Writer’s Block?

Things I would rather do than write.

“Clean” my studio/office/Man Cave
Wash dishes
Dust/vacuum the house
Exercise/bike ride/lift weights
Day dream
Play on Facebook
Nap
Eat
Drink
Grocery shop

Things that I could do rather than write that would be beneficial to my writing

Read
Meditate
Dream
Talk to friends
Read some more
Really set up a creative space for myself
Deal with my fears

Oh…

Deal with my fears…I just finished a coaching session when that phrase came up. And I gave voice to it not just for my client, but for myself as well. I have massive social anxiety (despite my seemingly overt extraversion) and I go though long periods where I do not wish to be seen. While I have talked about my traumas within some of the pieces for the essay challenge I hit a wall. Ergo the lateness of this installment and my reluctance to do any writing whatsoever about it. My fear of being seen is based on feeling that should someone really see me they would see a fraud, a fake, a bullshit artist.

Disclosing this now is not something new, I’ve done it before and I’ve started to do it with this essay challenge but it still felt unreal, incomplete, and not integral to my personhood. Just writing words is an easy thing to hide behind, even if I ‘d seem to be disclosing something that would make me feel truly vulnerable.

Why?

Good fucking question at this point. I know that if I pay attention I can see that I’ve done the work, not just professionally in therapy, but in my day to day dealings with significant others and myself. And realistically I know the work is ongoing, it doesn’t stop. But there are times I feel that it’s pointless. I don’t know if it’s despair or ennui or both.

I just feel like sitting still, alone, and quiet.

One of my (writer) friends has pointed out that at the end of our year of writing an essay a week we’d have fifty-two first drafts. I can’t help but think that I’m a first draft, incomplete and filled with grammatically formed incorrectness.. Maybe these spells are when I really self-edit. I dunno. I do know that my best shit comes out when I just open myself up to the thought or emotion I’m feeling at the moment (writing drunk?) and just let it flow.

Another of my (writer) friends actually called me a writer in one of her essays.

It frightened me…

Why?

Because there are too many times when I’ve read something I’ve written that prompts an almost out of body experience for me. I have a hard time believing I’ve written it, I wonder where the fuck it came from. Another (writer) friend of mine, in a Facebook post put it succinctly, “I speak one way, and I think and write, in another dimension.” (Thank you Terry Becerril) Being in that ‘dimension’ is like a drug, sometimes it’s absolutely thrilling and sometimes it’s absolutely frightening! I am truly afraid of being addicted to that feeling and what it can produce. But I see that it produces something very worthwhile and I wonder if this is the dance writers, artists are damned to dance.

And what more is there? What do I have to be honest about in uncovering myself further? What lies do I still tell myself? What lies would I tell you?

I don’t know, but what I do know is that when any potential answers come up…no, wait, when the hard questions come up I’ll not run from them, the bits and pieces of inspiration constantly flow. I’ve been either fearful or too lazy to dig for what they would lead me to discover/uncover about myself or my vision of the world. I’ll continue to do the work so that the fears I harbor don’t distort that vision. If I can recognize any biases then I can either dive into them to see what, if any use they may have or, alternatively step away from them.

What I do know right now, at this moment is that I don’t want to leave any potential I may have unused. I don’t want to waste anything of myself. As much as it may frighten me at any moment, I want to be seen.

Travel Journal Week 12

Dublin

Coming out of the sky after an overnight flight you might have several layers of clouds to go through, forty-five thousand feet is the highest you remember ever being. Those spaces between layers are crystalline and pure, mist that reminds you of the stories of knights and fairies. The light reminds you why you like to photograph in natural light. You might find yourself getting up before the sun while you’re here. Gliding out of the sky down to the runway you see little islands in the Irish Sea. You can picture the skirmishes between the Romans and the Celts, the travels of Christian monks to bring their word to the ancient people of this isle. This Emerald Isle. Green. Really, really green. You might suspect that they treat the grass with a shade of the color you’ve never seen before. A very good friend warned you that you’ll see shades of green you’ve never seen before. You suspect she’s right.

Airports, at least the ones you’ve seen, are becoming very similar. You deplane, find your way to the bus or whichever convenience you’re to use to get you where you’re going. Today you’re taking the 747 which deposits you a block or so from the hotel. It’s a quick walk, but all you can do is look around and soak up the sights, smells, and feel of the place.

You look at the faces…

The first thing you notice about the faces in Dublin is that a lot of them fit the description “hard-scrabble”. Especially when you walk by the taxi stands. Cigarette stains more than their teeth, yellowish spots are on the fingers and staleness hangs in the air as you walk by. You know that thing that fight trainers do when working with their trainees, sparring with matted gloves while the pugilist throws hands at them? Two of them were doing it barehanded and from the looks of it, doing it pretty damn well. You want to stand and watch. You have no desire to challenge either of them.

You wish you could hang there for a couple of days, getting to know them so that when you asked to shoot their portraits it wouldn’t seem patronizing. You want to remember their faces, you want to honor their lives. You want them to feel that regardless of how far you have traveled away from the life you once led that was so much like theirs, you have respect for them. Your father wore his job driving a cab like a badge of anger. His face was rather hard scrabbled damn near every night. But every night you never wanted to take his picture, you wanted to avoid that face. Time passed and you learned that he too had his own version of honor, or pride, like these hard men, of doing what they do as well as they can, and taking some version of joy from it.

