i am

My photo
harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

About Getting Older

In less than ten days, God willing, I'll acknowledge 45 years on planet earth. Whatever thoughts I had about being 45 have been adjusted to my current reality. No matter what is going on in my life, I'm still a kid at heart. Most folks think I look ten years (or more) younger; in fact, some folks think I'm in my late 20's. Am I flattered? Yes, though aware that my body has experienced a great deal of living.

I tend to be introspective. I can be found on any given day deep in thought. I'm aloof, indifferent or standoffish at times - as a coping strategy - however, I'm very passionate about life. Ive always been hard, perhaps too hard, on myself. My standards are important to me, if no one else. As a child I strived for excellence, but when I was punished, I internalized anger, betrayal, resentment & shame. I tried to compensate by becoming a perfectionist: an unattainable goal. The lesson learned was self-forgiveness.

Giving myself a break has not been easy. I expect the best of myself. When I fall short, make mistakes or wander off course, I tend to react emotionally. Today, I'm learning to respond to life: my attitude, my choices, my feelings, my patterns, my responsibilities, etc. My mother tried to impress the significance of patience on me as a yung man. Did I listen? No. I pray for patience, despite my daily worries.

I was at the gym thinking about working out for two & half hours. I laughed at the absurdity. What am I trying to prove? And, for who? I'm no longer obsessed w/ a six pack. I like my body. But what I don't like is feeling as if time is running out on me. I lack energy & motivation more than I care to admit these days. I get tired quicker w/ out doing anything at all! My sex life is null & void. The end seems closer than the beginning.

Nevertheless, I'm determined to try to & enjoy each days as it comes. I remember some time ago a guy saying he lives every days as if it's his last: finally, I understand. You know how you hear something & you want to reject it immediately because it sounds too good to be true? Then you remember somebody saying anything too good to be true, probably IS.

Regardless of how I feel, I'm grateful for each moment God gives me. I have what I need: family, friends, happiness & health. I continue to set goals, but I'm more flexible than my younger years. The urgency is gone. As a result, I can relax a little. I take a mental health day, week or month if I choose to. I do my best & let go of the rest. Besides, so what if I'm lazy? My spiritual condition is most important. As a Black man, I desire to grow old gracefully, like Ossie Davis. So what if I'll never run a marathon? I can still dance my ass off.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Living With The Blues

About three years ago, I was diagnosed w/ moderate depression. I felt like Florida Evans after she read the infamous note about her beloved husband's death while employed in Alaska - a plot I resented because it removed an embittered John Amos from his proud & dignified role as head of their poverty-stricken household. But I digress.

The therapist I saw weekly in Gramercy Park suggested a session w/ a psychiatrist. I dutifully complied, though not happy to talk to, yet another professional about the state of my head. I was given two tests, the answers to which I made up as I went along; I just wanted to go home. After about thirty minutes or so, I was told, in an unemotional tone, I might add, by a man I would never see again (professional test taker?), I have high anxiety & moderate depression. I didn't believe a word he said, in fact, I refused to acknowledge the test results as real.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt...

Mental Illness is stigmatized in the Black community, as well as American society at large, unless you're on Oprah. Though I know plenty of folks thusly wired, in both my personal & professional life, the idea that I, too, might be similarly afflicted terrified me. I remember thinking: why me? Am I being punished by God? What will my parents think about me? How will my friends react? Can I be happy & depressed in the same lifetime? As usual, I have more questions than answers.

I refused to talk to anyone about my dilemma. The annoyingly cheerful psychiatrist quickly suggested a number of medications to "soothe my pain," though she never asked me how I felt about this newfound illness. Empathy my ass. I politely declined, boldly declaring I didn't want to deal w/ the toxic side effects of Western medicine. I can be real self-righteous (read: a bitch) if and/or when the situation calls for it.

