the questions the most beautifully and profoundly. He believed that by answering these questions truthfully, a person could unmask their true nature. Interesting.

the beauty of marcel proust
sick sketch of Marcel Proust by everyoneloveskayla

Digging through the information treasure troves that are the Internet, I learned that the litany of questions regularly asked of celebrities in magazines, such as Vanity Fair, which publishes one in every issue, stems from the Proust Questionnaire. I now have more reason to look forward to my subscription!

I’ve pretended to be a celebrity of sorts by giving the questions a whirl. I chose the ones from Vanity Fair’s questionnaire, but i came across the two sets originally answered by Proust in 1884 and 1891.

Here goes it. (FYI: It’s very long.)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfection, to me, is all-encompassing, flaws and imperfections coupled with the stainless and pristine, so adding that with happiness, makes it interesting, since it’s wavering. The first image that pops into my head is a large room, a library, with high ceilings encased with bookshelves upon bookshelves, littered with tome after tome, sitting in a grand, comfortable chair, coffee pot at the ready, glasses perched atop nose, reading and annotating. It reminds me of this photograph i tore out of an issue of Inc. magazine that is now hanging on my bedroom wall: an older man with glasses, a tie and suspenders, surrounded by leather-bound books strewn across a vast table, captioned, “While some people are watching television, I’m reading bibliographies.”

What is your greatest fear?

To pass from this life without having a legacy to leave behind. This is the only chance i have, the one that is actually bankable, for anything after is saved for a betting man, that which i’m not, so i must mark indelibly something on this world. That is my only fear, and will remain so until i have children, for no parent could stomach a lost child.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

It’d have to be James Weldon Johnson, at least cursory. There haven’t been too many people with whom i immediately identify, at least on several fronts. With Johnson, i understand his trepidation when it came to dealing with the Black question, with whom one should identify, which “race,” will it be a sign of disloyalty, treachery, or a turning of one’s back. He was curious, he wrote, he loved people, his people, our people. He was torn. I understand.

Which living person do you most admire?

There are multiple: Lenny Kravitz and Johnny Depp, first and foremost; they’re what i call my inspirational paragons. Russell Brand is a helluva character, too; highly intelligent and zany.

I love Nikki Giovanni’s candor, at least her writing from the 80s for I’ve yet to read anything more recent.

Drs. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West i truly admire, both of whom i was lucky enough to see lecture or present in person. The former i saw lecture at (i believe) the Lincoln Center in NY last year, where he covered the genealogy of prominent African Americans, telling of his own surprising ancestral discovery, all while encouraging others to do the same. The more people who have their DNA analyzed and databased, the more accurate and quicker the results. Dr. Gates was a fortifying catalyst for my own family-tree building. As for Dr. West, since reading Race Matters several years ago, i’ve respected his intellect, and the balance he maintains being both a Christian, PhD holding theologian and covering issues dealing with the secular public as a whole.

There is also bell hooks, whom i mentioned in my thoughts of self: conventions of naming post. In addition to the styling of her name, i found inspiration and insight from several of her books, mainly Rock My Soul and Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, co-authored with Dr. West, who signed my copy ::dance::.

Finally, after recently hearing and meeting Amiri Baraka, i have an increased respect for the poet and Civil Rights Activist; he’s one of the last remaining from the old guard.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

This was a tricky one, too. I’d have to go with moderation. I often indulge excessively in drinking, but also in innocuous activities. One of my nicknames, which i have tattooed on my back so i would say it’s more like an embodiment than a personal moniker used by friends, is “OverZealous.” When i find something of interest, i will throw myself into it with extreme enthusiasm; i’m very meticulous and obsessive when it comes to certain things. Over the years i recall describing myself as an “extremist” in the way i loved or disliked things, or in the way i could be hyper jovial or deadpan sarcastic. Or, maybe i’m just manic or bi-polar. Lol. ::shrugs::.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Indecisiveness. I cannot stand when someone won’t or can’t make a decision. Think about something and move. Go forward, backward, spontaneously or with a plan, it doesn’t matter to me; just choose something; don’t be staid, move, be dynamic. I don’t like staleness; keep things fresh.

A close second, probably 1.5, is complaining. In line with indecisiveness, complaining about things that are in a person’s own control irks me to no end. When it’s possible to make a change, and that person doesn’t do it, instead wallowing or continuously squawking about it, that has all the makings to give me an aneurism.

