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School Daze

Recently, a group of my classmates were in a meeting, planning for our 50th high school class reunion. As we reminisced, the subject turned to high school crushes. For the first time, without naming names, I shared my own crush.

To a certain extent, times have changed due to the greater visibility of the LGBT population and movies like Love, Simon. For those of us of a certain age, having a same-sex crush on another student or a teacher was a minefield during high school, especially as teenagers of color.

I remember well my days as a sophomore in high school, aware but not yet coming to terms with my sexuality and having a crush on one of the seniors. I was an introverted nerd. My body was at that awkward stage, since I hadn’t yet grown into my full height of 6’3”.

To my 15-year-old eyes, this brotha was phyne. In my sports-heavy school, of course he was a jock and a letterman. I considered myself in stealth mode, checking him out when I didn’t think anyone was watching. My creative mind spun fantasies about him. I would see him in the halls or the cafeteria, either with his running buddies or with his girlfriend (yeah, he turned out to be straight), wishing it was me he was with, giving me my first kiss. And there was no one to share it with.

In those days before Stonewall, a brotha couldn’t say he had a crush on another brotha outright, and my gaydar wasn’t fully developed to pick up on those who were like me. There were no safe spaces in school for LGBT students. In hindsight, I know that several brothas in my high school were dating girls to conceal the fact they were gay; it was an eye-opener to discover just how many after I graduated, which was right at the time of the first Pride parades.

Teenagers, as we know, have different ways of handling a crush; some often act like they don’t like the object of their crush. How did I cope? By trying to be something I wasn’t. I couldn’t compete in the arena of sports; I only participated to please Dad. On the other hand, I was a serious contender in the academic arena. The attraction I felt for other men came so easy; with women, it was forced, therefore disastrous. At the end of the day, when I came out at 18, I knew who I was, and that began the journey of living my truth.   

We still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing toxic masculinity in schools; think of the brothas who gave you hell in high school because they were struggling with accepting their own sexuality. And yes, sharing a same-sex crush is still risky business in a number of schools. At the end of the day, however, change starts with the inner strength to live your truth. We all can be role models; looking at my life today, I realized that I became the visible role model I wished I’d had when I was 18.

As for the brotha I was crushing on in high school? I only saw him once since those School Daze long ago, and then only in passing (yes, I have something far better in my husband). I choose to look forward to the LGBT/SGL teenagers of today, as more of them are out and proud; they represent the hope I had at that age. More power to you, and I tip my hat to you.

                “Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act.” – Joseph Beam

To Thine Own Self: Darrell Lives His Truth

For all of you who have been following my blog, you have seen both the book cover and read an excerpt of To Thine Own Self, to be released later this year. As we who are LGBT/SGL brothas know, coming out isn’t a finite event. It is an ongoing process, as one of my main characters, widowed associate pastor Rev. Darrell Edwards, is learning. When we come out, it is an act of strength and courage. That being said, kick back for a few and check out my next excerpt, as Darrell begins taking the steps to living his truth:

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90-plus temperatures coupled with triple-digit heat indices continued to dog the summer season, guaranteed to keep everyone’s light bill high and restrict lawn-watering days. For many Minnesotans, given the winters, these days were to be appreciated while they were around. For Darrell, it was a time of gratitude for the summer programs he enrolled his children in. Keeping their time occupied, especially now, was essential. Sure, his late-model Honda Odyssey minivan accumulated its share of miles in transporting them, but that was hardly a sacrifice.

 By August, Darrell had finally taken the step and confided in Pastor Marie. “I’m bisexual.”

Her response was supportive and compassionate, like the woman he had always known her to be. “I appreciate you trusting me with this news, Darrell. Coming out is easy for some, harder for others. It’s a process. And with Kenisha’s passing, you’ve been processing a lot.”

 Darrell thought of the parishioners he counseled who were dealing with this issue and nodded. “Now it’s happening to me.”

 “Are you planning to tell your children?”

“Yes. This is something they need to hear from me. After all, they grew up in this church. I wouldn’t keep this from them.” Darrell managed a little chuckle. “Besides, with all the LGBT members in my family, this probably won’t be news at all.”

“Probably not. Only what they know about you will change, and they may have questions in relation to Kenisha and your marriage. You know, we advise our members to come out only when they’re ready and have support, and I’m giving you that same counsel. On the other hand, the longer you wait to tell them, the harder it will be. We’ll pray on this together, and trust God to give you the opportunity.”

 “I understand, Pastor. Can we pray now?”

