Tuesday, December 29, 2009

the bad and the good and the good

the bad news is that due to unforeseen delays that had absolutely nothing to do with me, my jazz cd what is love? will not be available for purchase at the new year's eve eve gig with the salon at the player's club on december 30.

the good news is that it will be ready for pick up from the manufacturer by (or perhaps even before) january 13, 2010.

more good news: you can hear selections from the album (does anyone say "album" anymore?) on myspace - http://www.myspace.com/queenestherandthehotfive - and reverbnation - http://www.reverbnation.com/queenesther5

if you do happen to give any of the songs a listen, feel free to leave me a note. i'd love to know what you think.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"...he said the sheriff is near!"

i've been way too busy finishing up the liner notes, artwork and mastering for my jazz cd "what is love?" -- which, shockingly, should be hot off the manufacturing rack and ready to sell at my new year's eve eve gig at the player's club with my quintet -- to blog anything of interest here. it's almost done, though. yay! i even found a publicist/radio promoter who believes in the album, believe it or not. God only knows how long it's going to take to get it on iTunes. please bear with me.

i've been working on a few more country songs, freelancing during the day, singing with swing bands and auditioning for minstrel shows. clearly, blogworthy things are happening to me every day. i've got to get on the stick!

in the meantime - the great news is *drumroll, please!* i'm going to sign with my talent agent next week. now that's a nice way to end the year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Precious, my Precious: Black Female Citizenship, Complexity, and the Politics of Unrelenting Survival

I saw the film Precious some weeks ago and afterwards, I had every intention of writing strong words to explain exactly why it moved me the way that it did. Because for whatever reason -- with the exception of Armand White's review Pride & Precious, of course -- no one was touching on certain things about the movie that were glaringly obvious to me. After reading this note that was passed to me on facebook (thanks Tanya), I realized that someone else -- a black woman! -- had already said it for me.

This reblog is with the author's permission. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Precious, my Precious: Black Female Citizenship, Complexity, and the Politics of Unrelenting Survival by Malkia A. Cyril

Share/Yesterday at 2:53pm

As I sit against the florescence of the television screen, watching the conservative Fox News pundit Glen Beck drive political nails into progressive leaders using the fear of U.S. blacks and immigrants of color as his hammer, my memory harkens back to the year in which the book Push was set, 1987. During that time, eugenics theories about the inherent laziness and criminality of black teenagers was rampantly resurgent in the news. Conservative research was cementing stereotypes of the black welfare queen, the crack baby, the HIV infected black woman as the truth that justified the destruction of the safety net as we knew it. Since then, health care has become increasingly privatized. Welfare has turned horrifically to an indentured servitude of workfare. The numbers of black women with HIV have skyrocketed. And the movie Precious, based on the book Push by Sapphire, was released.

Caricatures or Complex Characters?

Clarice “Precious” Jones is an extreme character, meant to shock the senses and unveil the underbelly of the brutality of racism and capitalism in the patriarchal land of the free. In the film and in the book, Precious is a dark-skinned teenaged girl who experiences multiple forms of oppression and violence at the hands of multiple perpetrators. In the movie, her sexually brutal father is an invisible or blurry character at best, while her mother, whose victimization as a woman was only alluded to, is cast as the primary perpetrator. It is only through the extreme telling of an extreme story that this dichotomy of inequity is revealed. There are no men in the story as told in the movie, and the welfare and education systems which oppress black womanhood and subvert black female resistance are cast as saviors. Questions have been necessarily raised by black audiences –is this story the best way to reveal these contradictions? Is the mother the real villain? Does the story reflect reality or is it more of a caricature? And if a caricature how does that shape the impact of the film on the representations of black women in media and in the public psyche?

I have known many black girls afflicted by multiple forms of abuse, compounded by addiction and illness. I have watched black women beat their children to bloody pulps in the street, cursing them the whole time. I have heard black mothers threaten to cut their daughter’s pussy out to prevent them from having sex. I have witnessed black women trade their daughters for crack. I have heard and seen so many things. And I have also seen those same exact women place themselves in front of a fist to save their daughters. I have watched those black mothers walk the hoe stroll for hours to make enough money to feed and house and clothe their babies, as they struggled to overcome addiction. I have watched, in my own home, my own beautiful black mother struggle with the decision to keep her man and have an adult life or protect her daughters and live for her children. Eventually, she chose the latter, though not soon enough. My mother was alone from the time I was about 14 to her death in 2005. That’s almost 20 years of intimate solitude in an effort to stand between her black daughters and the world of violence that waited for us in and beyond our home because she did not know how to manage both the safety of her children and her needs as a woman. These characters, Precious and her mother, are not simple caricatures, and yet the film chose some truths over others, and must be interrogated. This is by no means an exhaustive review, or a review of any kind. It’s what came for me after watching the film.

Black Womanhood and Complexity

Can you imagine that patriarchal colonialism and a generational experience of slavery can result in an experience of powerlessness and shame that can twist the mind and give rise to the belief that your three-year-old child has stolen your man? Can you imagine that there are black and brown girls, and boys, all over this world, that have HIV, have been raped by their father, sexually and physically abused by their mother, failed by the school system and exploited by the welfare system. And that these girls are brilliant and beautiful and full of unrealized promise- as are their mothers. These women are two sides of one coin, mother and daughter. Both trapped in different ways, both villainized by “culture of poverty” research, and exploited by the economic system and the civil institutions that touch and shape the daily texture of their lives.

The Narrative of Black Female Citizenship

This set of contradictions, this opening of an unhealed national and international wound, is not a mere regurgitation of racist and sexist images. There is a real untold story here, and the voice of that child and the voice of her mother need to be heard. They need to be heard because it is our silence on issues of sexual abuse and systemic violence that allows the space for the empire’s story about us to be the only one told. We do not control our media and cultural systems or the institutions of civil society, and therefore the narrative of black female citizenship has been used in so many ways as the lynchpin to justify the most brutal democracy in the world. The lies that our citizenship is somehow a gift and not a right, that our mothers are responsible for the socialization of black children and therefore the cause of their incarceration, and that our daughters have drained and massacred the economy, have justified mass incarceration, war, the privatization of social services and health care, and the defunding of public education. The same has been done to black men, using different stereotypes. But this, right here, is about black women.

