Appearances and Publications, Current Events, Pop Culture, Race

Bits and Bobs: WaPo Column Recaps and Rihanna-Inspired Writing.

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Yesterday marked the publication of my third column at WaPo’s Act Four (if you missed the news, I’m a weekly contributor there now. Seriously. Pinch me.). I wrote about Trevor Noah, who I knew nothing about until it was announced Monday that he’ll be the new host of The Daily Show. My second piece was about Mo’ne Davis. The first was about the transition of an amazing multicultural bookstore inside 14th and V’s Busboys and Poets location in DC to a Politics and Prose satellite store. I love Politics and Prose, but it’s pretty white by comparison. For context, 85% of the children’s books at the old store, Teaching for Change, were either by or about children of color, which is unprecedented. The rest of the stock was similarly targeted toward readers of color and it was a rush walking in there, every single time. It’ll be missed.

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I also wrote about Rihanna, ’90s black pop princesses, middle-school bullying, and my long learning curve for self-advocacy yesterday, over at Medium. If you read that one and dig it, please share it. It could use a bit of a push.

I’m considering starting a weekly newsletter for writing links and announcements like these and for letting y’all know what I’m reading on- and offline (right now, I’m knee-deep in James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods, Tracy K. Smith’s memoir Ordinary Light, a re-read of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, this interview with Kiese Laymon, and hopefully, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, which I’ve borrowed as a non-renewable digital copy from my local library. It’s due back in about 11 days and I’m not sure I’ll get to it before they gank it back).

If that kind of Tinyletter deal is something that interests you, something you’d sign-up to have emailed to you on a weekly basis, leave me a comment letting me know. I’d like to gauge interest before I start anything else.

Also, apropos of nothing, two days ago on YouTube, I found this long lost unreleased Dilla beat I rocked for months after he passed away back in 2006. It still goes. Y’all should give it a spin today:

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Nonfiction, Parenting

Acceptance Is a Drug.

Acceptance is a drug: a rock, a vapor, a potion. Some children first feel its rush in the womb, when a mother’s rhythmic, loving touch pulses through skin and blood and fluid. Her voice tunnels down through warmth and darkness. She says: I love you. She says: I can’t wait to meet you. She says: You are mine.

Other children remain unconvinced of acceptance and its potency until they emerge from the birth canal and find a father, beaming and open-palmed, the picture of pride.

And then there are the children whose acceptance has been cut, laced, or diluted. One or both of their parents may be absent or absent-minded; inattentive or attentive to a fault, but only when enforcing discipline or inflicting abuse; or desperately distracted by the pursuit of their own acceptance.

In other cases, parental acceptance, though satisfying, just simply isn’t enough. For these children, the need for notice, for desire, for praise and validation, is all-consuming. They huff high GPAs; snort three-day school suspensions; cook off-handed compliments until they’re concentrated, then inhale them till they swell inside their chests and crackle.

No, for them, simple acceptance isn’t enough. There must be a headier love, love in its pure powder form, love that can be sifted through fingers, run across teeth, licked clean off a surface.

As with any addiction, there is more than enough blame to go around. As with any addiction, blame is futile; it does not yield solutions.

What it begets is shame.

It makes the girl whose chase leads her into the arms of another addict feel mortified when the act she believed to be a private transaction of passion hits the harsh light of day. It makes her feel mercilessly flogged and without safe haven or sanctuary. Criticism stones her in the public square. Men touting themselves at surrogate fathers will screen her one of most intimate, most illegally disseminated moments, then speculate that this has happened to her because her mother is out “being empowered,” rather than providing undivided attention to her child. He will not acknowledge or apologize for his voyeurism, even as he concedes that the exposure and proliferation of the act makes it child pornography.

There will be over-simplification: The addiction suggests a lack of home training. The addiction is everywhere, manifesting itself in children in exactly this way every day; it will work itself out, if only it isn’t exploited, if only we avert our eyes, if only the children grow up. The addiction requires the help of an agency or institution, it belongs to laundry list of drudgery assigned to social workers, court-appointed counselors, and youth pastors.

It is never a personal problem. It does not require self-reflection. Because we didn’t give or receive oral sex at 14. Because our mamas loved us. Because we had the good sense not to compress our mistakes and our flaws, our naivety and experimentation, onto video and upload them to YouTube.