But here is seems different, maybe because you don’t have to live with these guys. Your hotel room is right across the street from the Cathedral where the bells have been ringing for about forty minutes now. Christ and his boys telling you not to sleep just yet, stay awake while longer and hear what Christ Church’s bells sound like every Friday night.

*

Today you walked around without the family. You stood on corners waiting for something to tell you which way to walk, which blowing wind to follow. Again watching faces and just listening to the many languages spoken here. The ethnic Chinese cab driver told you that his thirteen year old son speaks Gaelic. Since dad is from Macao you imagine the languages in that house can span from Cantonese/Mandarin to Gaelic to English in one short conversation.

Sometimes you were tempted to sit in a pub where you could listen to live Irish music. The biggest pull was to a run down place where a tenor voice was singing Gaelic, at least you imagined it Gaelic. It’s been written that it is the language of poets, of storytellers. You wish you could stay here for several months, maybe a year so you could learn it. Meanwhile you settle in at the lounge of your hotel, listening to the bells across the street at Christ Church Cathedral and the men from Manchester as they dissect the Manchester United team on the television. You interrupt to ask if they can tell you about Ryan Giggs because your son would be displeased were you to come home, tell the story of meeting these Red Devil fans and bring back no word of the twenty year veteran of the pitch wars for the Devils. They agree with you about Paul Pogba being way overvalued and compliment you on your knowledge and short history of the side (one of them lives a ten minute walk from Old Trafford and has been following them since the 60’s. You’ve been on board for about ten years).

*

Headed for Adare for lunch and Dingle for a couple of days then on to Galway! This ‘journal’ was interrupted tonight after the girls left me alone waiting for the check after dinner (they wanted to shower and pack for our early get-a-way in the AM) when the pretty faced waitress started asking me questions about me and my writing and was I going to do a travel journey about this trip….

There’s nothing more powerful that beauty in a wicked world.

Amos Lee

This child was so beautiful and innocent I wanted to send her to the North Pole so the wicked parts of the world would never touch her! Was that me being paternalistic or just reacting to my wish to prevent the pains of life’s experiences to someone fresh and just starting to know independence?

My last therapist said I get a bit hung up on the pathos of my life in my stories, not allowing for ‘happy endings’. I tend to disagree because I’m trying to uncover those parts of my life’s experiences that I’ve not examined how they affect my vision of both myself and the lessons I’ve either learned or not explored. I won’t disagree that I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at darker aspects of myself. I think I generally tend to gloss over them. This past year, and my advancing age as well I suppose, have been cause for much introspection.

Having those brief talks with this young girl reminded me that we all have journeys in life, and many ways to walk the paths that open before us. She stayed with me as long as she could between the calls to attend to her other customers. During those interruptions I got to reflect on what Pam, the therapist, had said and came to this conclusion.

I am my own happy ending. More later, time to drive across this beautiful green place to the Atlantic coast.

Wake Up Everybody…

We woke up 49 years ago and the world was on fire. Today we wake to gassed children and wonder…

*
Someone asked the question
Who raised these crazed men
who gas children
who poison our air
who pour filth into our water
who fill our schools
with ignorance called knowledge
and who pontificate on their
own greatness?

*
We did.

*
No, of course not.
We shield
our loved offspring
with our own bodies
and love.
We teach them to respect
themselves, our values,
to work hard, to look
out for the other fella,
to protect our tribe,
And honor our god.

*
But as we look across
oceans, into the
hearts of darkness,
as we rattle our self righteous
swords, do we seek justice
or vengeance, or glory?
The riches the few gather
befoul their souls yet
in our secret selves
we envy them their ease
and never question
the cost.

*
So we replicate it
in our screams and calls
to our god to punish
them and reward us,
the good fathers and mothers
who have no sin, no stain
for we gas no children
in our warm houses
in winter and cool our frosty
asses on patios in the summer
sipping tea with ice cubes
rum drinks mixed with faux
concern of deaths so far away.
We don’t gas children
We starve their souls
with the contempt for those
we arm.

Things Die/Life Still Goes On (Me Part II)

Things change, constantly. The 1947 Plymouth I learned to drive on is beyond rust now. The apartment building in the projects in East Falls I spent from seven until 19 years of age was demolished on national television. The original buildings of the college I attended are hard to find in the current configuration of that campus as I write this forty-seven years after I graduated. I go places that I thought I remembered and get lost, have to circle back to a spot I do remember and either have to ask directions or turn around and go back the way I do know.

This past weekend I drove up to Easton, Pennsylvania to spend time with the college kid. Saturday he wanted to spend time in Philly, to revisit my old neighborhood and just drive around. As we drove down the northeast extension of the PA turnpike he fell asleep, I mean knocked out cold asleep for about an hour. When he woke up he said it was the best nap he’s had since he’d been home for winter break. He said it was because there were only two places where he could fully nap; the couch, his couch, in the great room in our house, and in my 4Runner, because he’d grown up in it.

All I know is that it will be a sad day when I have to put that truck down because he’s right, both children have only known that vehicle. It’s twenty-one years old, about 240,000 miles on it. My mechanic says we should be able to get it to 300,000.

