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!)

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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.

 

“You Sound Like a White Girl”

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Which also meant that I didn’t grow up in the stereotypical hood that America thinks all black people come from. I was the only black person in class for most of my elementary education. I grew up in city-suburbia and not the inner-city. I have been reading on my own since the tender age of 2. I inhale books like competitive eaters devour food. I wrote my first book in the first grade. I may not be the most eloquent person, but I know my way around a dictionary. My Grandmother kept 2 enormous dictionaries in the house just so I could look up words she used that I didn’t understand. I knew what lackadaisical meant by the time I was 7.

Keep in mind that I grew up in New England. When my Grandparents moved us out to the midwest while I was in middle school, I was surrounded by black/brown people. More than what I had experienced back home. I got bullied for how I wore my hair, what I wore, and most of all, how I spoke.

“Why do you talk so proper? You sound like a white girl.” I cannot even count how many times I heard this in middle school and even into my high school days. The fact that black people associate a good education and literacy as a solely white attribute is just another example of systematic oppression. The fact that other black people told me that by using my words and having articulate control was me emulating a ‘white girl’ is proof that the black community has been brainwashed to think that we are less than our white counterparts.

For some reason, we have it in our heads that education can only be obtained if your skin is white. For one reason or another, the is a double standard within our own community. We are pressed to seek education as our salvation from societal slavery but then we are stereotyped into the category of “trying to be white.”

This is insulting to the entire black community.

I am a black woman. I am fluent in English and African-American Vernacular (AAV). Because of where I come from and how I grew up, I know that there is a time and a place for AAV (more commonly known as Ebonics). I learned from a young age the importance of making other people feel comfortable. It was important for my survival. And still is.

My Grandmother raised me to speak my mind–she did not raise a fool. At the same time, she taught me that there is a certain way one can express themselves with dignity. We don’t have to show our behind every time we want to get our point across.

It is infuriating to be told that I sound like a white woman. What does that even mean? What is sounding white, exactly? What is sounding black, for that matter? We are all speaking English.

I have begun wondering if the way I speak is seen as a threat or betrayal to my peers. The way I look at it, Massa didn’t want us to read because they knew that black people built this country and if they had the tools, they could take back what was theirs. The same is true about today’s America. Black and Brown people built this country. America was built on stolen land with free labor.

If we appropriately equip and educate ourselves, we can take back the Throne. Our ancestors blood is in this soil and I’ll be damned if I let it be in vain.

Moral of the story: Eff your stereotype. I speak like a well-read black woman.

Perspective Is Everything

I am not a perfect person. Nor have I ever believed myself to be. I was not born with a Crown on my head. I earned it. I was not born Strong–I EARNED my Phoenix Wings. Contrary to popular belief, I have NEVER been handed anything. I have ALWAYS had to WORK for what I wanted. But still I am ridiculed for my decisions, my actions. I am called selfish and careless. I am many things–selfish and careless are not who I am.

I have grown up feeling like I don’t belong anywhere. That feeling has stuck with me into adulthood. As a kid, watching my cousins leave to go home was always painful for me. They were going home with parents. Mine were gone. I can remember a specific argument I was having with one of my cousins where they exclaimed “at least I have a mom!” Granted, we were just kids, but that still hurt.

I grew up living in the shadow of my Mother’s Goodness. All I ever heard about was how much of a selfless, caring person she was–how Good she was. Whenever I was acting up (ie, being a kid) the adults in my family used to throw it in my face that I would never–could never– be like her. I was “hateful,” and “just like my father.” From the beginning, I was made to feel worthless and never good enough. I always felt second best. Never good enough. My Mom had bigger shoes than I could fill. I think, to some extent, that this is why my demeanor is so intimidating to people–it made me hard.

My Grandparents were hard on me. Harder than I think other people around me realized. Nothing ever came easy for me. From the outside, it looked like I was spoiled. But behind the glass, I was working overtime trying to keep up with the standard that my Mother had set for me.

Throughout my teenaged years I had a very hard time believing that I was beautiful. I was always being told that I had an attitude problem, that I was rude. Yet during those years I made a conscious decision to never lie because I had seen what it had done to my family. If being honest makes me rude, then I guess it is what it is.

Still, as adult I am in a race with Ghosts. I’m still trying to be good enough to be my Mother’s daughter. I’m still trying to make my Grandparents proud.

