Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
For forty years I have embarked on this lifelong journey of becoming a writer. At first it was a hobby since I wasn't chosen to play basketball with my classmates. Later in junior high, it was two teachers who took an interest in my creative talent which led to journalism class in high school and on and on to short stories and poems the longer I wrote. In that course of time, I have built a name for myself, one that I'm proud to wear as a writer.
Looking on this side of life it would be easy to share my 'good news' of experience, advice and opinions of what a writer should be and does. This time will not be that time. Rather than share the latest trends, I want to share my story of how much writing means to me and only me in the hopes it encourages and helps someone else. I can't recall how many times on this blog I have revealed the origins of why and how I started writing. I can say that when I grabbed a pen and paper in junior high, it was a way to pass the time. It didn't matter what I wrote as long as I was happy with what was on paper. It also meant that I had something to feel happy about. Writing helped me with whatever low self esteem I had to make me feel better about myself. There were outside voices, but unlike today, they were not strangers on digital medium commenting or criticizing my work. It was people I met in person; relatives, family and church members, fellow English majors and professors that gave me the impetus to keep writing so I did. My junior high homeroom teacher bought a journal for me that I later used to write poems in.
The first time I saw my name in print was in high school for journalism class. It was fun to see my name in the byline of the school newspaper of a sports article Iâve written. That experience was my first opportunity to be a 'celebrity' on campus recognized for my writing ability. If you've read Handcuffed in High School it was also the first time without my knowledge I realized the effect of what writing can do. I sit here now older, wiser and content that I have accomplished my goals although there is much more I know I can do. This is a different time and era than when I grew up. Social media is the change agent dictating what we feel and believe. The typical article or story that makes people 'think'' doesn't work anymore. We've all been rewired to respond emotionally instead of using our critical thinking to decipher what's shown to us on screen and in print.
Perhaps this is the change that makes me think about my direction now rather than say, 1992. The emotionalism on display on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites with memes that serve to distract - and disrupt - our mental ability to think for ourselves. I can't live in that type of world. Writing has always strived to create a mental picture so that anyone who reads what's written can take their time and absorb what's been said. Not with a meme, but...I digress.
I want to be free, I want to enjoy the liberty of writing anything I like without the constant barrage of criticism from others on the world wide web. I want to bring up topics that will challenge us, not to endorse a political talking point or social slogan. For the past forty years I have always enjoyed what I am, what I do. There is something I posted on social media a while ago which I'd like to share with you. Here it is:
As a writer, I'll always stand by what I've created on paper. If you don't agree with what you read, then you know what to do. (Spoiler alert: this didn't happen to me personally, but there are writers out there who had this happen to them). Use that freedom of expression or there is no 'freedom'.........
I planned to speak on this and maybe I already have, but this was a reference to comic book writers changing storylines due to social media backlash. Now I know there are critics everywhere and I've had my debates with them, but this isn't 'free'. If I have to change my writing to accommodate the society in which I live, then the word 'writer' doesn't apply to me. I reserve the right to write whatever I want to, and for all this time I deserve to be undefined by society's standards. I refuse to bow down to their demands. This is what a writer is all about.
Excuse me, I promised to talk about what it means to me, writing. Instead I digressed again.
Bottom line: there may be a young man or woman in South Los Angeles or elsewhere in the roughest of neighborhoods who may not have access to a smartphone with an app to create a social media profile. They won't need that. There's always a pen and paper to write what they think, feel without outside entities spying on their words. The freedom of expression must always remain free no matter what. As a young man growing up enjoying this freedom, it is my hope and prayer that anyone who wants to become a writer will do so for the love, the joy of creating their own stories. This is more than a hobby, this is life.
It's not exclusive to South Los Angeles, but everywhere you go in the city there are construction crews holding up traffic, working on building the next project after another. Right before your eyes you notice a metropolis you grew up in, changing. You also see young people who were only interested in their own private worlds trained to care about the larger one they see outside their window. The tragic stories repeated night after night on local news are few and far between now, but the potential for a drive-by or robbery persists. This is the twenty-first century and it's not anything we expected.
Now, I lived in the city of Vallejo, California for five years and trust me, they would kill to see development such as this. It's not a bad thing but to see construction all over L.A. from downtown to the Westside and my home community of South Los Angeles, the sight of bulldozers, concrete mixers and raised dirt is a welcome sight to see. It can be overwhelming but unlike Vallejo, at least you have something to look forward to. I live not too far away from the new Banc of California stadium which replaces the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena. The stadium is the new home for the expansion L.A. Football Club owned by several millionaires. On the other side of town in the city of Inglewood, California, you have the new stadium about to open in 2020, with hotel and other retail outlets to follow. This is not the future we all expected, but this is what is happening right now.
There is a 'flip side' to all this construction, a sacrifice that is unfortunate. The loss of community. The Leimert Park Village, once a Black hub is slowly and methodically being replaced. Storefronts which displayed and encouraged cultural pride are now in favor for more socially sanitized galleries. The Watts community is about to face a renovation of sorts with the new Jordan Downs project. The price of living here in L.A. keeps going up, presenting a challenge for homeowners who have lived in this city for decades, including the Southside. One may assume it's a new day for L.A., but I would say the only ones who would admit that are the developers and politicians who are getting 'paid'.