People come and go from your life. Electronic devices die, your old classic iPod, you know, the one that has a shit ton of your transferred music from your vinyl collection, the one that has about a quarter of your massive CD collection on it, the one you copied over with a borrowed vinyl to digital turntable on a computer that you had wiped clean years ago.

Listening to that iPod’s music can only happen sporadically now, on a cheap turntable connected to half-assed speakers. As the old iPod dies I plug it into those speakers and listen as it occasionally sputters and clicks its death throws as it takes me on a sonic journey to the past. The songs stop me from whatever I’m doing. I sit and listen. For some of them I play my congas or other hand percussion. Rarely though am I tempted to play my flute or alto saxophone. They are painful reminders of the longing I still feel to have lived my life consumed by music.

Consumed…burned to a crisp, nothing but embers and the destroyed bits of flesh and dreams remaining of the person I might have been floats on these dying notes. Dreams die and dreamers somehow keep living.

We interrupt this dispatch to alert our music loving audience that Chuck’s old iPod Classic just died. Its last song was Jose Feliciano’s Americano. Funeral arrangements have not been made at this point but if you’d like to participate in the farewell here’s a link to that song .

Sometimes in meditation I visualize what my life would have been like had I not quit my last band and started my career as a corporate learning facilitator and leadership coach. It’s a joyful experience for the most part and I revel in it until it is time to come back to my present life and grocery shop, pick up my youngest from her current adventure, or sit with a client.

Here’s the thing that really upsets me. There’s music on that old iPod that has time machine qualities for me. Songs that remind me of things that have happened in my life, memories that fuel happy, sad, profound stories.

Robert’s about two, in the back seat of the 4Runner and we’re at a red light. Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi comes on. After about three or four bars Robert asks, ‘Dada, who’s that?’ I say ‘Hendrix’, and Robert, after another two or three bars, says, ‘Turn it up!’

I just got off the phone with an old friend who reminded me that I’m enthralled by all aspects of life, that I find myself fascinated by things that most people don’t even notice. Another friend tells me that I have a huge appetite for life, that I ‘take big bites’ out of every moment.

Moments come and go, memories stay. I can close my eyes and be in a memory so much so that I can experience the taste of the food in my grandma’s kitchen, the smell of her homemade bread or blackberry cobbler. I can still feel the chair or stool I sat on in my house on Foxhall Road where I jammed with my first drum circle. Still remember what it was like to stay up for two straight days recording tracks for a friend’s demo tape. Still remember how playing music binds people together.

Do those things really die? No, but sometimes they change…

Band Pic

Drummer

ME (Part I)

And even now
there’s still a secret part
of me, unknown to the outside
filled with dark corners,
shadow, and
things that go bump in the night.

I wondered if I would ever be saved, ever
be one that others could like,
then it flashed. If there’s shadow,
there has to be light

(From an old journal entry, undated)

*

I’m the kid who hid in the clothes closet the first cold day at school because my warm clothes were raggedy. I got laughed at as I approached school, not just by the well off kids, but even the kids that were, for all intents and purposes, just like me. They seemed to laugh the loudest, I was someone worse off than them.

Mom told me that she had to steal money from my father’s pockets to buy me warm swaddling clothes when I was an infant during my first winter on the planet. The school year I found myself crying in the closet mom was gone and while I didn’t blame her I was too hurt to understand why children could be so mean.

I couldn’t understand how I could hurt so much. I hated my clothes more than I hated the taunting. If I had that year’s fashions it wouldn’t be me, in the cloak room, crying, hiding, wishing I were not there, invisible.

Who the fuck teaches their kids to be that damn ugly?

*

Warm weather means recess outdoors. There’s a regiment to all of it. Picture fifties playgrounds, same demographic splits, hidden warring within the order, but order nonetheless. Then there’s the lining up, boys on one side, girls on the other.

Lois McIntosh held my hand walking back into school. She looked just like her name sounds. She smiled that freckled face at me when we were told to reach over and hold the hand of the child next to us. She played next to me the following day and started to hold my hand even before we started walking toward our line up posts. She smiled at me with those bright eyes.

She later told me that she cried the night she told her mother about me hiding in the closet.

I missed my mom growing up in ways I’m still uncovering. I wonder how many questions went unasked because of her absence, how many conversations I’d have had with her about things that I soon learned to settle with my fists instead of my words…or by just walking the fuck away.

My feminine side had to learn how to grow all on its own.

*

I’ve had a series of different occupational titles over my career. The best way to describe my work life would be to say I help people. (That’s in defiance of all those adults who told me I’d never be able to make any money ‘helping people’ when that was the answer to the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?) The last thirty years or so I’ve worked as a leadership and executive coach, both in private practice and within corporate structures.

Over the years I’ve participated in a variety of professional and developmental workshops. In one of them I was the only male participant and after the end of the first of three days when we were debriefing our experiences one of the facilitators remarked that I was a queer heterosexual.

“Judith Light (the actress) said that about herself.”

“The fact that you know that proves my point, Chuck!”

I don’t know if that solidified my full embrace of my feminine side, but it certainly felt like it acknowledged it.