Let’s talk about education. It was a strong thread that bound this plot together through the realization of the unrelenting power of words. In the book Push, the transformation of Precious occurs over the course of more than a year. Her increasing sense of pride and self-worth is tied directly to her increasing ability to read. Literacy is a powerful thing. It increases one’s ability to navigate and transform the physical, political, and economic conditions we find ourselves subject to. The ability to express one’s story, to know that it will be witnessed, is as powerful a motivation for transformation as any. Why did the leaders of the Cuban revolution begin by increasing the literacy of the poor? For the same reason that Venezuela has placed so much import on democratizing their media system. Because the power of literacy, media or otherwise, is foundational for social change. The fact that the conductor of the orchestra in this case was a black lesbian added depth and complexity to the story of black women being told in the film. the depiction of black lesbians as allies to heterosexual black women was a blessing that brought tears to my eyes.

Hollywood vs. Our Stories

All this being said, the Hollywood version of the book absolutely invisibilized patriarchy, cast the system as a hero and not an actor responsible for the conditions of oppression in which precious lived and survived, and over-simplified Precious’ mother as an animal who fed her child to the wolves. The movie’s flaws are real, and knowing that the film was being viewed by white middle class audiences whose ability to discern the notes in this song was minimal, was painful to experience.

It doesn’t make the story less powerful, less revealing, or less necessary. But it does leave room for the next telling to make these contradictions less nuanced, the complexity more stark. For U.S. born blacks mitigated by a history of slavery and colonial violence, complexity is the name of the game. And though I am tired of our black mothers, whose internalized shame and experience of powerlessness sometimes results in extraordinary brutality, being cast in roles that are either victim or villain, and never as the complex intersection of both, never as victor- I was stunned to joyful silence by the numbers of young black girls and boys I saw in the theatre. This is a complicated conversation that is rarely had in our families or classrooms, and even more rarely had in public. And it needs to be had.

Unrelenting Survival

In 1987, I was 13, and the book Push changed my life. I identified in some ways with the experience of Precious. I remember the tenements, the crack houses, the emergence of AIDS and the way both devastated family connection. I recall the news, the myth of the teenaged super-predator, the labels of crack baby, welfare mother, the images of addiction and violence that shaped so many black children’s understanding of themselves. and then there are things I won’t talk about, that make me proud to watch Precious survive, and her mother repent, on the screen. Because I understand the untenable choices black girls and women feel, and are, forced to make.

Today I am 35, and I am grateful for those precious black and brown children, those daughters of this nation’s dust, those human queens subjected to -and the perpetrators of-inhuman cruelty. Because with each individual survival there is a greater chance of our collective survival and transformation. And that is a story, a historical legacy that is the journey in my feet, the ancestor at my back, and the bitter at the bottom of capitalism’s cup. We are our mothers’ daughters, more than the sum of empire’s history, and our mothers are no worse than human. That is the story that needs to be told. Sapphire is one of hundreds of writers who pull back the veil on black female citizenship to reveal the abject bullshit of this democracy’s contract, place humanity back into the narrative, and open the door for complexity. Tell the truth, in all its complexity, regardless of the dominant group’s watchful gaze. And even when Hollywood distorts the tale, we will, by our own honest hands, set ourselves free.

Cause we are watching too. And this, precious, is for you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Queen Esther and the Hot Five at Joe's Pub

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words would a video inspire?

This one comes to you courtesy of videographer Chris Carlone, who shot the show at Joe's Pub earlier this month. We did a short set of songs for aboriginal Aussie artist Richard Bell's party from the upcoming jazz CD, tentatively titled What Is Love? that should be available for purchase before the end of the year. Aussie artist Tracey Moffatt had a lot of fun hosting the event. (Yay!) This is song is called Stardust.

Oh, I almost forgot -- ultra super secret listening party at the speakeasy Dutch Kills coming up very, very soon. Like, right after I master the CD and get it manufactured. Gimmie a few weeks, I'll get right back to you. Especially if you sign my mailing list.

Until then, enjoy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

guess what?

friday the 13th is working for me, apparently. or maybe it was that natural afro wig. who knows. all i know is, i got a callback for that PSA commercial. i go in again on monday afternoon. go figure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a thousand words

this photo is an outtake of me in the backroom at dutch kills last week, casually getting my picture taken for album cover art by the one and only cybel martin. i am framed by songwriter/band leader jc hopkins on the left and musician/composer j walter hawkes on the right. the shoot went very well. we did it on the fly and everything. there's only a few pictures that i'm deeply love with -- but thankfully, that's all i need.

and in other news: i've got a new year's eve eve gig and a new year's eve gig, both in the same place -- the player's club.

good times.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another day, another (commercial) audition - PSA

i went in for this spot later in the afternoon, which meant that i was rested, relaxed and already thinking about stuff like guitar practice and what i'd make for dinner. it was in midtown, so it was easy and quick to access. i breezed in right on time. no tension, no nervousness. no packed room, either. there was a monitor, a sign in sheet, a comfortable brightly lit couchy space and only a few of us there. i dressed casually (in a t-shirt and boyfriend jeans that i purchased for such auditions) in very little makeup and i wore a wig -- a natural wig no less -- because my hair was literally in knots and i didn't feel like wrestling it into submission. (yeah, blackgirls -- it was one of those days...)

