Creative Writing – Week 8

Choose one of the five prompts and write to your heart’s content – but no less then 15 minutes. If you can make time in the evening or on the weekend, give yourself an hour or two to explore this prompt on paper.

 

1)   I give most of my time to….

2)   A letter to someone no longer in your life…

3)   The values I have chosen to live by…

4)   If I dared to say what I really think….

5)   The talent I would develop if I had half a chance is…

Advertisements

Creative Writing – Week 7

Go to your local library before the weekend is gone and check out a book about writing or the writing life. This assignment is two-fold. It gives you a reason to support your local library staying in the business of warehousing books and keeping them available; and it engages you in the book world – in a way.

Go and check out ay book about writing or the writing life.

Creative Writing Workshop – Week Six

Write about your worst habit. Twenty-minutes non-stop. Put it down. Plan to return to this assignment tomorrow for 20 more minutes. End this assignment by completing the sentence, “Now that I realize how (disgusting/or harmless) this habit is, I can…..”

The Other Side of Unemployment

Previously published in The Washington Post

Find a way or make one. That was the motto drilled into a certain set of Washington area young women when they studied together at Clark Atlanta University. This motto fired them up through difficult times on campus, it helped them through bouts of unemployment, and it continues to instruct them today in their work on prominent Black radio and television shows and at the DNC, working on behalf of our first African American president.

I first heard their story when I met one of them at a networking party recently. I was fascinated that they all succeeded – and at the same time.  Sure, I had heard stories of all eight children in a family getting their college degrees and having successful professional careers. I had heard of groups of friends from college all succeeding in their respective endeavors. But after a few years of streaming reports of job loss, families losing their homes, and public frustration mounting to the levels of widespread “Occupy” protests, these young women’s stories of success, of success after set-backs, seemed refreshing, a nice reminder that things do work out. All is not loss.

As we geared up to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, I asked them how Dr. King’s legacy and the motto they learned at their historically Black college helped shape their life.

“Find a way or make one? Those were words to live by,” said Janelle Morris, a Largo High School graduate. That motto instructed her when, just a few months after graduating, she and her husband learned they were having their first child. She was working as an administrative aide in Howard University’s School of Communications at the time while her husband continued his studies at Morehouse University.  She worried that starting a family might stall her career in television before it got started. She picked up extra work at CNN.

“It was right after 9/11 and they needed all the help they could get. That was my break into television,” she said. So, after working her nine-to-five at Howard, which she held onto to maintain health insurance, she clocked in at CNN and worked an over-night shift. Within months, however, she landed a full-time job working at WUSA. She loved working in her chosen career field and reaping full benefits. But then she was laid off when the company downsized. She was unemployed for almost a year. “That’s when the motto really kicked in, because I had to keep the faith that I would get back in.  Every report I saw said I’d be lucky if I got a job again, let alone a job in television,” she said. “I was unemployed on Oct. 16, 2010. On Oct. 16, 2011, I was in a live truck covering one of the biggest stories of my career. That’s my testimony of faith – and that motto,” she said.

She was hired by Roland Martin’s Washington Watch, TV One’s premier political talk show, just in time to help produce the network’s three-hour live broadcast of the historic dedication of the King Memorial on the National Mall last year. Now, she is excited about helping cover the presidential race this year, excited about producing live television at the DNC when America’s first African American president likely gets officially crowned by his party for re-election.

Teria Rogers, who grew up in Fort Washington and graduated from Friendly High School, is one of the producers of the Michael Eric Dyson Show.  She has also produced for local radio talk show calebs including Bernie Mac and George Wilson. “Find a way or make one? I had to apply that early on. Financial aid didn’t come through? What? Find a way or make one. This class is full? Find a way or make one,” she said. When she graduated in 2000, she found a paid internship at News USA in Fairfax, Va. She later landed jobs at WHUR and Radio One, and made lasting relationships with mentors.

When Teria was between radio gigs once, she took a job working for an afterschool program. In 2008, Teria, who was raised in Grace United Methodist Church in Fort Washington and still draws on her spiritual beliefs, found herself producing Sirius XM Radio’s popular Mark Thompson show live from the Democratic National Convention when Obama was nominated as the party’s first Black presidential candidate.

Teria and Janelle have been friends since middle school. On campus at Clark Atlanta, they befriended Janaye Ingram, who would go on to become Al Sharpton’s D.C. Bureau Chief for his National Action Network, Kimberly Marcus, who would land a job as the Democratic National Committee’s national director for African American outreach, and Valeisha Butterfield-Jones works on Obama’s campaign, charged with helping turn out the youth vote for 2012.  Together, they became what President Obama, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and Roland Martin all have in common.  They are among the women behind the movement today.

In her DNC capacity Kimberly planned King Day volunteer efforts in D.C., Pennsylvania, and N.Y.  Gearing up for Black history month she is promoting even bigger plans.  She is working to ensure Black voter turn-out for candidates “up and down the ballot,” she said.  “Most importantly, this cycle we’re making sure President Obama gets re-elected.”

Kimberly moved to Maryland from New York ten years ago to work for the NAACP as its director of economic development, before starting her own consulting firm, then going to work for Jesse Jackson Sr.’s Rainbow/P.U.S.H. Coalition in D.C.  “I left corporate America because I needed to do something to contribute to the up-liftment of my people,” said Marcus, who is also married to the soul mate she met in college and raising their three-year-old twins.