*

Being a dad has been the pleasure of my life. For one thing, aside from the pride of watching my children grow, it has given me a wealth of memories and stories to tell. And I light up when telling stories. One, they are about my children and I can feel what it was like when the thing I’m talking about was happening. Memory on a quantum, cellular level shit! Two, being a parent is the hardest and best thing I’ve ever attempted in my life.

I used to think I had to do the opposite of whatever I’d imagine my dad would do to be a good parent, a good father. That line of thinking stopped when Robert started asking questions. My favorite stories about him all start with his questions.

He’s about three and we’re walking around our neighborhood just before dusk when he notices the sky is filled with crows and he asks me where the crows are going.

“They’re flying to where they’re going to spend the night It’s called roosting.”

“Like where they sleep?”

“Yeah, where they sleep.”

A few evenings later, after I get home from work and before dinner we’re walking again. He looks up, sees crows and says, “Look dadda, the crows are going to bed!”

*

Parenting doesn’t always come with an immediate feedback loop sometimes it takes awhile for you to know that the child has actually picked up on what you have been trying to teach.

A few weeks ago my son the college kid told me I was level headed. I doubt I would ever use those words to describe me, but after twenty years of listening to whatever I’ve said to him those were the words he chose.

Right now I feel like an unfinished story, one that has meandered through life with a relatively unfocused view of what it means to be alive. I am more feeling than thinking, more emotional than ‘level headed’, with a quick anger and deep passions.

I am as fractured as this attempt at an essay, but so far, I am, and unfinished isn’t such a bad thing at my age. At least not to me!

Being a dad is like being a writer. You can only get better at it with practice, can only be better when you stay open to criticism, self examination, and a willingness to change.

(Another undated journal entry.)

My Parents (Part Two)

Mom was the kind of person who would call you up at three in the morning and just start reading to you something she had just read. Or worse, at three in the AM she’d see that your light in your apartment was still on, and knowing you were a night owls, would have her date stop and park and ring your apartment’s buzzer and come up for a night cap.

I loved the role reversal, watching grown men squirm while we either talked about them or, conversely, totally ignored them while she had her whiskey and I busted a joint. Thankfully she never dated a cop. I got her to try weed once. She said she just didn’t like the way it made her feel, she’d stick with the sauce. In those days it didn’t phase me so much that she drank. Hell, I used weed to self medicate so what was the issue, right?

When I was twenty I decided to find out who this person was. Sporadic visits, dramatic court room scenes, and occasional letters didn’t give me any sort of feeling that I really know her in any real sense. My family’s barrage of negative images of her and her family…wait, let’s be fair and accurate, my father and my father’s family badmouthed my mother and her entire family. This went on for years. I don’t remember one good word about them for any of my relatives.

This memory is painful to this day. In a very real way it still functions in my life I have first cousins on my mom’s side that have continually shown me love. Yet I don’t feel close to them. That’s a net loss no matter how that shakes out. The few times we’ve been together have been fantastic and rewarding. That’s changing now. (Promising myself to contact them soon, this weekend).

Okay…back to me and mom…

I showed up at mom’s door one Friday night after hitching a ride from Princess Anne to DC. In and of itself not an unusual occurrence but this time when Sunday night came I stayed. I hung out for almost two weeks, went back to school and got caught up on work that I’d missed for a couple of weeks then went back to DC for a couple of weeks. I repeated this pattern three times. We spent most of the first two weeks just talking, finding a way to communicate. Nothing really deep, just talking.

But I noticed that every time she came home from work she went straight into the bathroom and seemed to be throwing up. Every day and every day when I asked her if she was alright she acted as if nothing happened. Thursday I waited in the hallway not far from the bathroom door. When she came out I was very insistent that I heard her throwing up and told her I wanted to know what was up.

When mom left Philly in 1952 she got a job at the Defense Department. In the sixties she was working in the Pentagon and living in an apartment off Georgia and New Hampshire avenues in northwest DC. (The Hidden Figures story resonated with me as mom had become one of the head programmers at DOD…there were lots of trips to get educated on the latest room sized computers back in the day. She’d marvel at the size and power of the MacBook Pro I’m using to write this!).

She calmly pointed out that she was not only the only woman where she was then stationed, she was the only person of color. She was surrounded by “majors, generals, oak cluster-fuckers, and full of shit bird colonels, and enlisted men. All of them think they can boss me around like I’m their maid. I get angry and upset several times a day but I’m not going to let them see that they have any affect on me.”

“So you bottle that all in and let it out when you get home?”

“Each and every day! All of them are white, all of them think they’re better than me. Some of them know how intelligent I am and they are the ones who treat me the worst!”

*

She started attending Hampton at fourteen and was in Who’s Who at 20. The next year she was teaching at Fisk. Her mom had multiple degrees, her dad was awarded his PhD from Lincoln University in 1914 (Between 1910 and 1919 546 PhD’s were awarded in this country. My grandfather was one of them!) Mom was fucking brilliant…This was the person, this was the family I had been taught to belittle.

I had multiple offers for post graduate work, I chose the scholarship the National Law Center at George Washington University gave me to be in DC to be near my mother. I’ll write further about that experience later in this series. I moved here after the summer I graduated and spent as much time with her as I could. Looking back on it I can say we did make up for lost time, we created many memories, most warm and good, a few painful.

All of them I carry with me every day…I’ll share them soon.

