Wednesday, April 26, 2006

i got a callback (and then some...)

i found out this morning that i got a callback for that north bank commercial audition i did on monday. that's wonderful news -- especially when they give you the shoot dates and ask that you be put on hold. (if i get it, i'll be in boston for 4 days. wow, boston. i haven't been back there since i left RENT. i wonder if everything is right where i left it?) hey -- i got a callback. yippee!

when i called my agent to confirm the callback time, he congratulated me for making the cover of the arts & leisure section of the new york times. huh?! it's for the RENT 10th anniversary celebration/benefit performance. evidently, someone snapped the just-right shot as all of us -- ten years of cast members, though certainly not all of us by a long-shot -- were onstage for the specially rearranged seasons of love reprise. he said that although there are a lot of people onstage, he couldn't miss me. i was right out front, very nearly center stage: black cocktail dress, cleavage and all. what?!

photo op and full new york times article below -- you tell me if you can pick me out or not. i'm going to run out and get a paper, for posterity and all. and my grandmother.

in the meantime, i've got an audition for the broadway musical high fidelity this afternoon. more details coming soon. stay tuned.

A NY Times Article about the RENT anniversary...

Another Season of Love: The Original Cast Reassembles for a 'Rent' Anniversary

Joan Marcus

Cast alumni of the original production of "Rent" joined Monday at the Nederlander Theater in a semistaged version of the show, celebrating the 10th anniversary. Droppable audience names included Senator Charles E. Schumer and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who praised "Rent" as exemplifying "culture, community and creativity."

Over the years, as the musical "Rent" has reached milestone after milestone — playing around the world in more than 200 productions from Boise to Little Rock to Reykjavik — the thousands of people who have been affected by this vibrant, gritty and compassionate work may well wonder what its creator, Jonathan Larson, would have thought of it all.

Another milestone came on Monday night. The original Broadway production of "Rent" opened at the Nederlander Theater 10 years ago this Saturday. That production, directed by Michael Greif, was an almost-intact transfer of the initial production at the New York Theater Workshop, which had opened three months earlier.

To celebrate the anniversary the original cast members reassembled, rehearsed for two days and performed the show in a semistaged version at the Nederlander on Monday. The event was a benefit for the New York Theater Workshop, for Friends in Deed (a support organization that gave comfort to several of Mr. Larson's friends dealing with H.I.V. infections.), and for the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, which was set up by his family after the enormous success of "Rent."

Before the performance, the co-chairmen of the benefit told the star-studded audience that more than $2 million had been raised. Also addressing the crowd were Senator Charles E. Schumer and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who praised "Rent" as a timeless work exemplifying "culture, community and creativity," in the mayor's words, and saluted the show's vast contributions to New York's theatrical life.

Once again you could only think, "Would Jonathan ever have imagined all this?" Mr. Larson, who wrote the music, lyrics and books for his stage works, struggled for more than 10 years to get a producer to take a shot at one of his shows. Now he was being posthumously thanked for giving Broadway a creative and economic boost. "Rent" is the seventh longest running show in Broadway history.

I count myself among those who were personally affected by Mr. Larson's work, because of the inadvertent role I played in the last hours of his life. In 1996 an editor at The Times tipped me off to the opening of a rock musical, inspired by "La Bohème," which transplanted Puccini's struggling bohemians from Paris in the 1830's to the East Village in 1990's. So on Jan. 24 I went to the New York Theater Workshop to see the dress rehearsal of "Rent," which was scheduled to open in February.

That performance was pretty ragged, with technical glitches and a misbehaving sound system. But I was swept away by the sophistication and exuberance of Mr. Larson's music and the mix of tenderness and cleverness in his lyrics. After the show Mr. Larson and I sat down for an interview in the tiny ticket booth of the theater, the only quiet space we could find amid the post-rehearsal confusion. For almost an hour, this sad-eyed and boyish creator talked about his approach to songwriting, his determination to bring the American musical tradition to the MTV generation, and about friends struggling with H.I.V. infection who had inspired the show.

We shook hands, he went home to his ramshackle walk-up apartment in the West Village, put a kettle on the stove to make some tea, then collapsed and died of an aortic aneurysm. He was 35.

Understandably I have felt a little protective of "Rent" ever since. Four years ago, curious to see how the show was faring, I took in a performance at the Nederlander and was dismayed. The young and handsome cast was full of talent. But the sound system was blaringly loud. The show was pumped up with a rockish brashness that seemed forced, as if the presenters, afraid that the subtlety of Mr. Larson's score would be lost on young audiences, had opted to bludgeon them into submission.

