Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
I decided to take some time off to enjoy the real world and so far, it has not been a disappointment. With my wife, we watched ‘Get Out’ and it’s worth the price of admission and then some. I’ve taken excursions to Exposition Park and back at my old stomping grounds at L.A. City College, but during the time I’ve been away to get some rest, I have missed that fire, the motivation I need to write. That’s alarming but not too serious to be concerned about.
As long as I’ve written creative works such as poems and short stories, there will be a time when I face ‘burn out’ and choose not to write for the time being. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up writing altogether as it is my identity and something I’m proud of. It means as a human being writing since my first year of junior high school (now called middle school), our minds tend to exert a lot of energy creating the characters we do. While our minds are constantly churning to give writers like myself new ideas, new stories to write, new poems to recite, our bodies need constant rest and attention. I stand on my feet all day at work managing a group of young people so when I come home, I need all the rest I can just to rejuvenate myself for future creative projects I have in mind. I do keep a notepad at work just to write down new ideas I have in mind. It helps a lot.
There was a time in my younger days all I wanted to do was write, write, and keep writing. I wanted to create the next best story, something everyone will remember me by. Instead, I preferred to take time off to return back to the world and enjoy it. I find that in today’s social media, writers are treated like machines. It’s almost as if we’re expected to keep turning out book after book without taking the time to stop, look around and see what’s in front of you. We can sit behind our keyboards all day in the pursuit of the next great novel but we have lives to live too. It would be to our advantage to simply slow down and cherish the time we have on this earth because our days are not long.
If I had a choice, I would rather write as much as I can, publish and produce my best work and then take some time off to see the rest of the world. New or aspiring authors may take this attitude or they can choose to write endlessly finding nothing but disappointment and frustration when their literary plans don’t go through. Writers need to take time to relax, slow down and step outside their creative cubby hole for only a short while. That time well spent will help once you get back on the keyboard and write as the author of this piece is doing now. Most of all, take time for yourself to restore your heart and mind for your later creative works. We all need some time to ourselves, and I hope if you are a writer looking at this piece, you will take some time off for yourself.
Tonight marks the end of a busy month of February with the Academy Awards. Massive media coverage will be focused on the winners and losers of the prestigious trophy handed out to individuals who had the best performances in a motion picture. That being said, we have already seen this month, a Super Bowl champion crowned, Grammy awards passed out to winners with their share of massive news coverage, and the NBA All-Star Game. Lost in all this festive splendor, what happened to Black History Month?
You remember Black History Month don’t you? It was started back as Negro History Week in 1926 by a gentleman named Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Black author, historian, and journalist. In 1976, the week expanded to the month we all know in the case of a celebrity or two, has spoken against. In my younger days, I looked forward to this month recognizing the accomplishments of famous scientists, writers and leaders who shared my same skin color. This month, although it is the shortest of the year, is meant to be a source of pride, encouragement and inspiration. Well it has become an inspiration to corporate interests – to bury this month with commercialism.
Think about the sporting events and awards shows you’re watching while you’re gossiping to your friends on social media. How many ads for a tech company that hardly hires any Black person have you seen? February is also known as ‘sweeps month’, a month when television networks compete for higher ratings against each other. Yet, this month used to celebrate achievements in Black history, is swept under the mental carpet by interests who DO NOT CARE about a group of people who look like the author of this piece. They would rather see us vanish and in past years up to the present day, have successfully done a good job in achieving that goal. They would rather see this generation (and others) languish under the stereotypes of drug pushers, illiterates, gun-slinging murders with no conscience when our very history shows us we were much more than that, much more.
How many millennials know who George Washington Carver is? Benjamin Banneker? Crispus Attucks? Paul Robeson? Langston Hughes? Richard Wright? Black Wall Street? Allensworth? Rosewood? W.E.B. DuBois (not DeBois, as a Department of Secretary twitter account named him) I would say not many, period. Yet, the erasure of these important Black People in our history is a determent to present and future generations who need to understand and know the stories behind the great people and events that shaped our lives. Instead, this generation has received a pleasant dose of Tom Brady, Lady Gaga, Adele, and the winners of tonight’s Academy Awards totally unrelated to Black history and culture.
Yes, the solution is to say “Black history is American history” but seriously, how many people have posted or even said out loud about the story of Black townships and the reason for their existence? Whenever we post a historical reference point in our history on social media, it comes from a point of loss rather than a point of victory because let’s face it, the Black experience here in America has seen ten times more defeats than victories. With the new (old) social climate of nationalism even in our government, expect more defeats to come in terms of social justice. There is something we can all do to keep our history in the minds of most who do not. We can continue to post, link, speak up and talk about our history online and out in the real world. In this new digital age, it’s important now than ever to remind those who do not know our history what it means – and will always mean – to us, those who are Black and proud of it. In closing, I’d like to leave you with an important quote which comes as a warning and explanation why Black History Month is being erased:
"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
-- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro"
Links on Dr. Carter G. Woodson provided below. Comments are welcomed.
Once upon a time, I grew up ‘painfully shy’ and didn’t possess much of the social skills to keep friends or even make new ones. These days, I’m still quiet but as you can see on my YouTube channel (to your right on the links section), as an author I’ve been out in public a lot over the years and the shyness is no longer an issue.
