A Letter to My 20 Year-Old Self

Tunde 20s

 

Dear Tunde,

Here are a few things you don’t know now, but will soon:

  1. Pay more attention to what people do than what people say. If they don’t match, those people can’t be trusted.
  2. You will soon meet the worst boss you will ever have. She will make you cry, doubt yourself and consider changing your entire career path. But you will learn a valuable lesson from her: how not to manage others. This will be valuable for you in a future job.
  3.  You will have to end some friendships. This will never be easy, because right now, you think that loyalty is the most important thing. You will find out otherwise, and it will be painful. But you will recover faster each time.
  4. You do not treasure your alone time yet, but one day you will.
  5. While on her death bed, your grandmother will share a deep fear with you, and it will haunt you for years. Don’t worry – one day,  you will meet a woman who will say three words to you that will change your life.
  6. Yoga isn’t stupid. It will help you in more ways than you can imagine.
  7. Some of the people you’re hanging around with are bad for your energy. They are draining you and making you sick. You’ll find that out one day and decide to leave them alone. You’ll feel so much better when you  do.
  8. One year, you will go to New York for a writers’ conference and find out that you’re actually a pretty decent writer. So give yourself some slack.
  9. For now, music is saving your life. Keep singing until that changes, then leave it alone and keep it moving. People will have a lot to say. Don’t give a shit.
  10. People will take your affable nature as gullibility. Every once in a while, show them your other nature, just so they know what the fuck they’re up against.
  11. You will have to learn to stop putting other people’s feelings before your own. Learn to tell the truth about what you want what you don’t.
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Children of Blood and Bone: A Review (with spoilers)

So, a couple of months ago, I did a some book reviews on Facebook live. I thought, “hey – this is a good idea that could probably take off.”

And then I realized that I would have to comb my hair and put on some lipstick.

Every time.

So, here we are.

Anyway, for the last few weeks, my free time has been devoted to Tomi Adeyemi’s first novel, Children of Blood and Bone.

This.

Children of Blood and Bone

First, let me just tell you how excited I was about this book. Ms. Tomi was getting lots of press before its release, and I was here for it. Every last bit. I mean, Ebony Magazine was calling it the “next big thing in literature and film,” and several sources were calling it THE biggest fiction book deal ever.

AND she wasn’t even 25.

Hell, I was happy for her – even while looking at my own life like,

Anyway, a good friend of mine sent me a copy (thanks, Davina!) and I got right to it.

So, what is Children of Blood and Bone? Imagine if X-Men was set in Nigeria, but replace “mutants” with “magi,” and start the book right after a major conflict which destroys all of the magic in the kingdom. So at the beginning, all people with magic are either dead or in hiding.

That’s where we are when the book opens. In fact, the first person we meet is Zélie, a young girl born with magical blood (which is evident by her silver hair), who is living a double life, so to speak. During the day she works as a seamstress, but at night she hones her fighting skills in an underground training camp run by a badass African woman named Mama Agba.

Zélie lives in Eloirin, a city in the kingdom named Orishá. She lives there with her brother and her father, Baba. But her mother, who was a powerful magi, had been dragged from their home and hanged by the king’s soldiers during the last big insurrection.

Meanwhile, in the royal palace, the King (Saran) is pissed cuz first of all, he hates the magic folk because some years back, they killed his father, the previous king. And check it, the previous king was this benevolent dude who like, held hip hop summits at the castle and gave everybody free health care or whatever (hell I don’t know…) but he was killed anyway by the “ungrateful” magi.

So anyway, King Saran has a son named Inan. He’s tall with an athletic build and has a promising career in his father’s army. He is also a card-carrying member of the “Make Eloirin Great Again” club – leading troops around the kingdom, rounding up groups of magi and harassing them and what not. So basically, dude is good on paper, but he’s an asshole. And on top of all of that, Inan is carrying a secret: he is a magi, and has been doing everything he can to hide it – keeping his head shaved to hide his silver hair ad suppressing his urges to get all magicky, because he knows that if his father ever found out, it wouldn’t matter who he was… he’d be tortured and imprisoned and maybe even worse.

And then there’s Amari, King Saran’s daughter and Inan’s sister. She’s young and sheltered, starved for attention from her parents who either ignore her (father) or constantly criticize her within an inch of life (mother). Amari is basically alone except for her one friend, Binta, an undercover silver-haired magi servant in the castle. The two of them are typical young girlfriends, giggling and talking about boys, except one of ’em has to bring the other one her tea whenever she asks anshit.

Well, Binta has been hiding her true identity from everyone except Amari, living right up under the king and his fine ass, crazy ass son and trying not to get discovered and killed while Amari’s still talmbout boys anshit.

GIRL IF YOU DON’T…

girl if you don't

So, one day some soldiers from the King’s army show up and tell the King that they had just performed a raid on some magical folks and stole an artifact  – a scroll with some ancient writing on it. Turns out that it’s magical, and that there is another item missing (a stone) and get this: if the two artifacts are brought together in a special ceremony, then all of the magi would get their powers back.

Okay, so somehow, King Saran finds out that Binta is a magi and has her dragged into his chambers, because he wants to see what happens when he puts her and the scroll together. When he does, there’s this impressive light show so for a brief moment, and the King and all his guys are like:

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and then SHANK, he stabs Binta and kills her. What he doesn’t know is that his daughter, Amari, is watching through a crack in the door. So she realizes that her father is nuts and that she has to get away from him post haste.

Now while all of this is going on, Zélie and her brother Tzain are at the market hustling for some food for the house when a ruckus breaks out. During the confusion, Zelie and a disguised Amari bump into each other, and she says, “help me”.

Now this is one of those things that happens in books and movies that almost never happens in real life. Like jacking someone’s car for “police business.”

So Amari’s all, “help me, cuz I got this magic scroll that I stole from my dad and he’s pissed and if he finds me he’s gonna destroy it and all the magic will be gone forever” type shit.

One thing leads to another, and before she knows it, Zélie and her brother are caught up with this princess and all of her problems, which is basically the last thing Zélie needs, cuz she is already trying to stay under the radar because of her power.

But this is just the beginning of all of the mayhem and foolishness. Throughout the rest of the story, Zélie, Tzain and Amari are running for their lives, with Inan and All the King’s Men hot on their tails.

Let’s also complicate that with the fact that Amari is all hot for Tzain (and the feeling is mutual), and Inan’s powers are coming out in fits and starts, not to mention his telltale silver hair keeps growing back out, no matter how much Jermaine Jackson dye and Eco gel he puts in it. And Inan can’t seem to figure out who he wants to be – a soldier or one of the Avengers. And also time is running out – they have to find a boat, get to this particular island and then perform a ceremony by the end of the summer solstice that will bring magic back.

All in all, this was a bit of a wild ride. Adeyemi has a knack of writing fast-paced scenes with lots of action so that while this was a pretty hefty book, it was a fast read for me.

And what did I absolutely love about this book? Was it the way she used Nigerian-sounding words throughout? Yes.

Was it also the fact that the female characters were strong and smart? Hell yes.

Were there things I didn’t like? Well, I can say that I would probably hold off on letting a child under the age of, say, 13 read this because of the violence and adult situations. Personally, I don’t think a child should read anything in which a parent dies violently. Hell, I’m still seeing a therapist about Mufasa, y’all.

And I could kinda do without the flirting-thing between Inan and Zélie, basically because it was just implausible. I mean, dude was just trying to kill her, so…

But yeah. If you are still trying to read it (cuz I didn’t tell you everything), I encourage you to do so. And chime in on the comments and let me know your thoughts!

 

I Just Wanna Sit Here For a While and Do Nothing, If Y’all Don’t Mind. Or: Rant #62.

I don’t want to write anymore. Right now.

Seriously.

This is where I’ve been for about a year.

I imagine it’s like a cold, gray place – made of painted cement blocks, where a 13″ Zenith TV plays a hair-sprayed televangelist in a continuous loop.

And the only food is chipped beef on toast.

Where I lie on a futon mattress in the corner, scrawling beginning sentences for blogs and short fiction, only to scratch them out again.

But seriously, brilliant ideas hit me all the time – interrupting my sleep and my drive home.

So, it’s not the lack of ideas that’s keeping me from writing.

It’s the will, y’all.

I’m tired.

And I’m worried all the time.

The Empire keeps winning, and the Jedi are all dying, and the Revolutionaries won’t stop fighting among themselves.

And I want to be there, right in the middle of it all, writing and stirring shit up…

But a cartoonist was fired today.