On that last night of his life Mr. Larson spoke of his desire to bridge the world of musical theater, which has championed the artful mingling of words and music, with the world of rock, which feeds on pulsating rhythms and visceral power. He wanted his score to have rockish energy. But lyrics were everything to him, and he wanted the words to be audible, not buried in buzz-saw speaker noise. "The bane of my existence is that I'm relying on electronics, and I'm only as good as my sound board operator," he told me that night.

My guess is that Mr. Larson would have been pleased by the film version of "Rent" directed by Chris Columbus, released last year. I went to the film with trepidation. To me "Rent" is a triumph of theater. But adapting a musical for film inevitably involves opening it up, as this movie did with street scenes filmed on location in New York. Onstage the death of Angel, the endearing drag queen, is depicted abstractly with billowing sheets and a circle of bereft friends. In the film the scene is made literal, set in an intensive care unit. The filmed "Rent" seems a safer show than Mr. Larson may have intended. Still, every word in every lyric is audible, every voice in the complex choral numbers comes through, and the richness of Mr. Larson's harmonies works its magic.

The producers were worried at first that the original cast — many are in the film — would look too mature. But just as in Puccini's opera, there is no reason the circle of friends in "Rent" cannot be in their early 30's rather than their early 20's. They looked terrific in the film.

The original cast members looked more than terrific when they walked onstage on Monday night to the screeching ovation of the audience and lined up in a row to sing the show's disarming anthem "Seasons of Love."

Though this performance was not intended for review, I can say that that the cast did itself proud. Understandably, as actors fumbled for lines now and then, the event became as much an affectionate reunion as a straight-ahead performance. But moment after moment brought you back to the early days of "Rent" when the show's honesty and power were so stunning. Adam Pascal, the original Roger, the punk band singer and songwriter at the heart of the show, has lost none of his sexiness and charisma. His voice, at once raw and plaintive, especially when he lets a note swell with earthy vibrato, soared in "Glory," the ballad that seems like Mr. Larson's premonition of his own death: "One song/ Glory/One Song/Before I go/Glory/ One song to leave behind."

The crowd broke into frenzy when Daphne Rubin-Vega, as Mimi, the S&M club dancer who falls for Roger, straddled the railing of the stage's upper level to sing the gritty "Out Tonight." Idina Menzel as Maureen and Taye Diggs as Bennie (who are now married and have both gone on to thriving careers) could not resist bantering during scenes that brought them together. The audience loved it. Anthony Rapp was again the ideal Mark, the loose-limbed and insecure video artist who believes so strongly in his community of friends. Though Jesse L. Martin is by far best known these days for his role as Detective Edward Green on "Law & Order," he looked elated to be singing and playing the good-hearted Tom Collins, who falls in love with Angel. And the slight-framed yet dynamic Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Angel, again disarmed the audience with his cross-dressing dance number "Today 4 U."

At the end of the evening the original cast retreated to the rear of the stage and the current cast appeared to sing "Seasons of Love." They looked like fresh-faced kids playing grown-up roles. Then the stage filled with dozens of actors, all former members of "Rent" casts who joined in the song, until, at the end, everybody hugged everybody. Afterward there was a reception at Cipriani on East 42nd Street, where the original cast members were swamped by autograph-seekers and you could see celebrities like Jon Bon Jovi chatting with the mayor.

For me the original production at the 150-seat New York Theater Workshop will never be topped. The intimacy of the space allowed the performance to have subtlety and clarity, while still packing a rocking wallop. But "Rent" has become something bigger than Jonathan Larson ever imagined.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Crowds at the Nederlander Theater Monday hoping to see "Rent."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


i'm tired.

i wore myself out at the RENT 10 year anniversary performance and party last night. it was too too much: seeing everyone all together, all at once, all of a sudden. who knows how long it will take for me to truly process all of it. i'm standing in the light of day and i'm still overwhelmed. expect photos and a nice long rant about it real soon. in the meantime, my friend says he saw me on NY1 earlier today, singing the seasons of love finale. are you sure it was me, i asked. uh-huh, he mumbled. geez. i wonder if they got me before or after i was bawling my eyes out. *sigh*

in the meantime, i have an audition tomorrow afternoon for * get this* Hi-Fidelity. that's right, you heard me the first time -- the movie with john cusack that was a book written by brit nick hornby is about to be a broadway musical, believe it or not. the protagonist's backdrop and life began in london, then it moved to chicago and now it's going to be a new york story. it's a universal story, really: a thirty-something guy's love life examined with a really cool indie soundtrack as its sidekick.

