Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
Next Tuesday March 3rd, an election will take place that will determine the present and possibly future of the Eighth District in South Los Angeles. Candidates who are running for office are: Bobbie Jean Anderson, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Robert Cole, Jr, and Forescee Hogan-Rowles (Google them). All four have been active in the community and all four have a vision, a plan on how to restore the 'Great Eighth'. As a lifelong resident living in South Los Angeles, I can say without a doubt the number one issue among many, is retail.
Long before the fires of unrest back in 1992, the residents of this district have always requested stores in their neighborhood. I remember in my younger days when I would shop at a Newberry’s, Thrifty’s Drug Store and National on Vermont Avenue along with a Christian book store, a Lerner’s shop along with other small businesses on the same block. There were people who looked like me working there. When the Koreans moved in and took over these shops, converting them into swap meets, most jobs were lost. Now that we’re in a new era, twenty two years removed from the Unrest which drove those same merchants out, here’s another opportunity for small businesses to move into the Vermont Ave sector. Of course, there is a small catch.
As mentioned in a previous post, the land which residents have requested be filled with retail are owned by entities who unfortunately do not live in the 323 area code which means despite our best interests, they’re not too keen on seeing this come to pass. You might look at the pictures in this post (and the last one) and they will show you what the neighborhood used to be, full of boutiques, clothing stores near each other which meant a busy and vibrant shopping center with a three block radius. Of course, the Great Eighth is more than that, but again, I would stress to the candidates filling Bernard Parks’s seat to consider to look at these pictures. What do they tell you? What should they tell you? Yes, getting Big Business to invest in this district has always been a hard sell as evidenced by the Rebuild L.A. experience, but there are entrepreneurs and small business owners who would love to have their chance to sell their merchandise, products, you name it. Rather than have our local school district eye land to take over for another campus to build, the land that’s available should be used for strictly retail and nothing but. I’m sure anything less than that would be a broken promise and the residents have heard and seen too many of those.
Although it’s a separate subject, it also effects the future of the Great Eighth. Gentrification is very real and even a well known movie director has voiced his opinion of how this inward movement by a certain crowd has affected his community. This will happen in the Great Eighth as well. It may have already started. Because of Gentrification, retail projects that were stalled for years may now become a reality. This is an insult. It’s an insult to the older and lifelong residents in the district who have requested time and time again for a clothing store, restaurant, something that would generate interest and income. Now since the winds are blowing in a different direction, developers and owners of vacant land now feel the need to ‘build’. This is definitely an insult and I hope who ever winds up as our next councilmember of this district will speed up the process before the Gentrifiers arrive.
It is said voter turnout will be low on Tuesday. This is one vote we can shy away from. The resumes of the four candidates are impressive, but impressive resumes aren’t enough. This is why everyone in the Great Eighth should come out and vote this coming Tuesday to choose who you feel is worthy of your vote. This district needs a true leader who will restore retail back in this area. It’s up to us to select which one.
Dedicated to Lloyd Herbs, former landlord, neighborhood activist, neighbor and a great mentor. A proud member of the Great Eighth District.
For the first time in fifteen years, I’m back in front of a classroom teaching. What? Yes, I’m back as a substitute teacher and it feels nice. Unlike the last post, this is something I’ve always felt I could excel in and have years of experience doing it. Of course, my legs and body are tired from standing up and walking around all day to take care of the class I was assigned to. It reminds me back in the days when I taught on a regular basis. I imagine what this also shows me is that for every great loss, there’s a greater reward coming.
When I left the expo, folks told me ‘God has something better for you’ and other encouraging statements. Of course, feeling as I felt back when things were falling apart, I believed them but not as much. I wondered if I would ever go back feeling better about myself. Eventually, I worked as a tutor to prepare me for this opportunity which I worked with years ago before I decided to take a plunge in the corporate world. As I found out today after completing my assignment, things in my life are getting better, and then some.
In the last post, I wrote how situations just unraveled on their own, leaving me in a situation I never wanted to face, but had to. I also had to make an unpopular decision which I’m sure will stay with me for a while. Despite the hard feelings and depressive state I was in, I kept in mind something better would come my way, it would be just a matter of time before it did.
Life is good right now, I’m spending more time writing. I had to take a break this week from my projects because of the new job yet I shall return soon to continue working on publishing that new book everyone’s waited for. Until then, I’m enjoying the ‘something better’ in my life and I can’t ask for more.
This is going to be one of those ‘introspective pieces’ that I hope someone else will learn from.
