Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
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.
For the first time in twelve years since the post, ‘Field Trip Part 2: Return To The (Eagles) Nest’, I made a less than triumphant return to my alma mater, Cal-State L.A. this past week as part of an alumni reception and Homecoming. I receive emails from the alumni association which made me curious to visit the campus and check out the improvements they’ve made since I left. My wife (not an alum) and I along with many in attendance (quite a few showed up) received t-shirts, rally towels and lanyards (as you can see on the page). Even though I watched a prohibition game between CSULA and USC (Spoiler: the ‘other’ school will be mentioned again in this post), this would be my first visit to the campus itself since that post from 2005.
My first impression of the revamped CSULA was a good one. They’ve added a Welcome Center, new bookstore, student-union and when I attended the university, our biggest names in the food court were Little Caesars and Taco Bell. Now they have Carl’s Jr and other brand names that students flock to support and devour their meals. As for the reception, I noticed in recent years CSULA has an USC influence when it comes to our athletic department. Not that it’s a bad thing, but for example our basketball coaches are THE Cheryl Miller for our women’s team and Jim Saia, who served as an interim head coach for the Trojans at one time for the men's squad. Our current Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Daryl Gross also worked at USC. Fight on! Uh, not really, but for the evening it felt that way. After watching her as a player at USC and with other teams throughout her career, I’m glad Coach Miller is part of the CSULA family. I’m confident she’ll produce teams who will go all out just as she did in her playing days. Hearing her at the reception, I heard the competitive spirit in her voice and her team’s will to win. She’ll do a great job, I’m certain. Coach Saia followed after her and spoke about his hopes for the future of the program. One look at his resume and I believe he will put CSULA back on the national map, the first time since the 1970’s. There was plenty of optimism for the athletic department which was a far cry from when I was a student.
As for the doubleheader Homecoming games, it was the same as my last visit, a sweep by the men’s and women’s team against the mighty Cal-State San Bernardino (Wile E) Coyotes. The women’s game was played in front of a packed crowd which was a surprise to me. For the first time, the second floor bleachers were open and students, frats and sororities jammed the upstairs seating to cheer for the Golden Eagles. CSULA ran out to a huge lead early only to see a run by CSUSB which fell short as the Golden Eagles held their opponents in the second half to win by a convincing 71-53 score. The next game between the men was just as exciting as three pointers were made, dunks were finished and on the last play of the game, a turnover by the Golden Eagles gave the Coyotes a chance to pull off the ‘upset’ but the long range prayer from the length of the court wasn’t even close and CSULA hung on in a thriller, 71-70.
The day and evening was too short. Although I visited my old stomping grounds at King Hall and the new bookstore, I plan to make a return trip to the campus. Perhaps I won’t take as long to come back and see what the school is up to.
Yesterday, students walked out of class.
Naturally, that would be cause for alarm, but this time it wasn’t. Rather, the students in this high school class wanted to demonstrate under a pouring rain their displeasure of the beginning of the ‘now’ President Trump era. As a teacher and man with an objective view, I announced my support of the protest with hearty applause from the students. When it was time for them to walk out, they did just that. I would say out of a class of over twenty students, only two remained in the classroom where I stayed behind and monitored their work progress.
Today I understand there are women marching in several cities across America, with more protests soon to follow. Get used to this ladies and gentlemen, this is the norm for the next four years (or more), but there is a reason why I supported the dissent and it’s something we all should take note of.
This country is partly founded on the right to protest. Think about the colonials marching against the rule of the British and King George. Do you think those early patriots would listen to supporters of the Empire (British) to simply ‘just give King George a chance.’ No, those Americans wanted their own country and moved forward with the actions we’re seeing today. Even during President Obama’s time in office, we’ve seen the rise of the Tea Party and similar ideological groups in massive displays of resistance. So may I ask, why should one ideology feel it’s right to march and protest against a president they do not like (Obama), but disdain those groups or individuals who don’t like this new president (Trump). Smacks of hypocrisy if you ask me.
The conservative base can cry and moan about ‘fake news’, how Trump is treated unfairly in the press, etc. Except we live in a time and place where a few strokes of a keyboard allow We the People to see the same antics used by their side for eight years. The progressives, as usual, squandered their opportunity by not sticking with President Obama and rightly so, lost their seats of power. They cry about ‘purity politics’ but when your base was as laser focused as the conservative base was in electing Trump, all of that nonsense doesn’t matter. The irony is, for all the marching and protesting during the Occupy movements during the Obama administration, they so-called ‘99%’ will face four years of which they deserve, justifiably so.
The students who walked out yesterday will be severely impacted by the rulings, statutes, legislation passed forth by the Trump administration. They will have four years when they’re of voting age to make the sound choices to select people who speak to their views and issues ranging from race to sexual preference. In the meantime, in order for their voices to be heard I nodded and allowed my students to leave. If you claim you love ‘democracy’ and understand not one political party has a monopoly on it, then you will also nod in agreement these young people did the right thing. The right to show your dissent peacefully is what freedom should be all about, the kind that is ‘free’.