Sludge, Smut, Star Jones, & My Delicate Sensibilities

I recently read that Star Jones is calling on all educated black women to take a stand against the reality show Basketball Wives. Before I comment any further, let me begin by saying that I have never watched Basketball Wives or any such foolishness. I cannot imagine sitting in my living room with my teenage daughter watching impassively while women of color abuse, humiliate, and disgrace each other for coins. Frankly, I have much much better things to do with my time. There have been some who’ve remarked that Basketballs Wives and shows of this ilk are simply entertainment, and if one doesn’t appreciate the negative portrayals of black women, then one can merely change the channel. It’s a free country, right? Those “women” have a right to make that money just like anybody else. Well, this kind of warped emotionally retarded logic never ceases to amaze me.

As black women in this country, we don’t have the luxury of allowing degrading dehumanizing portrayals of “us” to go unchecked. “ We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The venerable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t, of course, referring to the intellectually deficient debacle that is Basketball Wives, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that he too would most likely be filled with revulsion.

In the midnight hour, we all have to ask ourselves if we’ve made a tangible difference in the lives of others or if we’ve sold our souls for thirty pieces of silver and a chance to act a damn fool on national television. Will young impressionable African American girls be better off because of this pathetic contribution to the media landscape or will they sink ever further into an abyss of low self-esteem, emotionally debilitating choices, and questionable wardrobe selections?

When it’s all said and done, we are our sister’s keeper as Dr. King intimates, and this sister is saying… really? Is this the best we have to offer? Really? Harriet Tubman didn’t risk her life shepherding our ancestors to and fro and through the Underground Railroad for one black woman to slap another across the face while the world watches. Sojourner Truth didn’t stand in front of an all white audience in Akron, Ohio in 1851 and bear her very soul just so black women can call each other every thing but a child of God and embarrass generations of women who stood and still stand for what is right and honorable.

Ultimately, we are responsible for the choices that we make and thus we must accept the consequences for said choices. As educated, evolved, and resplendent women of the African Diaspora, we must stand up so Shaunie O’Neal and any one else who seeks to sully our hard fought glory-our good name for profit sits down.

Consider the young African American women that you know and take your place. Think about the little sistas that you don’t know, who now believe that crawling across a table and assaulting each other is acceptable behavior, and take a stand. Ruminate for a moment on if you’d want to see any woman you care for represent herself in such a disrespectful manner and then take a stand. And, after you’ve come to the most logical and righteous conclusion, let your voices be heard. I stand with Star and with all of the other committed, forward thinking, passionate, and courageous women who honor our ancestors and make us all swell with pride. Enough is enough.

Shondaland, here I come. No, really.

On April 2, of this month I attended “An Evening with Shonda Rhimes and Friends” at The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Now, I had heard of Shonda Rhimes but until that evening I had never really contemplated her profound accomplishments. As I’m not avid viewer of television by any stretch of the imagination, thinking about television or who was doing what to whom on television was not a part of my mental landscape. I simply choose not to commit to television, but how often does an African American woman have three shows in primetime that she created, produced, and still writes the finales for? I can tell you. Never. Not ever until now. As I sat in the audience and listened to her speak about her writing process, I was struck by the notion that all of the actors on stage and all of the people who toil on the Shondaland trifecta, if you will, are indeed working because of her artistic vision and abundance of creativity. In case you didn’t know, Shonda Rhimes is the Creator and Executive Producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and now Scandal, based on the life of former Bush Administration aide Judy Smith starring Kerri Washington. It appears that Shonda Rhimes gives new meaning to the word “multitask?”

I listened as actors Sandra Oh, Ellen Pompeo, Taye Diggs, Tony Goldwyn and Kerry Washington among others described what it was like to live and learn in Shondaland. Kerry Washington said that she and her co-stars made up back-story for their characters because they were so emotionally invested and excited about the possibilities. She further explained that sometimes Shonda told them they were right on and other times she’d simply say no. Sandra Oh described how nerve wracking it is for her to wait to find out what happens with her character from show to show. She hangs around Shonda’s office and stares at the executive producer until she can get a morsel about the goings on of her character. Ellen Pompeo remarked that she was uncomfortable at times with dialogue that Shonda had written but after it was all said and done, some of her best work as an actor would result. On and on the accolades went, and Shonda just sat there as if she’d made a plate of scrambled eggs with cheese-just another ordinary day in the life of Shonda Rhimes.

For the millions of viewers, yes millions, who religiously watch her shows, extraordinary is probably what comes to mind along with drama, intrigue, dynamic plot twists, multi-cultural characters who resemble people in the real world, and some intimate scenes that leave you saying “Lord have mercy. I can’t believe he just did that!” I know some people who cannot even begin to image life without worrying about Meredith and Derek. Smatterings of “What’s going to happen with that Sam Bennett?” or “Is that Addison chick ever going to have a baby?” can be heard in gyms and salons all over this land. And with a multitude of awards behind her and an avalanche of ideas pouring in daily, Ms. Shonda is moving forward with unbridled enthusiasm. Her creations have forever changed our perception of what is actually possible on television, and this is a very good thing indeed.

