Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
Whether it’s done on purpose or not, I oftentimes find that as a black man if I am the only one or one of a few in the presence of others of a more dominant ethnicity, I feel a certain type of pressure or standard to perform well and do my best. Ask any African American or person of an ethnic background described as ‘minority’ and they will share the same truths the author of this piece is about to mention here.
In college, I discovered I was the only black person in a few of my classes. Then again, there weren’t many black people who pursued English as their major either, most selecting business as their field of study. At times, I felt eyes staring at me, perhaps questioning my intent and purpose for enrolling in the course. If it weren’t for my love of writing and the dream of learning as much as I could in those classes, I wouldn’t have taken the time to hear lecture after lecture of the text we read from, hearing about the Romantic period, or what authors of a particular time period thought about the English hierarchy, or the reasons they wrote a classic poem, essay or novel. I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as I could because I could see myself as one of those famous writers one day. It was the main reason I could sit in those classes, participate in the discussions, take the challenging exams and move on to the next course. Over time, the stares simply evaporated and I could focus on learning more about the English writers and poets of the past.
Years later before I could experience the joy of my first published book finally achieving the status of an author, I began working a corporate job in Orange County. Historically, the region has a reputation for its conservative stronghold, which didn’t even care for anyone who looks like me on the outside. I was only a handful of black people working in my department and I had a task which required my full attention and time. I didn’t feel any pressure as I had experienced in college, yet you grow up with the expectation of doing your best no matter where you are and whatever situation you find yourself in.
What the outside world has to understand about black people is that we are plastered with a ton of stereotypes and myths. We are verbally persecuted because of our outer hue and along with that, our culture. Now folks may say we live in a color-blind society, so the content of one’s skin color doesn’t matter compared to the content of character, and that they have no problem with black, white, red, yellow, brown or green people, yet as you and I have seen in recent years this is the one hurdle almost every one of us have trouble clearing.
I know gender identity among a segment in our society is the new movement that society is learning to adjust to, but rest assured, the demands placed upon people such as I who are black and male in this American landscape has not or will never changed. I will always be judged by a different standard whether at work or in school. That’s just the way this country thinks. I will be judged (prejudiced) differently than a person who is homosexual or transgender, that’s a fact. I will always walk into a room if I am the only black person around and will have gazes set upon me. Questions will be silently asked, stereotypes will instantly appear in the mind, determinations already made. I wish I could sit here as I type this and insist it will be better, but I fear after our current president who is of mixed race but identifies himself as black, the scrutiny for people who look like him and I will continue and increase tenfold. Until that standard and suspicions are lowered, I’ll personally do the best I can in whatever situation I find myself. It’s expected of me.
A fable for our times. Enjoy.
A lady frog saw an ox in a meadow and admired the huge beast. She decided to make herself even bigger.
She puffed herself up until all wrinkles in her skin disappeared. She called her children and asked them if she were not now bigger than the ox. They told her that she was not. She puffed herself up further, but the children still said the ox was bigger. She continued to huff and puff, expanding herself more and more. Finally, she burst.
MORAL: If you blow yourself up bigger than you were meant to be, you may wind up being nothing.
Taken from the Negro Heritage Library, “Negro Heritage Reader for Young People” Educational Heritage, Inc., (1965)
Death has made its presence felt in 2015 with people I’ve known personally. Once again, it has reached its long, cruel hand and took the life away from one Marcie Eanes, an author and poet whom I’ve been blessed to call friend. Marcie passed away earlier this week, my wife kept in touch with her often on social media. When a chat between them had abruptly ended, we had no idea it would be the last time they would ever speak to each other.
Marcie had an infectious smile and friendly personality. The last time I saw her in person was early in 2014 when she had a book signing for her second book, Passion’s Zest. She was as pleasant than when I first knew her when I started to network with the group she used to be a part of, The Writer’s Corner. During her visit, we reminisced over past events, other authors we’ve dealt with, poetry readings we shared (we went to a venue called Vibrations in Inglewood while she was in town) and our general feelings towards the state of literature today.
Marcie didn’t hold anything back and was very candid in her thoughts and feelings towards a subject. I suspect it was her journalistic background that caused her to have a wealth of knowledge whenever we spoke. She was a huge supporter of the literary expo I ran for years, even attended as an exhibitor for one year; asked me to be part of the annual writers’ workshop I held at AC Bilbrew Library which she did an outstanding job, this before her first book was published. Marcie had that fire and determination to get things done and as I’ve seen on her Facebook page, used that drive to promote all three of her books by attending poetry events outside her home state of Wisconsin.
It’s hard for me to believe she is gone, no longer with us. That’s what Death affects you in this temporary mortal life. Marcie Eanes was a true friend and I loved her for that. She had a huge heart that made you feel welcome in her presence, and now she’s not here to encourage up and coming writers or continue to make us all feel better with her smile. You feel angry towards Death for removing such a kind, kindred soul away, but then you realize Death is only doing what it is supposed to do, transition us to the next life. We all have to meet it sooner or later, no doubt.
Marcie, thank you for giving all us your passionate zest towards life. You left your words with us to look inside your heart and for that, we are forever grateful.
One of the things I didn’t count on when I decided to publish my latest book, “Storm Over South Central” are the subjects in at least one of my stories have to be changed. Little did I know that something I wrote twenty seven years ago, (twenty eight by the time Storm is released) would serve as an issue that would ‘offend’ most people and cause unnecessary attention to what I believe will be an intelligent, well-written and positively received anthology.
When someone who closely identifies with a subject I wrote in one of my books watched a video of me repeating the offensive words, they instantly unfollowed me from one of my social media accounts. There was no conversation on why I wrote that subject in the poem between us, no discussion of conflicting viewpoints and matters, this person just unfollowed me, and so it goes. As I wrote in an earlier piece and if it wasn’t clear, this author will add it here: a writer’s job is to provoke deep reflection, thought and consciousness to the world we live in now, and what we believe should be. We are not cheerleaders for the status quo, we do not bend our viewpoints based on polls, peer pressure or in Serling’s case, nervous sponsors, we write because we believe our words have purpose, they have meaning and they should provoke each one of us to challenge what this world tells us. This is what a writer should be all about.
A writer writes for the masses to get a point across, hold up a proverbial palm in the air and state, “This isn’t right” or “There has to be a better way than this”. When a writer fails to use the gifts of metaphor, imagery or an array of literary devices at their disposal to see the best and worst of Man, then they have fallen short.
Social media has failed the writer, it has turned our gifts into a collection of hastily written, ill advised posts for the masses to dissect, devour and spit out. None of our words have impact, residence in an already crowded mind. Social media has given rise to writers who depend more on emotion rather than using their time wisely to deliver a deep intellectual impact to the mental heart. It has made fools and literary jesters of us all instead of the serious philosophers and scribes our gifts have chosen us to be. Social media has not only failed this generation of writers, it has spoiled and ruined the hearts of readers for who knows who long?
For example, social media has been responsible for writers to bow down to societal peer pressure and an insatiable appetite for acceptance among the public. Gone are the days when a writer could sit down, work on a challenging story or play only to find the numerous, faceless ‘critics’ lying in wait to vehemently discredit the writer’s project. At the same time, these same critics are busy demonstrating to the online world of their false credibility by the words they type and in the incorrect usage they display. For a writer in this new century and millennium, this is an era in which social media presents itself as an unstoppable, immovable foe of ignorance……for the moment.
Today’s writer should be encouraged in that there are audiences to be found in this world we live in. The internet has provided the writer with the ability to produce as many works as he or she can without interference. They have the power to self-publish their works or type them out on blogs such as this. Even with this advantage come challenges. Too much competition among writers, all seeking the same passionate crowds that hunger for their stories or non-fiction work. A writer must learn to adapt the word longevity if they plan to write for the long-term. Readers will always remember the one book you wrote, and then they forget. The current state of literature falsely encourages the writer of instant success, gratification. While a particular writer may seek to just write only one book, one article in a media publication just for the sake of an accomplishment, the biggest reward for writers who honestly enjoy the love of the art, will not be disappointed. Lonely as this road may be at times, as long as the writer understands his or her role in this world, not just for today, then they have the courage and conviction to express their hearts on the page, in the hopes others will follow.
This was the day I blew it – the book event ‘postponed’ later to be officially and sadly cancelled under circumstances I couldn’t control but I wish to God I had.
It was the day it changed from my becoming the face of the event to the reason why it failed and the demands and attacks started. It wouldn’t end until February of this year.
I’d made references to it before, only to be so ashamed of the way a certain book event I had ran for years ended that led to my resignation. I had enough; disappointments, false promises, people who could not or wouldn’t commit to a deadline, date, just plain doing what was asked of them. I had to take the blame for all of that, me. Reality taught me the hardest and cruelest of all lessons in the days and months that followed.
A year later, I can positively say I have grown from the experience and judging from the encouragement of a few folks, better for it. I have a regular job that keeps me busy during the school year, a new book is on the way and most of all, I’m in total control of my life and business. God has been good.
It goes without saying, hardship does make you a better man or woman even if you don’t see it at the time and without cost. Trust me, I am still embarrassed over the way the event ended and wish things had turned out differently throughout the hard work our staff had put into it but this is real life and sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it to. You just have to ‘ride it out’ to see where it takes you. I faced a real challenge, one where I had to eventually give up what I felt was most important to me to see that perhaps it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. I had to move on and grow, which now I feel I did, albeit painfully.
It was a day I learned whom I could call ‘friend’. Hard as it was for me to realize, most people in life when they join up with you have agendas of their own. They’re not upfront in telling you what they are. I found out too late that everyone who had my back perhaps didn’t and that’s just fine with me. Most of the people who used to keep in contact with me are silent and haven’t tried to reach me in the past year. That’s cool, I totally understand. I absolutely understand. With this knowledge, I can move forward and start over with my neglected writing career which I had pushed to the side while I concentrated - I admit a bit too much – with this event. I’ve seen numerous authors publish their own books while I was too worried about the next year’s book event or wasting time using propaganda describing it with positive strokes than what it actually was (and which literary festival doesn’t?).
On this very day a year ago, I learned that unless you’re willing to go through the criticisms, the harsh words, the volatile discussions with people on the phone, reading emails questioning your character, you cannot grow as a human being. We all have to face challenges in our lives when you’re attempting to do something for the public, even if the public doesn’t understand the whole story. You will be called out, ridiculed, ‘clowned’, have people turn their backs on you, this is reality. Either you face it or you can continue to hide. It wasn’t fun going through all the madness after the event didn’t go through as planned, that’s for sure.
Despite all of this, I continue to move on and return back to my path of becoming the best writer that I can be. What happened last year hasn’t changed that direction at all. I still exist even others act as if I don’t, and I continue to push myself towards establishing my own foothold with my written works. What happened, happened and I have no regrets the past years I ran the event or the folks who volunteered their time, resources and talent to help. I only wished things had ended much better than what eventually occurred. Even that was a lesson I had to learn on that day.