Noah’s Ark

noahs-arkThey came two by two, and seven by seven. No one led them, but they came anyway. Strike that. They were led by God’s invisible hand. Something like that anyway. The animals came in evens if they were unclean, and odds if they were clean. Whatever that means. Okay, I’m starting to lose the thread, but the end result is still undeniable. The Ark was the world’s first zoo, and Noah was its first zookeeper.

Perhaps I need to brush up on my Bible knowledge. I used to know it all cold. I could separate my Methuselahs from my Melchizedeks in the blink of an eye, and still have something left over for a study of Samuel vs. Joseph. Growing up as a preacher’s kid in a highly religious household did that to me, made me some kind of a Bible freak, and while I didn’t like it, it was still somehow something I took pride in. Hmmm. I heard it too.

Anyway, today my family went to an amusement park that used to have an attraction called “Noah’s Ark.” They took it down in 1989 and scattered the animals that used to belong to it around the park in other destinations, leaving a plaque behind with a picture of the former attraction and some words to the effect that it was taken down in 1989 and its animals scattered around the park.

Lexi asked me what Noah’s Ark was all about, and I’m usually the one to ask. At least I used to be. But I couldn’t even recall if the two by two were clean animals, what “clean” even meant, and how many people were on the Ark. I knew it was all Noah’s family, and everyone else who was on earth at the time drowned in the flood. I knew it was something about faith, and the faithless, and a cleansing. It’s always about a cleansing.

And a lot of rain. That’s where it began, and ended, as a matter of fact, with a lot of rain. Which is pretty much all that I think Lexi heard of my rambling story of faith, the faithless, and cleansing. Just a lot of rain. Which is okay. Because it also rained today. It’s called a frame of reference. Kids are good at that.

Sam

Advertisements

Dear Journal: Unsettled

111121114-photo__1_Dear Journal,

This seems like some sort of turning point, like if things don’t break right they’ll just break. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this except I guess I just feel… unsettled. It doesn’t help that we live here, or that the three jobs I have aren’t enough to cover expenses. At least my health insurance pays for my therapy sessions. That’s a positive at this point.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into some kind of bitch session. I’m not even sure why I’m writing in you right now. Perhaps because sometimes my thoughts are so jumbled I need to just get them out, even if it seems like no one is listening. It’s not just in the being heard that I get some kind of catharsis, but just in the telling all by itself. That’s probably the most unsettling thing, that I’m not writing this for fulfillment, but out of necessity.

I’m turning 40 this year, and maybe that’s the real reason I feel so out of sorts. I know many people who have passed the milestone and haven’t batted an eyelash. But I’m not one of those people. I got used to being the youngest one in the room, the youngest one in the family, the youngest one period. I was always around older people so my youth became some kind of badge, a source of pride. No longer.

That’s not to say I feel old. It’s just obvious I’m not young anymore. Which would be fine if it hadn’t defined me for so long, if I hadn’t allowed it to define me. When I hit 30 I saw it as a blip on the radar, a tip of my cap at Father Time, but nothing more. Somehow 40 feels more definite, more weighty, even though it’s only been 10 years. That 10 years, though, it does something to a man. To anyone.

So, yeah, I feel like it’s a turning point. Either I get a full-time job and stop doing this career dance, or I will probably keep feeling like this. Or I’ll keep feeling so unsettled, so unsure of myself. Because I know I have marketable skills. I know I’m good at what I do. I just need the chance to prove I can do it full time. Yes, to get a chance to start over at the edge of 40 would be a godsend. I just need to make it happen.

Thanks for listening. Er, reading.

Sam

The Longer Stories

33,043. That’s the word count on the novel I’m currently writing. It’s crazy how word counts have so much meaning for me now, and they meant absolutely nothing to me before I published my first book. On this side of the looking glass things are much different than they were from the other side. I’m proud of that number too, because it means I’ve written a novella already. It’s more than a short story, but less than a full-length novel at this point (unless I’m John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway), so it has a heft and a weight to it that is satisfying in many ways.

storyI’ve written several first drafts of several novels before. They are as complete as they are going to be right now because I’m no longer sketching them out anymore. Perhaps eventually I will come back to each one and give it the tender loving care that it deserves, but I’ll have to be in the mood for that, and so many new stories come into my mind all the time that need telling as well. But yes, as first drafts go, this one I’m writing right now is solid, perhaps even more solid than the first draft of my most recent published novel.

Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this novel writing thing.

For years I considered myself a storyteller, but those stories were short fiction pieces. 20,000 words or fewer. Often times they were short shorts. 10,000 words or fewer. Sometimes they were only a page, but a highly detailed page with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. But that’s where they ended, and where I thought the line had been drawn, thick and uncrossable. I would generally tell my story, it would end, the word count would be slightly over 12,000, and I would file it away with the rest of my short stories, I thought never to see the light of day again. (More to come on that later.)

With Detours, my first novel, though, things just flowed, and as I hit and passed 20,000 words I knew I was in uncharted territory. But I didn’t look back. I just kept looking ahead, and I kept writing. Before I knew it I was past 30,000 words and I understood finally that I was looking at my first novel, that the time had come. When I finished the book, edited it, added more dialogue, and finally pronounced it ready to be published, I knew I had found a new way of writing that I would have forever.

30000

I’ve written at least the first drafts of five novels since then. Two of those novels have since been published. But for me that invisible line of 30,000 words still speaks to me. It’s when I realized my first novel was indeed a novel, and it’s held true for every one since. By the time I got to 30,000 with Leaves in Fall, my most recent novel, I had already fallen in love with the town and the characters who populated it. It’s more than just a moment for me. It’s one I feel I have to observe now. It’s powerful.

When I’m done with this novel, which sits at 33,043 words and counting, I’ve decided I’m editing and compiling my short stories from way back to the present. I’m going to dig through my archives, I’m going to create a few more, and I’m going to put together a book of short stories, because they were my first love, and because it’s time. I know me, though. I’ll probably be writing my next novel in between the editing and compiling too. And I know I’ll still be counting the words.

Because while I’m still a storyteller, the longer stories have begun calling my name just as much as the shorter ones. Shhhh. Don’t tell the shorter ones. They’ll get jealous, and I can’t have that.

Sam

The “New Black”

“The now-cool-for-black-people list: skateboarding, listening to rock music, wearing clothes that fit, being the token black guy.” ~Anonymous

dave-matthews-band

I went to a Dave Matthews Band concert once. It seems like ages ago now. It was back in the time when I was hyper aware of race (when am I not?) and I kept looking around while I was at the show for other black folk. Concerts for DMB tend to skew white, whiter, and whitest, which is funny since more than half the band is black. Three hours long that show was. Not one other black person did I see.

This was back in 1997, though, so I’m sure things would be different if I were to go to another DMB show today. Right? The culture surrounding these kinds of shows is conducive for black people now, I’m sure. Or maybe the more things change the more they stay the same. Stereotypes are powerful deterrents for those who might otherwise partake in something, for those who might have been persuaded to go somewhere if those pervasive generalizations did not exist.

I’ve only been on a skateboard as a joke before. I’ve certainly never ridden one the way I’ve seen guys do at skate parks with all the tricks and such. It’s not because I feel it’s the territory of white folk, though. It’s because I’m just not interested in skinning up my arms, knees, and other body parts. You also wouldn’t catch me playing a game of roller hockey, or mixing it up in a boxing ring, or even at a demolition derby. That’s just not me.

cultureI do, however, adore rock music. I always have. There’s just something about a pure guitar lick that makes me feel like I’m in heaven. There’s just something in the guttural screaming of a rock god that transcends most other things here on earth. Don’t get me wrong. I listen to most different kinds of music, but rock music has been and remains my favorite. That’s why I was at that Dave Matthews Band concert, and why I’ve been to many others like it over the course of my life.

Some people call me the “new black,” as if cinching my pants at the waist with a belt is somehow anti-culture. Well, guess what? Black culture isn’t all watermelons, collard greens, saggy pants, cuss words, and gang signs. It’s what we make of it, those of us who identify as black, those of us who grew up in the ghettos and the inner cities of a black culture that has always been about surviving — and then, after we’ve survived, about having fun.

If that sounds familiar that’s because it should be. This idea of the “new black” is disconcerting to me because it disregards centuries of black people who haven’t fit the stereotype. Sure, the stereotype is there for a reason, but when did it stop being a judgment and start being a reason? Do these young black thugs hang out on street corners and sling dime bags because it’s an expectation based on where they come from and media perception? Or do they do it as a reaction to the system shutting them out for being black? Sounds like a catch-22 to me.