As the days went by, Darrell’s cooking skills steadily branched out and improved, and his family made mealtime a team effort. Thank you, Kenisha, he thought as he and his kids prepared and cooked the food. So often in these days and times, families didn’t sit down and eat together, grabbing fast food on the run due to work schedules and extracurricular school activities. Not so in his family. Breakfast and dinner found them at the kitchen table while Sunday dinners were served in the dining room on the occasions when they weren’t having family dinners with his parents or in-laws. Added to this was the fact that sometimes, when setting the dinner table, he would forget and set five places instead of four.

It was a couple of weeks later, after a day of back-to-school shopping and hospital visitations, that Darrell felt an internal nudge during dinner. He took a moment to marvel at how his children were turning out. Adam and Naomi took after him while Micah looked more like Kenisha. They had all inherited his height; at 16, Adam was already 6’3”. They also had the hazel eyes of the Edwards family. While Micah, Naomi, and Adam were eating, sharing their activities of the day and random thoughts about the coming school year, he took a breath. Visualizing himself diving into a swimming pool, he relaxed into it.

“Kids, I feel it’s time to tell you something…about me.”

 “Tell us what, Dad?” Adam asked.

“Well, I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve realized that I like men as well as women.”

  “Are you saying you’re bi?”

 Darrell nodded. “Yes, Adam. I am.”

“Oh. Like some of the members at church?” 12-year-old Micah asked.

 “That’s right, Micah.”

 Adam’s face held the beginnings of a frown. “You didn’t…”

 “No, son, I didn’t. I loved your mother very much, and I never would have hurt her. But things are different now. I love you, so I wanted you to hear this from me first.”

“Wow…Dad came out.” Adam sighed in relief.

 “Well, we love you, Daddy.” Nine-year-old Naomi rose from her seat to give Darrell a hug, followed by her brothers.

“So, does that mean you’re going to have a boyfriend and go out on dates?” Adam’s smile was conspiratorial.

“I don’t know. Someday, maybe. Of course, you three will be the first ones to know.”

 After the kids had gone to bed, Darrell lay in his own bed reading, overwhelmed by and appreciative of the support they had shown him. It was obvious that the teachings of love and inclusivity at Light of the World had rubbed off on them, not to mention his extended family’s example. Perhaps, too, was the strong possibility that they found it easier to accept the idea of another man in their lives versus another woman, given the close relationship they shared with their mother. Before he closed his book and said his prayers, he gave thanks that his children heard the disclosure from him first, before he even considered dating a man.

The next morning, Darrell’s day was filled with meetings and conference calls. When he finally took a break for lunch, he considered the next step in his journey—telling his immediate family of origin. Although they weren’t saying anything, he sensed that Douglass and Preston already knew. As for the others…it was a blessing that the most important people had already been told. Now for his parents and siblings.

“Hey, Darrell.” He looked up from his lunch to lay eyes on his brother Bradley, standing in the doorway of his office.

“Bradley. What’s up?” He rose to hug him, wondering about the occasion for this visit.

 “Now you know I’m going to check in on you, busy pastor or not.”

Darrell indicated a seat for Bradley. “So how are Rico and the kids?”

His 27-year-old brother let out a fatigued grunt, settling into a comfortable chair for his athletic, 6’6” frame. “Hey, you know the drill with kids their age. Saleisha just started walking, and Jermaine is finally sleeping through the night. Rico and I are navigating our way one day at a time, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Of course, it helps having Grandpa Brad and Grandma Adriella nearby, especially when Rico and I need a break.”

 “Not to mention Mom and Dad. And of course, me.”

 “Got that right. Now, about the man in your life…”

 “Say what?”

“You know better than to knock the ‘gift,’ Darrell. You’re bi, and this man will rock your world.”

 Darrell sighed in acceptance. Like their Grandpa Eli, Bradley had visions which always came to pass. “Yes, I’m bi. And I’ve told my kids.”

“That shouldn’t have been a problem, especially with your church.”

“It wasn’t. Speaking of which, you’re more than welcome to come and visit. It has been a little while since your family stopped on by.”

“True. We’ll check you out soon for services.” Darrell’s cell phone beeped. “You need to get that?”

“Yeah.” Darrell opened his phone to a barrage of text massages, rolling his eyes as he read through them. “I haven’t even met the man yet, and she’s ready to bring out the wedding bells,” he groaned as he sent a quick ‘I’ll call you back’ text.

 Bradley couldn’t resist a knowing smile. “Sis didn’t waste any time, did she?”

 “Did you really think so after you told her?”

 “Hey, I had the vision while I was on the phone with her the other day. You know there’s no controlling that.”

