Thursday, May 22, 2008

reading and writing

between preparing for the jazzmobile vocal competition on 5/30, making that IMWS deadline for the millionth time on 5/21, rewriting work for submission today to a writer's residency at Atlantic Center for the Arts and organizing the home office, i've been more than just a little busy. as if all of that weren't enough, i'm working out every day so i can get my body back by my birthday in june. so far, i really love the boxing lessons and the conditioning, and yesterday i ran a 10 minute mile. i haven't done that in quite some time.

instead of the usual blogging hi-jinx, i thought i'd let you read the first two pages of what may grow into my first book. i'm just writing what i know and remember and elaborating on it. i'm not sure what you'd call it -- memoirs? creative non-fiction? you tell me.

i didn't fall into writing last week, by the way. my mother taught me how to read when i was 3 years old and i started writing and storytelling very soon afterwards. i never thought about pursuing a career as a writer but somehow, writing was always with me. when i crashlanded in the city, i wrote a one act play and two one person shows. i majored in screenwriting as an undergrad at the new school. sure, i was a freelance writer here and there. and i'm seriously thinking about applying for the master's degree program in dramatic writing at NYU. but that's a whole other enchilada...

actually, this book idea came out of my earliest entries as a blogger for cafe los negroes. people kept telling me, this should be a book -- and one day, the idea stuck.

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During any given Sunday morning service
when I was very small, I would cry as if on cue when our bishop would begin his sermon. One would think that the music and the prayers and the praise that went up all around me for some time beforehand would lull me into a state of grace that would leave me gazing at the gigantic kaleidoscope of a stained glass ceiling that seemed to dangle just out of reach as I reclined in my mother’s lap, but no. As our bishop opened his Bible and began to read scripture, I would speak in tears. It happened with an intensity and a regularity that was disturbing. My mother’s disapproval was an ever-present threat and yet it was not enough to quiet me. A loud hasty exit that had her dragging medown a long wide aisle and the fit of violence that ensued in the ladies room was inevitable. I could not be satisfied.

As time went on, interesting theories as to the motive for my tearful behavior were bandied about with increasing regularity amongst the congregation:

“How could she possibly know when the sermon is going to begin?”

“Where did she get those lungs? They sound like they’re bigger than she is!”

“What in the world could she possibly have to say? She just got here!”

“Is she trying to sing -- or what?

There were many who saw these weekly eruptions as a sign from God. After an especially noisy outburst, someone began to call me “The Wailing Prophetess.” Eventually, so did everyone else.

I can still see that church in my mind’s eye: the modest yet stately entrance; the vestibule that felt more like a reception area than a foyer; the stained glass windows and ceiling that caught the light so completely, it made me feel as though I were perched inside of a prism; the large piece of cloth that ushers would give every woman as she entered the sanctuary if she wasn’t wearing an ankle-length skirt; the paper fans that fluttered amongst the congregation on a hot day like a flock of cooing pigeons at rest, so carefully stapled to small wooden handles, solemnly advertising local funeral homes on one side with a rather formal photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. placed, inevitably, on the other; the sea of beautiful seasonally appropriate ladies’ hats that hovered head and shoulders above the congregation; the organ and the piano that mirrored each other in their placement in the sanctuary and augmented each other in sound, like clasped hands; the ladies dressed in white who looked more like elegant nurses than usherettes, my father, painfully well-dressed and dignified, a large well-worn Bible in his lap, tilting his head and making a face at me as I looked over my mother’s shoulder and caught his eye. The amen corner. The church mother. The visiting missionaries. The junior choir. The sacred alter before us. Jesus amongst us. All of us, praying as one and bound together as brothers and sisters -- in spirit and in truth, and as black folk.

In the parlance of the day, black people referred to each other as brothers and sisters and it was a heavy thing because of our collective history. In the church, it carried even more weight because it held its own spiritual significance. To this day, there are some that I know and remember fondly from this church that I still refer to in this way. Even as I pass black folk in the street, I hear myself say these words in such an effortless unaffected way. Somewhere in our collective being, we know that once upon a time, when all we had was God and each other, our unity meant everything. And although we may not have known it when I was little, it still mattered a great deal. We are a family.

All those tears. Where did they come from?

1 comment:

Professor J said...

I just found you through Verve, and I'll be back. I really enjoyed this post. I especially liked the phrase "speaking in tears." Evocative.