the audition was quite simple, really: the government wants to let everyone know that there's an earned income tax rebate if you make a certain amount a year. this public service announcement is especially nifty because it's paying sag rates. so it's two black women chatting on a bus. they've known each other for a million years so it's very casual and spontaneous and open. i went in with this lovely woman whose name escapes me. we were both wearing the same color - baby blue - which cracked us up, for some reason. we were so chatty and friendly, we left the audition together and rode the train all the way up the west side, fully immersed in conversation. she was really sweet.

i guess it was like we kept the audition going. weird, right?

what's cooler than cool is that ever since that on camera acting class i took, the camera doesn't freak me out the way it used to. i can trust my inner life and my intent and let myself feel things, knowing that those feelings will magically resurface on my face. because of this, i have a whole new level of confidence that is stronger than any amount of swagger i've ever brought to a situation like this. so there's no need for nervousness. or fear. i go in, i do my thing, and i leave.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Love from Poland

I did a really cool interview some months ago for an online Polish jazz magazine called Diapazon and then I totally spaced it. Just tripped over this link on last.fm and I'm really quite taken with it. So much love from so far away is a beautiful thing.

I'm going to find a nice Polish person to tell me exactly what this article says and then I'll wallpaper my world with the results. In the meantime, you can read the whole thing in Polish here and if you aren't that kind of bilingual, you can have a very rough translation from Polish to English here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

I did it!

i worked on the 20 pages of my submission for nyfa until noon and then i caved and ran out of the house to run errands in midtown. after that, i was too wound up about what i had written to go home so i went to the nysc on 14th street and made sure that somewhere in all the working out and whatnot that i ran a mile in less than 10 minutes -- which always makes me feel like i really accomplished something. i don't know why. probably because it feels like i'm half killing myself everytime i try to pull it off.

a hot shower with all my products was in order and then that steam room, that glorious steam room. and then there were more products that moisturize me all the way down to my soul. and then i hit the street, as fresh as a frackin' daisy. i delivered the jazz CD to cybel so she could prep for our shoot and we wandered into a french bistro on 9th avenue and noshed grandly. i left there feeling so good, i practically cakewalked all the way back uptown.

in a flash, i was wrestling with the nyfa application all over again and getting stuck over the printer and wondering if i was going to make it by midnight. but i kept going anyway, like i was nanook of the north, struggling through some blizzard. i bounced all over the place before i finally crash landed in the post office on 8th avenue. and then after i sent it, i wasn't sure i'd assembled everything properly, and i rode a slow train home in a wide open panic, and couldn't remember any of what i did.

except of course, that glorious steam room. in a perfect world, my day would always begin that way.

notification happens in april, i think. we'll see what happens. at least i got the application in.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Day One

No time to blog. I'm working my way through rewrites for a New York Foundation for the Arts 2010 Artist Fellowship submission in playwriting/screenwriting.

It's so easy to get lost in it. Time spills out in front of me in this really endless way when I am alone with my thoughts. The people on the page come alive and tell me things and the action starts to happen so fast, I can hardly write it down. I can only submit 20 pages. Let's hope they're good ones.

The postmark deadline is tomorrow at midnight. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


if anyone knows where i can get some white lightning this far up north in yankeelandia, please contact me via this blog. that's right. i'm steady on the look out for real, honest-to-goodness moonshine, and i'm really not all that interested in making it myself -- even though technically, that's what i'm supposed to do for kwanzaa.

yep. it's time to start thinking seriously about those special presents and i'm not crafts-y enough to throw it all together at the last minute like everybody else. to tell you the truth, i came up with this idea in july but i didn't do anything about it because i didn't think i could. before i discard it completely, i thought i'd ask.

there's got to be someone out there who knows where there's homemade hooch up here. can't you get anything in new york city?

Monday, October 05, 2009

ah, the best laid plans...

Yeah, so -- I honestly meant to glide through this weekend and blog all about it but I was having way too much fun to bother. Such is life in the big titty.

It ended on Sunday with an impromptu cocktail party at Dutch Kills with Abraham of course – he’s the one all my friends like – and a slew of my beautiful pals showing up on the early side, just because. And why not? Do I really need a reason to throw a shin-dig? Making it through the week should be enough, these days. There was Sara Jane and then Brian whom we saw at Governor’s Island for the Jazz Age Lawn Party, then Rosa C. who bumped into us on the train on the way there and Susan who was already there when we showed up, and out of nowhere Rosa A. and James appeared, then another James showed up to see Sara Jane. Ralph showed up, so fresh and so clean-clean! And Ryan and Desiree came at the very end, after everyone folded. I had to leave them there, in good hands of course. Randy had a class. Sinclair had tech rehearsal, but he called. We’re going to have ginger tea and a long chat sometime this week. He and I have a severe amount of catching up to do. And once I got home, of course I thought of all these other black folk that I should have invited. Oh, well. We’ll have to do it again on another Sunday evening, when I know that Abraham will be there. We really can’t throw an impromptu cocktail party without him.

Renee was MIA, for real. I think the birthday party/makeshift speakeasy at Grounded after The Bootlegger’s Ball on Saturday night did her in.

Why do I prefer Dutch Kills on a Sunday night? Because if I tip through there at the just right hour with my friends, it’s relatively empty and shockingly devoid of hipsters – and eventually, it ends up turning itself into our little party, of sorts. So fun. That feels way more like a speakeasy than most of what’s going around in the city these days. The last time I tried to get in there on a Saturday night, I had to give someone at the door my cell number, so they could call me when there was space available. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but the crowd looked like something out of The Hills, or at least a frat house mixer. And yeah, that creeped me out.

There are so many friends and loved ones to catch up with, and they’re all over the place, doing everything – because that’s what you do when you live in New York City. And yes, we always say that we want to see each other and hang out and catch up – and yet, we hardly ever do. I learned a long time ago that nothing happens in this town unless you plan it out and make it so. So I’m going to do it, as often as the mood strikes me. Which will probably be a lot, especially when it gets cold.

Besides, it’s all Abraham’s fault, really. He has completely ruined me with an excellent soundtrack to our goings on, libations that I didn’t know I liked until he served them up, and what can only be described as good, kind treatment – something I needed a great deal of this summer.

It all started on Thursday when my paramour came from the airport straight to my gig with JC at Rodeo Bar. Here’s a few pictures to make up for my latent absence.

This is JC Hopkins and me. Nice portrait, I think. (All photos below by the ever-brilliant Tanya Braganti.)

This is Vito, brazenly toying with a bison's affections. (Or something...)

This is Hilliard on bass, JC on keys and me, singing and singing and singing. Yep, this was a fun gig...

Friday, October 02, 2009

...and what are YOU doing this weekend?

yeah, i got big plans.

i'm singing at the bootlegger's ball at the infamous burden mansion on e. 91st street in manhattan. it's some real turn-of-the-century, robberbaron type stuff -- which i totally love, architecturally. i'm dressing all the way up, because jc says he'll take my picture if i get there early enough. nothing like looking like i stepped out of another place and time to make me feel so absolutely unswervingly in touch with the now.

it's a black tie event, so i'm pulling out all the stops -- first of all, with excellent arm candy in the form of my friend renee monique brown, who can really work the look of this particular decade especially well. maybe it's because she did the first national tour of thoroughly modern millie. she's got a 1920's body, though -- she looks great in those clothes. i, on the other hand, look a little on the lumpy side. (heh.) i don't think a body like mine should feature clothes that happened before 1935, but that's just me. i'm starting to sing more stuff from the 1920s, though, so i really have to make every effort to dress that way.

nothing trumps everything in the room and shocks the show like showing up with someone that looks way more amazing than you do -- especially when you totally look amazing your bad self. i have complete and utter confidence that renee is going to work that skirt.

after this shindig, we're going to a 1920s themed birthday party some friend of hers is throwing. (yay!)

on sunday, there's the jazz age lawn party on governor's island that always features michael arenella and his dreamland orchestra. here's a snapshot of a happy couple from a few summers back, having a dance lesson.

the dance lesson/20's swing picnic on governor's island

the dance lesson is key because it sets the tone for your entire visit. you must take the dance lesson, you just have to. you can practice your new moves for the rest of the afternoon and meet a ton of people that way.

i really feel the need to put in an appearance -- in period dress, of course. not sure how i'll pull it off yet. and of course, renee is down. here's a picture below of me on that lovely boatride over to the island, looking an awful lot like miss celie (that's the infamous sara jane on the left and janet nash on the right). the dress is circa mid 30s, i think. unbelievable but true: the hat is now, baby. it is so right now.

think about it: catering by cercle rouge, cocktails by st. germain, charleston dance lessons by roddy caravella, 1920's motorcar exhibition, rumble seat rides all over the island, pie contests, tug of war contests, a parade of hats, vintage clothing dealers and milliners galore -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg. frankly, i've never attended one of these events and NOT had a ball. we'll go early and leave early and unwind somewhere, and then probably end the weekend by eventually making it over to my (favorite!) speakeasy, dutch kills.

...and a good time will be had by all. lots more pictures -- coming soon.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


i'm going to do nablopomo this month. the theme is HAUNTED. to kick things off the right way, here's a creepy home video some stooge made of what happened at his cousin's house in florida after playing with a ouija board one night -- amongst other things. i suppose anything can be faked, but this stuff looks pretty real to me.

i have an extremely difficult time believing that there's absolutely nothing out there except us, on this planet, flying through the cosmos, when there is so much proof to the contrary. and no, i don't mean aliens.


Monday, September 28, 2009

auditions and callbacks and go-sees, oh my!

sorry i haven't written anything in a minute. things have been a bit hectic, in a good way.

i got a call on friday for a commercial audition on saturday, and then i got a call on sunday that i got a callback for this morning. so it's been a weekend of blowing my hair out, basically. that's the good news: i didn't wear a wig. i was totally naturally all afroed out -- and i got a callback. still shaking my head and going wow over that one. maybe things are changing.

as far as i can tell -- and yes, of course there are exceptions to this all the way across the board, but this seems to be the invisible rule that gets reinforced with most casting choices -- the black women that get cast in commercials are usually natural, with unprocessed "ethnic" hair and a minimal amount of makeup -- whether they lean toward that neutered mammy stereotype or not. they represent the wife, the young mom, even grandma: women of color who populate your everyday world. the black woman that gets cast in movies are usually the fantasy, so they've got the perms, the weaves, the make-up, they're usually a size 4/6 and all that rot. i know that when my agent leaves me a message that says, they want everyday people, that means a minimal amount of makeup and no wig -- or if it is a wig, it should look as natural as possible.

unbelievable, how little acting ability has to do with getting considered for something like this. you could get the once over and get typed out just like that, on looks alone. or height. or whatever else someone is seeing that they don't like. i think that getting callbacks is terrific. it means that i'm close.

bizarrely enough, the commercial -- a christmas spot for wal-mart -- shoots all day tomorrow. can you say fast turnaround?

in the meantime, i got called in to audition for another commercial tomorrow morning -- for applebees. thank God i'm losing weight -- can get back into my audition clothes. for this, i'm probably going to buy a bright red baby t on the way home, so i can look like i'm wide awake when i'm on camera tomorrow.

let the games begin.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

my box has red roses in it

shockingly, i have nothing to report.

oh, wait a minute. yes i do!

i haven't paid the mechanical license fee for the standards to harry fox agency, i haven't even thought about the artwork, i've got quite a few pounds to go before i'll feel ready to stand in front of any camera but thankfully i think i've found a publicist and a radio promoter.

i have a commercial audition tomorrow morning. it's a national commercial. and no, i'm not going to straighten my hair. i just don't fracking feel like it. why? because i'm tired. because i'm cranky. because i worked all day today and i'm going to work all day for the foreseeable future, and so when i get home, there's no time to play in my hair. there's time to eat dinner, inhale a klondike bar and hit the sack so i can do it again the next day. because aunt flo just fell off the roof. because i'm not in the fracking mood. yeah, so -- anybody and everybody that doesn't like the way my hair looks tomorrow can suck it.

