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.

 

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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.

 

 

I Feel the Need to Explain.

The problem is, I am easily distracted. It’s like this:

Open laptop.

Open iTunes (because I can’t work without music).

Open WordPress.

Play music.

Start writing.

Hear a popular song from the 80s.

Wonder whatever happened to that particular artist. Let’s just say it’s Colonel Abrams.

Google, “Whatever happened to Colonel Abrams.”

Find out Colonel Abrams died in 2016.

Become sad.

Open YouTube – listen to Colonel Abrams songs.

Post Colonel Abrams song on Facebook; write humorous comment about how that “shit was the DAMMIT jam.”

Fall down YouTube rabbit hole of similar ‘dammit jams” that may be familiar.

An hour later…

So that’s what is happening right now. And for some reason, my inability to focus has been pretty acute. And UN-cute.

I am having a really hard time getting some writing shit done nowadays. I’m not sure what is happening – whether it’s the way the planets are aligned, hormonal changes, or my heightened sense of impending global doom and destruction.

Maybe that’s it.  

Whatever it is, it is making it almost impossible for me to relax long enough to settle into a creative headspace. And see… I don’t even say shit like, “headspace.”

I don’t even know myself anymore.

I’m a mess.

And here’s what’s really awful about all of this – I have so many ideas floating around in my head. Short stories, essays, blog posts… they’re waking me up out of my sleep at night. But five minutes in front of the blank screen and I’m looking up recipes for egusi soup, or looking at videos of odd animal friendships.

There is light, though.

I realize that writing, to me, is like working out – minus the soul-burning hatred of all things related to exercise and the dreams of arson at LA Fitness. But I’m saying, I will have to just start again.

Like with exercise, I will need structure – a set time each day when all I do is write – no social media, no phone calls, no yelling at neighborhood children from my balcony…

An hour or two after breakfast, before training my troops of killer butterflies.

What is that saying, anything you do every day for 30 days becomes a habit? Right.

I gotta get to work.

Meh. A Review of Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines

What would this country be like if slavery were still legal in certain states? Like, for instance, Alabama? Louisiana? Mississippi?

How would this country’s political, judicial, social and racial and economic structures look?

These questions are (somewhat) addressed in Ben H. Winters’ book, Underground Airlines.

Now, when I first came across this book, saw the cover, then read the summary…

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…a huge “NAWL” rose up in my spirit – because with all the slavery-themed films and literature saturating our psyches, I was all slaved out, Fam. And here it was, a hard-cover image of a black man with title playing on the Underground Railroad… it wore me out. Not another one. Please. I’m still trying to recover from Rosewood and like, 30 seconds of 12 years.

So, how did I end up here?

Simple… the protagonist.

His name is Victor (we think), and he is a former slave – turned bounty hunter who works for the federal government. A black man who catches other black men and women, and returns them to their rightful owners. A mysterious, introspective type who only allows us brief glimpses of his past. A hero who has little control over his own destiny, spending his life ping-ponging from one situation (and one identity) to another.

It took me a while, but I realized why that felt so familiar to me… it reminded me of the nameless protagonist from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. There are differences, sure, but an essential element is present in both characters – a weightlessness, a detachment from everything around him.

So yeah, Ben got me, y’all. So imagine me, metaphorically going down the dark cellar stairs towards my doom.

Okay, so it wasn’t that dramatic. But as I read this book, I kept feeling as if I was being set up for something awful.

Or at least, for something disappointing.

So, this Victor kid.

As the book begins, he is sitting across from a priest in a diner, playing through one of the assumed identities that he wears. The priest, according to Victor’s sources, ran a small operation that helped slaves escape from the four slave states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and The Carolinas (called the “Hard Four”) through a “team of northerners, daring or crazy, making pinprick raids into the Hard Four, grabbing people up and hustling them to freedom” (p. 9).

Ooh, child – I was so here for this plot. Hear me?

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So far, so good.

So anyway, the basic plot is this – Victor is an escaped slave who works for federal law enforcement (represented by a mysterious dude he calls Mr. Bridge) to find and return a slave named “Jackdaw.”

In this alternate world, some things are still the same. Dr. Martin Luther King has still been assassinated outside of his Memphis hotel room. The 18th amendment still exists, as do fried chicken and hamburger chains. Abraham Lincoln still hasn’t survived his visit to the theater. MJ is still the greatest to ever do “it.”

And the U.S. Government is still training the best killers in the world.

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Aaaanyway…

Much is different. For one, Texas has “unofficially” seceded, calling itself the “Republic of Texas.” James Brown, the Godfather of Soul and expert escape artist, is, in this world, a defected slave. A former leader of a traveling, singing, family band of slaves, spreading the propaganda of “happy slavery” to those in the North.

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The hits just keep coming, but I’m not gonna ruin the entire thing for you.

You know, I was really excited to read this book in the beginning. But the problems I had with it showed up in rapid succession. Number one, Winters seems to be making several points, each very important and worthy of detail. Unfortunately, he just jumps from one to another, giving each a cursory glance and a wink before moving on to the next – not giving the reader a chance to recover.

I want to like this book. I mean, really like it. I want to buy copies for friends, then invite them over to my house so we could eat hot wings and talk and cackle.