of course, there's a black girl in it -- that is, if they choose to cast it that way...

and no, i still don't have my voice back 100% yet. whatever i had vocally got shot right out from under me during the performance last night. only time and sleep with lots of water will give it back to me -- unless i go see dr. scott kessler, vocal specialist to the stars, who can give me a booster shot in the bum and a tiny envelope of steroids that will restore my voice by the following day. unfortunately, i don't have the small sack of gold that i'd need as payment for his services. and yes, he's worth every nugget.

Monday, April 24, 2006

another (commercial) audition: north bank

i have to say this: commercial auditions freak me all the way out because most of what it takes to get the gig has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with your "look" -- and God help me but what that means is an ever-evolving thing for me as a black woman. another blacktress broke it down for me in plain english one day as we were waiting to be seen for an american express commercial that's running incessantly right now: for movies, they like black girls with straight hair; for commercials, they prefer black girls with natural or "texturized" hair. problem is, i have hair that no one understands, except africans and very progressive african-americans. i think it's because film is usually about the fantasy (and let's face it, in most of america, straight hair is also what's considered to be prettier) and commercials are for the everyday moments, like clipping coupons or taking care of the kids. her suggestion: have hair that white people can understand -- especially if it's natural. if they don't understand it, they're afraid of it. and what they're afraid of, they won't hire. now does that sum up everything that's wrong with this country racially/ethnically or what.

i get a lot of callbacks for commercials but hey, look at me: i'm a size 6 which reads as "co-ed" or "young mom"; i have my own hair and nails which reads "real" or "sincere" (whatever that means); and i wear a minimum amount of make-up, for a clean, fresh-faced appearance, which reads "young". nobody cares how old i actually am. all they care about is what the camera says. the camera says that i'm in my early to mid-twenties. if i gained weight, it would definitely say something else.

a few months ago, my manager told me that if i weighed 75 more pounds, i'd work all the time. i know that he's right. my friend knows an actress that's agonizing about whether to lose the weight that she'd gained after a sudden illness. it seems that ever since she's gone from a 4/6 to a 16/18, she's been working non-stop. most of the big black women i know work all the time. but weight gain isn't an option for me. i think the reason why i don't have (and have never had) any health problems whatsoever is because i live at the gym, i eat very well and i pop vitamins after every meal. why trash all that for a paycheck? but i digress.

like i said, with most commercial auditions, they look at you and decide if they want you before you even open your mouth. but then once you make the first cut, all of the other things come into play. like being able to readjust for the camera, hitting your mark and -- oh, yeah -- acting. i got rid of all of my wierd nervous facial ticks and twitches when i did the it factor. six months or so of cameras following me around all the time pretty much did the trick. now i can readjust effortlessly, thank God.

this one was for north bank, at liz lewis casting in chelsea. (never heard of 'em. must be a regional thing.) they know me there and they like me a lot. i get seen for something there at least once a month and i usually get called back, so when i go in its like a mini meet 'n greet, which is nice. actually, getting called back but not getting the job isn't so horrible as my friend joan cargill loves to say, because at least i'm being considered for the job. an audition means i'm showing up, i'm here. a callback means i'm in the running, i'm in the game, i'm in play.

so when i came in, the guys at the front were friendly and cool (that always puts me at ease). one of them was playing the hook to the andy williams' song born free on an endless loop. i was like, whoa -- you're way too young to know who he is and why he's cool and he was like, whoa -- i'm way to young looking to know. it's all about what you look like, isn't it. and then he winked at me. (too-shay...) as he took my photo, he told me that everyone was supposed to sing that line in the audition. ha-ha, i thought, i know the whole song. (how sad is that?) this is going to be a hoot.

and it was. i went in with all of my things as props, turned to a wall as if i were making a point of purchase, and then i turn around and burst into song like julie andrews because i feel so free about my banking choices, now that i'm with north bank. no lines. just me singing born free a capella and looking genuinely elated -- but in a not theatrical/not cheesy/realistic way. "sing it the way you would if you just burst into song in real life," the agent suggested helpfully. and God help me, but all i could think about was mary poppins.

and then it was over. how could i fret about it? my hair was probably all wrong. (too black, too strong...) besides, i am to perform in the RENT 10th anniversary show at the nederlander tonight. i'm still trying to figure out what i'm going to wear!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

so tell me something i don't know...