What is your greatest extravagance?

If this is a monetary extravagance, it’d have to be my last computer purchase and compounded book purchases. I shop from Amazon, it would seem, at least once a week. It can become an expensive habit, but thankfully one that’s not detrimental.

Superfluous writing would have to be another. I’m not known for being laconic (this questionnaire is a prime example! lol).

Soon, tattoos will be have to be considered one. I plan on having sleeves (at least half-sleeves) eventually. I love the bodily timeline of my life; the beliefs and philosophies; all things that i truly love or embrace. Self-expression: bringing the internal externally.

What is your favorite journey?

The life-long journey of acquiring knowledge. It’s one that will not cease until i do. It’s the driving force behind my life: book learning and experiences. The first play i wrote is about just that, dual ways of learning, through experiences or through books, and the marriage of both.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Combing through the seven Catholic virtues, Franklin’s Thirteen, and this exhaustive list of virtues it was difficult to choose at first.

After much deliberation, i had the strongest reaction to meekness. I don’t agree with it. I don’t see the merits in being “overly submissive.” I don’t believe in being submissive to anyone, nor should anyone to another. It’s why i grappled with the idea, the hypothetical, if i was ever in the Civil Rights Movement era, i’d have most assuredly sided with The Black Panthers or Malcolm X or the NOI, amongst other non-passive organizations. I respect everyone’s strategy and tactics, i understand they all have their own impact, but i wouldn’t have been a frontline supporter; my path would’ve taken me elsewhere.

I believe in humility, that takes strength; i believe in modesty, that takes compassion; but meekness is lying down, is allowing to be trampled. I can’t agree with that. It puts my mind and emotions in a tizzy. No human is above another to be given allowance, free reign, to control another, to torment or put them through things, in the spirit of being augmented, in the rhetoric of light at the end of the tunnel. As a Black Greek, one who had a process (Fall ’03!), i understand humility, i understood putting the ego to the side to learn; the whole time i, as well as my line brother, was treated as an equal. If meekness was the name of the game, i couldn’t have gone through with that. The collective meekness and passivity that are proselytized and preached in religious texts and through sermons are detriments to true uplifting of self, and therefore, the collective.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

I don’t really dislike anything, but i don’t like to smile (showing teeth) since i have an overbite. Other than that, i don’t mind anything; i enjoy looking at myself; i’m very vain. Lol.

Which living person do you most despise?

Any deadbeat father. Any hatemonger.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Interesting.” “I don’t know.” “Love and hate are two sides of the same coin.”

What is your greatest regret?

I don’t have any regrets; i don’t believe in them. All experiences built, shaped or detracted something from my life or psyche. Reconstruction and deconstruction are all necessary, bringing something else to my life’s table. Without one experience, i may not have learned something.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

CDT

Which talent would you most like to have?

I want to be able to play at least one instrument, namely the guitar or saxophone. The plan is to start learning at least one of them this year, and by 5 or 10 years, to be able to move past the novice level and onto intermediate.

I also would love to be able to sketch, specifically portraiture like the image for this post. Physical artistic drawing ability is my mother and brother’s forté. Me, not so much. I need to work at it again.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

The only thing would be to have an actual documented history of at least one side of my family. We’re scattered and disconnected. There was a severing once my maternal grandfather passed away, and it hasn’t recovered since. And, it took a recent death, my cousin, Christopher, with whom i was raised, to rekindle relationships on my mom’s side.

Same goes for my paternal side: we’re disconnected from Filipino relatives, and only recently, within the past four months, because of a family gathering and Facebook, i’m able to reach out and stay abreast of things, at least superficially.

My grunt work will be even more difficult in finding out truths on both sides.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being alive to see age 25 was one of my crowning achievements. I made it past the age of Tupac Shakur, the third leg of my inspirational paragon trinity. I was accompanied by a nagging doubt for years that i wouldn’t reach at least that age. I cried when i turned 25. I remember i called my mother and was happy for that milestone.