i'm gigging my butt off, to pay for the jazz album's mastering session that must happen within the next two weeks, to stay on track for the release date in march - daddy's birthday.
there's that little show i'm doing at joe's pub for the aussie artist richard bell on 11/3
and duane park
and rodeo bar
maybe dutch kills
and that wedding reception at grand central station this weekend.

jc hopkins and i play the newly mixed unmastered jazz album for garry velletri at our publishing company bug music next week. i just love garry's ears. i think he's one of the only people that "gets" me and my sound and he always makes really great suggestions with whatever i throw up in the air, so this should be a fun meeting and very very interesting. i know he's more than curious about this little project and it seriously doesn't sound like anything that's out there. (thank Jesus.)

here's the kicker, for real: i've lost more weight. i mean, raggedy ann is sitting on the sofa right next to me reading this as i type, she knows i'm 15 pounds lighter in spite of the water weight gain. you know what? to hell with the water weight gain. (miss ann told me to say that.)

yes, that's right.

i'm in the red sea.
i'm dropping an egg.
i'm entertaining the general.
i've got red sails in the sunset.
i'm chasing the cotton mouse.
i'm riding the cotton pony.
i'm surfing the crimson tide.
my hammock is swinging.
i have a visitor from redbank.
the tide is high.
the infantry has landed.
my granny's here.
i'm percolating.
looks like a wet weekend.
no gym this week.
i'm off duty.
i'm indisposed.
i've been hit.
the cherry is in the sherry.
i'm observing the holy week.
my box has red roses in it.

there, i said it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


now that the jazz cd is almost finished, i'm already hard at work on the next album in my head. i honestly can't help myself. maybe that's why i'm usually steady at it, making lists and drawing things and jotting down ideas. there are about three different projects popping off in me all the time, at least. there's music, always music - and all the stuff that goes with it, like guitar/piano/theory/voice lessons. there's a really good book in me, somewhere.   i think i  started looking for it sometime last year.  and yep, i'm still working on the book and lyrics to the jazz burlesque musical that i mentioned awhile back. the treatment/synopsis is done and i'm just about finished with the polishing and the spit shining of the first act. yikes.  if i ever get any real money to produce the things i'm dreaming of, i'm going to be in big trouble.

for awhile, i thought about not doing a country record, and then one day i thought why not? and i seriously couldn't think of a good reason.  and then ideas came at me like schrapnel and everything started happening. and then i ran out of money.

maybe the black country record is a love letter to the south. i do so miss austin, texas. or at least the austin i knew when i was an undergrad there.  i miss breakfast tacos! and i miss charleston, sc too. but that's going to be a different country album. that one is brighter, it's country gospel, that one happens later.

i can hear the songs in their fullness - what they sound like all finished, who's playing on them, what i want my voice to do.  it's like my head is a radio and the sounds are happening all the time.  it's really fresh and uncomplicated. and thankfully, it's halfway there - the black country sessions. i suppose it's the kind of stuff you're most likely to hear on boot liquor radio. i'm still trying to find the right way to phrase the title but thankfully, the songs are wandering towards me slowly, slowly - belligerent, unrepentant, melancholic.  it hasn't been a struggle to remember how miserable i was when i was living through these lyrics - though now that i'm this happy and there's this much joy in my life, it honestly feels like it happened to someone else.

i"ve recorded half of it already. whenever the spirit moves me, i'm sifting through lyrics and melodies with my bare hands. every so often, i wallow in it, but since that's the kind of thing that's apt to make me weepy in all the wrong ways, i tend to avoid long jagged songwriting sessions with this stuff, especially when the place is quiet and i'm alone in bed.

mostly it's songs about me getting my heart ripped to shreds by what was ostensibly the very epitome of what could only be described as a really nice guy.  it's really super catchy happy sounding sing along stuff. i can't wait for you to hear it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Scholarships for College

Even if you do not have a college-aged child at home, please share this with someone who does, and to anyone and everyone that comes to mind. Though there are a number of companies and organizations that have donated money for scholarships to African Americans, a great deal of the money is being returned because of a lack of interest or awareness.

Take the initiative to get your children involved. Money shouldn't be returned to donating companies because we fail to apply for it. We must get the word out that money is available. If you are a college student or getting ready to become one, you probably already know how useful additional money can be.


2) Student Inventors Scholarships http://www.invent.org/collegiate

3) Student Video Scholarships http://www.christophers.org/ /vidcon2k.html

4) Coca-Cola Two Year College Scholarships

5) Holocaust Remembrance Scholarships http://holocaust.hklaw.com/

6) Ayn Rand Essay Scholarships http://www.aynrand.org/contests/

7) Brand Essay Competition

8) Gates Millennlum=2 0Scholarships (major)

9) Xerox Scholarships for Students http://www2.xerox.com/go/xrx/about_xerox/about_xerox_detail.jsp

10) Sports Scholarships and Internships http://www.ncaa.org/about/scholarships.html

11) National Assoc. of Black Journalists Scholarships (NABJ) http://www..nabj.org/html/studentsvcs.html

12) Saul T. Wilson Scholarships (Veterinary)

13) Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund http://www.thurgoodmarshallfund.org/sk_v6.cfm

14) FinAid: The Smart Students Guide to Financial Aid scholarships)

15) Presidential Freedom Scholarships http://www.nationalservice.org/scholarships/

16) Microsoft Scholarship Program

17) WiredScholar Free Scholarship

18) Hope Scholarships &Lifetime Credits http://www.ed.gov/inits/hope/

19) William Randolph Hearst Endowed Scholarship for Minority
Students http://www.apsanet.org/PS/grants/aspen3.cfm

20) Multiple List of Minority Scholarships http://gehon.ir.miami.edu/financial-assistance/Scholarship/black..html