I’m often the token black guy, so I know what it’s like to be some white people’s only exposure to black culture. I realize they have been exposed to media definitions of black people, and that largely I don’t fit those stereotypes, so I imagine they’re confused by me. Often I’ve even gotten the question about what things were like growing up in the black ghetto, about being myself in the midst of things that are not me. And I tell them nothing is as black and white (no pun intended) as they’ve been led to believe.

I try to be the best version of me that I can possibly be…

We are all individuals, and this idea of a “new black” is just as misleading as the generalization that all black guys wear their pants around their ankles. The truth lies in the middle, in that gray area that we hardly ever see, much less give credence to as an alternative to the prevalent view. But I live with it. I try to be the best version of me that I can possibly be, so that others can see there isn’t one reality, that there isn’t only one way to be black.

Because I’m black, but that’s just one part of who I am. I am so much more that you can only find out by spending time with me, by exposing those stereotypes for what they are — judgments loosely based on general ideas about a culture, from one perspective. There are so many perspectives, though, so many black folk who can be found at Metallica concerts, who wear pocket squares, and who speak using correct grammatical structures. It might seem novel and new to you…

But that’s how it’s always been. And how it will always be.

Sam

Fathering the Nest

pop_Birds_Nest_Minnesota_1When I first found out I was going to be a father I had a ton of questions. Unlike motherhood, impending fatherhood doesn’t come with a training manual (or a dozen), so it’s easier to freak out for incoming fathers. I know I freaked out, but after the initial daze that came with getting the good news I knew I had to figure out what kind of father I wanted to be. Then I had to dig deep and determine what kind of father I was predetermined to be.

You see, this thing called fatherhood is just another nebulous term that we can treat any way we want. For some it means being heavily involved in their children’s lives, while others think it’s meaningless, those kids just a few in an endless assembly line of kids they don’t plan on being anything to or doing anything for. The vast majority of guys out there are somewhere in the middle, trying to figure things out as they go.

So, getting back to this whole predetermination thing. There’s something about nature vs. nurture, and how we turn out being one, the other, or some mix of both. I knew that my father wasn’t there for me when I felt like I needed him, and I knew I wanted to be different with my own kids. Did my father’s absence mean I was already destined to be an absent father? Or was it up to me to remember what he did and use it as a guideline of what not to be?

Then I asked myself “Can I do this?” Which means, could I be a solid father? Could I be someone they would look to down the line and say, “Yeah, that’s my dad. He helped raise me right. He was always there for me.” A friend of mine lost her father a couple of years ago, and the first thing everyone said who posted on her Facebook page when they found out was that he was not just a decent man, but a devoted husband, and a wonderful father. If I died tomorrow I would want that to be my epitaph. A decent man, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father.

And the answer was YES. YES, I can do this fatherhood thing. No, I won’t turn out like my father was. I can be my own man, and even though I have my own demons to fight, I will keep fighting them so that I can┬ábe there for my children. Now it’s 10 years into this thing called fatherhood for me, and while I know I haven’t been perfect, I have definitely been what my children need, what I expect from myself as a father, and a helpmate for my wife in this parenting gig we created for ourselves.

But it’s not all about reflecting on what’s gone on so far. It’s also about dealing with each issue one day at a time. It’s about having fun with my kids, but also about teaching them life lessons, sometimes hard lessons, that they’ll remember. I want them to grow to be independent young ladies who will look back on this as the crucible from which their lives sprung like flame, touching many lives with their own.

Maybe it’s true what my mother said so long ago when I asked her what it was like to have kids. She told me it’s the most amazing and the most petrifying thing at the same time. And I agree now. I’m so worried I’m making the wrong decisions sometimes, but I do my best for them always, and I hope that’s enough. That’s all we can do, right?

Sam

Exposed

steelframing

These beams are exposed
Far up in the atmosphere
Weathered by the weather
Stretching up to heaven
Like these arms of mine
Empty of consequence
Beseeching the clouds
For a kind of understanding
Lost in the silence
Belonging to these shadows
This substantial love
Naked as a newborn child
Learning how to exist
In a world full of hate
Where facades masquerade
As pure expressions
And most of us climb for gain
Reaching for a handout
Yet refusing vulnerability
The chance to be exposed
To see how others would see us
If we could simply be
These crossed t-beams
So high in the atmosphere
Always supporting each other
So that we never fall.

Sam

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: