The Phoenix, Part 2

She has risen.

She has been reborn again and again.

She is constantly evolving into the woman she desires to become.

A product of mistakes, she is familiar with pain and struggle.

She is the meaning of adaptation and evolution.

She’s been burned by the flames, only to be re-constructed by the remnants of her own ashes.

Of her past. Remnants of the pain, deceit, depression, and hopelessness.

The sweet smell of change wafts through the air—

It serves as her personal aroma of incense.

Close your eyes…can you smell her?

Can you smell the bitter sweetness?

Can you taste her strength on your tongue?

Her beauty is more than skin deep.

She is not defined by a mask or a sheath.

She is everything inside and underneath.

She is plain Jane to the naked eye,

But truth is, she is Extra Ordinary.

Her simplicity cannot be duplicated.

Her past remains in the still-burning embers in the fireplace,

But her future is in full bloom.

Out of ashes she arose—

from the flames of hell.

But here she is, radiant and powerful in her own right.

Written in 2010.

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Learning to Paint with all the Colors of the Wind

fullsizerenderAs a kid, we all loved Disney’s spin on fairy tales. The story of Pocahontas was Disney’s first attempt at recreating a historical event. I was a little over four years old when Pocahontas came out. I loved it. I had the glasses, the sheets, even my toothbrush was Pocahontas. I loved her because she was strong and brave–things I wanted to be. It was also one of the few Disney movies where the woman didn’t need to be saved by a man. Of course, at the time I had no idea what gender roles or stereotypes were about.

As I’ve gotten older, I have re-watched Pocahontas and discovered myself within the story lines. Especially after my Grandmother passed away. It helped to think that she was all around me. If I needed her, I just needed to be still and listen with my heart. She is my Grandmother Willow. I have found that when I am missing her the most, watching Pocahontas soothes me. I know it might not make sense to you, but it works for me.

I went a long time without seeing my Grandmother after she passed. And then one overnight shift at work, I heard her call my name. I looked up, and I saw her walking towards me. My reaction was nothing short of freaking out. I jumped up and answered her, but she was gone as fast as she came. You might think I’m nuts. But the truth is, I’ve been seeing Angels my whole life. I used to see my Mom when I was younger. Sometimes I smell my Grandfather. But in that moment at work, I was finally seeing my Grandmother. I wasn’t expecting her. She had never been to my place of work, but clearly she always knows where to find me. I just had to sit up and listen. I watched Pocahontas the next day.

There is a scene in the movie where Pocahontas is wandering through the woods shouting “Grandmother Willow! I need to talk to you!” This is how I envision myself whenever I am watching Pocahontas. It’s how I communicate with my Grandmother. When I’m especially missing her, I listen to Grandmother Willow’s song, Listen With Your Heart. So, that’s what I’m doing. I can’t see her, or touch her, but I can listen with my heart. She taught me how to do that my whole life.

The Pocahontas Soundtrack has become a part of the soundtrack of my life. I have been searching for the right path my whole life. Grandmother Willow teaches us that sometimes the right path is not the easiest one. I just want to know what’s Around the River bend for me. My Grandmother taught me to paint with the Colors of the Wind when she was teaching me how to be compassionate. And even still, now that she is gone–I am still learning to paint with all the colors of the wind because I look for her between the rustling of the trees.

I look for her in the sunrise, the sunset. I look for her in the way the leaves fall from the trees. I search for her at Ocean Drive between the rumbling of each wave. I find her in the strangest of places, disguised as the funniest creatures. She knows I need to laugh, to smile.

I haven’t been to Church since the day after she passed away, over two years ago. But I bought a Bible to hold in between my fingertips. So I can feel how the spirit helped her push on as long as it did. I don’t talk to God anymore. I talk to Grandmother Willow. When I pray, I’m praying that my Guardian Angel can give me strength. I don’t know what my faith is anymore, but I have faith in my Grandmother Willow. She has never failed me.

Side Note: You can find the talented tattoo artist responsible for the shrine on my leg on Facebook here. (Thanks Eric!)

Goodreads: In a FICKLE…or did I mean pickle?

Goodreads: In a FICKLE…or did I mean pickle?

A short while ago, I was perusing through Netgalley– this awesome site where you get free advanced copies of books in exchange for your opinion. Which in my opinion, is the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, I’m biased because my love for books in unequivocal.

I love all fiction–but within the last year I felt like I’ve read so many Gone Girl-ish type thrillers and I was looking for a change.  I wanted something new and original–something different in general. So here I am scrolling my life away when I stumbled upon the cover for Peter Manus’ FICKLE.  The cover is minimal-esque yet it caught my attention. The black and red had me thinking that it would be some sort of crime drama with murder and suspense. (I ALWAYS judge books by their cover and I am not usually wrong.) I clicked on over to Goodreads and surprise–it’s been published before and most of the reviews were decent.