21) Guaranteed Scholarships http://www.guaranteed-scholarships.com/

22) BOEING scholarships (some HBCU connects) http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/educationrelations/scholarships

23) Easley National Scholarship Program http://www.naas.org/senior..htm

24) Maryland Artists Scholarships http://www.maef.org/

26) Jacki Tuckfield Memorial Graduate Business Scholarship (for AA students in South
Florida ) http://www.jackituckfield.org/

27) Historically Black College & University Scholarships http://www.iesabroad.org/info/hbcu.htm

28) Actuarial Scholarships for Minority Students http://www.beanactuary.org/minority/scholarships.htm

29) International Students Scholarships &Aid Help http://www.iefa.org/

30) College Board Scholarship Search http://cbweb10p.collegeboard.org/fundfinder/html/fundfind01.html

31) Burger King Scholarship=2 0Program http://www.bkscholars.csfa.org/

32) Siemens Westinghouse Competition http://www.siemens-foundationorg/

33) GE and LuLac Scholarship Funds http://www.lulac.org/Programs/Scholar.html

34) CollegeNet's Scholarship Database http://mach25.collegenet.com/cgi-bin/M25/index

35) Union Sponsored Scholarships and Aid http://www.aflcioorg/scholarships/scholar.htm

36) Federal Scholarships &Aid Gateways 25 Scholarship Gateways from Black Excel http://www.blackexcel.org/25scholarships.htm

37) Scholarship &Financial Aid Help http://www.blackexcel.org/fin-sch.htm

38) Scholarship Links (Ed Finance Group) http://www.efg.net/link_scholarship.htm

39) FAFSA On The Web (Your Key Aid Form &Info) http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/

40) Aid &Resources For Re-Entry Students http://www.back2college.com/

41) Scholarships and Fellowships http://www.osc.cuny.edu/sep/links.html

42) Scholarships for Study in Paralegal Studies http://www.paralegals.org/Choice/2000west.htm

43) HBCU Packard Sit Abroad Scholarships (for study around the world) http://www.sit.edu/studyabroad/packard_nomination.html

44) Scholarship and Fellowship Opportunities http://ccmi.uchicago.edu/schl1.html

45) INROADS internships http://www.inroads.org/

46) ACT-SO bEURo Olympics of the Mind Scholarships http://www.naacp.org/youth/act-so/

47) Black Alliance for Educational Options Scholarships http://www.baeo.org/options/privatelyfinanced.jsp

48) ScienceNet Scholarship Listing http://www.sciencenet.emory.edu/undergrad/scholarships.html

49) Graduate Fellowships For Minorities Nationwide http://cuinfo.cornell.edu/Student/GRFN/list.phtml?category=MINORITIES

50) RHODES SCHOLARSHIPS AT OXFORD http://www.rhodesscholar.org /info.html

51) The Roothbert Scholarship Fund http://www.roothbertfund.org/schol

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Don't Eat The Yellow Snow

more old kudzu from a few years ago that i'm rethinking/reconfiguring. enjoy.

Just when I thought we were in the clear, I woke up to a near blizzard a few days ago. It was the worst storm the city had ever seen since white folks started keeping records of such things. I stared out my kitchen window, transfixed. Even though I was watching it happen, it was still hard to believe. Fluffy stuff was billowing through the air in millions of tiny delicate specks that eventually landed gently somewhere below me, with no end in sight. The day before, it was a filthy cityscape. Now everything was covered with sugar. It was ethereal. The white sheen of the snow against the pale sky made it all gleam and resonate with a purity that was supposed to be everything that the city was not. And yet, somehow whenever it snowed hard enough to bury everything in a blinding whiteness, I felt that I had discovered the essence of this place.

I had to go outside to be a part of it.

Of course, it's always a bad idea to go outside and play in the snow when you're unemployed because you could catch a horrible cold or the flu or something that's just as insidious. I have health coverage, though, so I didn't care. Still, being sick can be pricey. I decided to walk up the block to Broadway to see what was going on and then come straight back to my place. It was only a block but it was a long walk because no one had shoveled the sidewalks. I had to struggle past snowdrifts that were once parked cars and bags of garbage. When I got there I couldn't believe what I saw: nothing. I mean, nothing. There was no action anywhere. No traffic. No crackheads wandering around, like lost children. Not one bodega doing business. Even the mailman didn't make his rounds--and according to his company's little slogan, that's not an option. It wasn’t even that cold.

You know what made it really bizarre? It was deathly quiet.

I stood out there for awhile, all by myself, taking it all in. I knew it wouldn't last. In a few days, there would be an unholy stench from the curb because of the garbage. The fluffiness in the street that resembled huge mounds of marshmallow crème would turn into brown slush because of the cars and the exhaust and the foot traffic. There would be patches of yellow snow everywhere. And then everything would look filthier than it did before the blizzard. But for the moment everything is pure and clean and bright and real. For the moment I imagine that this is what it feels like to be trapped inside an Elsworth Kelly. For the moment all the flowing bits slow down around me, like a Peckinpaw killing spree. For the moment, I'm not in New York City. I’m not anywhere at all.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

...you're not going to believe this one, but...

i got it.

i auditioned for a soap opera - on camera work right here in new york city - and i got it. it's a small role, and i'm over the moon. i'm not playing a crackhead or a drug addict or a single mom or a neutered mammy or any other modern day black female stereotype of any kind that you could possibly think of. ooh, and here's the kicker: i didn't straighten my hair or wear a wig at the audition. (ha!)

needless to say, i'll be using this money to pay for the recording sessions that are happening later this month.

on camera work. a nice payday. and later, residuals. ah, yes. this is how it gets done when you bankroll your projects yourself, kids. and if you work it in a particular way, this is how you make it happen.

i shoot early next week. and yep, i'll take lots of pictures.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My Right Guard Rite of Passage

This is a little something that resurfaced from my old "Kudzu" blog, and that I'm rethinking for later publication. Enjoy!