And writers are being attacked.

And 45 wants us to  goosestep.

I can no  longer watch the news without shouting.

I am angry all the time and I hate everything.

I am anxious about everything.

I am over-protective of my loved ones.

And I am too busy trying to hold myself together with both hands.

So no… nothing is being written right now.

I’ll be back soon, though.

I just… need a minute.

Or two.

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to You, Fellow Lupus Warriors.

I wanted to write something profound here. Something poetic, something that musicians and actors would quote twenty years from now. Something that you would copy on a Post-It and stick on your fridge. A maxim – a life rule, packaged up neatly into a few brief sentences. But I didn’t.

And for that, I apologize.

Because when I actually got my head out of my own ass and thought about it, I realized that maxims (Maximums? Maximi? Maxae? Whatever…) frustrate me. They tend to simplify our experiences, all the beauty and pain and spiritual awakening, and disappointment… all that majesty and mediocrity, into played-out cuteness.

You all deserve more.

So instead of a neatly wrapped platitude, I just want all my fellow Lupus Warriors to know this: I love us. I love our fierceness and fight just as much as I love our quiet, injured retreats. I love how we gather as communities, from online groups that reach across geographical borders, to tiny, coffee house chats. How we find our strength in shared narratives, providing hope for ourselves and each other.

I love how we welcome the newly initiated into this ghastly circus act of body betrayal and prescription sleight of hand. Come one, come all, but please do not bother the circus animals – they’re resting.

The way some of us laugh our way through, while others travel inward.

We carry our burden in different ways – shouldering it with grace and unfathomable courage, sometimes surrounded by our cheering sections, but sometimes alone.

Shout out to all of you, you beautiful, exhausted butterflies. The way you push through crippling joint and muscle pain to work every day so that you can save your paid sick leave for those days when you’re really sick. To you, the parents, who remember your children’s schedules while also remembering your complex schedule of pills, shots and doctor’s visits. Your unapologetic use of the word “no.”

And shout out to the support systems – the parents, friends, siblings, co-workers, children and significant others who link arms around us when the pain, and loneliness, and anxiety, and depression get to be too much.

Cheers to you, Lupus Warriors, who watch former friends fade away and welcome new ones in their places. I lift my glass to those of us who share best practices, and gently encourage those who have begun to lose hope.

Keep sharing your stories. Keep talking to each other. Keep putting a face to this shape-shifting bastard of a disease until a cure is found. But most of all, keep taking care of yourselves.

We are strong, and our communities are growing. Keep asking your questions and demanding answers. Keep trusting yourselves and speaking with authority about your own bodies.

You’re beautiful.

 

The Library of Fates – An Honest Book Review. With Spoilers.

This is a book about a young princess named Amrita, who lives in a colorful, peaceful kingdom called Shalingar. In the beginning, everything is perfect, and the book opens up on what seems to be a kingdom-wide celebration. Turns out, the kingdom is preparing for a visit from an Emperor named Sikander.

Now, this dude Sikander… he’s a real bastard. At this point, Amrita doesn’t know much about him, other than what she’s heard from her tutor – that Sikander took the throne after killing his own father. So, it’s been established – Sikander ain’t got love for NOBODY.

So, when Sikander finally shows up, everybody is running around, acting happy, singing and throwing rose petals, cuz that’s what you do when the guy who killed his own father comes to town.

Meanwhile, Chandradev, the king of peaceful Shalingar (and Amrita’s father), is worried. He seems to know something that Amrita doesn’t – that Sikander’s visit is a bad sign. Especially for her.

So Sikander doesn’t waste time telling dude what he wants – essentially, he wants control over Shalingar because they have access to a rare drug called chamak, a hallucinogen used for religious purposes (Dune, anyone?) that is only mined by a race of beings called the Sybillines (and when I first read that I thought it said Syphillines and I almost threw the book across the room).

And that’s not all. Sikander has decided that he wants to marry the princess, solidify his control over Shalingar, and take her back to Macedon, which I assume is like, the capital  city. The princess asks her father about the capital city, and he describes it to her as:

“It’s… very advanced in some ways. Buildings so tall they block out the light. Giant arenas that took thousands of years to build. They’re used for fighting: slaves fighting one another to the death. People cheering like madmen over it… They don’t believe in equality between the sexes. To question the leadership is considered a sin. And they like war…” (12)

Ahh, Aditi. I see what you did there.