Part of my denial was in not understanding my diagnosis as an illness, rather than a personal attack on my character. A sensitive Leo child, I grew up taking everything personally. Even when I smoked weed, folks thought I was paranoid: I defiantly responded, "I'm not paranoid, I'm Black." Whatever. I became closed-minded to new ideas because I didn't trust anyone. I thought depression was a sign of failure. I hate admitting I've been defeated. Being an oppressed Black man in supremacist white America meant competition, not cooperation, which is the African way. Still, I don't like to be wrong.

When depression sets in, I feel a number of conflicting emotions - some of which I'm only now ready to acknowledge & share openly w/ others - emptiness, hopelessness, misery, sadness & unhappiness come quickly to mind, primarily because I'm currently in the midst of my depression: I become anti-social. I don't want to bathe, eat or sleep. I have no sexual appetite. I lack positive energy. I want to escape from reality, but every television show these days IS a reality show! Seems I'm not unique.

James Baldwin said, "we know all there is to know about white people - that is the essential meaning of television." I woke up this morning feeling particularly frustrated, due to my financial unmanageability. I spent $60 on three (long-sleeved) shirts a couple of weeks ago, rationalizing I had to get them since they were on sale. Now I am flat broke, though best selling author Iyanla Vanzant would correct me (!) by saying, " I'm not broke, I'm temporarily out of cash." She got bank, I hate her.

Through grace, I'm not discouraged. I spoke w/ a few people about my feelings & they were all very supportive. Who knew? I'm uncomfortable sharing my pain, regardless of who I'm talking to & what their relationship is w/ me, yet I've learned pain shared is pain lessened. I continue to pray for God's will in my life. I am not alone, no matter how I feel.

The patient therapist - a handsome, young Black heterosexual male - who suggested I see a psychiatrist at the same mental health facility once remarked, "depression is anger w/ out enthusiasm." He told me I needed to explore healthy ways to express my anger, provided I feel safe doing so. As it relates to my emotions, I never felt safe growing up as a child. Just three weeks shy of 45, the time has come to let people know when I'm pissed off! For real.

Watch out New York City, an angry Black man is on the loose! I ain't thugging but I might be bugging.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

My Ten Day Fast: I Did It!

I successfully completed a ten day fast, effective Sunday, July 10 at 12:01 a.m. I'm proud of myself for honoring the commitment I made to myself. I feel good about this accomplishment. At the moment, I feel calm & serene & tranquil. Yesterday afternoon - an absolutely gorgeous day - I went to a natural food store in Harlem to purchase items for my traditional 12 noon salad: lettuce, bananas, carrots, cucumbers, green peppers, & organic honey mustard dressing. I will add croutons & cashews to the mix & go to town, baby - yes!

You see, I have a weight problem: I can't wait to eat (smile).

I also decided to break the fast by continuing to drink fruit juices & water. I bought some fish cakes, tuna salad & vegetables to eat during the first week. I'm committed to no fast foods for a few weeks (at least for the rest of the month) no matter what (not even Popeye's Chicken). One of the lessons learned when I fast is discipline. I remember blaming my father as an adult for the lack of discipline in my life.

Taking responsibility for my emotional, physical & spiritual well-being is essential to healthy living. I feel good about myself when I act in a loving, kind & compassionate manner towards myself. The road from self-destruction to self-determination has been frought w/ plenty of bumps & bruises. My emerging resilliency is stronger than I thought.

Walking down the aisles of the various health food stores in Harlem this past week, I began to ask myself some questions: why can't I eat like this on a regular basis? why do I eat unhealthy food? what will it take for me to discipline myself more often? why do I make excuses for poor food choices? The answers to these & other such questions will come one day at a time. The journey teaches me to be gentle. I don't have to engage in emotional homicide anymore.

As Deepak Chopra says: "the path to God is through constant self-awareness."

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Loss Of Luther

When I returned home early Saturday morning, I was both saddenned & shocked by the premature death of R&B legend Luther Vandross. Just 54, Vandross battled diabetes, hypertension & weight problems through the latter stages of his adult life. Two short years ago, the world was stunned after he suffered a massive stroke, leaving him comatose & wheelchair bound. I found out about his death while watching the tale end of the BET Awards '05 show, which I taped last nught.