Darrell threw up his hands in surrender. “Our beloved sister, Lady Veronica Moriarty, Viscountess of Rothmere, probably has this fantasy of me in a vicar’s frock falling hard for the lord of the manor. I think she’s been reading too many Sylvia Berry Lewis romance novels. Oh well, I might as well get it over with and see Mom and Dad.” He paused momentarily, his eyes curious. “You really think this man…whoever he is…will, as you put it, rock my world?”

 Bradley’s grin was naughty. “By the time he’s done with you, you’ll have a smile on your face that refuses to come off.”

               

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Believe in dreams and never give up.

With a Smile

Yes, I am getting older, as my mind and body are telling me. Later this year, I will be the first of my numerous cousins to cross the threshold of 70!

I have my “senior moments” where I go into a room and forget what I went in there for. My sleep schedule is interrupted at night because I have to get up and pee. My vision is now augmented by bifocals. My conversations with my contemporaries have changed over the years; now they include retirement, grandchildren, AARP discounts, and our health issues. Growing up, my memory was such that my nickname was Computer; these days, the “computer” needs a backup and an external hard drive. Certain foods I enjoyed eating as a young man I can no longer tolerate now. I can still “bust a move” on the dance floor, but I don’t stay out there all night as I did at 21.

With all that, I remember a quote from a Dhar Mann video: “While you are focused on what you don’t have, there are people who are wishing for what you do have.” Hence, I am taking a page from Ma’s playbook when she reached her 90th birthday, and I will greet 70 “with a smile.” After all, what we give is what we receive.

I am grateful for the gift of writing and my imagination, a craft I am regularly honing. As we speak, another idea for a male/male romance novel is taking shape, and so I have three novels in the queue; I love it.

I am grateful for all the amazing writers/authors I have come in contact with over the years, and the stories they share.

I am grateful for six years as a cancer survivor. Brothas, if you are 40 and older, make sure you get a PSA test periodically for prostate cancer. When my prostate was removed, I was blessed that they got all of the cancer.

I am grateful for the offbeat sense of humor I inherited from my late father, the man who always had my back when I pursued my dream of becoming a novelist. Dad, you are unforgettable.

I am grateful for my health and the medical support system that helps to maintain it.

I am grateful for the 6-year-old-laptop that has seen all the novels and articles I wrote on it, patiently waiting for me to upgrade it so it can retire.

I am grateful for my husband’s love of 11 years and my son, a reality that seemed an impossible dream for me as a young brotha of 22.

I am grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me through such individuals as Wyatt O’Brian Evans, Insight News, and the Minnesota Black Authors Expo, to be a voice of support for Black authors and poets. I never dreamed that one day, I would become the role model I wished that I had as a Black SGL man of 18.

I am grateful for the day-to-day blessings of food, a home, clothes, utilities, the Internet, libraries, my car, books to read, and especially the fact that I woke up this morning to see this day. I take far less for granted now.

I am grateful for the valuable time I get to spend with my 91-year-old mother, and the love and wisdom she shares. Would you believe we like the same soap operas?

I am grateful for my church family. The very church I grew up in has now become the inclusive church where I can serve God in full authenticity, and I give thanks for that.

These are but some of the reasons this Old School New Kid will be greeting 70 “with a smile.” And I am grateful for the knowledge that we are never too old to follow our dreams.

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Believe in dreams and never give up.

She’s ba-a-ack!

Hey, a woman’s work is never done. In July, I took one of my Twitter series and posted my shero to my blog: Tales of the 1940s B*tch. Trust and believe, the VSSMurder crew and I have been having a blast sharing our tweets once a month with our various means of murder tales, from the grisly to those with a sense of humor.

Well, with a little play on Elton John’s song, the 1940s B*tch is back, quietly doing her part to make her corner of the world a better place for geeks and nerds by taking out the Mean Girls who have tormented them–one at a time. Since she now owns the largest company in the city, that extends to the workplace as well.

That being said, proudly sporting her padded shoulders, mink, ankle-strapped pumps and victory-rolled hair, I give you more excerpts from Tales of the 1940s B*tch:

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                Never let it be said that there aren’t Mean Girls in the fashion industry. Laurette Fotheringill was notorious for crushing the dreams of promising geeks and nerds, exacerbated by a malicious laugh that was like pouring hydrochloric acid on an open wound.

                One minute she was toasting her latest stroke of vitriol with champagne; the next, she was gasping her last breath from the prussic acid in it.

                An hour after Laurette’s funeral, the 1940s B*tch casually strolled over to her grave.

                “Is it funny now?” she purred.