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So, in the interest of not spoiling the whole book, let’s just say that all hell breaks loose very early in the novel, and Amrita spends the rest of the book on the run. The good thing is: if you’re looking for a tale where redemption follows tragedy, then this will definitely not suck for you.

Okay, so let’s get to the things I like about the book: Number one, this has all of the things I look for in a good story – adventure, tragedy, redemption, revenge, a little bit of violence, and supernatural phenomena. Also, to my surprise, the “bad” characters are not cartoon-ish or drastically psychotic. So, there’s that.

I’m also here for the fact that the main character is a young girl who, at the beginning, seems to be controlled by her circumstances – but then begins to learn about herself and who she really is. Dig it. She even has a divinely inspired revelation about herself that was, while a bit predictable, was still a nice touch and a satisfying resolution for a likable character.

Now, I wouldn’t say that there was anything I didn’t like – but I was particularly disappointed that the author gave Amrita a love interest. I mean, okay – I get it. It’s young adult fiction, and there needs to be dark-haired, mysterious dude with an intense gaze who gives her butterflies and what not. It’s just… YAWN.

Anyway, if I was asked whether I recommended this book or not, I’d say yes. This is a fast read with a lot of action and vivid passages.

And with the way it ends, there may possibly be a sequel.

 

 

Blackout, Or: How the Fuck Am I Supposed to Write in These Conditions?

I feel like I need to apologize for the profanity in the title.

And then again, I don’t.

In short, I’m in a mood today. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve been in a mood this entire year.

I have no name for this mood. I often think of that episode of  “The Golden Girls,” where Blanche explains that she has a name for that un-explainable, sadness-slash-anger-slash-melancholy: “magenta.”

“That’s what I call it when I get that way. All kinds of feelings, tumbling all over themselves. Well, you know, you’re not quite blue, because you’re not really sad, and although you’re a little bit jealous, you wouldn’t say you’re green with envy, and… every now and then you realize you’re kinda scared, but  you’d hardly call yourself yellow… I hate that feeling. I just hate it. And I hate the color  magenta.” (Deveraux, 1986, par. 12 or whatever).

Mother Blanche kinda spoke a word, here. But it leaves me wondering: what color is WTEntireF? Cuz, that’s where I’ve been living this year. And the only consolation I have is that I’m not lonely here – I have lots of company. Most of the people I know are here. Some of you are here, too – I can tell. I can see it in your faces. In the way you roll your eyes and slap your foreheads every time you see a press conference. The way you fall silent and leave the room when someone defends the un-defendable.

But I wish my feelings just stopped there. Lately, I feel as if I can’t concentrate. I want to do what I’ve always done whenever I fell into the I Hate Everythings – turn to the blank page.

Vomit all that shit out.

Make y’all read it.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But this year, it feels like my entire life is off. My socks are down in my shoes. Tracks are showing. There’s something in my nose. Something on the back of my pants. My zipper’s down. Metaphors abound.

First, I can’t seem to find enough work, and the work I have is dwindling. Adding insult to injury, I am caught right smack in the middle of “not qualified enough” for certain positions, and “over-qualified” for others.

And now, I’m paranoid. I swear that a bill collector has been sitting in a U-Haul truck in my neighbor’s driveway for weeks, whistling the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

Whenever my phone rings with one of those 1-800 numbers, I laugh hysterically – cuz at this point, all they can get from me is a Barnes and Noble gift card and a Yankee Candle.

And on top of that, Ol’ Canteloupe McHalf-Wit has been playing The Dozens with one of the most unhinged people on the entire planet. And every day there’s a new attempt to snatch something away from us that we need.

And I’m supposed to be creative in all this shit? HOW?

How am I supposed to be open and vulnerable enough to share my thoughts when all I wanna do is stay silent and avoid everything and everyone until we’re all blown into charred bits?

I know, I know. I’m supposed to write anyway. Sure. Got it.

But that’s not easy – especially when you’re anxious about everything like I am.

What’s crazy, though, is that I have so many cool ideas and characters floating around inside this twisted mind – I mean, colorful, outlandish, funny, heart-breaking, violent and beautiful shit – right? And the longer I sit here, staring at CNN and Googling “deserted islands for sale,” the louder these voices get.