I have been labeled as a selfish, heartless bitch on more than one occasion. And for a good while, I believed all the negative things people said about me. My point is, people will judge you regardless of what you do and who you are. The important part is that you know who you are inside and what you stand for.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. True happiness lies within yourself. I have learned that what others think of me will not make me happy. I know who I am and that’s really all that matters.

I am a smart, giving young woman. I give more than I receive and don’t typically expect things in return. I want to see people do good. I’m trying to help everyone glow up. But at the same time, I have walls up and  I won’t sit and be played.

I am quick to call people out on their BS and many people simply can’t handle the truth. And that’s okay. That just means we’re at different walks of life. Some of us have more growing to do than others.

Perspective is everything. In this day and age, we are so easily judged by how we look and what we post on social media. People are so quick to shout injustice but are so easily offended when called out.

I don’t believe that I am a bad person. I refuse. I strive everyday to be great. I want to be RICH. Rich in love, life, and laughter.

Moral of the story: Only God can judge me.

Big World, Bigger Problems

Beauty surrounds us,

Yet we only see negativity.

To prosper is to gain green at the cost and sacrifice of others.

The highest form of power can be pulled from the wallets of the 1%.

While the rest of the 99 struggle to even taste the crispness of a dollar bill.

We are slaves of the industry –

Working for the material things that master us –

But we crave the surplus to satisfy us.

We crave the blood of those who suffer for the “greater good.”

We thirst for the LIME,

But never get enough of the LIGHT.

Emptiness creates us.

We search the world in a daze looking for things to fill us up.

Sex, money, drugs, clothes, cars, POWER.

Our hunger is never fully satiated

Because our taste buds are greedy for another taste –

Another bite, another helping.

MORE, we say.

I WANT more.

I NEED this, I NEED that.

The world is a selfish place.

We go about our business searching for things to quench individual thirsts;

Never willing to give up something small for the greater good of humanity.

YOU are SELFISH.

But SO AM I.

WE are HUMANITY.

But WE are KILLING each other.

We have committed the sickest offenses just by omission of thought.

Put it out of sight and out of mind so it doesn’t exist?

What kind of philosophy is this?

If These Walls Could Talk…

This is the house that Jill built—I never needed Jack.

I am a Fortress of missed opportunities that I can never get back.

Cycles of darkness have circled over my head like a black Halo;

With blind eyes, I can’t see which way to go.

I am the House on a hill—just out of arms reach.

Almost unnecessarily…because ain’t nobody checkin’ for me.

I am persistently misunderstood and underestimated—

Misjudged, brushed aside, and often hated.

People are afraid of what they don’t understand, so I am perceived as something other than me.

Everything I do, I do purposefully.

But if these Walls could talk, you would know that my foundation sits on a bed of marbles

And I lost mine a long time ago.

I have spent years piling brick after brick ever so carefully-

So that no one could get too close to me.

Because humans can’t be trusted and I’ve been hurt too many times

and have been told way too many lies.

Trust is Sacred to me and I can’t take another heartbreak…

I can’t risk another Earthquake

And I’m sick of feeling the Hurricane…

building in my chest because I opened a door for someone to walk through my threshold-

only to be left alone.

Again.

This is a Sanctuary of Peace within a Storm.

There will be no further disruptions.

No more volcanoes erupting, spilling hot tears on my parade.

There will be no Pain. No Hurt. No Lies.

I am the sole stakeholder in this Monopoly.

But if these Walls could talk you could see the love I have for the World.

The World that doesn’t love me.

But it’s my Humanity that helps me breathe.

My Compassion has helped me Persevere.

I can’t count how many times my House has burned down; but I’m still here.

This is a Temple of Integrity.

Honestly, loyalty, and honor are Important to me.

But what’s the point if no one else in this world can see?

I am the Brick and Mortar of all things traumatic.

But if these Walls could talk then the world would know that I’m just barely alive.

These Walls are all I have to keep me safe inside.

Tucked away from the light—

away from disappointment.

It’s easier this way but if I’m being honest then behind these Walls is an emptiness…

It’s just me here…

Many of the people I created doors for have done me wrong…

So every bit of pain is another brick, another wall.

But if these Walls could talk the maybe someone would be consistent enough

to earn my trust…

If these Walls could talk then maybe I wouldn’t have to hide this Hurt so much.

If these Walls could talk then maybe I wouldn’t need to act so tough.

If these Walls could talk then perhaps this Struggle wouldn’t have to be so touch.

I’m just searching for a Beacon worth opening a door for…

because Life is whooping my ass and I need someone in my Corner.

 

 

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