I’d like to begin this entry by pasting this poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It’s been referenced many times and in vast amounts of media. The poem is called "Ozymandias" (boldface: the author of this piece)I met a traveller from an antique land
You may ask yourself, what is this colored African American Negro Black man doing by posting this poem here? Answer: because I lived it for several months, looking back at the wreck by my own hands.
If you’ve been lurking for years on this blog, you remember that I used to run a Black Book Expo here in Los Angeles. I held the title of Executive Director, proud of it, glad of the work I’ve done for the seven and a half years I was there. As of last year (actually September 2104) as I might have mentioned on the blog, I made the decision to step down. I made it because I felt burned out, I didn’t feel I had the energy to continue even with our difficult decision last year to discontinue the event. I also had enough of certain situations that I’m not going to waste time getting into.
Like Ozymadias, I too can point to the works I have done over the years and say to those who have been ‘inspired’ by me to despair. They should despair because of what I tried to do and taking a stand for literacy, it didn’t do much to gain attention or even interest. Honestly, I haven’t felt right in months and I don’t know if I ever will. No, it’s not because of terrible decisions I’ve made in the past or ‘karma’, it’s that I no longer have the energy or the will to produce another literary event ever again. I'm not saying this to feel 'sorry' or even expressing pity. It's the truth and my decision that I'm standing by. I understand there will be folks who insist that I should ‘never say never’, but I can and will say that as long as I live, don’t expect me to take over or assume a role of running a book festival or conference. I no longer have it in me. My inner Ozymadias won’t allow it.
Through this time, I had to ask myself if I had merely wasted my time devoting so much energy, time and effort to a cause I felt was right. Perhaps I could have been like other folks I had run into; opportunistic, self-serving, etc. Maybe if I had done those things which were outside my character, I would be a ‘top dog’ in this literary industry, whatever that means. That’s not me nor will it ever be me. I tried to do what I thought was the right thing to do in maintaining the growth of the expo, but as it happens so often, listening to the wrong people and gathering the wrong advice will burn you. That was my error.
As a writer, I’m fine. I have projects that need to be written so I can have them published and be recognized for what I do best, not for what I didn’t do right. It can leave you in a state of depression, feeling you let so many people down, not sure if anyone will speak to you again, fearful that although it was never your fault to begin with (this is truth), everyone still blames you for what happened just because. I had to learn to live with it and who knows how long it will continue? People in this industry are a funny sort.
Ozymandias can warn all those that proceed to follow him on the futility of his works, how short they are for a time before they eventually fade away. I recognized this once I made the decision to step away for a while. I still do. “The ‘lone and level sands’ do stretch far and perhaps with a bit of wisdom, I can pick up some insight along the way that escaped me before. Until then, I warn each of my ‘followers’ to heed the words of Ozymandias and look with despair of the works I had created. They too will eventually disappear.
Back in 2013, I posted and wrote on a series of discussions the late great Rod Serling held with a group of students in what this author assumes is New York state. The reason why I’m mentioning it is because Mr. Serling with all his accomplishments never in these videos and other source material in which I had read, never talked down to or demeaned those who we would call (or perfer not to call) ‘aspiring’ authors or writers. May I suggest the term ‘new’ authors and writers instead? I respect writers such as Serling, Bradbury, Hughes, Wright, and Matheson not because of the many works they produced, but the way they carried themselves professionally or publicly. There’s a lot to live up when as a writer you try to emulate the actions of these great men.
Today, we live in an age where authors and writers of all ages, races, preferences and shapes have a choice, and it is a choice where either your ‘fans’ follow or despise you. This writer as you know has opinions of the art of writing as you may have seen in the archives. I’m not big-headed to state my opinions are just those, opinions, which reader you may either agree or disagree with. These days, it is easier to have an inflated ego simply because you published a book or two. If you have social media and follow or friend these individuals, you can see how they conduct themselves and their audience by how they express themselves on the written (and electronic) page. Imagine if Serling or even Matheson had the same attitude our contemporaries conduct themselves today? History would not be so favorable towards these great literary artists.
It’s best to maintain an attitude of professionalism at all times, even when someone is disagreeing with your viewpoint, your argument, your point of view. There have been times at book festivals a reader criticized me for one of my poems. As a reader, that’s within his rights not to like your work and at times, I had a strong defense which I’m also allowed to do. Even with the best intentions, the reader may not truly understand your theme, the deeper meaning of your piece or story, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t disparage or ‘go after’ the critic because they fail on their end to see the vision I created. As writers, we have to carry a degree of decorum around the public. We are in competition with each other and it doesn’t bode well if I have a reputation of talking down to my target audience or assume I know everything there is to know about writing. My opinions are not facts, but a point of debate to which the reader and I can have a constructive discussion.
