Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
If you’ve wondered where I’ve been for the past few days since I’ve been silent on social media, I’ve been working on rewriting a few stories I hope to see print (or digital) one of these days. Plus, I’m taking time out to enjoy each day as it comes while concentrating on what story from the past to work on.
If anyone thinks I’m returning to producing literary expos or events, let’s just say that part of my life is over. I don’t plan on being in production mode any time soon. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m focused on writing now, working on a few projects and updating my short stories and poems. I had hoped to spend a Saturday morning watching cartoons and just kicking back and relaxing, but this article all but confirms that weekend ritual is nothing but a memory. The first time in fifty years that there are no cartoons on Saturday morning! Wow, that is huge. At least there are enough sports to keep me engaged on the weekends.
The article: (Sorry, but my blog provider has made things a bit difficult now to post links) http://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/family/saturday-morning-cartoons-are-gone-a-nation-weeps/ar-BB7tl5M
So that’s it from me for now. I’ll have an update soon, but at least I’m returning to working on what I do best, which is writing.
Yes, that’s right. I’m no longer the executive director of the L.A. Black Book Expo. I sent in my resignation letter via email last night. I’ve had enough, I was burned out and something that in the first year that I loved and wanted to continue for the long run ended very, very badly. One can say I had no choice; that it would come to this and that I deserve to step down. I also deserve a lot on the positive side, but before I get too hard on myself (as some might do once they find out the news), let me point out what I enjoyed about taking over LABBX and my feelings about it now. I leave with no regrets but if I had any, it would be that I listened to ‘too many people’ and that is where I started to lose my way.
When I took over on September 27, 2006, the expo wasn’t widely known by the masses. I knew in order to bring attention to it, I had to be ‘the face’ of it by constantly posting articles such as “From the Director’s Chair”, creating pages on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, moderate and then plan a “He Said, She Said’ relationship forum that one year was presented in the height of the Book Expo America parties years ago when that show moved from city to city, partner up with Barnes and Noble at the Grove to either moderate or produce forums with local authors, even bring the ‘Authors N Focus Show’ to the expo with videos of interviews my wife and I held with authors who were part of the expo.
But….all of that hard work in 2014 blew up in my hands, literally. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, no matter what, I’m the guy at the top. I have to take the ‘hit’, even though I had no control how the expo ended up with venue changes and other last minute drama that was way too much for me to see how I can move forward another year. I deserve better than this, much better. So now I move on to my first love of writing. This is what you reader want to see from me and learn about any future plans I might have. So far, I’ve finished a rough draft of my first novel, working on revising drafts of my short stories which need to be released now, and stopped writing poems for a while. I’m planning to spend more time becoming a pure writer again, producing stories, novels and books of poetry while pounding the keyboard creating articles for websites, newspapers, I’ll be around, don’t worry about that.
I believe if the L.A. Black Book Expo should move on, it should belong to someone who has the experience and knowledge of producing a literary event. It should be a person who has a passion of the written word and should try to unite the lesser known authors with bestselling authors even though that’s a challenge in itself. I could give the ‘next person’ my suggestions and wish them all the best, except I only hope they keep the mission of the expo in mind and not use it as a platform for their own self-interests. How many books have I published since I took over eight years ago? I’m killing them on Amazon right now (sarcasm included).
LABBX started out to be a fun challenge, until the publishing world until we knew it began to change. That, and some behind-the-scenes drama which I could tell you but won’t - coupled with the “unrivaled” book festival across town which took over some elements of LABBX (look at my bio, there’s a reason why I was assigned an Authors Pavilion one year at this festival), made each year after the first a not-so-fun, interesting, difficult challenge than described in the email sent to me requesting me to take over the expo.
But it was an experience.
Truth be told, I wanted to leave last year since I was in the middle of making a big move back to L.A. and if you’ve been reading about my journey from Northern California to back home in Southern California, you know the tale. Right now, all I want to do is pull out an old story, rewrite it and worry about if I’m using the right sentence or word for that tale. I don’t want to worry about any future LABBX’s or any other literary events for a while. I’m burned out and the only writer I should be worried about is sitting here typing this missive you now see.
I do want to say this; I loved LABBX, I want to thank Itibari M. Zulu for giving me the opportunity to be the caretaker of an event he started, The planning committee for having my back through constant trials and errors, to everyone who supported us from AC Bilbrew Library to Books of Soul, thank you for putting up our flyers, posting the event on your websites. We’ve built some solid friendships over the years and I know they will continue.
Now there won’t be an executive director to kick around anymore. I am out and plan to stay out to gain some peace and resume what I had lost in these eight years - myself.
Note: I wrote the following fifteen years ago to myself, but I want to share this with you, the reader.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. People just don’t understand or comprehend how or why. It just happens when we do pray and ask what’s on our hearts, He does answer. Only be prepared for the eventual answer, chances are you won’t like it but it is for your own good.
Take me for example, for most of the 1990’s all I focused on was being a teacher. In fact, that’s all I talked about. Well in 1999, I am nearing the end of my teaching career. After all the prayers I made for my dream to come true, I finally realized the answer. Although teaching in itself is a profession I can thrive on, it ultimately isn’t the desire of my heart. Writing is. I have always loved to write and still do. Teaching only came about because I love working with kids and I love the job. Yet there comes a time in every person’s life when the profession you work for clashes with the desire of what you truly have a passion for and will carry you to the end of your life. In a way, my desire won out and it wouldn’t have been known if I hadn’t prayed on it.
Sometimes the Lord will make phrases or words spoken by others or through His word and engrave them in your heart. The Lord in his infinite wisdom, allows us to see what is in store if we truly put our faith in Him. For years, the Lord has given me glimpses of what I could be, but I was much too cautious and didn’t take the risks necessary to leap forward.
The Lord forgives us for our wrongdoings and he offers us opportunities as well. I read somewhere that if we have faith, God will always give us His best. I didn’t believe that. I felt I wasn’t worthy enough to believe that. Which is unfortunate because this is the same God who gave his Son to die for us because His love is so immense, the One whose son told us to “ask and it shall be given to you.” Trouble is, we want it in our time when we think we’re ready for it. The reason my Lord didn’t give me the answer was because had I known earlier, I would have been stubborn. (knowing me of course)
Our perception of time isn’t the same as God’s. When He chooses the right time, place for our answers to occur, you best believe He gives his best. I am writing this now in a cafeteria at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, California on September 13, 1999. Days ago over bits and pieces, the Lord held my inner mirror in front of me and made me see the reality that teaching is nice, but my true desire is writing. It’s who I am, it’s what He has blessed me with since I was born. He knows my writing is a gift that can help others. He has also blessed me with the power of thought and imagination to motivate me to write. Yes, God is good.
Right now, I don’t know what the future holds. I have plans but I’m scared. I do know that if I don’t invite the Lord to be part of those plans, then they’ll be useless anyway. Tomorrow is not promised, death can claim us at any time. Yet, as Plato once said, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.” There is a whole other life out there for me. I know this now. It’s just a matter of believing I can succeed. Once I trust the Lord, success is already assured. So I write this in the hope that while cathartic, it can be a source of inspiration for me. Something tells me I’ll need it in the days and months and years ahead as the Lord allows.
I’ll keep this short and sweet since I’ve already ‘said enough’.
People who grew up with me, who have been my true friends, who know my work ethnic in whatever jobs I worked in, who have been there when I helped to develop a sports program in a local YMCA, who have seen me as a role model of sorts in South Los Angeles for young people in my days as a teacher’s aide and schoolteacher, the same hardworking, no nonsense young man I’ve grown up to be, those people, my true friends, and family members know about.