Your Power Level is: 86%

You have all the tools you need to be a success - both professionally and personally.
You'll probably go beyond reaching your goals. You'll change the world (at least a little).

Thursday, April 20, 2006


i went to the dmv the other day on 34th and 6th, up the street from the manhattan mall. someone told me that it would be easier to get things done there instead of at the one uptown on 125th street. it sounded like a great idea—i didn’t even know that there was a dmv there. i went there in the early afternoon. what a zoo. all of humanity was there in its unwashed glory, in lines that looped back on themselves endlessly and somehow never moved. they snaked their way throughout the room, creating a kind of orderly confusion that was absurd. of course, i didn’t stay. but i did figure out what i had to do to get a learner’s permit and what forms of ID i had to bring with me upon my return. (my utility bill? you betcha!)

i didn’t think that i’d have to exert this much effort to do something this simple but i don’t care what it takes. i’ve decided to give myself a driver’s license for my birthday. that means i’ve got until june 30th to pull it off. my friend says he’ll gladly give me driving lessons in a parking lot deep in the heart of new jersey—it’s where he grew up, so he knows all about it—but i have to get my learner’s permit so we’ll be practicing legally. i have to skip town for a month in the middle of may so i don’t necessarily have that much time. and there’s a class that i’m required to take, too. yeesh. and of course there are fees. more money i don’t have.

but somehow i know that it’ll be worth it, if only to wipe that smug, smarmy look off of my entire family’s face and end once and for all the endless comedy routine that erupts whenever my name and the word car is mentioned in the same sentence.

that’s my real birthday present. that’s what i really want: to silence the peanut gallery.

oh and by the way—you maybe wondering why didn’t i learn how to drive before now, because it’s such a rite of passage for teenagehood and i’m waaaay past all that and everybody’s got one and i don’t. actually, i’ve got three good reasons. just for the record, here they are:

  1. from what i observed as a kid, being able to drive a car meant that i was handy for running errands. it didn’t mean that i had any real degree of freedom. i couldn’t do what i wanted to do, just because i had a driver’s license. the only thing that would give me that freedom was leaving home. clearly a jet airliner was in order, not a car. everybody wasn’t thinking like me. i know plenty of people who haven’t left their hometown yet.
  1. i have spent most of my adult life in nyc—a place that has an excellent transportation system. owning a car is expensive, anyway. nevermind paying it off or the gas or parking issues. usually, you have to pay for a place to keep it when it’s not in use. i usually walk to where i’m going. when the weather’s warm, i ride a bike. most of my friends who live elsewhere drive everywhere—and they look it.
  1. when i did live in texas as a college student, i rode a motorcycle—and i didn’t need to have a driver’s license to ride one. i needed a motorcycle license.

Monday, April 17, 2006

another audition: imagine tap

it was all laid out for me and i did everything that i was supposed to do: i was to sing blues music (a walk in the park for me if there ever was one) but i brought sheet music anyway and made sure that it was well-marked. i had extra headshots. i looked fantastic even by my own exacting standards, thanks to those late-night runs in the park. (i'm finally starting to see progress, thank God.) everything was in place -- except for my voice. it left me sometime in the night as i slept fitfully, thanks to post nasal drip from my raw nose and a lack of humidity in my room. unusual, because i kept my humidifier running constantly but i didn't realize that it had run out of water. a vocal audition with no voice. believe it or not, i showed up anyway. ballsy, right?

but i had to. it was for a show that was in development -- and i want to originate work, not replicate it. gwen called me for this one. zane mark is the md and darryl waters is involved as well. john would be playing piano for the audition. i figured it would be like old home week (we all worked on harlem song together) -- and it was. immediately, i was completely at ease -- which left me free to concentrate on giving zane what he needed in terms of intent, phrasing and throughline. (trust me -- there's way more to singing than opening your mouth and having pretty notes come out.) when i left, i knew that he was satisfied with what i did, even if i ended up sounding like macy grey.

when is this thing going to clear up? my ear aches, my head is full of snot and my throat is sore. i have a gig on friday night and i'm supposed to do wfuv's idiot's delight on saturday...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

tomorrow, already

i've got a pretty cool audition tomorrow. if i get it, it'll fill out the rest of my summer nicely. the wonky news is, i've got an earache, a raw nose and lots of mucus. i don't know what happened to me. change of seasons, maybe. something is infected and my body is fighting it all the way. they want a blues song and they want me to be prepared to sing a gospel number -- not a problem, unless i have no voice. but strangely, my throat is unaffected.

everybody's got their home remedies. here's mine: i'm going to walk to midtown from west harlem for church service, do a shot of wheatgrass before i get there, get some odwalla superfood and some orange juice from whole foods on the way back uptown, make it to easter dinner with my friends, pop vitamins and medicine and go to bed early. and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

happy easter!

after church service in the middle of the afternoon, i went to a lovely easter dinner party uptown, in one of those glorious, sprawling pre-war apartments on riverside drive. i love to cook and bake but i was told to not bring anything except an appetite. there were candles everywhere. it was casual, intimate and fun. and delicious: cream of asparagus soup followed by a salad and then rack of lamb with bundled string beans and herb roasted potatoes. i ate way too much. unfortunately, my friend couldn't be there. he had to work. how sweet that everyone missed him.

after dinner, someone pulled out a guitar and we passed it around, so there were a lot of wonderfully spontaneous moments for singing and playing as we all drifted in and out of conversation and continued to sip coffee and nibble on sweets. not one chocolate bunny in sight, unfortunately -- but i did bring enough kindereggs for everyone, which had all of us furtively putting together our toys after the cognac settled in, in spite of the german directions.

what a beautiful night.

Monday, April 10, 2006

"Marriage Is For White People"

this is an interesting article that rosa c. forwarded to me last week. i emailed it to all the black folks i could think of and got such strong feedback that i thought i'd blog it. bon appetit.

"Marriage Is For White People" by Joy Jones
Washington Post March 26, 2006

I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether. But as a black woman, I have witnessed the outrage of girlfriends when the ex failed to show up for his weekend with the kids, and I've seen the disappointment of children who missed having a dad around. Having enjoyed a close relationship with my own father, I made a conscious decision that I wanted a husband, not a live-in boyfriend and not a "baby's daddy," when it came my time to mate and marry.
My time never came.

For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.

"Marriage is for white people."

That's what one of my students told me some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington. I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people."

He's right. At least statistically. The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Such statistics have caused Howard University relationship therapist Audrey Chapman to point out that African Americans are the most uncoupled people in the country.

How have we gotten here? What has shifted in African American customs, in our community, in our consciousness, that has made marriage seem unnecessary or unattainable?

Although slavery was an atrocious social system, men and women back then nonetheless often succeeded in establishing working families. In his account of slave life and culture, "Roll, Jordan, Roll," historian Eugene D. Genovese wrote: "A slave in Georgia prevailed on his master to sell him to Jamaica so that he could find his wife, despite warnings that his chances of finding her on so large an island were remote. . . . Another slave in Virginia chopped his left hand off with a hatchet to prevent being sold away from his son." I was stunned to learn that a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during slavery days than he or she is today, according to sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin.

Traditional notions of family, especially the extended family network, endure. But working mothers, unmarried couples living together, out-of-wedlock births, birth control, divorce and remarriage have transformed the social landscape. And no one seems to feel this more than African American women. One told me that with today's changing mores, it's hard to know "what normal looks like" when it comes to courtship, marriage and parenthood. Sex, love and childbearing have become a la carte choices rather than a package deal that comes with marriage. Moreover, in an era of brothers on the "down low," the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman.

"A woman who takes that step is bold and brave," one young single mother told me. "Women don't want to marry because they don't want to lose their freedom."

Among African Americans, the desire for marriage seems to have a different trajectory for women and men. My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field. As the woman realizes that a good marriage may not be as possible or sustainable as she would like, her focus turns to having a baby, or possibly improving her job status, perhaps by returning to school or investing more energy in her career.
As men mature, and begin to recognize the benefits of having a roost and roots (and to feel the consequences of their risky bachelor behavior), they are more willing to marry and settle down. By this time, however, many of their female peers are satisfied with the lives they have constructed and are less likely to settle for marriage to a man who doesn't bring much to the table. Indeed, he may bring too much to the table: children and their mothers from previous relationships, limited earning power, and the fallout from years of drug use, poor health care, sexual promiscuity. In other words, for the circumspect black woman, marriage may not be a business deal that offers sufficient return on investment.