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                It’s one thing to reinvent yourself, but Grace Van der Haven took it up to pompous Mean Girl levels. She flaunted her blue-blood pedigree and wealth while treating hardworking nerds like they’d pooped on her lawn. She even threw a drink in the face of someone’s grandmother.

                Fortunately, the 1940s B*tch’s research skills were formidable, and soon she held a copy of a quaint document in her hand bearing the name Ima Slutt.

                “You’d rather die than have this come out, Grace,” she beamed. “And it can be easily arranged for you to experience both outcomes. Yes, we’ll need to talk.”

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                Operating under the quaint delusion that she’d live forever, the late Mean Girl Grace Van der Haven (aka Ima Slutt) left no will. Thus, her fortune went to her next of kin—her grandmother Myrtle in the obscure town of Podunkville, whom Grace left to suffer in abject poverty.

                Surprised and thrilled, Myrtle used the massive windfall to help people in need, especially seniors.

                For the 1940s B*tch, this was icing on the cake as she sipped her favorite wine. The item she planted in the society column left Grace shocked and mortified. The prick from her special hatpin had Grace dead before she hit the ground.

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                “Drives her husband to drink. B*tchslaps her young cousin. Drives her sister-in-law to suicide. Yes, she’s a Mean Girl,” the 1940s B*tch commented on Joan Crawford’s character in Queen Bee. “Of course, I would have jumped out of the car before it went over the cliff with her in it. Going out in flames was such a lovely, grisly comeuppance.”

                She thought for a moment. Mean Girl Courtney Ravenswood’s personality bore an eerie resemblance to that character, according to the feedback all over town.

                Three days later, Courtney’s worst nightmare appeared in the form of a visitor.

                “We need to talk,” the 1940s Bitch purred calmly.

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                The death of Mean Girl Courtney Ravenswood generated standing ovations throughout the city and the county. Given the depth of her cruelty, anyone who had the nerve to ask who had a motive for her murder would be punctured with a look and a resounding “Take a number.”

                A week later, the 1940s B*tch walked her beloved dog past the Art Deco high-rise building where Courtney lived.

                “What a shame, Courtney,” she laughed to herself. “Someone forgot to tell you that the elevator was out of order when you ran from me. It’s such a long way down that shaft.”

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                Mean Girl and local fashion maven Aramantha Farthingale was tyrannical when it came to her nerdy staff, verbally clawing and occasionally b*tch-slapping them for failing to meet her impossible standards.

                Throwing items at them fueled her sense of entitlement, as did the NDAs they were forced to sign. She took pleasure in seeing them cower.

                When the search team found Aramantha’s body in her posh resort home, the 1940s B*tch relished the timely afternoon news coverage—the injection of Botox mixed with liquid nicotine had done its work.

                She chuckled. “Did that appeal to your vanity, Aramantha?”

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                For geeks, nerds, and other nonconformists, there’s always that notable Mean Girl, that archnemesis who is relentless at making one’s life a living hell. For the 1940s B*tch, it was Ardith Frobisher.

                Ardith had cut a swath of destruction through Europe over the years, and she was back in town, up to her old tricks. That simply wouldn’t do, now that the Mean Girls were being cleared out.

                Though Ardith’s smug face spewed contempt, the 1940s B*tch was no longer cowered by her presence as she calmly stated, “We need to talk.”

                Nope. Bound and gagged, it was Ardith who screamed in terror as she was dumped out of the plane into the piranha-filled lake below.

                “Now, what was that saying about karma, Ardith?” the 1940s B*tch purred. Her alibi was rock-solid. And devoured Mean Girls tell no tales.    

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                Next to a director of a nursing home, one of the worst positions to have a power-mad Mean Girl in was a hospital administrator, and Anabelle DeQuetteville was alight and drunk on that power.

                Given the way she terrorized doctors, interns, nurses, and hospital staff, the battle axe made Nurse Ratched look like Shirley Temple, which contributed to Skyline Medical Center’s high turnover rate.

                One day, curious as to why the body count in the morgue didn’t tally, coroner Fred Zenkman eventually discovered lifeless Anabelle, her face petrified into a House on Haunted Hill scream. He determined that she died of fright.

                “You have a wonderful way of phrasing things, Vincent,” the 1940s B*tch demurred as she heard his House on Haunted Hill character deliver his parting words to his freshly deceased wife Annabel.

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                During a routine investigation of Mean Girl Battle Axe hospital administrator Anabelle DeQuetteville’s death, police detectives went to her pristine home. They were surprised to find it teeming with roaches in every nook and cranny.

                Reporting their discovery, police chief Kaitlyn Monahan put the pieces together with the autopsy. Anabelle’s reputation for being obsessively neat was legendary. Was this the reason she kicked the bucket?