If I can speak candidly about my written work with the understanding that I should only focus on what I’m doing instead of the author behind me or the writer ahead of me, it helps my place as a writer. I come with the knowledge that my book or article needs to have impact, it needs to reach the heart of the reader in order for them to support me and my efforts. It doesn’t bode well for my personal character to hold a Facebook argument or Twitter fight with another author or writer. That’s all for show and drama (the non-artistic kind). How many times has that worked out? This is an era where opinions reign supreme, and assuming one is Top Dog in the Literary World when all they rule over is a kennel, is not saying a whole lot.
Readers, ‘fans’ and outrage specialists will find a reason to complain about the writer’s work, their personal life, everything under the sun. It’s a waste of precious energy and time to engage in a ‘war’ with these folks. It’s best to accept their opinions as being non-valid in your life and not a strike against your work and just move on. It’s best that way sometimes. There are more authors for these peeps to fuss about, so you as the writer or author, don’t need to obsess over their presence or influence online or off. The contraption of the internet has made it all too easy for these peeps to come out, comment sections the pit of unintelligent babble. It’s a good idea to accept these moments for what they are and move forward, not behind.
Being a professional doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover too. It’s all right to defend your work if you see the critic doesn’t have a solid argument why they didn’t like what you wrote. Writers should speak up and not be afraid of being labeled as ‘difficult’ only when they make a clear, concise meaningful argument. When it turns into a shouting match with the critic, there’s the chance a potential buyer or fan may notice the back-and-forth sniping between writer and critic and just be turned off by the attitude.
Since this is posted on the internet, there may be some questions and (or) disagreements towards what’s been written here. If you don’t agree with this writer’s argument, there is the convenience of the comments section below. Please feel free to use it (not just now, but anytime).
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Yesterday, my pastor at my church had the privilege to call me ‘our research historian’ when it came to a subject he discussed in our adult bible class. Now, I don’t mind because he knows I’m an published author and he has a copy of my books as well. As a writer spending time in researching history or other subjects, my pastor also must do his own research from the Word in order to prepare the congregation of the upcoming sermons he plans to preach. In a way, we’re very much alike. Research is what we writers (and pastors) do best in order to keep our readers (and listeners) engaged.
The successful bestselling or mid-list authors who receive awards and get to brag about them on social media, excel in the research from settings of actual places to characters who are familiar with them. Before the information age, I would spend hours in my local libraries soaking my brain with the content found within books and magazines which interested me. With the boom of the internet, there are millions of webpages which I can pick and choose to help me with a creative project. For example, if I need to look up a city which I have never visited, I can use either Mapquest or Google Maps to help me find a landmark where my characters can fit in the story I’m writing. The map features allow you to visually see where the area you’re writing about is located, which streets is it found, etc.
Research is key to adding some authenticity to your creative or non-fiction works. Readers I know are interested in discovering new places to visit, or learning historical facts that have been hidden from the public eye. It helps as a writer to make your audience aware of the knowledge we have stored in our heads to bring a subject, locale, or even a character to light. Since the internet is available to most anyone (for now), your readers will know whether or not your research is sound or off base. There’s a poem I wrote for The Depths of My Soul where I described a past military action in one of my poems. Prior to adding it in my piece, I had to search past news reports, transcripts, you name it, in order to share this historical reference to the verse. If I happened to be wrong, there will be someone who will challenge you on your content. Trust me fellow writers, they’re out there and ready to prove you wrong, so make sure you get it right.
I have found that critics tend to become silent once you have done the proper research for your book. When The Voices of South Central was released, I had my share of naysayers who didn’t quite understand the point of view I chose for that book. When they read the poems and my short article at the end of the book, they softened their criticism, coming to an understanding of the direction I used. This is why research is important for all writers to use. While it is not a ‘rule’, it is very necessary to make your book stand out from the rest. Without it, your book or article is just another string of opinions that either may or may not make much sense except to a select few.
Hopefully if you’re a new writer starting out, you’ll adopt a philosophy of research, to discover everything that needs to be found, discussed and shown to the world at large. We may live in an information age, but the information or life experiences that are never told but need to be….that’s the content readers (and listeners) are anxious to know.