Everyday I wake up and see the city I grew up in transforming into a city that is not meant for me anymore. Itâs not tolerant to people with the same skin tone or darker, nor is it the so-called liberal bastion the national media portrays it to be. L.A. in this twenty first century has finally decided it is for the rich and affluent. Take one look at the rising costs of living here and you will see this is true. Politicians from Northern California are beginning to dictate what's best for everyone here in this state, although most citizens may not agree with what they propose. Everyday I wake up my eyes and see that the city and state I grew up in, has changed.
The alternative is clear; I've seen it and either way it's not an ideal way to live. I prefer constant civil change over stagnation anytime. What concerns me with all the latest developments rapidly spreading over L.A., what happens next? What will happen to the neighborhood I have lived in most of my life? Will it remain the same? Will our local politicians care what happens in this part of town or are they happy reaping the profits from those who are determined to keep progress back? Will this be the same city I could travel to a favorite place and enjoy the day there or will it be a place where parking is expensive and I receive strange looks because of my presence? What version of L.A. will I live in the future and better yet, do I want to stay here?
Welcome to 2018. In the city of Los Angeles, this is the future we're living in now.
Reposting this for the entire world to see. (4/13/2018)
On this Father''s Day, there's only one man who deserves it more in my mind than he'll admit, Charles Sr.
In earlier posts, I wrote about growing up with him, but there was one in particular really touched me and even to this day. I hope you don't mind if I share the March 5, 2007 entry with you again, but on this day, it shows why I love him so much and that this day is his day to be proud of raising me and for me to appreciate how much he showed me his love, his heart and parts of his soul to me.
Anyway, here is 'The Measure of a True Man' in its entirety.
There's a lot of sounding off by our black women these days towards black men.
They reveal hurt, disgust, disappointment and certainly a lot of pain.
The women say there are no more 'good men' out there and as much as the few men try to insist there are, the women continue to refuse.
But I would like to talk about the one true man I know, he's someone I've learned a lot by walking in his footsteps, holding his hand and hugging him whenever possible.
Let me share this with you and I hope you understand what it means to be a true man, because desiring a man with a tool in his pants pales in comparison to what's in his heart, his soul, his all. Years ago, my father approached me with some disturbing news. After a visit to the doctor, he was told he had six months to live. As anyone would react after hearing your life will end in a number of days, he broke down and cried. I should know because I broke down with him on that day back in 1992.
However, my father rebounded and with the help and love of a supportive wife and son, he attended counseling sessions at the hospital with a group of other individuals diagnosed with the same affliction. He poured out his heart, sharing his fears yet willing to go through chemotherapy to beat the disease, or to slow its progress. After the dreaded six month period, my father was the only one, the only one who continued to attend counseling while the others, passed on.
I'm sure we in this woeful generation are so fixated on our material needs, our sexual wants, and trapped in the vain fortress of our egos that we fail to realize what the true measure of a man really is. It isn't sexing up every woman he comes across, it isn't about the size of his hands or his tool, it's not about the six figures and the toys that come with it, no, hell no. It's about what you have inside, a willingness to look death right in the face and tell it to back off, there's still more living to do. I wish I could tell all of you the times my father would return from the hospital completely worn out from chemo, not willing to go through with it any further, or going to the hospital for repeated visits and finding out someone in your class didn't make it to see one more day. No, we're too busy cussing each other out, pointing fingers and indulging in foolishness to learn this lesson. This is what a true man is, this is what he's made of. It's just a damn shame we refuse to see it even when we should.
I can say after six long years of battling his disease, my father's illness is now in remission and continuing to live his life for as the Lord allows him to live each day. Learning from this experience and even drained of all the support I had to carry for three people, my father, my mother and myself. I learned during that time that death does call each of us and when it's our time, we must adhere to it. However, we all have a spirit to fight, to resist, to delay the inevitable because there is still more living to do.
So the next time anyone dare says a black man is full of.....you know, I can only look at the one man who laughs at all that, who didn't have time to listen to all that emotional verbiage but focused on what was truly important; living out the rest of his days and winning a round over death.
The true, 'good' man is my father.
I, as his son, am proud to know and be a man just like him.
I love him, and always will. That's a true man to me.
Note: The following is a commentary.
This is something I needed to get off my chest, I guess. It's late at night and very quiet in my house which is the best atmosphere to express my thoughts on this subject. As someone who has written creatively most of my life, I find it strange and disheartening to read and see literature in its current state. There is a need for every writer to make a political statement in their works and if no statement is to be made, outrage in our social media.
Recently at one of the huge comic book corporations, an editor said most of his writers had to change storylines due to the expectations of complaints from fans. This means we're entering and have entered in a scary time, when readers push writers to give them the story they want, rather than the story the writer hopes to share with the audience. Of course, the writer's intent should always include good reviews from their 'fan base' and in the hopes the story written will leave the fans 'begging for more'. When it becomes a medium for fans to lend a hand to a story altered to appease them, the writer then stops becoming a creator. He or she loses the ability to create a work that will cause people to think, reconsider and closely reflect on an aspect of their lives the story reveals.
