Time Travelers…

July 29, 2012

A Time Traveler from the Past visited the Present, which was actually his Future. He looked at us with a sense of wide-eyed-wonder, and fear. He was from where we are from, but had no idea how we came to where we are, how we became who we are; better in so many ways, but more terrible in other ways.

He retreated to the Past, his Present, in fright.

A Time Traveler from the Future visited the Present, which was actually his Past. He shook his head at the silly way we treat each other. He was from where we are, but had forgotten how we were, who we were, who we are; more terrible in so many ways, but better in other ways.

He rushed back to the Future, which was his Present, with new found perspective; perspective that gave him hope for the intolerance he found in his Present, our Future, and a sense of compassion for those around him who seemed to be stuck in the ways of the Past, our Present.

He decided to travel from his Present, our Future, to his Future, our Very Distant Future. He looked at the Future with a sense of wide-eyed-wonder, and fear. It didn’t take long before he retreated to his Present, our Future, for security.


Subway Encounters – Camaraderie…

July 8, 2012

July has come, and brought with it heat. And not just any heat, no! The thick, tangible kind that hangs heavy in the air, pushing down on your shoulders. The kind that turns the most bubbly, optimistic person into a pessimistic fiend, willing to cut you for that half-empty glass of water. Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but you get my drift. It’s hot, and people are irritable.

The Subway’s Underground is even worse, where the temperature is magnified and trapped, with no hope of escape, and no sign of cool fresh air. At some stations, it feels like you’re in a breadbox that’s locked in a closed-up car on a hot Alabama summer day. So, when the trains don’t run as they should, people really start to lose the plot.

I was riding on a train today, on the way back home from a brunch in Manhattan with a friend I’d found out was in town only a few hours prior. The cool air in the air-conditionined carriage felt like magic on my sweat-covered skin, and I was lost in a book. The train squealed up to a particular stop, and a robotic man’s voice came on and said, “This is the last stop. Everybody get the heck off!” Or something to that extent.

Passengers huffed, and sighed, and swore, and went on, as they reluctantly and hostilely exited the train. One man, who others seemed to be avoiding, seemed angry, but even more hurt than angry, really. It was like he took the messed-up train schedule personally. He had genuine pain in his voice, “Man! Come on, man! This is the second train I’ve had to get off of! This sucks!”

He looked around for camaraderie, but people steered clear of eye contact. Maybe it was the daunting tattoos covering the majority of his caramel canvas, or maybe it was the wild look in his eyes, or maybe it was just the sad city culture of avoiding interaction at all cost. Whatever it was, he got no validation; validation that he seemingly needed so desperately. He shook his head and continued talking about how much it “sucked”. I didn’t feel as strongly as he did, but then again, I wasn’t in the inception of train exits that he found himself in. This was only my first. He was in two deep.

I made eye contact, and gave an empathetic head nod. Thrilled, but still angry, he said, “This sucks! This is the second train I’ve had to get off of!” I agreed that it sucked. He seemed satisfied with that. And strangely, he thanked me. He then stood quietly and waited for the next train.

About five or ten minutes passed before our savior train pulled up. My buddy gave me another glance of “we’re in this together” before we both entered two different doors of the same full carriage. It was packed. I stood by the door, but noticed the man had scored a seat. I actually prefer standing on shorter rides, and this ride fit the bill.

I looked up when I heard the man say, “Ay!” There was an empty seat next to him, and he waved and gestured to inform, I thought, the girl standing in front of me that she could take the seat. She thought the same, but responded in disgust, as if the man was hitting on her. She clicked her teeth rudely, rolled her eyes, pulled her “vintage” button-up blouse (that she probably bought at a “thrift store” in Greenwich Village for a trillion dollars) tighter over her breasts that no one was looking at, and huffed, “No!”

The man pulled back with the, “Girl, PLEASE!” look, and said, “I’m not talking to you! I’m talking to my friend…behind you!” Her face turned several shades of red. I struggled to hold back a chuckle, still not realizing that I was said friend. The man waved me over and patted the seat. I looked around, and then back at him, who was looking at me. That’s when I realized I was the “friend”.

I went over and sat down beside my friend. He shook his head at the audacity of the girl, following it up by asking me what I was reading. “James Baldwin,” I said. He nodded his head in warm approval, “That’s good, man! Real good!” I told him I enjoy it, then returned to my reading. He stared blankly out the window, and the train rode through the dark tunnel.

By the time we screeched to a halt at the next stop, I was again sucked into the world of John Grimes. I barely even noticed we had stopped. And then, the most sweet and human thing happened. The man, my new friend, lovingly patted me on the leg. It was the gentle, tender pat a father would give his son. He said, “A’ight, man! Have a good day!” He looked me deep in the eyes and smiled. I told him to do the same.

It’s amazing how the man’s breech of my personal space affected me. I wouldn’t say I go around wishing to be patted on the leg by complete strangers, but his touch was kind, caring, and sympathetic to “our” unspoken human condition. It brought warmth to my soul, and not the kind of warmth induced by the summer heat; the type of warmth you get from holding a cooing newborn. There was more behind it than a mere pat on the leg; a history, an understanding, a true sense that we are in this together.

Just two dudes, connecting on a deep human level over the “suckiness” of the unruly trains, with nothing more to give than some kind words, a pat, a smile, and strong eye contact, and nothing more desired. It was beautiful. It was real. It felt right. And It was a nice reminder that we are indeed in this together.