                This had to be the handiwork of her unknown champion, the 1940s B*tch. Kaitlyn smirked. “Bravo. Sheer brilliance. The instincts of a shark when it comes to Mean Girls,” she said to herself.

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                With the results of the police investigation and the autopsy, it was determined that Mean Girl Battle Axe hospital administrator Anabelle DeQuetteville died of fright, induced by an extreme roach phobia.

                To celebrate, Skyline Medical Center played Steam’s 1969 hit over the PA system once every hour.

                Over tea with the 1940s B*tch, Karma Enterprises CEO nerd Maisie Hooper shared some of the gossip from her visit to Skyline Medical.

                “Several employees said they wished Anabelle would have fallen from the city’s tallest skyscraper and landed with a splat on the sidewalk,” Maisie mused.

                The 1940s B*tch reserved that fate for Anabelle’s Mean Girl deputy administrator, Dorothea Buffington, a week later.

                “You’re such a shark, Dorothea,” the 1940s B*tch purred. “But that’s insulting—to the shark.”

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                The 1940s B*tch walked her dog in the park, pleased with the latest news: Mean Girl snob Madeleine Harrington had turned up dead. When she sent her diamond choker out to be appraised and cleaned, it came back with a secret neck-activated boa constrictor switch.

                “Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but not for you, Madeleine,” she mused.

                Ah, yes. One Mean Girl at a time.

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Representation matters. Believe in dreams and never give up.

The Sweethearts of the Literary World: Minnesota Black Authors Expo

Four years ago, De’Vonna Bentley-Pittman and Jasmine Boudou had written and published books. The quandary: how to find their reading audience and sell their books. Bentley-Pittman then went to Neon on West Broadway in Minneapolis to secure a space to host an event. That event became the Minnesota Black Authors Expo (MBAE). Its mission: to support and celebrate Black authors, and stimulate their income.

MBAE’s initial event featured 20 authors, plus a workshop known as Writer’s Boot Camp. With music provided by saxophonist Antonio Jackson, educators and readers came all day long to support the event. Its success made it evident that next year’s event would require a larger space.

Dorothy Nins, MBAE’s current executive director, was a volunteer for the first MBAE event, and soon took over the event planning portion. By 2019, panel discussions, author readings, and the Kid’s Corner were added, and the featured authors increased to 60. In 2020, Nins was appointed executive director by Bentley-Pittman, and received the Excellence and Fierce Passion Award. “Know your purpose” is Nins’ motto. “It is a privilege and an honor to be executive director, and to fill in the gap for Black authors,” she states.

This year’s event theme is Peaking in the Valley: Writers Rising to the Top. Given the challenges brought on by COVID-19 over the past 18 months, the theme is highly appropriate when it comes to how we excel and live in the COVID valley/world. Because of COVID, MBAE had to be creative in reaching people, hence Nins was motivated to go to television and host a virtual event for 2020. Added were 30-second promos by the featured authors, plus the prize giveaways that have been part of MBAE—if you register on the MBAE website (www.mnblackauthorsexpo.com) as a viewer, you are eligible for prizes! For the future, MBAE will become a hybrid event.

The Kid’s Corner, sponsored by the Hennepin County Library, has a special place in Nins’ heart, and it is a key component of MBAE. While the kids are talking about books, she asks them, “What are you doing when you are blue? What do you do to get happy from being sad?” Their responses will be displayed in a storybook form this year. “This lets them know their stories are important,” Nins affirms.

You may be asking yourself if you have the passion and the discipline to write a book. You may have an idea for a book but haven’t brought it to fruition. You may already have books you’ve published, but don’t know how to market them. In the Writer’s Boot Camp, new and established writers will learn about 1) starting and finishing a book 2) self-publishing 3) how to go the traditional route, including finding editors and publishers that are right for you, and 4) effectively marketing and selling your books.

For the future, MBAE will have a Featured Author section every month, and continue to build a marketplace online for those who want access to its authors (e.g. editors, narrators, publishers, etc.). To meet the needs of those in the literary world that haven’t been met yet is essential, as well as getting back into a public space. To ensure that featured authors are getting buyers, better search engines will be implemented.

MBAE will be televised via Facebook Live and Nine North Channel 15 on Saturday, October 23 from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. As an author who was writing since I could hold a pen, I knew about the myth that “Blacks don’t read.” MBAE soundly rebukes that myth, providing a literary feast. And yes, there are Black authors here in Minnesota in a diversity of genres. Representation matters. If we don’t share our stories, who will?