I haven’t accomplished much in my own eyes. Not yet. So, there isn’t anything i see as being great. There’s a lot more i need to do and upper echelons holding greats that i want to reach. This answer reminds me of Christina Aguilera’s “Back to Basics (Intro).” I’ll answer this again in 10 years. Lol. Stay tuned.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

Well, since matter is never destroyed and i want to be cremated, i’m sure my energy will become part of something else, regardless. But, to patronize the question, i’d like to come back as a book. But one that is of the utmost rarity, leather and animal-sinew bound (yes, barbaric or early Gutenberg-esque lol), thick paper, and written by hand. Lol. I think the last part is a little much; we don’t have eunuch-manned printing presses any longer. Ha.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

For this, i think of the The Twilight Zone. There’s an episode with a man, a bookworm, who is the last remaining person in the world, left alone in a room filled to the walls with books—and he accidentally breaks his glasses. That has been the scariest episode to me since a child.

Being alone with no human contact is mind-boggling. Regardless of my enjoying solitude and keeping to myself often (i’m not a fan of company at my house), i need human interaction, even if it’s not in-person all the time (Twitter is wonderful for that). If i was alone, not being able to read books, which are never boring, and aren’t hindered by expectations so they cannot disappoint, i’d be driven to insanity. I’d be miserable. It’d be the most abject misery possible.

What is your most marked characteristic?

This question is ambiguous, so i’m not sure if it’s physical or another type of characteristic. Either way, right now, it would have to be my long hair, my “dreaded mane” (Lenny Kravitz). Not including that, it’d have to be my eyes or pointed nose. But, going by empirical evidence, others might remark it’s my intelligence. ::shrugs::.

What do you most value in your friends?

They learn quickly that i don’t like to be bothered all the time. Lol. I like to be left alone, and i am prone to disappear, whether that’s while we’re out at a bar or lounge or another state, or not hearing from me for a few days. Understanding, or really just allowing me to be me, is the best.

Who are your favorite writers?

I’m going to be here for a while with this one. Lol. I’ll try not to be exhaustive. I’ll limit it to only ten.

Starting with the newest addition: Brent Weeks. His Night Angel Trilogy is amazing. Three books released in three consecutive months back in 2008 (Oct-Dec). The series revolves around the exploits of wetboys, the highest caliber assassins, and the trials of society’s under- and middle classes dealing with the kingship/ruling class. There’s sword fighting and fisticuffs, sorcery and magic, and cool cultures and traditions. Each book is at least 300 pages.

C. J. Cherryh. Ahh! She introduced me to the skill of world-building. Her Faded Sun trilogy encompassed a world that was foreign, and not just because it took place universes not my own, but in developing totally unique customs, languages, and traditions. I often thank my brother for giving me the series as a Christmas gift a few years back.

R. A. Salvatore. One word: Drizzt. He’s the most famous character of a multitude of Forgotten Realms series written by Salvatore. Elves, Dark Elves, Dwarves, barbarians, sorcerers, wizards, morality, philosophy, all of them are found throughout his books. The creation of ideologies and religions amongst the various factions and races is a grand skill i’d like to be able to do in time. His writing has shown me that it is possible to construct uniqueness.

Ayn Rand. From her essays and books, Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, the ideas of individualism and objectivism are lain and resonate with me profoundly. Before i was even aware of Rand’s ideology posturing, her characters, namely the playboy Francisco d’Anconia, who was both intelligent and good-looking, charmed me, keeping me glued to to the pages.

Ed Greenwood. The founder of Forgotten Realms. Without him, i wouldn’t have been enthralled with fantasy novels. I’m not a fan of Tolkien’s books. I appreciate his planting the seed, but his works were dull to me. I’m glad movie versions of Lord of the Rings were made. Lol.

bell hooks. She is the first author to and most strongly, at that, influence my belief of love. She opened my eyes to the struggle of women in a literary form (i had first-hand experience with that from my single Black mother), the relationship dynamics of men and women, and the trappings of patriarchy. Her, along with Patricia Hill Collins (Black Feminist Thought), up-ended my world, infusing me with compassion for unthought of plights. The pinwheel of life isn’t black and white, but colored with greys.

Nikki Giovanni. Candor. I want to do a more exhaustive write up than i did with darling Nikki… but that’s for another time. For now, the openness with which she writes, inspired me to no end. It was refreshing to an unknown parched intellect. I love her writing for that. New avenues of my craft are always accepted and loved.