It isn’t our problem because our daughters are 15 and 18 and 21 and they aren’t yet sexually active. Because we parented them “right.” We grounded them, spanked them when they needed it, set content filters on our televisions and laptops, requested them as friends on Facebook.

But as long as this can happen to one girl, succumbing to the throes of thwarted infatuation, as long as one son thinks he will become a hero through sexual conquest, as long as friends will hold a camera and look on, stifling snickers or sitting in silence, as long as a video of children having sex can go viral within hours of upload, there is plenty of work left for us all.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 7.

catch yourself up with a visit to the archives.

– Chapter 7 –

Maranatha decided extracurriculars were pointless in middle school, when she tried out for gymnastics. Another team hopeful told everyone there she was gay and none of the girls would volunteer to spot her. But now that she was a senior with a tepid GPA, she needed all the help she could get. College application deadlines were looming and for the opportunity to skip town, possibly for good, she was willing to make sacrifices.

Three weeks into the school year, she began noticing new flyers plastering bulletin boards, hallway corridors, and empty lockers. The blue ones announced the revival of the school paper; there hadn’t been one in years, ever since the alleged “budget cuts” of five years ago, the ones that just happened to coincide with the “renovation” of the nurse’s suite and the installation of surveillance cameras in the classrooms and halls.

The other flyers, gold ones, announced the launch of Holy Pentecost’s first literary magazine, The Manna Quarterly. Maranatha made a mental note of the date for the combined informational meeting.

But as she approached the cafeteria after school that Friday and heard far more voices than she’d anticipated, she considered bailing. Sweat pulsed into her palms. Her teeth began to chatter like she was cold, even though the hall was stuffy and unseasonably warm.

It’d be easy to just head home. Maybe should manage a few undisturbed hours while her mother prayed and studied for upcoming speaking engagements before her stepfather got home. She thought of her CD collection, of the journal tucked under her bed, of the Oreos she’d bought at the grocery store two days ago. But home’s creature comforts paled as she imagined a faraway dorm room and a major that didn’t require her to memorize psalms.

She steeled herself, creeping up to the massive, closed double doors. Through the window in one of them, she saw that of the twenty-eight round tables in the cafeteria, ten were filled. The size of the crowd confused and intimidated her. Jake Rich was there with his wide-eyed freshman girlfriend. Cammi Shaw was sitting a table surrounded by her usual coven. Cosi whispered something to Demetria that made them both turn and grin idiotically at Ben Waldron, the best artist in school. And there were clusters of underclassmen she didn’t know, milling around their own social whirls.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 3.

if you’re just joining us: go here, then here.

– Chapter 3 –

The random “chastity checks”—a concept that, even now, sounded alien and nefarious to Maranatha whenever she tried to explain it—began during her junior year. It was February and things were already at an all-time weird by then.

Back in October, Jacob Rich, who’d sat behind her two years ago in French, had been held after school in a private detention for a full week, just before Thanksgiving break. No one had ever been pre-assigned a week’s detention. Usually, when you were written up for disobedience in class, the penance for most infractions a simple hour or two of eraser-clapping and bible verse memorization.

Jake had found a letter from Principal Harris in his locker. No one knew exactly what it said—Joe never told—but everybody around him in the hall noticed the way his olive skin flushed as he read. And after he finished, he shoved the leaf of school letterhead between his jacket and backpack, slammed the locker door, and fled to the nearest bathroom.

Maranatha had always liked Jake, with his soft voice and fluttery fingers. She liked how easily he blushed and how he seemed to always be near to help her scoop up her books when someone deliberately bumped her hard enough to knock them out of her hands. His long eyelashes reminded her of perching butterflies. A tiny mole inked his right cheek, like a drawn-in beauty mark.

She couldn’t imagine him doing anything that would warrant a week’s detention.

After Jake got the letter, Maranatha noticed a few immediate changes. He stopped wearing the sweater vests he’d favored, in lavender and sea foam and peach, and took to sporting blacks and greys and Rockport boots. His full loose curls had been cropped much closer. Stubble sprouted on his usually clean-shaven face. And within a month of his detention, he’d asked some freshmen to be his girlfriend.

Maranatha was perplexed, almost enough to risk public humiliation by asking Demetria if she’d heard anything. But  answers came soon enough. During the basketball unit of gym, she overheard the girls who’d faked periods gossiping about Jake on the bleachers.

“… but I thought he was gay.”

“He was, but Principal Harris and some other teachers and church elders prayed it off him.”

“Why would that take five days, though?”

