Dispatch from Home

I sit in a plastic chair on the porch.

A sweet scent. Maybe sausage on a grill. Beef. I smell fries and my mind tricks me into believing I can also smell the gravy about to be doused over them. The whole concoction will go into a box, fried wings in the next. There’s now a new carryout where the old banquet hall used to be. The Chinese food store is still there. I have my stories. About the store and gravy fries and cheese fries and wings and chicken boxes. Salt, pepper, and ketchup on my wings and fries.

Ka-joom. Clack-a-lack.

A trailer banging, tripped by the imperfections in the asphalt. The truck’s motor growls, yanking the still reverberating metal box up the road. And then another, probably headed South this time, maybe to Washington or somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina, maybe even to Florida or even somewhere out West. The road jabs and pitches these hulks all day and night. They always have, same as the #36 bus that stops across the street. The cars whose drivers, free of Downtown’s one-way-street grid, take liberty to fly towards the County line, a few corners away.

There’s a soul food store at the gas station, now.

Someone once shot at that gas station from the block, then ran. Altogether both stupid and smart.

Kids run down the block. There’s a fight at the bus stop. I run in, open the back door and it’s spilled all the way across the parking lot. The alley between the shopping center and the apartments keeps the kids in their khakis and powder blue and navy blue uniforms from dribbling over to the #44 stop.

In my day, fights transferred from line to line, line to neighborhood, line to block. I even got myself caught up in one once. But there was never more than that. We didn’t wear uniforms, either.

As soon as it heated up, it died out. When the cheering stopped, I knew.

Any out-of-towners driving by, perhaps hoping for a Wire-esque performance, complete with blood and the wailing of an ambulance and another brown-skinned mother, would have gone home disappointed. The police didn’t even show up. At night, they drive through the parking lot with lights flashing to show they’re there. Perhaps they want to own the night and have ceded the day to the kids.

The two boys at the corner watch excitedly for a moment, then as they probably have more than once, leave.

They’ve replaced me.

The hide and seek places — the bushes and trees I’d try to hide my husky frame behind; the knoll on the side of the apartments around the corner where we played minimally organized football and baseball games, against other neighborhoods and each other, where we coached ourselves and each other, patted ourselves and each other on the back; the blocks in the street where we used to jump and bounce balls and throw water balloons, all belong to these kids now. They own the bus stop and the Chinese store.

This is their time.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever be back here. Not to live. Visit? For sure.

I had finally found some peace with used to being from here, with someone else’s son or daughter taking the story over. I’d gone on to adventures elsewhere. Made some plays. Toured Harlem on foot. Driven the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I’m not settled, yet. I’m still learning the new, like the Qdoba on York Road, the building on 33rd Street that replaced the frat house with the shoe tree in front; remembering the old like the Giant on York Road, how to get to White Marsh. Harry Little’s sub shop became a frozen yogurt store and now it’s about to become a juice bar.

It’s often slow going like when I first went to Jersey, but I learned it. Learned in some ways to love it.

Still, I don’t know if I can ever stake the same claim I had before. How much of this city, this area, can be mine like it was. While I’m figuring it out, I’ll watch the trucks from the porch. Eat a few coddies. This city made me who I was, but being away, letting go, helped make me who I am now.

#30WriteNow – October 5

I need to read more.

Don’t get me wrong, I read every day. I have to read a lot for my day job, but that’s technical stuff, technology news. I read a lot when I get home, but these days, it’s mostly more tech news, other news, and general non-fiction type books. Cultural and social and political criticism, though I do try to limit my intake of the latter these days.

I need to read some essays, good essays. I’m kidding myself I don’t think I should read some good fiction. It’s good for the brain, but I like getting my brain-improvement fix from reading nonfiction, so some good essays it is. Personal essays.

I’m feeling kind of stuck in my own essay practice, so there’s that dual reason for wanting to get into some good essays. I want ideas and to get something from how whichever writer(s) I end up reading constructed their work.

The good thing about being home more is I’ll have less time with the TV, so I’ll have more time to read and hopefully get the creative juices stirred more.

I’ve been looking at places to take myself on artist dates. For one thing, there are more museums at home, so as I find the cash and time to take myself, I’m going to do that. I like that the Reginald Lewis Museum has a reading room on the top floor. I plan to take my Chromebook the next time I go there so I can write about what I see there, what I feel inspired by.

Last time I was there, it was the general exhibit of Black Marylanders, both those of us born in Maryland those who became Marylanders by virtue of things like playing sports in the state. Like Lenny Moore of the Baltimore Colts. I also liked the Black Dandy exhibit and had the thought to dress sometimes like the folks in the exhibit. It hasn’t worked out that way yet, but there’s still time.

I’m also looking forward to spending time in the library.

I am going to miss the libraries in NJ. Mercer County has some fine libraries, especially the ones in Lawrenceville and Ewing and on the campus of Mercer County Community College. Even the central library in Trenton is a good library. Their meeting space is really good. It’s an older, historic building and I like those.

My plan is to get myself into the main Enoch Pratt library on Cathedral Street in Baltimore at some point and a couple of the Howard County library branches. I’ll probably breeze through the Baltimore County Library in Towson one of these days too.

For nostalgia’s sake, I’ll probably check out the Enoch Pratt library Roland Park branch until they kick me out of there or something. I remember it long before the renovation, when I was in elementary school; these days, I see the teachers with the little kids tethered together walking the streets of Trenton and I remember that being us walking down Roland Avenue and crossing Deepdene Road to go to the library.

I’ll probably have to wait until and crash the next City College Alumni Association meeting to get into the library at the school. I am looking forward to that.

I am going to miss being closer to the Schomburg Center in New York. I wish I’d visited there more. I wish I’d taken another walking tour of Harlem. When I get my money up more, I want to go with my auntie and the lady friend and go on a Harlem tour. My aunt probably wouldn’t be up for all the walking, so we’ll have to do the tour on a bus or something, but I do want to do that. I’ll definitely need to get my money way up so we can take the train up to New York and get a cab at Penn Station up to Harlem. Or an Uber. Whatever it is they’re doing up there these days. I’m used to getting the Subway out of Penn Station to wherever I need to go in New York these days.

I wish I’d spent more time in New York. I still haven’t been to Grimaldi’s, either in Brooklyn or Hoboken. Haven’t been to Katz’s or 2nd Avenue Deli. Haven’t been to Yardbird or Red Rooster. Haven’t been to any of the other many soul food and other Black-owned restaurants around the City. The Harlem tour and then a nice dinner at Sylvia’s would be a great day for my auntie. I also want to take my little cousins to a basketball game at Barclay’s Center one of these days. Some deal — take the train, go to the game, come back home.

And for myself, something related to working in a theatre there.

#30WriteNow – October 4

O’s Fall

I waited until the bitter end to write. I wanted to watch. I wanted to write about how the O’s had overcome, gone on to face the Rangers, looking to get back to the ALCS and then the Series.

I was baffled by Buck’s reluctance to bring Britton in, but they lost because they got 4 hits all game and none after like the 7th. Ubaldo’s 5 pitch, 11th inning meltdown facilitated the ending, but as soon as the O’s bats got in the line to get back through customs, the game was done then.

I talked to my boss earlier about all the logistics possibilities in the event that the O’s won the game. ALDS Game 3 will be played Sunday. Had the O’s won, they would have played the same afternoon as the Ravens, a prospect that freaks out Baltimore City government and the MTA. At least they won’t all have to worry about it.

Still, MTA should look into how they can run weekend Camden Line trains. This week’s game is vs. Washington and I can’t think of a better time for weekend Camden Line trains.

Mets still alive

Probably the best thing about having more than one favorite team is when they’re both vying for playoff spots. I’m pretty numb about the O’s, but tomorrow night, I’ll get to see my other team take their own crack at getting to the Division Series. They’ll have to get through Madison Bumgartner, but it’s certainly not an impossible consideration.

My boss and I also talked about the logistics of getting to Citi Field. Last couple of times I’ve gone to Mets games, I’ve either gone via car or taken New Jersey Transit to New York Penn Station, then taken the Subway to Times Square to get the 7. My boss went to a Mets home game a few weeks ago and they took New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road. Next time I get to a Mets game, that’s the way I want to go.

New York Penn Station

Speaking of Penn Station, renderings for the new Farley Amtrak/LIRR station are coming out. New York Times ran an article with a competing vision which would see the Garden move to the Farley annex, with the current building largely gutted and re-faced with glass, creating an open building with lots of natural light.

I’ve been a fan of the Farley idea since it was proposed years ago. I’m glad to see it moving forward. It would also be interesting to reconstruct the Garden building so that the east end of the station is as impressive as the west, especially since it doesn’t look like New Jersey Transit is moving over to the Farley building with Amtrak and the LIRR.

Luke Cage

Haven’t watched it yet. It’s at the top of my list of things to watch. Then I need to finally finish this past season of Daredevil.

Shooting

According to my job’s COO, who walked around the neighborhood and talked to folks, there was a shooting up the block from the office. Nobody was hit, but apparently, a group of guys took some shots down the street our building is on, from the adjacent street before running.