My Parents (Part One)

I have vivid memories going back to when I was two. I have none of my mother and father being happy together. The first time I saw a copy of the Cuyjet family tree my mother was listed as deceased as of the date of the finalization for their divorce.

The main memories I have of mom were split between the times she visited us in Philadelphia and when my sister and I were either in Washington to see her or visiting our grandmother with her in West Virginia. Her visits to Philly were never pleasant, we usually met in a restaurant and after awkward pleasantries there might be a few minutes of relative peace before she and my dad would get into it and she’d start drinking.

Cuyjet family elders, as well as my father, bad mouthed her whenever the subject came up. My dad waged a propaganda campaign against my mother and her family. There were at least three custody hearings where my sister and I were awarded to our mother after their separation and each time my father, during his visitations in either Washington, DC, or in Beckley, West Virginia, would take us back to Philadelphia.

As a child I do remember hating being in DC or West Virginia. Washington in the fifties was a small, provincial, southern town. If I thought Philly was bad it was a racist purgatory compared to the racist DC hell at that time. I’ve always been a city kid, even as a young child. I did love hanging with my two ‘country uncles’, especially mom’s younger brother, Uncle Jack. He taught me a lot about fishing, camping out, and best of all, he let me ride with him on his Indian motorcycle.

Washington was never fun, mainly because we were there in the summer and mom didn’t believe in air conditioning.

I remember standing on a traffic island on Rhode Island Ave NE on hot afternoon and asking mom, “Where are all the white people?”

“West of the park, son, west of the park.”

*

When I was twelve at the divorce hearing in Philadelphia I remember my sister and I had a closed session with the judge where we were asked our preference as to which parent we wanted to be with. Both of us chose our father.

*

The most amazing thing my mother ever told me was that she was always/still in love with my father.

*

I was watching an episode of M*A*S*H when the phone rang (you younger readers just hafta imagine a world without cell phones for this) and one of my house mates picked it up, spoke for a second, then called me into the kitchen because the cord didn’t reach into the living room. Me, I was pissed. I mean alla my people knew never to call me during my show, right?

It was my cousin, a nurse, in Philly. Telling me I had to come up because my dad was in the hospital and it was bad. I said, “So what, it doesn’t matter to me.”

She said he was dying. Again, “So what?”

“Your mom is on her way…”

*

I got a call from one of his girlfriends once. He’d been arrested, didn’t want anyone else in the family to know and he needed to be bailed out. I was a poor ass musician so I borrowed money and a car from a friend and drove like a mad man to Philly to bail him out.

I drove even crazier that night my cousin called, never saw the end of that episode of the show. My mom was going to see him before he passed. It blew my fucked up mind…my mom who’d suffered decades long heartbreak, who’d given up long term relationships and had an abortion because of the torch she kept carrying for him was already on her way to be at his side one last time. If cops saw how I was driving that night they must have known. “That dude is setting new land speed records because his asshole dad is dying and his angelic mom is rushing to be there in spite of the pains he’s caused her.”

I got to Philly and realized I wasn’t any where near ready to see him. I drove over to my brother-cousin Leon’s place and asked him to come with me. Leon was my dad’s god child. His dad, my Uncle Leon, and dad had been best friends, but that wasn’t the reason I wanted Leon with me. Leon is six-six and was about 265 pounds of muscle. I wanted him to hold me up. No, more, I just wanted him to hold me.

Being at the hospital is a blur of images, flashbacks of childhood visits and stays whenever I got sick: warm milk and lights always on, even at night; ice cream after my tonsillectomy, bland and vomit inducing food, being told that this was the place where I was born…but this time, this was the place where my dad would die.

Leon walked in dad’s room with me and stood on the opposite side of dad’s bed and the three of us talked. Talking to dad had been prelude to yelling and fighting ever since the day I hit him when I was fifteen. We had filled the craters of our silences with grumbles and short exchanges of petty hellos and good-byes, filled them with more than enough sad anger and disappointment to last several generations. I was thirty-two the night I stood there holding his hand but all the younger versions of me were silently crying for all the wasted years.

It was all either he or I could find words for, “I’m sorry and I love you.”

Six words repeated twice. That was all that was said between us.

Leon gave me the biggest bear hug of all time…

*

Mom, my sister, and I buried him on a Saturday. I remember standing in the church looking at his burnished wood and brass casket and wanting to blame him for dying and yet thanking him for the four of us being together without any angry words being exchanged.

The following Monday I started my second career, my first job after giving up the idea that I could make a life for myself playing music. I was the first field manager hired on a national project for a government contractor. Our national offices were on K Street, lobbyist alley, in Washington. Friday after I had come back into the office something happened to me. I found out later when I talked to the only other person in the office at the time, our administrative assistant, that I had walked by her desk and said, “I have to go out, I’ll be back in a bit.”

Four hours later I became aware. Now that might seem like a strange sentence, but between around one o’clock and five I have no memory of what I was doing. But at five, on a busy rush hour street I was sitting on a raised curb with my feet in the street. My sides and chest hurt and I was aware of the hot tears on my cheeks and the six people in a semi-circle in front of me standing in the open lane waving cars around us.