“I heard it was seven—the number of completion.”

“He must’ve had a whole lotta spirits on him.”

“’Legion, for we are many….’”

The basketball walloped Maranatha’s bicep. She stumbled and the group of girls swiveled at the thud. Hurriedly scooping up the ball, she kept her head down and shuffled back to the fold of players.

That night, Maranatha didn’t sleep. Her mind was too busy conjuring images of Jake, surrounded by crusty old faculty insistent on loosing him of the gaggle of green gargoyles clinging to his argyle sweater vest. She asked herself where in the building would their teachers have most likely staged a seven-day exorcism, and after careful deliberation, she decided it’d all gone down in the band room where, when the demons trembled at the name of Jesus, all the cymbals on the drum sets would clatter.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 1.

in the past, when i’ve posted excerpts of longer works of fiction, i haven’t prefaced them with any type of summary. a friend of mine told me this was a problem for him and deterred him from reading. so, in an effort not to deter you, here is yet another excerpt and the summary is as follows:

this is the story of maranatha miller, a lifelong loner at a private, pentecostal school who, at the age of seven, has a chance encounter with a troubled graduating high school senior named gideon. years later, gideon returns to the school as a teacher, when maranatha is a senior herself. forbidden, mostly repressed romance ensues as the two forge undeniable bonds, in spite of themselves.

their story is set against the backdrop of a larger scandal, as parents and former students form a class action suit against the school for unethical policies and abusive practices, and maranatha and gideon–both victimized by these practices over the years, in different ways–are called upon to testify.

the story spans three decades and each chapter represents a different period in time. this first chapter is the chance encounter i was telling you about. enjoy!

– Chapter 1 –

Whenever the primary-schoolers made their way to the Main Building, they were dwarves in a city of giants. The second grade class at Holy Pentecost Academy clasped hands so tightly they dampened and it became trickier to keep their slippery grip on one another. The wanton giants tromped about, jostling them without ever looking down. The tots trembled, inching through the halls of the Big Kid School, where assemblies were held in a massive, musty auditorium.

They should’ve been beside themselves with glee and anticipation. It was Friday, October 30: Hallelujah Day. Every year, the whole school gathered for candy, costumes, and a fantastical filmstrip about druids, witches, and all the satanic trappings of Halloween.

It was one of the most exciting days on their academic calendar.

But first they had to get past their initial ten minutes in Main, all of which they spent in wriggling in taut-eyed, primal fear. Usually, a third of the kindergarten class wet itself in anticipation. Then, slowly, as they made their way toward their candy-paved utopia, everyone settled down and suddenly, sharing space with students three times their size wasn’t such a Herculean feat, after all.

Maranatha smiled at the littler kids. She remembered kindergarten fondly. When she was five, she blended in. The other children shared their pipe cleaners and tissue paper in Arts & Crafts; and no one spread the word that her PB&J was covered in cooties when she tried to lunch-swap.

But now that she was seven, everything sucked. By second grade, all the kids knew what it meant to have a mom and dad who’d never married. Just yesterday, Demetria Simmons leaned over and hissed, “You were conceived in sin,” during story hour. Maranatha’s cheeks had raged, her eyelids hot and wet, as she looked around at the nodding heads and giggling lips. Everyone had heard.

Lately, she’d been learning to keep her head down. She knew the number of stitches in her sneakers. She knew how many Formica tiles stood between her and the cafeteria. It was comforting to focus on her own her footsteps, so comforting that when she really thought about it, the big kids bumping her on their way to the auditorium had never really frightened her at all. Maranatha felt dwarfed, no matter where she was and the size of things couldn’t bother you if you never looked up and noticed them.

*  *  *

The boy was like other boys his age. There was nothing special about him. He was tall and thin and the color of brown M&Ms. His close-shaved hair had been trained by a barber to swirl counter-clockwise at the crown. As a senior, he was immune to the lures of candy and conscience-pricking. He’d stopped caring about Halloween when he was 11. Getting out of class for the assembly didn’t especially excite him, either. He cut class at least once a week, anyway.

That afternoon, he smelled like Gain and Newports. He and his boy, Gerald, were fresh off a smoke break out behind the softball diamond. Now, in the crowded hall, they were tossing a ball of foil back and forth, pretending to be Jordan and Bird. Since they were charming and popular, the other kids and even a couple teachers simply laughed it off when they stumbled into them.

No one ever told them to stop.

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