Christopher Paolini. This guy. He started writing his first book, Eragon, at 15, finishing at 19. It became a NY Times Bestseller. That alone would have impressed me (something that doesn’t happen often), but he added to that impression by creating his own written language used in the Inheritance cycle (the fourth book in the series is forthcoming). Maybe i should look into home-schooling for my future children: it worked wonders for him. Lol.

Isaac Asimov. The god-father of science fiction, Asimov’s short story, “The Last Question,” is his creation myth, and still my favorite short story of all-time. Along with the poem “A World in an Eare-Ring” by the god-mother of science fiction (some 200 years prior to Asimov), Margaret Cavendish, Asimov’s writing paints wondrous pictures with words of worlds beyond our own.

T. S. Eliot. Four Quartets. Simple.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Durzo Blint, from The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. Cadderly from The Cleric’s Quintet by R. A. Salvatore also comes to mind, as long as the first book doesn’t count; i hated him lol. Drizzt Do’urden from several Salvatore series is up there, too.

What are your favorite names?

Malcolm. Ezra. Jezebel. James.

What is it that you most dislike?

I dislike it when people accept everything the media says or what they hear from someone else; gossip spreads too easily and quickly. I think the American public is too prone to sensationalism; we love it and eat it up. It’s unsettling.

How would you like to die?

Sleeping, dreaming—painlessly.

What is your motto?

“Everything is relative.”

the Oxford English Dictionary is dead—long live the Oxford English Dictionary

I love words. Without shuddering from the dreaded “labeling,” i am a logo- and bibliophile. So when i heard the news, as reported by the NY Times and the Huffington Post, that there would be an imminent dem…transitioning of the Oxford English Dictionary from print and online versions to only the latter, i was immediately disheartened and worried.

I should rewind first.

Earlier this year, i came across the leather-bound version of the 20-volume set of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, vowing i would be able to move it from my Amazon Wish List onto my actual bookshelves within the next 10-15 years. I figured that by the time i was 40, i better have that collection, or i would be a shameful shadow of a bibliophile.

Why so far in the future? The hardcover collection plus CD-ROM is expensive: as of today, it’s $1232.59. And, once it’s out of print, i know the collection will move to “rare” status, thus increasing the price tag.

A rare dictionary is the perfect marriage. This would actually be a good thing to a bibliophile: rare books and augmenting one’s library with such is the modus operandi. I look forward to that gem-seeking. Sorta.

Regardless of the future life form of the Oxford English Dictionary, i believe i will one day own whatever happens to be the final printed edition. Maybe, i’ll put it on the ubiquitous “bucket list.” Or, i could add a “donate now” button to the site in hopes charitable readers, family members or friends help me out lol. Nah. Not my style.

Anyway, i would love to hear from other book and word fiends—or lovers, whatever word you prefer :-)

darling Nikki (Giovanni): your transparency should be lauded

When encountering an artist’s work for the first time, especially one who’s lauded doubly for her writing ability and Civil Rights activism (and the coupling of both), it’s dismaying when the work is underwhelming.

With Sacred Cows…And Other Edibles, that surely is not the case. In fact, i don’t believe the work of Nikki Giovanni, or at least this collection of poetic and autobiographical prose, is given its deserved attention today.

Even in an age where privacy is becoming a rarity, replaced by involuntary openness, Giovanni’s candor is refreshing; she was frank and self-echoing decades before it was fashionable.

I want to commend and bring attention to her transparency. Being forthright and open to an audience, whether in business, government or personal relationships, is an appealing combination these days. It seems everyone desires candor, and that want serves as the perfect proverbial carrot.

Giovanni’s openness, however, exists not as motivation, but as sustenance and sweetness unknown. Once experienced, the reader will want to indulge, to continue as witness to unbridled truth of self—a rare innocence that exists not with malice, but with intentions of purity.

There is an ease in the way she illustrates life’s experiences: from the tiresome rearing of a teenager to the concession of battling a cancerous cigarette habit, her writing is direct yet eloquent. Switching styles from poetic historical and political polemic and didactic to fractional introspective prose, the transparency and eloquence of self-worth is tangible throughout each. The gamut is run; the gauntlet thrown down. Readers and writers alike will find something that speaks to them.

I encourage women and men, Blacks, Whites and all assorted ethnicities and (non-) religious folks to read Giovanni. There’s a collective human history spoken of and reviewed by a Black women’s mind and voice; one from which all can (and I believe, will) benefit.

(This post is also on my Lunch.com profile.)