When I looked up an older gentleman told me he had been following me for a few blocks while I cried and was saying something about my father. He told me I finally stopped and sat there for a few minutes but had gotten up a few times and looked like I was going to walk into traffic. the others had come over to help calm me and stand guard over me.

I thanked them after awhile and told them I was okay enough to walk back to my office. The older man and a woman walked me back to my office building, rode up to my office door and Hank was still there wondering what had happened. The man told her. She called her husband telling him what had happened (the entire staff knew my father had died the week before I started there) and sat with me until almost ten that night. She listened while I cried and talked about all the pain and anguish that existed in our little family and showed her how fragile I was. I don’t know that I ever thanked her enough for the solace and patience she gave me that evening.

I started therapy about a year or so later. I spent the first two years of therapy doing work about my relationship with my dad.

After becoming a parent for years I used the question, “What would Jerry do?” and do the opposite as my guiding principle until I realized there were different options. Working through the anger was almost easy compared to the sadness that unlike the twenty years I had with my mom, I didn’t have my father alive to work through our issues.

*

Mom died suddenly of a heart attack eight years later. I miss her to this day. But my story with her is much different because we built a bridge and met there in the middle of it and found one another.

And told each other stories…

The Pain of Memory

I do my best to avoid the real pain of memory so I’ll just put it plainly. There are areas that cause me the most discomfort. The abuse in my childhood, both within my family and the racism outside my family. Second, my decades long struggle to balance my needed belief in myself, which I still don’t always see as legitimate self pride as opposed to arrogance. I think the thing this really hits on is growing up without having my mom’s presence more fully in my childhood. And lastly, and tangentially related to the latter, my inability to fully embrace my shadow. I’m just going to talk about a part of that shadow here, my anger.

I’ve written about surviving being the only Black boy in my Catholic elementary school, about the daily fights, the taunts and name calling, how the adults (nuns and priests) aided and abetted the outrageous and racist behavior of my school mates. Let’s just say I came away from Saint Bridget’s school with a lot of anger, I’m not feeling the need to cover that ground any further here except to list it as a precondition to the gist of this essay.

But I do think that it’s necessary to mention that there were a small but significant number of white kids that were friendly towards me. Even more so, there are a few that I would say were my friends. It wasn’t all bleak. One of them is still in my life today, sixty plus years later.

I could keep going like this. Trying my best to deflect the dread I’ve felt all along about getting to the ‘real’ of this essay. Looking at my journal entries leading up to writing this there is a shit ton of ‘oblique’ language, gotta get past that shit.

*

Fuck it…

My father was an abusive asshole, and as much as it pains me to love him and his memory I’ve always carried my fury about having to live with him and without my mother’s love and intervention. He was physically and psychologically abusive. My sister and I survived our childhood together only after much suffering and scars. I don’t want to re-live a single moment of it but I can think of one that deserves mention.

I was fifteen and my dad was arguing with me in front of my friends and the neighborhood because I was playing baseball in dress clothes (neighborhood games were legendary and being picked meant I didn’t have time to go change). I gave my place to a kid sitting on the sideline and proceeded to leave the game and go up to our apartment and change and he kept on berating me and I told him he’d made his point and to stop yelling at me.

He hit me. Smacked me with his open hand across my face hard.

I guess he had forgotten that we were out on the street, in front of my boys and the entire neighborhood. There I was not his son; I was somebody who didn’t take any shit from anybody.

I laid a right cross to his jaw and dropped him hard on his ass. I remember thinking that I wanted to push my fist all the way to the back of his head. He was much taller and bigger than me but I had caught him totally off guard and he went down and was dazed for several moments. I stood over him and told him if he ever put his hands on my sister or me again this was going to happen to him. I remember seething with anger and not caring about whether or not he’d get up and try to hit me again.

I walked away and he followed me telling me that I had disrespected him as a father, blah, blah, blah…I was having none of it. I repeated what I said and told him to back the fuck off. We never spoke of it again.

But…

A few weeks later we got into another argument while I was cleaning the kitchen. I had a cast iron skillet in my hand and realized I wanted to brain him with it. I thought I’d let it drop from my hand. He got up from his chair and bear hugged me and told me to calm down. I thought I was calm…

My sister had run to the back bedrooms but came out after she heard us speaking in normal voices. I went to pick up the frying pan and noticed it had flattened on the edge away from the handle. She told me that I hadn’t dropped it, I’d thrown it down. I guess I intrinsically knew I’d have killed him if I’d held onto it. I guess he knew too. That’s why he bear hugged me.

I never had to hit another person in East Falls after that. At six feet, one hundred and seventy-five pounds I’d put a six-three, two hundred and twenty-five man down. I didn’t hit another person after that until three years later.

*

The fall after I graduated from high school I met a girl named Linda. She was beautiful, smart, outgoing, and sarcastic. Just my type. We had a typical, freshly legal, sexual romp in just about every location in Philadelphia. It was epic and we were definitely in love…no seriously, it wasn’t just the wild, uninhibited, fantastic sex being in love. We did all sorts of romantic shit together. Long walks, movies, dinners when my paycheck at the post office came in very handy. At 18 I was making serious, adult-type money working the truck terminal, parcel post, and primary section at the main post office while trying to act like a college student at Temple University. Trust me, being a student was the very LAST thing on my mind.