But I don’t like it that much. Winters backs away from making any serious indictments of the “peculiar institution,” or of current societal issues for that matter. It seems that he tries, at least, during the first half of the book – but he soon turns towards a sci-fi-ish (yup) direction without explanation or logical foreshadowing.

It was a WTF moment, to be sure. One which, sadly, almost ruined my experience with what could have possibly been a permanent addition to my collection of fiction.

I don’t want you guys to get the wrong idea – I do recommend this book. Mostly because I want to hear what other folks think about it. If you’ve read it, or will read it soon, please leave a comment below. Let’s talk about it!

No hot wings, though.

 

On: The Horrors of War, and Insecticide

I’m not a fan of spiders. In fact, I carry an unhealthy obsession, not just with them in general, but with killing them.

I do remember being afraid of them as a child, and screaming for one of my parents to kill and dispose of them whenever one made an appearance. I wouldn’t say that I’m scared of them now – I think a more accurate term would be… revulsion. Mixed with a bit of, “why do they even exist?”

Seriously. I didn’t get spiders, really. I didn’t understand their purpose in the whole scheme of things. So, whenever I saw  one, it just made me… angry.

On some,  “Fam. You just walking around, Bruh? On EARTH, my man? Looking like that??” I mean, look at ’em. They don’t even look like they belong on this planet. Look at how they have all those babies at once! And how they eat?! COME ON.

Fam. They live in a hammock that they produce OUT OF THEIR OWN ASSES.

So yeah. If I saw one, I had to kill it. HAD to, y’all. It was like, an obsession. It got to the point where I was looking for ’em. Always thinking one was in the room, watching me.

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Right.

So, recently, I learned that spiders liked to congregate around my front door. BIG ones,  y’all. Lots of them. Big and angry, with something to prove. Like the Ruff Ryders of Spiders (stopping. dropping. shutting things down. opening up of shops). Ruff Spyders, if you will. And I’m pretty sure they had already heard about me through their little funky web/line, so they were out to get me. I know this.

So of course, I had to get them first. Cuz one, LOOK. AT. THEM. We’ve already covered that. And two, cuz I ain’t no punk. Out here. In these streets.

But I wasn’t about to get out there with a broom, just to catch one of ’em up inside the bristles and bring that thing in the house, so it can sit there, plotting to kill me and my cats while we slept.

Laughing it’s little spidery, Renfield laugh, rubbing four of its legs together. Listening to me, existing in my happy little spider-free world, all blissful and flowery-smelling. Until one night, it dropped in my ear and chewed away my brain.

That’s what would have happened, had I not been proactive. Nahmeen?

Which explains why I went to the store and purchased an ECONOMY SIZED can of Raid – but not just any kind, no. I needed the special kind, feel me? The kind I had to go to the back office and ask for. Show my ID. Scan my eyeball. Make a thumbprint, Fam. Take an elevator down to the LOWER LEVEL…

Anyway, I got this extra powerful, “shock and awe” grade can of Raid, right? And I came swaggering back in the house… laughing. Pulling the cap off, only half-reading the directions (like,  really? Just spray around the area? NO.), whistling Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries…”

(some of you are too young to understand that reference – ask your parents)

So, I opened the front door and was immediately met with Spideropolis. They. Were. EVERYWHERE, Fam. Big ones, bigger ones, HUGE ones, and some itty-bitties that I assumed where the children.

Poor things. They died FIRST.

It was a scene from a Scorcese film. Slow-motion, wild-eyed, silent screams (me), frantic running (the spiders), dramatic violin score playing (inside my head)…

It was great, at first. There I was, cackling and spraying and yelling, “GIT SOME! GIT SOME!”

And then…

The spray started to do its thing.

And these spiders, they… they were…

I mean…

Some were, like… rolling around, y’all. You know… like, curled up in a ball, and rolling around. And others were staggering around in circles.

And I kept saying to myself, where have I seen this before?

I stood there in horror, mouth slack and eyes wide. The can slipped from my hand and clattered to the ground, rolling into the lawn.

I watched these spiders suffer, and I kept thinking, I’ve seen this before.

And that’s when it hit me… Jacob’s Ladder.

Did you ever see that movie? Remember the scene when the soldiers are in the jungle, and they get attacked, and it’s utter pandemonium? And guys are running around screaming, and one of ’em’s like, “MY EYES,” and some other dude’s like, “ARRHGHHRHHHHRH” and spinning around in a circle, and some dude is throwing up, and one guy is just sitting there, in the middle of all the mess, crying?

Yeah. It was like that. And I caused it.

I just stood there, watching these spiders, as they gradually slowed down, and started to slide down on their own silken threads to the ground, where they finally lay, their legs curled, inward and still.

What IS this stuff? I thought to myself.

That afternoon, I came outside with a broom and swept all of the spider carcasses into the grass, and later, several birds came and ate them.

Circle of life, type shit.

But that night, I wondered if there was a more humane way to rid my entryway of the insects – because let’s face it. I’m not trying to scare all my company away.

I contemplated the broom thing. Or, some kind of sound device that messes with spider ears (don’t judge me). Or hiring a bird. Or a band. Or a bird band. You know… to like, blast ’em outta there.

None of that sounded feasible or even possible, for that matter.

I suppose if I continue to spray the doorway, proactively, then maybe it will keep spiders from coming back. And I can save some lives, next time.

Instead of being the harbinger of death around here.