As he put it, tensions were high around the neighborhood right after it all went down. So folks around the office decided that it was a good time to go home –it was 5:30, which by itself meant it was a good time to go home– so the office pretty much cleared out. I got out of there, too. Wasn’t much point in staying much longer by then.

Google Reveal

Not much of interest. I was hoping they’d announce a successor to the Nexus 7 line of tablets, but nothing doing there. I’ve been looking to replace mine and with nVidia cancelling their X1, I was hoping Google would step up with a new 7 incher. Guess not. At least not yet. I may end up with a 7 or 7 inch Samsung or iPad at this point.

#30WriteNow – October 3

It’s wonderful to have someone in your life who knows you in and out and when it’s time, will call you on all of your excuses you put up. This is especially helpful for a writer. Even with all of the great courses available to help you get over writer’s block, fake it out, avoid it, jump over it, whatever, it’s still sometimes hard to face the blank word processor.

The problem is it can also be quite painful to have someone who knows you so well, they know all of your excuses and when you’re driving up the highway at 75 MPH and just feel the need to vent, can call you out and down to the carpet. Who will let you vent but make sure once you feel better, you’re up for some sort of action behind it.

The kind of person who will tell you you’re trying to stay in your comfort zone.

Feels good there. Nobody can criticize or hurt you there. You can be safe there. You don’t grow there, unfortunately, and you can atrophy and die there.

I’m there.

I couldn’t even tell you the year I stopped writing poems. One day I just did. When I was a teenager just beginning to write poems, there was a return of joy when I would write one. As I inched into adulthood, that joy lessened. Especially when I’d workshop a poem in the group I was involved in. Poetry was something I liked as an exercise when I was younger. As an adult, it just dragged me down.

This is not a good place to be when you’re beginning to feel like you’re missing it and want to pick it back up but have lingering doubts that overshadow any feeling of joy you might feel for the simple pleasure of writing a poem again. In the comfort zone, you don’t have to overcome that and fight for that happiness and joy again. No, you have the TV and other interests to distract and even pacify you, somewhat.

In the comfort zone, you can write plays and put them into drawers. Write essays and leave them in Google Drive or post them on your website that you don’t promote. No need to worry about people reading them there.

That’s where I am and that’s what it’s come to. Not exactly how I envisioned my writing life at this age, but that’s where it is.

The question posed to me yesterday as I balled down the highway was: will you bet on you?

Damn.

It’s one thing to ask whether you’ll try writing something and sending it out. Or will you perhaps begin again to work on a monologue and perhaps run down to a photographer and get a new headshot.

Will you bet on yourself?

Will you give yourself permission?

Permission to take those evening hours and make something and share it. Permission to say, “here I am, yep, this is me.”

It’s easy to make that weekly TV schedule, DVR your shows, and get ready to watch, when you haven’t taken a step towards the life you say you want but feel like you haven’t the foggiest how to get there. That’s being overwhelmed. It’s easy to curl up with a blanket at that point.

Betting or permitting require more courage. Require you to dip that toe out, with the possibility there not that it’ll get bitten off by an alligator, but that your toe will get swept up in a wave, flinging your whole body into a larger, yet wonderful world that you don’t know. It’s always the not knowing that’s the “but.”

Still, though, that’s where the life is. It’s not in here, it’s out there. The question is how long can you stand the pain of being stuck. Of perhaps wanting to be stuck.

What is the point of staying, though?

What do I have left to lose? More days? Is it an easier feeling to think I may one day check out of here without seeing my name on the spine of a book? I used to run into the Borders books in Downtown D.C. (I think it was at 14th and I, NW) and nurse a dream of seeing my name on the spine of a book. I think I left that dream outside of this bubble. It might not be out there waiting on me still, but I wonder if there are 10, 20, 50 more waiting there to take its place.

I’m going to ask myself these questions during devotions tomorrow morning. Do I have it in me to bet on myself to succeed at this? And can I give myself permission to? Come back in 6 months and see if I have any new publications listed. You’ll know the answer then.

#30WriteNow – October 2

My devotions time this morning was awesome again. Deciding to spend time each morning in quiet, meditation, affirmation, or whatever spiritual thing I decide to do, has yielded some great benefits. I’ve felt more balanced to start the day, happier, more able to deal with the messes and such that come my way.

I’ve also received some great insights into myself, which I’ve needed. I’ve been cruising on autopilot for a very long time, much longer than I should estimate. I’d hate to say I’ve been going along without really thinking or feeling my way through things for at least the last 15 years since I came to New Jersey. In the beginning, I didn’t pay much attention to how I was feeling, except when things would become too overwhelming.

A few years in, I became more attentive to myself, but still, the intention was more so to get myself and keep myself going well enough to get through the days. I was unemployed for a good while and had to prevent myself from falling completely into an abyss. Once I began working at my current job, the goal was to maintain my mental and emotional balance to get through the days. I’ve done that. One day a couple of weeks ago, one of my coworkers saw me becoming emotional because of changes coming in my life and she remarked that she’d never seen me off like that. My “behind the scenes” work did well.

The blinds cracked open when I was in school while working. I’ve heard many times people talking about how the experience of working and going to school being a grind, the combination of the two being a sap of energy and time, some of which could be better spent perhaps cooking or eating or reading a book or something.

My experience was far different. Probably because I was at school doing scenes from Chekhov and Lanford Wilson plays, making wacky performance art, and being as creative as I could in all of my classes. It fed me. I’m not a dancer, but doing plies and tendus and moving to Kylie Minogue and doing weird dancing routines in NYC Subway, that fed me. Going to the gym after class and work, that fed me. Acting on stage again fed me. Writing and directing my own work, that fed me.

Once that was done and I was back to just working, I was back to running on auto again. Aside from the past couple of weeks, I’ve done morning pages pretty consistently for the last 15 years. I probably wasn’t doing them right because I still didn’t get the kind of light flashed into myself that I had this morning.

I started out thinking about personal power and where I’m living that or not living that. Moreso not living that. And how I could live it more. Where I needed it more (largely everywhere). And just that little bit of chipping knocked down a huge wall that I didn’t even know was there. If I’d had the right kind of sight, I would have seen this, but I didn’t until today and that’s fine.

I’m missing passion and desire in my life.

What a lesson to get on a Sunday morning.

Passion and desire.

As we often do when confronted with a tough, terrible truth, I resisted. For a few minutes. But once I gave up and surrendered to what my mind and more importantly, my life, was showing me, everything became clear.

Take my art, for example.

I last felt passion and desire, in mostly small measure, while I was at school. When I was writing and directing and acting, I was there, in the zone. Even still, I wasn’t ever 100% in any particular moment, I can say. My mind was focused on things like whether I was doing whatever I was doing well. Whether I was developing myself enough to have “earned the right” to do the work publicly on campus or elsewhere. Whether I could make a career of it once I got out of school and escape the workaday life making the computers work.

I might have been 99% there when doing speeches or such, but never 100. I never got fully back to passion and desire, at least the way I had them and felt them when I was younger. I was too focused on what would come from what I was doing, instead of just doing them, feeling them.

And as I was taking out the trash this morning, I couldn’t escape the fact that the reason I ever started doing any of this art –writing, acting, whatever– was the passion of it. It felt wonderful and exhilarating to do. The desire of it. The wanting of more. To be better. To go deeper. To go beyond.

And forget the rest of my life. I lost much of that passion years ago, much of that desire. It’s hard to capture that feeling when you have to get focused in on some of the things I’ve had to focus in on in my daily life. When you hear about the financial issues of your job. Or when you feel like you’re not on solid footing there. If you’re not otherwise financially or otherwise free, the worry can take a toll and the toll can be that passion. It doesn’t have to be, but it can be. And it often is, for a lot of people, as I understand.

Still, I feel a call this morning. Not to preach. Not to run out in the streets and scream or create a Happening. Not even to act. Not even to write anything. At least not in the same way I’ve been doing them. It’s not even a call to go home, not in the physical sense, since I’m home in Baltimore this morning and I’ll be back in New Jersey later, which I consider to be a second home.

No, the call is to come back home, inside, to the passion and desire I’ve lost, missed over these years. It’s a call to decide on, demand on, living passionately. Living with desire. Going for more. Getting out of autopilot and away from the excuses to do so. To live on a higher flying plane, which is where I’ve decidedly not been for a long time. And to believe that whatever changes I inevitably have to make in my life (and ones that will themselves be made and resolved), that, as Gabby Bernstein says, the Universe has my back.

Quite a bit to take in before today’s Ravens game, yes.

#30WriteNow

Last night on Twitter, I saw the hashtag #30WriteNow come down my timeline. I figured, why not do it? I’d planned on coming back to writing after October 1, from a hiatus. I missed Day 1, but October has 31 days, so that’s no problem.

How it works: http://msmarymack.com/2013/10/02/octobers-still-fresh-time-for-30writenow/

The rules were simple: Every day of October, you write something for 30 minutes or one full page. It could be for your blog, an essay, your novel — doesn’t matter — just write! It’s about commitment, consistency. And for 30 days,* you strive to get it done. No editing or second-guessing what’s on the page, just write. Write now.

It’s a freewrite, so it’s the writing, with no, straight from the dome. If you don’t like reading such things, don’t. This material may also show up elsewhere later. I’ll be participating all October. It’ll be interesting as I have big changes happening in my life. Here goes.