Anyway, the following spring I had an afternoon off and Linda came over and, sure enough, we started to break in every chair and other pieces of furniture with sex positions we were determined to invent or replicate.

And my dad walked in…

A few weeks later my Aunt Marion was having a party and she wanted to meet my girlfriend. When I told Linda she was invited she wanted to know if my dad was going to be there. Hearing that he was she said no way was she going…Not that I should have blamed her…but fucknuts immature as I was then I argued with her from the Neumann Center all the way to the Broad Street subway station. As passionately as we had been fucking we were now arguing, screaming at one another by the time we had passed through the turnstiles onto the train platform.

At one point she pushed me away from her and I slapped her.

Hard enough to knock her down…

I stood there as she wordlessly picked herself up, walked back over to where I was standing and she started to pummel me with her fists. I remember vaguely hearing her screaming at me as she punched me in my chest and stomach. It was strange because I couldn’t feel a thing, nothing seemed to be happening to my body that connected to the vision I had of her flailing away at me.

She stopped and looked up at me and threw her arms around me as I started to fall over.

Have you ever been in shock?

She dragged me over to a bench and sat me down. She was talking to me but I don’t remember what she might have been saying. After some hours, I remember crying and feeling like a piece of shit for what I had done. I told her to leave me, not just there on the bench, but to leave me because of what I had done. I doubt I could ever have felt lower. I never have since. But the wonder to me was how she stayed with me that day. Stayed with me even after I had put my hands on her.

The bruise, the welt actually, stayed on her face for over a week. I remember feeling so ashamed that I tried to break up with her for weeks afterwards but she told me that would be me taking the easy way out. She wasn’t the typical abused woman. She never excused what I had done while at the same time understanding how unlike me that act was. She saw the look on my face and described it to me over those days and nights where I worked my way to whatever it was that unleashed that hit.

I found out many years later, while talking about it in therapy, that I had been so appalled by my own behavior that it put me in shock. I was completing the work I had been blessed to start with that young woman who stood up for herself, and me, in spite of how I had shown how ugly I was capable of acting.

I’ve never really talked about this until now. But I’ve always remembered the look on Linda’s face, how it transformed from the fury she felt at being so abused to the look of fear and concern at what my realization of my act had done to me.

Since that incident I’ve always wondered how a man could ever put his hands on a woman, then instantly after that thought I remember how quickly it can happen.

*

This is late, it’s incomplete, but for now, it’s done. There will be more about anger and shadow. And more importantly, there will be more about how my mother and I built a relationship after being apart for so long.

*

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”

Hafiz

If I Were to Lie to You

If I were to lie to you I’d tell you that I was a quiet person. I’d say that nothing in politics bothered me and that I didn’t ever vote because they’re all charlatans, it just doesn’t matter because it’s all a game. I would say that I was highly disciplined and singular minded. I’m a peaceful individual and I’d say poetry is a waste of time, that disclosing intimate parts of a person accomplishes nothing, and that intellectual pursuits leads to massive frustration with no real guide to effective action.

I could go on but I’ve already promised to reveal myself here through these pieces, these essays are to reflect my personal story in the many facets of my being. That, plus the fact that I rarely have any effective censor between mind and mouth so I’ve learned that lying is way too much work.

Telling the truth means I never have to remember what I’ve said.

It does seem somewhat like self aggrandizement, or worse, self flagellation at times, to continue in this vein but I’ve committed to it and while I doubt that there’s enough material to last all year I do know that I have plenty to talk about in terms of what affects me and mine. Over the last four decades I have tried my best to follow Einstein’s admonishment to ‘widen my circle of compassion’. Admittedly I still have an ego-centric, pleasure seeking core. But I’ve done the hard work to live up to my mother’s praise to me shortly before she died, “Chuck, you are a good man.”

A good man.

Yesterday I had a nice long phone conversation with the college kid. Aside from my giving him some advice about his self confidence and listening to him talk about the beautiful coeds he’d like to talk to he told me that he thought I was ‘level headed’ and that he was exceedingly lucky to have my wife and me as his parents.

Level headed…

I’d have thought if I were to ever use that as a self descriptor I’d be lying my ass off. But given that my son is a scholar (he’s a Marquis Scholar at Lafayette College in Easton, PA) I guess I have to accept it. Even though I don’t feel level headed at the moment. I feel just as angry as I did when Richard Nixon was elected president back in 1968. In fact I feel just as angry as I did that whole damn year…maybe even a bit more.

And worse, along with my anger is my dismay. This has been a long fucking slog through racist and supremacist shit for me in my life time. Basically, forgive my harping on this theme, since the weeks in late summer and early fall in 1955 when it seemed every damn elder in my family made sure I saw the pictures of Emmett Till’s battered and disfigured body I have been dealing with white folks bullshit.

No. Fuck no. I am NOT level headed when it comes to that…

More so, after sixty-fucking years of being a person who truly fights for the rights and freedoms this country supposedly provides (members of American armed forces fight for America’s national interests, NOT for our rights and freedoms. Seriously, take that nationalistic bullshit and shove it somewhere!) I am appalled that the country I would bequeath to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchild still reeks of the negative crap that permeates the air in 2017.

I’d be lying to you if I said otherwise…I’m about to channel my inner Shaka-Fucking-Zulu up in here!