Hearing their stories reminded me of so many I have heard, and experienced – but had forgotten during the recent years over-shadowed by stories of economic crisis and public turmoil.

Creative Writing – Week 5

No break for the holiday. I read in Walter Mosley’s book, “Finish Your Novel This Year,” that he writes every single day – weekends and holidays are no exception. So, here’s something for you to think about this week – and something for you to do.

Ethan Canin enrolled in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the age of 22 and felt so “utterly paralyzed” by the experience that he barely completed two short stories in two years. After finishing the program, he enrolled in Harvard Medical School, where the stories began pouring out of him. While dealing with the brutal workloads that cause many medical students to drop out, Canin completed the ten stories in his first book, “Emperor of the Air,” which won a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. That success was followed by two novels, “Blue River” and “For Kings and Planets,” as well as a book of novellas.

 

“I’ve always set assignments for myself,” Canin told The Atlantic Monthly, according to the book, “Writer’s Block,” by Jason Rekulak. “The assignment for the story ‘Emperor of the Air,’ for example, was to write a story in which an unlikable character becomes likable by the end of the story. For ‘Accountant’, it was to write a story in which a pair of socks takes on large emotional importance.”

 

Jason Rulak suggests tackling one of these assignments yourself.

A Personal Resurrection

Previously published in The Washington Post

As millions of Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ Sunday, I joined my grandparents, 92, for the celebration at Tenth Street Baptist Church on R Street, N.W. We read from Mark 16:11, and Pastor Michael A. Durant gave a powerful sermon about redemption and resurrection. But the real ministry for me was from the brothers in the congregation who jumped up in joy and broke down in tears.

 

First, the church band cranked up DeAndre Patterson’s gospel hit “He’s Alive – And I know it” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hbcD-u4pPY). That got us stirred up, and had me on my feet rocking and swaying and singing at the top of my lungs. “Jesus died, and I know it. He’s alive, ’cause he rose again.”

 

The pastor lectured on resurrection – from despondency, disappointment and despair. He lectured, too, on resurrection from death.

 

“Even those who say they want to go to heaven don’t want to go through the cemetery,” Durant said. With that, I understood clearly my sadness about recent deaths in my family. There’s something sad about putting our loved ones’ bodies in the dirt even if we believe their souls are going to some place better. That “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” reading over their buried bodies somehow reduces our grand love to something as common as the ground. So, Easter morning I relished the idea of everlasting life, keeping our loved ones alive in our hearts. I belted out my hopes in Patterson’s song. “He’s alive! And I know it!”

 

The band was electrifying. A keyboard artist in his 20s sang out loud, inviting us to follow. A slightly older man in beautiful dreadlocks wailed on his electric guitar. A bearded, bow tied brother kicked on his drums, and a calm, bespectacled young man rocked the bass line. Next, a young woman in the choir stood to lead an Easter morning classic, “The Lamb of God,” and all manners of restraint were loosed.

 

Individuals began shouting. “Hallelujah!” Praise him!” The shouting gave way to people jumping up from their seats, dancing in the isles, spinning, twisting, shouting, and crying. It was a typical southern-Baptist-style, “holy-ghost-getting” kind of celebration. A middle-aged man in the congregation jumped up, shouting and crying. He bowed down on one knee crying on the front pew. Another middle-aged man in the pulpit shouted, jumped, jerked and cried. The young man who had been sitting next to him pressed the palm of his hand to the crying man’s back to keep him from falling off the platform. What we witnessed was an enormous emotional release.

 

I used to think there was something wrong with such public displays of emotion. Growing up in the Nation of Islam, I had learned to dismiss such overwhelming emotions. (Malcolm X’s legendary passionate oratory skills aside, our Sunday services were decidedly cerebral.) At best, I believed, emotions were a sign of weakness. This belief was reinforced by many other influences over the years.

 

In recent years I have preferred the quiet, happy, guilt-free sermons of Joel Olsteen on Sunday mornings. But a couple of my friends have been urging me to go to church. It’s a different experience than watching it on TV, they insisted. Easter morning found me completely engaged at Tenth Street Baptist.

 

As the young woman sang and the men shouted and cried, I considered how much better our world might be if people simply cried sometimes. I wondered if we would have less violence – and fewer unwanted pregnancies – if we accept, expect, even encourage crying sometimes as a proper emotional release.

 

As the singing continued, I reached for my smartphone to research the benefits of crying. Sure enough, doctors say crying is healthy physically, and psychologically. (http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/wellbeing/the-health-benefits-of-crying.htm) I was reminded of when and why I had stopped crying so many years ago. Where I’m from, the motto was curse, don’t cry. Those of us not inclined to cursing – simply held it in, watered it with liquor, numbed it with drugs. I had not seen my grandparents cry until they were past 90. I saw my dad cry only once in his life – on his death bed a couple days before he died. So I delighted in the flow of tears Easter morning.

After service, I wanted to know what my granddad thought about it.

 

“I haven’t seen that much crying – ever,” I said as we were leaving.

 

“Oh yeah, people shout in here,” he said with a chuckle. “Even the pastor will be up their shouting.”

 

I prefer crying to shouting.

Millions of Christians around the world – and many in this Washington area – will spend this week, known as Bright Week, from Easter Sunday through the following Sunday, celebrating resurrection. For the whole week, they will meditate on Psalms in the Bible, and in other ways tune into spiritual songs and truths celebrating Christ. I will be with them in spirit. Celebrating the resurrection of Christ – and of my own compassion and emotional compass.