The people who don’t know me, don’t know me, period. It’s just that simple. I would have posted this on a social media site somewhere, but beginning this week as I have planned, I’ve decided to back away from the technological monstrosity and focus on just being me - just me. So far, I’ve regained my sanity back, and it’s a good thing. I know things have not worked out in the past few days. It would be easy for me to sit here, point fingers and demand, demand - justice of some sort. It is also easy for you reader to judge me based on one misstep which was not up to me. As I’ve said before, I’ll take the ‘hit’, when appropriate but now is not the time. Enter stage left, voices who don’t even know me, never sat down and had passionate conversations about literature with me, never shared a day of miniature golf or bowling with me, voices who have never seen my books or any of my works, and definitely voices who have no idea of the man I am. These voices would rather type away on their keyboards and create false narratives about who I am, what I am, and the type of person I am. All this to pump themselves up and make themselves look good while making an erroneous assault on my character.
I can deal with that. We’re all grown people, for the most part anyway.
Keeping it short and sweet, but again, the people who know me, know me. Those who don’t, don’t. It’s just that simple.
I took a walk down the streets of the old neighborhood and thoughts of walking the same sidewalk in front of swap meets entered my mind.
Most of the former drug stores and department stores where I bought shirts, notebooks and pens from clerks who were older but looked like me were converted almost overnight into swap meets run by different faces speaking an unknown language. The change affected each store I used to frequent up and down the block. No longer could I step into a Newberrys and look around the second floor to buy shirts for my basketball team while heading down to the first floor to buy the iron on letters used for the names and numbers for each shirt. Or entering a Thifty’s drug store to buy a scoop or chocolate ice cream. I couldn’t even walk into the National anymore to buy a pair of sunglasses (I was in my ‘cool’ phase as a teen). No, the same shops I walked into were now owned by Koreans selling inexpensive clothes and other items only to state of a ‘no refund’ policy which mattered if the Lakers shirt you bought and washed, shrunk.
I was too young to comprehend the economic impact of this change. Instead of keeping money into the community, it was now going out - and staying out - without anyone who looked the same as I receiving the funds generated by us, the poor merchants who lived in those areas. Never mind these Asian storeowners never set up shop on the Westside or even in the most affluent areas, but they drained the economic lifeblood of us who lived and worked in the Southside. As I walked along the sidewalk next to the empty lots where one of those swap meets now stood, I realize their presence came at a time when South Los Angeles began to lose…and lose a lot. Before the fires came the murders, the publicized random killings of drive-bys and wanton acts of murder among ourselves. Yes, South Central Los Angeles lost, and we could never recover after that.
Walking that sidewalk, I would hear about efforts to ‘rebuild’ the neighborhood only to hear on the radio of construction crews who were not from the community hiring different faces and a different language instead. South Central Los Angeles wasn’t getting a rebuild, but it was being remade in the hearts of many who watched movie after movie of our poor lives there. The acceptance of a disheartening pattern of hopelessness became a constant theme in cinema, even to those of us who worked in the community to become ‘role models’ for our young men, showing them it’s all right to be smart and educated. Our elders would remind us of the benefits of education although our generation didn’t see through the same experienced window our elders looked through.
At night when I stepped off the bus to walk down the sidewalk in front of the swap meets, the fear was there of a car pulling up alongside me with a gun projecting bullets from it. This is the insane tragic method which took the life of a friend of mine who was only walking his girlfriend home on Valentine’s night. A day which was meant for love wound up as an evening of tragedy. I took the loss hard not only because my friend had been over my house many times and we played basketball in my backyard, but he was on the same team I coached so his loss hit me hard. This is why I cannot be patient with anyone who does not even know, or willing to suspect the emotional pain we all went through here living in South Central Los Angeles. This is real, absolutely real.
The swap meets were a constant reminder of living in a place of illusion. We lived in the same houses, played in the same parks, worshipped in the same churches, went to the same fast food places, but where we shopped didn’t belong to us, not anymore. Fire is defined as a cleansing agent, a purifier. Perhaps it is only fitting that the fires of rage (or opportunity if one believes the merchants burned down their own buildings for insurance money) that led to the swap meets coming to an end in various sections of the city. Perhaps as we slowly rebuild, we can learn many things about the past and the hurt and pain that came with it. We should remember and insist the next time these buildings are raised in the same lots, they come with new management but with faces who look just like mine or similar who live and contribute in the neighborhood their store resides in.