Trouble is, and this is the truth, no one wants to think anymore if they ever did. No one wants to appreciate a literary artistic work for whatever truths it may show, the metaphors of our daily lives; no one wants to use their critical thinking skills to decipher whether or not the work has merit. That's a shame. If this mindset were applied throughout time (and it has), Aesop's fables would have been made obsolete, no one would have fully enjoyed Shakespeare's plays, and many other literary works would have been banned because they failed to satisfy whatever agenda they were supposed to provide. In that case, it would have been worse for Rod Serling who under the genre of fantasy created the Twilight Zone, which was a response from Mr. Serling to write tales free from network and sponsor influence. What if the 1950's public adopted this 21st Century mindset? Chances are the Twilight Zone would have met a premature cancellation.
Writers should not give in to perceived public demands or threats that will force them to change their creative projects. We all face criticism whenever we write a piece for public consumption. I realize this fact whenever I write a poem, article, short story or blog post. It's something we can never escape. Some readers are not ''readers', they basically will hate your work for any reason even if it doesn't make sense. The only thing that makes sense is for the writer to continue producing their projects for the story they want to finish, not the public.
This is not to imply the public doesn't deserve to have their opinions matter. In this highly political atmosphere, there is always a demand for a good story to be told, one that touches us all in terms of race, sexual preference, religious or moral conscience. When the writer sits behind their desk and types out in the loneliest of moments, they're in charge of their own universe, their own world. If they feel something should be done to improve this world, let them write from their point of view, their opinion.
I have been criticized in the past for the poems I've written and chances are I'll face more of it the longer I continue on this literary journey. What I hope to do even in this changing world is to not stray away from my mission: to make people think. I can never stop doing that, never. One may say with the numerous 'think' or opinion pieces, politically slanted columns and biased articles, this is a brand new age of enlightenment. An age where so much information can be accessed at any one moment in time via the internet (or social media). While this may be true, as millions are finding out, it can also be an age of disinformation and intellectual deceit, but I digress.
The writer's goal should be to write. Whatever is on the mind of the scribe, it is up to them to communicate via their fictional work the main theme of the story or tale they want us to understand. There is a chance a reader in the Midwest or from either the East or West coast may not agree with the story, as it is their right. Writers have to avoid the temptation of seeking a 'like' or a follow when it comes to their literary work. Real life is not social media. There will be critics of everything we write, just expect the noise of negativity to come.
Writers have the ability to change the world around them, even change a few hearts and minds. They should be the ones able to initiate it through their written works, not the other way around. I hope and pray the words written in this entry will convince new writers to concentrate on their own words, not waiting for an email or social media post that will alter their tale. When we start giving in to public pressure to change the story they want, that when we no longer deserve the honored title of a literary artist.
This isn't a day of celebration. It's a day of tragedy. Fifty years ago the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced his mortal end by an assassin's bullet in a Memphis, Tennessee motel. The world has continuously mourned since, although Dr. King's ideological enemies are the ones who have celebrated his passing and feasted upon the fears of the public.
Fast forward fifty years to this day. King wondered aloud whether or not he led his people into a 'burning house'. So far it can be said, those fears have been made manifest. Long before April 4, 1968 this country that stresses the premise of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness' for its citizens as written in the Declaration of Independence have been shown otherwise. Their lives are taken due to police brutality or a user wielding a gun, a vast prison population for profit does not provide the liberty desired, the mixed messages of what is 'truth' and 'freedom' does not leave much for our happiness. The promises made by the men who founded this nation now seem to be non-existent, a fallacy to those who have experienced the opposite.
Dr. King's death meant the end of an America as we would have liked it to be; equal not separate, where character is judged instead of pigmentation, a nation where intelligence is viewed as an asset, not a hindrance, and a nation where there are enough resources and employment for everyone to be involved, creating a true Great Society. Unfortunately, King's harshest critics and detractors made sure this America would never come to pass. Their version of America is very similar to the one we're seeing now; racial and gender division, a nation where the rich and affluent hold power over the rest of the multitude.Â It has become a country where King's Dream is never realized, a nation the dominant society claims is their own, not for anyone else. A nation that believes it can be 'great again', although that is up for debate.
Homelessness has skyrocketed; the disparity between rich and poor at astronomical levels, racism is back on the rise, rebranded in the words of a well known activist as 'Jim Crow Jr. Esquire.' This America is even reflected in the leaders chosen by its people (or allegedly by a foreign country). The America King hoped for is being torn apart, the foundations changed like worn out grass, replaced with sanitized, artificial turf. This is the New America we live in now, a house burned down to the ground by hatred, strife, and deception of the masses. April 4, 1968 isn't the day Dr. King died. It's the day the United States we hoped for, died along with him.
The moral? We can rebuild this house if we're willing to concentrate and refocus. Leave the distractions behind and begin to remove the elements that caused this American house to burn in the first place.