In the past, marriage was primarily just such a business deal. Among wealthy families, it solidified political alliances or expanded land holdings. For poorer people, it was a means of managing the farm or operating a household. Today, people have become economically self-sufficient as individuals, no longer requiring a spouse for survival. African American women have always had a high rate of labor-force participation. "Why should well-salaried women marry?" asked black feminist and author Alice Dunbar-Nelson as early as 1895. But now instead of access only to low-paying jobs, we can earn a breadwinner's wage, which has changed what we want in a husband. "Women's expectations have changed dramatically while men's have not changed much at all," said one well-paid working wife and mother. "Women now say, 'Providing is not enough. I need more partnership.' "

The turning point in my own thinking about marriage came when a longtime friend proposed about five years ago. He and I had attended college together, dated briefly, then kept in touch through the years. We built a solid friendship, which I believe is a good foundation for a successful marriage.

But -- if we had married, I would have had to relocate to the Midwest. Been there, done that, didn't like it. I would have had to become a stepmother and, although I felt an easy camaraderie with his son, stepmotherhood is usually a bumpy ride. I wanted a house and couldn't afford one alone. But I knew that if I was willing to make some changes, I eventually could.

As I reviewed the situation, I realized that all the things I expected marriage to confer -- male companionship, close family ties, a house -- I already had, or were within reach, and with exponentially less drama. I can do bad by myself, I used to say as I exited a relationship. But the truth is, I can do pretty good by myself, too.

Most single black women over the age of 30 whom I know would not mind getting married, but acknowledge that the kind of man and the quality of marriage they would like to have may not be likely, and they are not desperate enough to simply accept any situation just to have a man. A number of my married friends complain that taking care of their husbands feels like having an additional child to raise. Then there's the fact that marriage apparently can be hazardous to the health of black women. A recent study by the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan think tank in New York City, indicates that married African American women are less healthy than their single sisters.

By design or by default, black women cultivate those skills that allow them to maintain themselves (or sometimes even to prosper) without a mate.

"If Jesus Christ bought me an engagement ring, I wouldn't take it," a separated thirty-something friend told me. "I'd tell Jesus we could date, but we couldn't marry."

And here's the new twist. African American women aren't the only ones deciding that they can make do alone. Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect. In his 2003 book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf between Women and Men," Andrew Hacker noted that the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s. In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960. So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future.

Still, does this mean that marriage is going the way of the phonograph and the typewriter ribbon?
"I hope it isn't," said one friend who's been married for seven years. "The divorce rate is 50 percent, but people remarry. People want to be married. I don't think it's going out of style."

A black male acquaintance had a different prediction. "I don't believe marriage is going to be extinct, but I think you'll see fewer people married," he said. "It's a bad thing. I believe it takes the traditional family -- a man and a woman -- to raise kids." He has worked with troubled adolescents, and has observed that "the girls who are in the most trouble and who are abused the most -- the father is absent. And the same is true for the boys, too." He believes that his presence and example in the home is why both his sons decided to marry when their girlfriends became pregnant.

But human nature being what it is, if marriage is to flourish -- in black or white America -- it will have to offer an individual woman something more than a business alliance, a panacea for what ails the community, or an incubator for rearing children. As one woman said, "If it weren't for the intangibles, the allure of the lovey-dovey stuff, I wouldn't have gotten married. The benefits of marriage are his character and his caring. If not for that, why bother?"

Sunday, April 09, 2006

i love a parade...even a soggy one

i had a gig on saturday night with jc hopkins' biggish band at swing 46. on the first break, chuck mackinnon introduces me to what he called his "two dads" -- they hugged me like they'd known me all my young life. turns out they were scottish tourists, in town for the tartan day parade. it wasn't a "kiss me, i'm irish" moment but it was awfully close. and very funny. ("we're scots," one of them declared, "not scotch. scotch is a whisky-flavored gin.") as it turns out, their two nieces (ages 14 and 16) were leading the parade the next day. they made all of it sound like so much fun, i thought i'd see if my friend wanted to go. after all, he is scottish-american.

i love a parade, the song goes -- and it's true, i do. i love it that everyone has their own parade in this city. we're not supposed to forget our heritage and our cultures and our languages to be "as american as possible" -- whose big idea was that, anyway? there's no such thing as a melting pot. it's actually a gigantic salad. it's our uniqueness that makes us great. i don't understand the push to keep certain people out when that's the way most of us got here. the only real americans are native americans. everyone else is an immigrant -- except, of course, the african slaves who came here against their will.

my friend thought that going to the tartan day parade was a lousy idea.

"first of all," he goes, "it's supposed to rain. you know what that means? lots of mulching woolen kilts." "that's never stopped any parade from happening in the city," i countered. so he checked the website and said, "sixth avenue?! who has a parade on sixth avenue?! everybody gets to parade down fifth avenue. the puerto ricans. the germans. the irish. why to the scots get sixth avenue?! and why do they only get 15 blocks?!" the truth is, he had a really good point. we had just happened onto the greek independence day parade a few weeks before on museum mile when we were on our way to the met to see the last day of the rauschenberg exhibit. interestingly enough, black folks' parades needed their own neighborhood and their own borough, respectively: the african-american day parade happens on malcolm x boulevard (where else?) and the west indian day parade (the biggest parade in the city, by the way) is in brooklyn.

was the city of new york treating the scots like *gasp* red-headed step-children?

i don't know how i did it, but i talked him into going to the tartan day parade. the weather was so cold and rainy as we stepped out of the subway that my friend declared, it's probably cancelled. it certainly looked cancelled, in spite of the steel barricades that were assembled along the route. we got there too early and standing around in the freezing cold was not an option, so we went to MoMA and saw the Edvard Munch exhibit, which was profoundly depressing. so we saw some de Koonings and some "monochromatic abstract art" that really annoyed me. anyone remember the broadway play "art" wherein one friend gave his buddy a painting that was basically white? lots of stuff like that. remarkably, my friend can make sense of it. i can, too, eventually -- but i don't think i should have to work that hard.

we killed a little too much time because when we came out, it looked the same as it had before, pretty much. i didn't even hear any bagpipes faintly in the distance. i felt sad. "don't worry," my friend said brightly, "i'll get you some bagpipe music." (he was totally making fun of me, wasn't he?)

hey, wait a minute. my friend is also part norwegian. i think i'll take him to the norwegian-american day parade in may. i won't tell him where we're going this time, though. i want to see the look of genuine surprise on his face when we show up.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

the bad news and the good news

the bad news is, the callback for the "chase mileage" commercial got cancelled. no one knew why. the short answer is that they 86'ed my part but who knows -- maybe they cast it at the last minute from some other direction. oh, well.

the good news is, i had a great meeting with the HOWL festival organizers at F.E.V.A. this afternoon. they're interested in the jc hopkins biggish band and my songs. neat-o. afterwards, i went to the mud cafe for a chai soy latte and walked across town to get some fresh air and think.

all in a day's work. i'm going for a long run in riverbank state park while the sun is still shining.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

i got a callback!

i'm going in tomorrow afternoon for a callback on the "chase mileage" commercial. they called me today with the details. i been on this ride so many times, i can't even get my hopes up. of course i'll wear the same outfit. the rest is in God's hands.

i want to say "gee, i want to do my best" but i can't because with commercials there is no such thing as "doing your best" -- you don't get the gig by doing anything, necessarily. a lot of it is what you look like. there were no lines with this one. i walked around some chairs, i sat down, i smiled faintly (probably because i hadn't eaten anything and i was kind of out of it) and that was it. they liked my "look" -- wigless. (ha!)

getting the gig would be stellar but the fact that i keep getting callbacks for commercials without a wig makes me very, very happy.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

i look familiar...

they called me on monday for a commercial audition. something called "chase mileage" -- was i interested? it's all such a two-step for me by now that i took down all of the information and didn't give it a second thought. they wanted me to be a young mom. i didn't know what that meant anymore. renee suggested that i wear a particular wig that she knew i had -- she knows my closet quite well and i know hers, too (it's a blactress thing) -- but i can't do that. i think wigs make me look older. and desperate, somehow. it doesn't have that natural wow-i-didn't-think-that-was-a-wig-at-all look. i look like one of those painfully well-dressed senegalese girls that's trying a little too hard to get over. so i have wigs, just in case i need them but just in case never really happens.

there's a reason for that.

once upon a time, a fellow blactress explained it to me, in technicolor: in commercials, they like black girls with natural hair. that's reality -- the girl that clips coupons, changes the diapers and bakes. she wears practical shoes, says sensible things about over the counter medication and uses pine-sol. in the movies, they like black girls with perms and weaves. that's the fantasy -- the long hair, the knowing look, the fake nails. she wears heels, uses profane language and if she isn't a prostitute, she probably looks like one. television can go either way but usually if it's shot in el-lay, they go the weave route.

i don't straighten my hair. the reasons why are too numerous to mention. but trust me, they're good ones. if you put a gun to my head, i'll certainly do a press and curl if the role demands it but chemicals are not an option. and that's that.