When I look back on my life, obviously there were opportunities to be had which I failed to take advantage of. What I don’t regret is the fact I kept on writing, keeping most of my rough drafts in a safe place. In writers workshops, I tell budding authors how important it is to keep your rough drafts of your written work for the fact you may want to go back to that poem or prose manuscript you’ve spent time on, or use a few plot elements for an upcoming story or poem that hasn’t entered your mind yet. Whether its paper or old files in your hard drive, it’s best to save every idea, every thought you’ve ever written or typed out. I still lament the fact of old plays, short stories that I wrote by hand or typed on my electric typewriter that I’ve thrown in the trash or ripped up with my bare hands. We say our mind is like a computer and reader, you may take the approach I once had, “Well I’ll just rewrite the whole thing again.” I can do that, but my misplaced arrogance will help me understand that perhaps what I wrote was ‘perfect’ the first time. Maybe I should have kept the written work so I wouldn’t have to strain myself years later on rewriting a piece that I miss.
It’s important to keep your rough drafts because as I might have mentioned it before, it could be the one idea that will help launch your writing career or get you ‘over the top’ as an author. Either way, your ideas belong to you. Before you do throw your draft away, think on these questions:
These are the questions you as a writer have to ask before jettisoning a rough draft you feel you may or may not feel invested in. Look, there are tons of articles and blog posts that will show you the benefits of keeping a first draft but if I have to leave you with any advice (such as it is), remember this: hold on to all of your written and typed works and save them in a ‘cool’ place like a folder on your hard drive or actual folder at home. No matter where you keep them, I believe when you’re looking for another project to work on, it’s best to rethink and restart a piece of work you didn’t finish or didn’t believe fit comfortable the first time.
Just stay focused and continue to write. It will all come together for you in the end!
Valentine’s Day is a day reserved for lovers. Flowers, cards and candy for your significant other are the part of the memories of this special occasion. Rarely it is also the day of a tragic event, one that you remember because it is part of a larger reality you cannot escape from.
Thirty years ago this evening, a young man lost his life in a drive-by shooting after walking his girlfriend home. His body reportedly laid a few blocks away in my neighborhood. The same young man with a pleasant smile and never associated with a gang now rests in a cemetery as a number of young people who lost their lives in the same manner also reside.
Thirty years later and I want everyone reading to think about this for a moment; what have we gained as a people through this madness? What have the sets gained? We know what politicians and law enforcement has gained out of this and it promises to grow worse by the day. Although South Central L.A. for years had ‘calmed down’ if you happen to read current FBI reports, I noticed today also in my same neighborhood a police helicopter flying overhead. Down the street, you could see the yellow tape blocking traffic, paramedics and squad cars in the vicinity. Once again, on a day meant for love, do we as a people (and brown people) bring nothing but hate for each other. It’s sad, but this is the reality we citizens have lived in for far too long to which I pose a question to anyone who happens to live outside this area. Do you honestly think we enjoy living under these conditions? Do you think we like to accept these tragedies as part of our lives? I moved out of the neighborhood for five years but where I lived in Northern California made me yearn to return home. South Central L.A. is where I belong and it is here I shall stay until I travel to my final, eternal residence.
Renard was his name. He would come over my house and play basketball with the rest of my friends in my backyard. He was a student in a nearby high school and was a good student and based on the last moments of his life, a gentleman. It’s too bad we on Planet Earth didn’t see him graduate, have children like his closest friend or even build a life for himself. All that was taken away from a stray bullet. His life, erased.
We often forget our past here in South Central L.A. We tend to have conversations on needless topics like SOLA and the specter of gentrification. You cannot and never shall erase the memory of this young man who could have made an impact on this society and others like him who left us too soon. Especially on this night. This night of love but instead; it will always be a night for tears.
The art of writing should be an even playing field.
As it stands right now in early 2017, there is a logical debate going on between critics of the Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) and those who support it, believing it has a place for anyone pursuing a writing career. There are many articles for or against the MFA but as an objective viewer watching the debate from afar, does it really matter?
For example, I enrolled in an English creative writing class in college over thirty years ago which allowed you to write whatever you wish, only to face stern criticism as you read your piece in front of an unsatisfied professor and other students with writing experience not afraid to state their opinion. The first two short stories I submitted were met with less than a positive response. The first story was of my own creation, not written for the class. The somewhat ambiguous ending in their eyes prompted a lot of probing questions that did not live up to their standards. The second short story I wrote exclusively for the class was a bit more polished and grounded in reality but again, it was deeply scrutinized by the professor and classmates who did not found it appealing to their taste. While I submitted the first two short stories, one I wrote strictly for myself but wanted to share, I wrote another story I had finished a year prior as a personal creative venture. It was a literary project I wrote for myself. It was not meant for the class so when I read the first four pages of what I wrote in print as an eleven page tale, the reaction based on the tension I interjected between two of the main characters caught the ear of my professor who wanted to hear more. My classmates with a critical eye could not find anything to gripe about. I was pleased for once I wrote a satisfactory piece that I felt like writing and not because I wanted to give a good impression to my professor. With that third short story that is a short story I created for myself, it allowed me to move forward and write the short stories I felt like writing without the influence of my professor or critics. Could you imagine what would have happened if this same professor told me I needed a MFA to be a ‘serious writer’? If I were told that back in the 1980’s, I would have considered it but I feel a degree could not simply replace the hard work, time and dedication I put into creating the best work possible.
Besides, shouldn’t be the effort one puts into their writing that ultimately counts instead of obtaining a degree that a select few, including agents feel is a ticket to success? While this author is not against any aspiring writer working hard to obtain a MFA, those of us who stopped with only a Bachelor’s Degree or even writers without either one shouldn’t be judged on their lack of dedication, drive and motivation. It should be the individual writer’s decision on how far they wish to take their career and creative projects.
What I learned from that creative writing class is that there will always be critics, those who have reservations about your creative projects and those who will simply wish you nothing but failure because in their eyes you will never be good enough or talented enough to meet their standards. As long as you as a writer continue to believe in your stories, do your homework by retaining the literary knowledge to succeed and study other famous writers who have found their measure of success, you will also find the same whether you’ve earned a MFA or not.