BET offered a tribute - Journeys In Black - chronciling his incredible musical career, which spanned four decades, through interviews, music videos & soundbites. During the poignant special, I was surprised to find out he was in a local group of Harlem singers who performed at the Apollo Theater when he was just 15 years old. At the time, he met longtime friends, musical director Nat Adderley, Jr., backup singers Lisa Fischer & Fonzi Thornton. In fact, Luther & Fonzi performed on the very first Sesame Street television show in October of 1969.

Luther established a lucrative career singing commercial jingles. He recorded memorable tunes for five years, which allowed him to save enough money to move his mother out of the Lower East Side projects in New York City they were raised in. His father, a brilliant singer in his own right, transitioned when Luther was eight. His last big hit, "Dance With My Father", a moving tribute to their relationship, won a Grammy award for best male vocalist in 2004, his fourth such award.

While a freshman student at Western Michigan University, Luther met one of his idols, Dionne Warwick, backstage at a local concert. He would go on to record a few of her songs, chief among them, "A House Is Not A Home", which still stands today as the landmark ballad of the last half century. Later, Luther would meet Warwick's niece, Whitney Houston, an aspiring model at the time. He wrote her a note which said, "you are going to be one of the world's greatest singers one day." She humbly kept the note...

Questions about Luther's sexuality abound to this day. He never married, has no children, nor was publicly linked to any females. In an industry dominated by hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual vocalists (D'Angelo, Joe, Maxwell, Usher), the pressure to conform to heterosexist standards is problematic for men who experience same sex desire. Luther's sensual, soothing & soulful voice has made many a woman lose her mind, yet the idea he might be singing romantically to another man is one some folks are clearly uncomfortable w/, given our society's moral milieu & religous rigidity.

Another rumor permeated the music industry when the singer lost well over 100 pounds in a relatively short time. Some folks assumed he had AIDS, given the current medical hysteria, as well as his model thin frame. Many people believed his so-called homosexualitu was connected to his medical problems, given he'd lost & gain weight a few times. Still, Luther categorically denied the rumors.

His voice is timeless. I will honor Luther Vandross this weekend by playing his songs in my home.

Friday, July 01, 2005

My Summertime Ten Day Fast Begins

Today is day two of my bi-annual fasting activities. I started fasting about seven years ago, not knowing what I was doing, how my body would react, or the different emotions I'd expereince. My faith in God motivates me to embrace new challenges in my life, especially when it comes to my health, as I live daily w/ a compromised immune system.

The first time I fasted was for three days. I started at midnight, though I'd just eaten a pint of Haagen Dazs Macadamia Britlle ice cream. I got issues, ok? The idea was to let go of the four basic food groups I'd been raised on: grease, sugar, pork & chocolate. I ate no solid food, drank plenty of liquids & snacked on bananas, grapes & raisins. I felt generally lighthearted, dizzy, disoriented, weak & got headaches on the second day: it was a religous experience.

To celebrate my monumental accomplishment, oblivous to the changes I put my body through, on the fourth day I went to Popeye's Chicken for lunch: I threw up w/ a quickness. I was on the bathroom calling 'Ralph.' I learned a painful lesson that day: ask for help. Oh. You see, my pride gets the best of me sometimes, well, actually most of the time.

I met an interesting Black woman at the (since moved) 24 hour West Side Mart one summer evening while shopping for fruit. I was checking out the cantaloupe & asked her how I'd know if it was ripe or not. She shared her experience w/ me, prompting me to let her know about my fasting challenges. After listening to her calm & serene guidance, I knew God was speaking through her.

Since that evening, I've increased my day count from three to seven to ten to fourteen. I fast twice a year, once in the summer, again during the Kwanzaa season. Last year was the first time I fasted for fourteen consecutive days. During my fast, I received a series of three colonics from the beautiful folks at the Geb Hetep Holistic Health Center in Brooklyn. In fact, the woman who treated me - Yokevid - called me at home Wednesday night to send me an informative e-mail about the do's & dont's of fasting. I've yet to receive it though.

Yokevid was adamant about proper diet, meditaion & r