the next morning was cold and rainy. i was on time and drowsy, dressed in a conservative woolen skirt and woolen sweater-jacket. and i was wigless.

there was another black woman there. we came up on the elevator together. she said, you look familiar. i said it would probably hit her later that afternoon, why she thought she knew me. she was darker than me and she had on a lovely burnt mustard-yellow shirt and she had dreads. as we stepped off the elevator, we were whisked into the room without even signing in. there were four of us -- she and i and an older white couple. we were to play musical chairs. the catch was that all of us were able to sit down comfortably. when we sat down, we were to give each other knowing looks. and that was it. we slated, he shot it and the next thing i knew, i had finally signed in. as i left, she remembered me -- from a swing band i used to sing with a few years ago. small world.

as i got on the elevator, a tall good-looking black man got on with me, half-smiled and said, you look familiar...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

the latest list

some people have everything brought to them. they show up in nyc and in short order, whatever they reach for is in their hands, no matter what it is -- a record deal, a broadway show, the ideal set-up, the perfect job... you name it. me? reaching out doesn't seem to give me much more than lots of flexibility. don't get me wrong. i've accomplished some wonderful things that way. but i've never had an avalanche of success come to me by waiting for the phone to ring. it's all about my own ideas, my own plan of action. this is the hardest way but in the long run, i think i'll be better off.

ultimately, God knows what He's doing. the d.i.y. approach suits my temperament and my personality. i'm much stronger and more confident than i ever would have been if things had happened the other way around. and i actually have something to say.

my not-so-secret weapon is, i have this habit of making lists. they're everywhere: on post-it notes by the phone, in my journal, on half-used deli napkins, a junk mail envelope that i was about to throw away. it's a way of organizing my thoughts, realigning my goals and priorities and making sure that i get certain things done in a timely fashion. i've got it down to a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly situation. i can't tell you what i'll have for lunch next tuesday but i can tell you exactly where i want my life to be in ten years. of course, what i want and what i get are sometimes two completely different things. but wanting something is a great start.

none of it is written in stone. it changes according to my mood, my circumstances, my money flow -- but i keep writing things down anyway. sometimes it feels like a writing excercise. something to do before i go to bed, or right before i get out of bed or as i'm about to leave my place. sometimes it feels like an excercise in futility. (will i really have my very own brownstone in harlem someday, with a nice big backyard filled with flowers, a recording studio in the basement and my record label on the ground floor?) but sometimes there are moments when something takes over my hand as i'm writing and i let go. i think of things that seem impossible -- relocating to nyc on no money to live and work as an artist, for example -- and i find a plan of action to make it happen. and then all of a sudden, i realize that it's time to dream something else because i'm living the dream i thought would never happen. do that enough times with no money in your pockets and nothing in your hands but spit and grit and prayer and determination and after awhile, anything seems possible.

my ex-boyfriend used to say, "if you want to make God laugh, make plans." in his mind, that made it okay to have no plan at all. whenever he would tell me that, i would say, what a cop out. if nothing ever happened, that must have been God's plan all along. but proverbs 16:9 says "in his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps." it's a two way street.
jiminy cricket was right -- a dream is a wish your heart makes -- and God is there to light the way. i suppose i could learn how to box with one hand tied behind my back -- but why?

here's my latest list.

i woke up today and realized that even though it's snowing right now in big heavy chunks and i was wearing snowpants, it was only an optical illusion. spring has sprung officially. the next thing i knew, it would be august. i had to ignore the visuals. what did i want to accomplish before the end of the summer? there's a lot of lists going on but here's a little from each of them. these are ten things that i absolutely have to do by the end of the summer, no matter what:
  1. record/mix/master the follow up black americana cd
  2. record/mix/master the jazz cd
  3. record/mix/master the folk/country cd
  4. of course, i'm going down south for a spell to see my family -- but hey, how about a real vacation? (i can't remember the last time i had one.) i want to leave the country for a week or so with my friend.
  5. do a 14 day fast -- and finish it off with some hardcore hydrocolonic therapy
  6. read that ridiculously heady three volumed kierkegaard nightmare
  7. take my annual "on the beach in my black bikini" photo
  8. (...look absolutely spectacular in that black bikini, by the way...)
  9. open an IRA account
  10. live alone

Saturday, April 01, 2006's what's for dinner!

this is my uncle hiram, the great southern outdoorsman, showing me how to skin a squirrel last christmas.

part one

part two

and finally, part three

(and no, squirrel does not taste just like chicken.)