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FICKLE is told primarily through blog posts and comments–definitely with the times’. I have tried to read a book that was told in a similar fashion, think Where She Went, and had to put it down because I couldn’t make sense of it. This was not that.

FICKLE is the definition of noir. I don’t think the story would be as intriguing if it weren’t told through blogs. Each character (there are a lot of them) has their own voice and personality. The usernames are comical but also practical for each personality. It didn’t feel like I was reading a book. It felt like I was reading a blog that I just couldn’t add my own comments on.

You can read my original review here on Goodreads. This was the review that got the attention of the wonderful people over at Diversion Books, which has republished Peter Manus’ FICKLE. I was fortunate enough to be offered an opportunity for a QA with the author.  Please be warned–there are some slight spoilers. But not enough to spoil the whole thing.

Finding Fenix: I noticed that FICKLE was originally published in 2008. Were there changes to the storyline and/or characters during the production of this new edition?

Peter Manus: Yes, I took advantage of Diversion’s incredible offer to put out a second edition and whittled down some elements of the book. In 2008, the kind of clubby blogging that fickel and her blog friends are into was pretty new, and so I had a lot of expository stuff in there to explain the whole phenomenon. So, I weeded and streamlined it. But the essential storyline — girl witnesses train suicide, girl blogs about it with her blog buds, girl attracts cyber-psycho — and the primary characters — l.g.fickel, Mysterious Hottie, Burly Bear, Full Frontal, proudblacktrannie, chinkigirl, etc. — are all intact.

FF: How did the popularity of social media help you decide to tell the story using this device? How do you think this influences the plot?

PM: Social media wasn’t quite as much everywhere when I wrote FICKLE, so my idea was more a case of experimenting with this new, potentially dangerous form of socializing than making a comment about the social media we know now.  The format — everything’s written through fickel’s Life Is Pulp blog or Full Frontal’s Existentialism Engorged — is essential to the plot and the whole reading experience.  It’s about the freaky world of internet friendship, flirting, stalking, and eventually terrorizing.  Without the blog device, it would be a nice retro mystery about why some stranger dropped himself in front of a train at this particular girl’s feet.

FF: How were you able to keep track of so many different personalities and still maintain the flow of the plot?

PM: The bloggies — these are the eight or nine fans of fickel’s blog who chat with her through the wee hours about her increasingly scary situation — essentially wrote themselves.  I let them come to the blog in whatever way seemed natural to them. It was a strange experience, to be honest, having these full-fleshed people in this increasingly intense, panicky, obsessive relationship that consists solely of them all typing back and forth in a comment section. But I didn’t really give a thought to the fact that I was channeling all these diverse voices, and maybe that’s why I didn’t have any trouble letting them do their own thing.

FF: Our online personalities tend to differ from our everyday personalities. How would you describe l.g.fickel’s everyday personality?

PM: I mean, that’s really the question about her, right?  She’s certainly the ingenue of the plot — this slightly snarky, self-deprecating, booky type who’s bravely trying to play detective and figure out what this Mr. Suicide guy was all about.  But we get increasing glimpses of this other girl — tougher, darker, more fierce in what she’s after and what she’s protecting. And then there’s the kinky thing.  As those hints come from the blog of a guy who seems to be stalking fickel, they’re not necessarily reliable. The reader gets to feel out where the real woman is amid all the verbal crosscurrents.

FF: The conclusion of FICKLE is a bit ambiguous and is open to interpretation from the reader. What was the purpose behind that? How do you think it affects the story for each reader?

PM: I knew from the start that if I’m writing a book about how internet socializing can screw with people, I had to be true to that.  And that meant that the ending had to throw some contradictions at the reader.  You don’t know which ending is the real one because when you chase along a story via the internet, you only have other people’s word for it that what’s happening is happening.  It’s the ultimate unreliable narrator scenario. That’s part of why I pitched it as a noir, because those old noirs played with the cheating narrator concept a lot.  Hey, I just almost wrote that the noirs introduced the unreliable narrator, but I think it was Agatha Christie in MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. I understand she got a lot of press, and also flack, for it. I thought she pulled it off kind of brilliantly.

I want to close by thanking you for these questions, which demonstrate that you really got what was different and daring about FICKLE.  It’s pretty gratifying for an author, especially with a book like this one!  I’ve got another book coming out — FIVE DEAD GUYS AND A GIRL — which Diversion is publishing (with my eternal gratitude!)  5DG&AG is also pretty different — a seemingly placid woman inveigles herself into the lives of five men and has some success in her plot to exterminate them, but a scrappy Boston cop out to prove herself starts honing in on her method.  So, a bit less challenging as a concept than FICKLE but still plenty offbeat. I hope you’ll try it when it’s available.