If I don’t do something about it soon, I’m afraid they will revolt – and I will become That Woman in the Public Library. I feel there is no explanation needed here – you get the idea.

So, I guess that explains why you haven’t heard from me, or whatever. I suppose I needed some time to just… sit.

But I’m slowly coming back, y’all. I promise.

I mean, cuz after all – the world needs me.

 

 

 

Juba! A Book Review

What’s up, y’all. It’s your favorite nearsighted bibliophile and skeptic of all things, the Insomniac Who Worships at the Throne of Olenna Tyrell… me.

You know, I am often asked by friends to recommend books, and lately I’ve been getting some requests for Young Adult (YA) book recommendations.  And until now, that was a category I knew very little about. I think at the time (about a month ago), the only YA books I had read were ones that everyone had read – the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. Both of these series I enjoyed, but I then fell into my African author phase, and I didn’t return to the genre for a several years.

So, when a few friends started to ask me for recommendations for their children again, I got to work. I went to the library (yes, I still have a library card – chill out) and asked my Friendly Neighborhood Librarian where I could find the YA book section. And that’s when I came across this:

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This is an historical fiction based on the life of William Henry Lane, or Master Juba – a free black man born in Rhode Island who is often credited as the founder of tap dance.

Now, when I saw this on the shelf, I was instantly geeked – this is a man who is almost completely absent from my high school/college history courses, who I was lucky enough to learn about from my mother, a black dance historian. So to finally see him represented in literature… it was almost too merch, y’all.

On one hand, I was pleasantly surprised at how this book tackled heavy issues like racism, blackface and slavery – but it wasn’t heavy-handed, which is why I stay away from the violence porn which is most slavery-themed literature.

This is a rather quick read, since the book begins with Juba in his teenage years, working and barely making ends meet in an area of New York City called “Five Points”, located in lower Manhattan.

boz27s_juba_portrait(a portrait of Lane)

It chronicles his life in New York and London, and how his life changed after meeting the author, Charles Dickens and becoming an international celebrity.

At times, the book mentions the racism and hatred he endured. For example, after being rejected in a dance audition for a revue, he says:

“… they just changed all my dreams about dancing and all my hopes to make something of myself. My dancing didn’t mean a thing. The only thing they see in a black man is a clown or a slave…” (55)

There was brief mention of “blackface” – the theatrical tradition of using burnt cork to blacken the face and red lipstick to accentuate/exaggerate the lips. In many cases during the vaudeville/minstrel era of theater, both white and black actors blackened up and took on exaggerated, clownish roles that were supposed to “portray” black people, but were mere caricatures – offensive stereotypes. Lane, or Juba says:

“To me, putting on blackface was the strangest thing in the world. I was born black, and yet the promoters wanted me to dress up like some kind of strange image of a black person that really wasn’t a true Negro. It was as if a lot of white people had a place in their heads for black people, and you had to fit in that place… or they didn’t want you. They wanted black performers to talk bad, say stupid things, and be like pets.” (123)

The book starts in 1843, and while Juba was born a free Negro in the North, selling free black men and women back into slavery in the southern states was still practiced. Near the end of the book, Juba gets a letter from a friend while he is in London, telling him that his colleague had been sold:

“… word has come that Fred was sold into slavery. He tried to run away and got to a newspaper to tell them of his predicament but then was caught and had the backs of his heels cut so he could not run away again.” (173)

Okay, so here’s my take on this book. I like the fact that an important figure in American history, a man who played a major role in the creation of an American form of dance was featured in a book for young people. That was awesome. And there are some scenes in here (like the “being re-sold into slavery” and “blackface” issues) that can get classrooms and families talking about the harsh, evil, yet very real parts of this country’s history.

What I found difficult was that while these things were written into Juba’s narrative, and told in his voice, we rarely got a glimpse of his inner thoughts. How does he feel when he is humiliated on stage? When he hears about his friend being sold back? We’re not really sure. Juba reacts only on the surface level; he is “shocked” or “angry,” sure, but what does he do? How does he work through this? How do these things affect him on a deeper level?

Juba is only drawn with broad strokes. The finer points, any inner dialogue or struggles are only minimally shown. So the real, psychological damage of racism is not really touched here.

After saying that, I do recommend this book for kids, although not for small children – unless you are willing to explain slavery and racism, and your child is mature enough to handle that.