Her newest show Scandal starring Kerry Washington is focused around political crisis management expert Olivia Pope and, of course, boasts the only African American female lead on television. Imagine that. Although Pope is not without some freaky drama of her own, she is still a fierce beautiful albeit flawed problem solver who owns her own company and apparently has the President of the United States, played by Tony Goldwyn, on speed dial. We have come a long way from familiar characters like Nell Carter, Florida Evans, and the ultimate mammy archetype Mable from What’s Happening. Today if you want to turn on the television and look for a show with an African American female lead, that doesn’t subscribe to some asinine stereotype look no further than Thursday nights on ABC. In spite of my own disdain for the vast wasteland that is American Television, I’ve found that I can commit to an hour- long show. Go figure. So this Thursday and next, I’ll be on my couch shaking my head just like the rest of you and wondering what kind of fresh hell has that Olivia Pope gotten herself into now?

Zora Was Here

“I am an endangered species but I sing no victim song. I am a woman. I am an artist and I know where my voice belongs….”

These words beautifully sung by the gifted Dianne Reeves are still swirling around in my head and dancing across my field of vision even now. Nearly two weeks ago, my play in two acts, Letters from Zora premiered at the University of Southern California in Bovard Auditorium to a little more than 1200 people. Under the direction of Anita Dashiell-Sparks and with original music composed by Dr. Ron McCurdy, Letters from Zora took on a life of its own; it swayed and breathed. The ebullient crowd, the contagious energy, the prolonged standing ovation for actress Vanessa Bell Calloway was the culmination of two years worth of research, several glasses of pinot noir, and plenty of writing.

Laughter, indignation, and a few tears floated through the air and some how connected a room full of strangers who had no idea what to expect or who Zora really was. For many Zora Neale Hurston was an enigma, a mere glimpse of the Harlem Renaissance, a woman who was the beneficiary of malicious rumors and unrealistic expectations. To me, Zora was the embodiment of literary and artistic freedom. She lived her life the way she chose with no apologies in a world and in a time when women were expected to ask permission to do anything at all. When characters invaded her dreams, she turned them a loose (as my grandmother would say) to wreak havoc on a blank page. If marriage or domestic stagnation interfered with the life she imagined, she crawled back inside of herself and began again.

In spite of her own self- doubt and the trials and tribulations of the day and there were many, Zora Neale Hurston managed to produce an incredible body of work. Who can read Their Eyes Were Watching God and not be moved? How can anyone not recognize the majestic prose in Moses, Man of the Mountain? If she had only written these two novels during her lifetime, that would have been enough to cement her contribution to the American literary canon. Zora wrote, researched, recorded, loved, traveled the world, became a voodoo priestess, and wrote some more. Mercy, what a life.

In my quest to know Ms. Hurston and share her journey, I endeavored to remain true to the essence of her work and her philosophy. Her life, her stories both real and imagined, had a profound effect on me, and I hope on those who were afforded the opportunity to make her acquaintance on March 3rd of this year. As all of us who toiled to make Letters Zora a reality gear up for the future, we hope you will stay tuned for an encore, a continuation if you will of her legacy. There is so much more to say, more to share, and more to learn. After two novels, a multitude of short stories, and now a play I do believe that the venerable Ms. Zora would be pleased to know that I finally know where my voice belongs.

Motherhood, Mayhem, & Mindfulness

It’s summertime. My children are home. Stepchildren are here and my puppy, affectionately named Mandela, has clawed multiple holes in two screens. There are floors to be cleaned, laundry to be washed, dinner to be made, chapters to be revised and new chapters for the next book to be written. I’m sighing now just thinking about it. Do I love my life? Yes. Do I love my children? Of course. With these questions being answered, I sometimes wish I had an affinity for vodka gimlets and cocaine to ease the chaos that is my life.

As women, we strive to multitask and to juggle all of the balls effortlessly and we succeed most times but at what cost? Something has to give and for the life of me, I’m still trying to figure out what that is. After four decades, I’ve finally realized that prioritizing is important along with making lists, staying connected to the people you love and wine lots of wine. Seriously though being mindful helps me to maintain my sanity during those times when I wish that I were on an island somewhere alone watching the waves roll in at sunset. Mindfulness keeps me connected to that space inside where I can retreat and remember who I am even when I don’t recognize myself. Women serve many roles: educator, chef, therapist, driver, accountant and so the list goes on and we are expected to perform without complaint sometimes even while wearing fishnets and stilettos. Oops, did I write that?

Navigation through life’s trials and tribulations is much smoother if you take time for yourself. Be still and breathe. Celebrate the gifts you have been given. Be grateful for the love you do have every day even if it’s three and loves to play stink finger in public. Maya Angelou said “Always I hope to grow brighter, funnier. I hope to learn to be even more well rounded. But right now, I cannot be any better than I am.” Relish all that you are yet be mindful that each days brings forth an opportunity to be better than you were the day before. The choice is yours. Now, I can go wash another load of laundry and fuss at my daughter for something or other or I can chose to listen to Donny Hathaway and take a long hot bath. Decision made. Donny here I come.