I’m a peaceful warrior at heart. My college kid once marveled that I treat everyone nice. He noted that I spoke with the same respect to ‘big shots’ and janitors, that I called every man sir and every woman ma’am. What he didn’t know was that I give every person a fair shot to prove themselves decent human beings or assholes..Yeah, I’m just that binary when it comes to people.

But experience has proven that each person is capable of the highest aspirations in their actions as well as the banal evil we see every day…which is one reason I do, at least outwardly, treat every person with respect. My issue now is that there are so many people…scores of millions of my countrymen and women, who voted for an openly unqualified, loud mouth, bigoted, xenophobic…oh hell, the list is endless.

By their actions I have now divided all people into, “He/she voted for Trump”, or This person didn’t vote for Trump”.

Today, a guy who acted like he owned the fucking aisle at the store where I grocery shop was instantly placed into the former category. As I waited for him to move his cart out of the way he glared at me with that early fifty-something, “I’m a white man, Master-Of-This-Aisle and the Known World, with his three thousand dollar suit and five hundred dollar shoes, I smiled and hit him with my “Hey, how are ya?” smile and said, “I’m in no hurry.” He continued to glare but after a moment the hard look in his face was undercut with a ‘What the fuck do I say to this huge man of color who’s being so sarcastically nice to me?

I reached over, moved his cart out of my way and wished him a nice day…didn’t give a flying fuck what he felt or thought after that. But I suppressed an urge to turn around and ask him who the hell he thought he was to glare at me like that.

I’ve become a damn stereotype…

Well, except in a way, I balanced my rage with calm, albeit sarcastic, action.

Fuck.

I guess the college kid is correct.

Level headed…

I ain’t lying.

Dear Younger Me

Today I want to tell you that the sometimes confused state of mind you have, those self doubts, those times of indecision are not going away. I’m sixty-nine now and they are still with me. And, frankly, I think that’s a good thing because it tells me I’m still in tune with life around me, I’m still in touch with a vast amount of energy flowing around. Especially the energy flowing within me!

The trick, and yes, it is a trick that can be learned but sometimes easily forgotten, is to find the wave of energy that most resonates with your spirit and ride the fuck out of it. Ah, I can hear your question, how do I know what ‘resonates’ really means with all the stuff that feels so enticing?

Sit still and don’t attach to any particular thought or feeling, you know, like when you go down to the river steps and watch the water flow past you on its way to Center city and the Delaware river. In a few more decades you’ll learn that you’ve been practicing something called mindfulness and it will help you even more in your work with people.

Oh, and that’s another thing. You know how people have been telling you that your answer to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”, isn’t specific or good enough? Forget them, you’ll have a fantastic career/life doing exactly that in every thing you do over the next fifty plus years. Yeah, even that three week stint cleaning bathrooms in the Forrestal Building on Independence avenue in Washington…trust me on that!

You will touch people’s lives deeply and help more than a few develop hope and meaning when they are beaten down and have given up on just about everything. Let me tell you a story that I hope you forget soon after reading it here so it can impact you fully when it happens…

In your late forties you will be working with welfare recipients in Washington DC. The program you’ll be teaching is helping develop employability skills; how to write resumes, interview, behave in a workplace, basic stuff that might sound easy to you but because of the anti-poverty work you will have done nationally and in the DC area in the years before that you have an appreciation of the deep cultural and personal work it entails for your clients.

One of your clients, who shows a ton of potential, just can’t keep it together for a variety of reasons and even though you cut her tons of slack you finally have to ‘fire’ her from the program. Your boss tells you that one reason you’re so sad about it is because you care a little too much and maybe now realize you can’t put that much energy into a single person for any reason.

Skip ahead about a year and a half. The program has changed and you are doing a ton of administrative duties because you’ve been promoted. One day you’re in your office and a young lady walks in wearing a security guard’s uniform with corporal stripes on her sleeves…Yup, it’s her!

She’ll say that when she got the job she wanted to tell you, but she knew you’d say, “You’ve still got to prove yourself to yourself first before you prove it to others!” So she waited until she got her first stripe and still decided she wanted to prove herself even more. So she waited again, and now she’ll have proven it to herself three times over and all she really wants, aside from showing her children how to do the work, is to show you that she now knows what you had given her…

Hope for herself and the will to achieve for herself.

So, there are so many more stories you’ll create for others, people whose lives are going to be better because of who you are and how you live your life. And so much of it comes from that energy swirling around in your head and your heart. I want you to remember that getting in touch with your spirit is kinda easy Chuck. It’s who you are, it’s how you feel, it’s the dreams you have, both the ones at night and the ones you have walking around with your eyes wide open.

Love the journey you’re on, yeah, even those dark times you’ve faced and will face. Those other kids calling you names and giving you a hard time will teach you to fight for yourself. Keep paying attention to the world and this country and know that all white people aren’t hateful bigots and that that guy sitting next to you at Saint Bridget’s will one day be one of your all time best friends because you’ll teach him how strong, brave, and good you are. I know, you are still having those quiet little boxing matches with him each time the nun turns around. But your left hand will become blazing fast son…

Oh, and next year, when you turn eleven, you’ll discover jazz!

I love you with all my heart. Stay brave, keep fighting, and most of all, always believe in yourself.

Yours forever,

Older Chuck