The bottom line is that FICKLE is a must read for anyone who enjoys a good twisty mystery and suspense. You can grab your copy today in stores and online!

A quick shout out to Peter Manus for taking time out of his busy day to answer these questions, and to the publisher Diversion books for this opportunity! 
I can’t wait for FIVE GUYS AND A DEAD GIRL to come out!

The Color Purple: I’m HERE.

The Color Purple: I’m HERE.

If you grew up around black women then you already know how we connect with films and plays that we can feel and understand–stories that we can empathize with. Movies like Waiting To Exhale and The Color Purple are great examples. These are the types of films that we can shout in agreement to. Every black woman knows that if he cheated and wasted your time, “it’s trash.” Period.

I grew up in a household where we didn’t have cable tv until I was maybe nine years old. My Grandfather had full reign on the tv in the kitchen but for some reason, whenever The Color Purple came on,he let it play. And I remember watching this movie A LOT as a kid. I can recall that one of my Grandmother’s favorite scenes is when Shug returns to the church and says “See Daddy? Sinners have soul too.”

As a kid, I could only pick up on surface issues that TCP touched on. I couldn’t understand what the bigger picture. When I got to high school, we read the book in my senior AP English class (shout out to Mrs. D). I was the only black person in class. Most of the kids in my class were middle-class suburban types. I felt uncomfortable but also empowered because I had been watching TCP on repeat for the last 10 years. I had a head start. I knew the story like it was mine. I was the only kid in class who had ever seen the movie.

I loved the book. I loved it because I could hear the voices from the movie as a read it. I loved it because Celie wrote to a God she wasn’t sure existed. I loved it because Nettie kept the faith and kept writing to Celie for so many years knowing that Mr. was hiding her letters from Celie. I loved that we could see both of their evolutions in the letters and diary entries. I finished the book before the rest of the class.

TCP is a story about the plight of the black woman. Of mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers. It shows how black women are broken down by our male counterparts and objectified. It does an epic job of explaining the many forms of imprisonment black woman face. Abusive relationships, being labeled a harlot, being considered less than human as a whole. Even though this particular story begins in 1908, things like this are still happening today all over the world to brown girls.

After we finished the book, we watched the movie in Mrs. D’s English class. She asked us why we think this story is call The Color Purple. I sat silent. I watched my classmates seemingly struggle. I remember feeling angry that they couldn’t come up with answers. Did we read the same book? Were we watching the same movie? We weren’t. I was seeing it through generations of black women that came before. The Color Purple is OUR story. It wasn’t a handful of white suburban kids’ story. It was mine.

My answer: purple is the color of bruises on brown skin which represents pain and struggling. Purple is the color of the flowers in the fields where Celie spends a portion of her time. Purple is rare in nature. Shug told Celie that she thinks it pisses God off if we see the color purple and don’t acknowledge it. Purple is the color of royalty. Alice Walker is trying to tell us that many times the most rare flower beckons our attention, appreciation, and affection. Things black women are fighting for–in so many different ways–everyday. The class was silent.

When I found out that The Color Purple was on Broadway again–and that Jennifer Holliday was playing Shug–I knew I had to see it. For me. For my Grandmother. For all the brown girls. So I trekked to NYC in the wind and snow. I was fortunate to be able to see it on my birthday during its closing weekend. I sat front in center, second row from the stage. It was glorious.

There was something special about the audience that night. We seemed to be affecting the actors the same way they were affecting us. Tears were shed. It felt like I hadn’t been to church in several years and I just happened upon a Revival. I felt like I was sitting next to my Grandmother again watching The Color Purple for the last time. I felt…words can’t properly explain the emotions I felt when watching TCPM on stage. I haven’t talked to God since my Grandmother died over 2 years ago but he was talking to me onstage. I felt every word. I was so moved by these men and women on stage. And they were visibly moved by the audience’s receptions. It was hard to discern what was acting and what was pure, raw emotion.

The music was EVERYTHING. Cynthia Erivo’s voice seemed to flow out of her vocal cords so effortlessly as she sang Celie’s parts. Her sass and wit were wonderful to watch onstage. Jennifer Holliday as Shug Avery….just YES! My friend was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Danielle Brooks (Taystee from OITB) perform as Sofia but I LOVED Carrie Compere. She embodied the spunk and strength that Sofia’s character represents. Let’s not forget the three church ladies with their sassy gossip–their facial expressions were PRICELESS.

When I say I felt more at home in that theater than I had in such a long time, I mean that. I felt like I was holding my breath throughout the entire show and when Celie finally exclaims “I’m Here!” I just about lost it. I saw myself if Celie’s character more than I ever have before. Feeling trapped and wanting to go somewhere but can’t have been revolving doors in my life. For most of my life I have been bullied by my peers. I’ve been called ugly, fat, and all other sorts of names. But I’m HERE. We–black women–are HERE.
And we are beautiful.