 


Frank Ocean. Love.

July 6, 2012

I’ve had massive respect for Frank Ocean for a while now. As an artist, his voice is distinct, set apart, mature, and thought provoking. He is a true lyricist. His approach to music, culture, and, it seems, life in general, is different to the average hiphop or R&B artist. A refreshing kind of different.

Not long ago, I praised him (in a tweet) for playing a part of breaking the monotonous, misogynous, homophobic voice the hiphop and R&B community has become known for. In his song We All Try (on his album Nostalgia, Ultra.), he eloquently sings, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love.” This line powerfully validates those who are in love but who don’t meet society’s conventional “picture of love”, and indirectly, and more subtly, exposes the fact that there are many “traditional couples”, men and women, who are together, but not in love; I’ve seen both scenarios play out beautifully and tragically before my very eyes.

This week Frank Ocean made another bold step. In a raw, open, poetic way, he shared the experience of his first love on his personal blog. He described what it was like, on a particular summer when he was 19-years-old, to experience love for the very first time, also alluding that the particular person was one amongst many relationships he had had over his teenage years. But that particular time, those particular feelings, and that particular person were different. His first true love.

The way Frank recounts his feelings is beautiful. The love he speaks of is young, innocent, organic, real, vulnerable, and true; the type that gives you those warm fuzzy feelings, the type that makes you want to fall in love, the type that makes you wonder if you ever truly have. The love he explains is different, and more pure, than the average love-equates-sex stance many R&B singers take. Oh, and the person he fell in love with just so happens to be male.

Frank Ocean’s blog post.

And, on that note, the Internet was flooded with various opinions, feelings, and commentaries. For the most part, I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by a vast majority of positive responses to his announcement. I expected less. Maybe I wasn’t being fair. Maybe I haven’t acknowledged how far we’ve come. But I saw many comments from this up-and-coming generation, offering support and acceptance, that really made me feel better about “us”.

Of course, there were those who opposed with great fury, promising to never buy or listen to his music again (ironically, his Nostalgia, Ultra. was posted online free for download, and still is). Those (mostly conservative Christians) who immediately retorted, “Well, that‘s not love! He was just confused,” claim to have the monopoly on love. But when I see the venom with which such words are often spewed, the hatred they have seemingly built up against same sex marriage and homosexuality, I recognize that they are no experts on love, and they themselves are confused. Frank Ocean’s depiction of love bears testimony to the many complexities that keep this world spinning, whilst those who narrowly oppose this view merely offer a black-and-white take on a technicolored topic.

Frank Ocean was not asking or telling us to have certain experiences in certain ways. He was merely sharing his experience. He didn’t claim his as the one and only truth. He just offered a glimpse into the reality he’s found himself.

I don’t have to love men to recognize the love Frank Ocean speaks of as genuine. I don’t have to love men to want that type of love, translated to my own personal experience. I don’t have to love men to read his words and feel the intimacy and pain they are laced with. I don’t have to love men to want those who are truly in love, to be able to live in it without persecution. And I don’t have to love men to be thankful for Frank Ocean’s honesty and bravery. And I do love Frank.

 


That Place…

July 4, 2012

There is a place that exists, if only in my mind and heart. An intangible place, made palpable by the warmth of a kind embrace, found in the hospitality of a borrowed cup of sugar, and evoked by the recognition of “I” in “you”, and “you” in “I”.

I’ve found this place within pockets of cities within nations all over the world; humanity rules, beauty bounds, love wins, and acceptance outweighs intolerance. In this place, our similarities bring us together, hold us tight, keep us close, and our differences are celebrated, valued, and appreciated, not used to discriminate.

Citizens of this abstract place belong to no one race, class, religion, creed, political party, nation, or belief system, apart from the strong conviction that we are who we are because of each other, that we are in this together, even if we individually perceive or understand what “this” is in different ways.

Likewise, in contrasting places both physical and not, I’ve seen others who attempt to close the windows, shut the doors, and bar the gates to one-another, overcome by fear of “the other”, or possibly, and more realistically, the fear of oneself. In that place, fear holds the power, and selfishness presides. Fortunately, this opposing mindset only leads to isolation, and could never conquer the strength of its more heartening counterpart.

This place is the metaphysical community found in geographical communities. It’s the neighborly way found in neighbors. The humanity, extended or received, in human dwellings.

This place is the spirit of the African philosophy of Ubuntu, founded in the cradle of mankind, speaking to the most fundamental, essential place in our soul, no matter how much we have suppressed, ignored, or abused it. It is the most natural way of “being”, though we have set up our societies in ways that often make it seem unnatural.

But this place continues to breathe, live, sing, dance, and thrive. It is the heaven found within the hell on earth.

My heart has pitched a tent in this place, set up camp, even when my mind tells me that the culture around me is in direct opposition to the values and practices that hold this place together. But with intentional thoughts, words, and, more importantly, actions, this place cannot be overwhelmed by its enemy, but will rather overcome those threatening it with love, kindness, mercy, and consideration.

This place, even in its intangibleness, is my favorite place on earth, because I can live there where ever I find myself. Though, at times have I lost sight of it, briefly losing my way, my internal compass has never failed to bring me back, back to the place I hold so dear. And therefore, where ever I find myself, I am home.

And this…this is my postcard from this place, and I truly hope it finds you well.