When I was little, I knew that I wanted to be just like the men in my life: strong, independent, fearless. It was as though I was surrounded by the kind of potentates who knew to expect certain things from the world because of their gender. I didn't know exactly what those things were, but I expected them, too. I watched my brothers mature, carrying the aura of this masculine influence like an invisible cloak, and I awaited my turn eagerly in spite of the way that I was treated: they wouldn't take me hunting or fishing; I wasn't included on car repair forums or home improvement expeditions to buy things like dry wall; I wasn't allowed to fistfight in the backyard like they did. I had baby-faced cousins in their late teens so I knew that it would be years before I would be able to shave. Deodorant, it seemed, would have to be the great equalizer. Secretly, Right Guard would be my rite of passage.

I was too young to know what Right Guard was used for, but evidently it was an important manly tool like lots of other things that I saw in the bathroom: Magic Shaving Cream, the powder that my father mixed with water like an alchemist; Dax hair pomade, so different from the Sulfur 8 on the female side of the cabinet; and of course Hai Karate. (What single swinging guy in the 70's could leave the house without putting on some of that stuff?) To me, Right Guard was different. It was something that real men used religiously because it was the only thing that could quell the kind of bodily stench that emanates from the arrogance and surety of sheer masculinity.

The enormous bronze aluminum can with its authoritative black lettering proved itself to be a feast for my kiddy senses. It always felt like a cylindrical brick in my arms when I'd attempt to examine it. You'd have to be a real man just to pick this up, I must've thought. Audibly, it was constantly doing things to let you know that it was there. It sounded like a gigantic can of Redi-Whip whenever anyone used it, hissing its way onto each hairy armpit like some newfangled call of the wild. The smell was overwhelmingly musky - a cologne, aftershave and deodorant in one - and it lingered in the air like smog, creating a white puff when it was emitted, leaving a chalky residue on skin and clothes. A little gift and a happy reminder to let you know that Right Guard was on guard, and in control.

And then there were the other noises it would make, from the loud pop that happened when the oversized cap was removed to the thunk of its weight as it was placed on the bathroom counter. Solid. Durable. Practical. Even the name inferred a special brand of reliability and strength reserved for the strong willed iconoclast that was prepared to machete their way through the wilderness of life, whether it was a day of fly fishing or a corporate take-over. A world away from the flowery-scented pastel-labeled and curiously silent roll-on my mother used. The marketing pundits didn't have to tell me twice. I could walk into our bathroom, observe this ritualistic display of personal hygiene and know that I was a real man.

Then puberty struck.

Somewhere in the flow of blood, somewhere on my flat chest, somewhere in my inability to be what everyone seemed to think of feminine or even pretty, somewhere in my refusal to define my self-worth solely by my looks, somewhere in the lack of attraction the opposite sex had for me, somewhere in the midst of all of that I knew that although I was turning into a woman, on the inside I would always be a man. I would be smart and strong and independent, and I would never apologize for it.

I don't use Right Guard, by the way. It's an icon of my 70's childhood, like the navy blue maxi-coat I outgrew when I was eight. But that big brass can is a powerful symbol for me of all those who, without realizing it, taught me how to be a man on my own terms when I was a little girl.

Monday, August 31, 2009

In Defense of Black Women, Black Hair and Michelle Obama (...not that they need it...)

fyi: this essay was previously posted in the notes of my facebook page in response to what my friend tanya wrote on the subject. (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/note.php?note_id=67000069825&ref=nf) everyone's responses inspired me to work on a few blackgrrl essays that i've been marinating on all summer, so there will be more where this came from in the very near future. enjoy.


I’m going to try to make this brief.

After a lifetime of ostracism, ridicule, genuine curiousity (from American black folk, even -- walking up to me and touching my hair and asking me a million stupid questions!) and much humiliation and degradation all around, I have natural hair – and yes, I’ve had it for quite some time. I vascillated with hair choices for awhile when I first came to New York City, but then I got a plum role in the original cast of the first national tour of RENT and signed a hair rider that allowed them to do whatever they wanted to my hair, within reason. in this case: perm my hair – and then bleach the hell out of it, to give it a look that they thought was “edgy” and “cool”. (Because apparently, nothing is edgier than a black woman who dyes her hair blonde. Especially if you're European.)

Yes, I was financially compensated for this hair rider. Was it worth it? Well, hair does grow back. Eventually. It’s an awfully long wait until it does. To paraphrase Tom Petty, The waiting is the hardest part. I remember going to bed in tears when all of it started falling out in bright yellow clumps. (sigh.) But that wasn't my moment of natural hair clarity. Truth be told, I decided that I wanted natural hair after my mother accidentally dropped a large smoldering boiling lava hot straightening comb on the back of my neck when I was 8 or 9 years old. I couldn’t do anything about it until I grew up. That’s right: my mother continued to straighten my hair until I was out of her jurisdiction. Would it surprise you to know that I shaved it all off when I hit college? (Ah, the good life...)

That hair meltdown in RENT wasn't the beginning of the end, it was the last straw. I actually had bald patches and scabs on my scalp when I left the show. More on that some other time.

I should probably tell you that I’m from the South – the ATL, to be exact – and that, for pretty much all the black women that I knew as a kid and as I grew older, natural hair was the exception, NEVER the rule. The understanding was that you weren’t presentable unless your hair was bone straight, without a hint of kink. Don’t get me wrong. Every once in awhile, you’d see someone with an Afro but it wasn’t condoned and it wasn’t EVER anything to aspire to. Dreadlocks? Unthinkable.

I have returned to the South more often than I care to admit and walked through black malls and stores and shops and eateries and whatnot, and I have had conversation come to a stone cold stop when they get a look at my natural hair, no matter what it’s doing. Black folk will stare at me, they will point at me – like I’m a walking freakshow, on display. Please understand me and don’t get it twisted: these magic moments didn’t happen 20 years ago. They happened last Christmas.

Are there black folk down South with natural hair and dreadlocks and such? Why, yes. But in my experience, it’s the exception, not the rule. It’s not common. Not by a long shot.

And if I had a dollar for every time a black man gave me hell because I insisted on having natural hair – from my 92 year old daddy to the guys I went to college with and then some – I could probably buy the apartment building I live in.

Should I bother telling you that I have yet to meet, date, make out with, casually pass by in the street or otherwise involve myself with any white guy -- gay or straight, foreign or domestic or any other variation therein -- who doesn't love my natural hair just the way it is, whatever it happens to be doing? Yeah, I probably shouldn't mention that. Let's just pretend I didn't say it.

Maybe this is a Southern thing. Maybe this is a black thing. Maybe it’s me. I don’t know.

How I got from that “bone straight” mentality to a totally natural Afro of near Angela Davis proportions that now rests comfortably on my head like a well-earned crown is a story that will probably make a great movie someday. My point is, I have struggled with my hair, and in my personal and professional life, I have had to contend with others who struggled with it, too. And in so doing, they struggled with me.

So it was with genuine interest that I read Tonya Steele’s empassioned note “In Defense of Michelle Obama (not that she needs defending)” http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/note.php?note_id=67000069825&ref=nf

Tonya was ranting and raving and she was very angry, and in her anger she was a roman candle of sorts, touching on a lot of different issues that sparked me -- way too many points to address in one fell swoop. The one thing that she said that clicked with me was what she said about black folks and low self-esteem. So, away we go.

There’s been a lot of wonderful things floating around out there about Michelle Obama. The thing that always makes me cringe is that when there’s an avalanche of love and respect for any public figure, the backlash (which is inevitable, by the way) swings just as hard in the other direction, and people find reasons to lash out at them and rip them to shreds with the same boundless energy that they used to throw their arms wide open and celebrate them.

This is especially hard to take because it’s a black woman in the crosshairs – and it ain’t Lil’ Kim this time, with a three foot wig on her head and her titty hanging out with a pastie over the nipple. It’s someone that’s a whole lot like me and my black female friends and acquaintances. Truth be told, Black women like us aren’t supposed to exist. In the entertainment industry/media, we are anomalies to everyone except Tyler Perry. And suddenly one of us breaks through the claptrap, holds the media transfixed and captures the imagination of the world. So of course, this is a hot topic.

But the backlash is coming. Look at the way conservatives jumped all over that moment Michelle had with the Queen of England. They’re coming for her. And don’t think that she doesn’t know it.

But I digress.

Michelle Obama is a public figure. Because of this, absolutely everything she says and does matters a GREAT deal – from the shoes on her feet to the hair on her head to what she likes to snack on in the middle of the night. Get this, loud and clear: It matters, it matters, it matters. A bigger part of the reason why it matters so much is because it reverberates around the world ten thousand-fold –in retail sales, in goodwill and most definitely in attitude, and of course in images/photo ops. And as you well know, a powerful image can change the world.

Lets face it – her presence alone has been enough to shock the hell out of most people. If she had natural hair, it would start a revolution.

Are black women free to do whatever they want to do with their hair? Well – theoretically, yes. We all have free will, we can all do whatever we want within reason. But black hair has always been political and a place of contention because it’s the most obvious way that we as black women have to show the world that we are conforming and yielding to the status quo and what it dictates as acceptable and/or beautiful. Don’t believe me? Sisters who are working their way up the corporate ladder or who make a living in a corporate world know exactly what I’m talking about. Ask one of them if I’m wrong. Your natural hair is unacceptable in that environment because it’s considered a threat – and thusly, by default, so are you.

Is anyone in that conservative company going to tell you that? Of course not! That would make it too easy for you to sue the living daylights out of them and stage a Putney Swope-style takeover of your own. (Hm. Another screenplay idea…I’m full of them today…)

This isn’t the kind of thing that you necessarily have to think about if you are an artist, or if you own your own business or if you are a musician – unless you’re in front of the camera. As an actor, I think about it a lot because what my hair looks like dictates whether or not I get the gig. Interesingly enough, casting agents love the Michelle Obama look – so if I go into the audition with a wig that looks like her hair and some pearls, they’ll be more inclined to cast me than if I showed up with natural hair. Talent be damned. It’s all about the black woman they know, the one that they’re comfortable with. It’s not about the individual.

Think about it. Can you name any black actresses in Hollywood with natural hair – besides Whoopi? Essence Magazine – the premiere black women’s magazine in this country, by the way – did a story about Black Hollywood actresses. Not a kink in the bunch. And can i just tell you how profoundly disappointed i was when my friend Ralph gifted me with a bunch of African women's magazines from his Christmas trip to Africa -- and they ALL had perms and weaves!

Not that there's ANYTHING wrong with that...but dang.

How about R&B stars, black pop stars? When was the last time you saw a black music video that featured natural hair? You’re thinking about Erykah, or maybe Lauren. Right? It's not that there isn't ANY natural hair out there. It's just that usually, it's the exception. It's not the rule.

If you’re on camera, you’re probably conforming, too -- just like the black folks who have to work on a corporate plantation. At the very least, you’ve come to that fork in the road and figured it out one way or the other. I know I have.

(If you're on facebook, check out my facebook profile pic. Yup.That’s a wig.)

That corporate illustration is just one example of what I’m referring to. There are many, many more.

Here’s the thing that gets me. Over the years, I’ve had long winding conversations with black women who are downright terrified of not straightening their hair anymore because to quote one friend, they don’t know what they’d look like if they did. Like all of a sudden, she’s going to turn into some sort of beast because her weave and her perm is gone. But what she’s really afraid of is that this is the way the world would treat her. Like a beast. It’s not just what she sees when she looks in the mirror. This reverberates all the way through every aspect of her life – from that corporate desk job to the brother that’s interested in her to the church she attends. When you care what everyone thinks, all of that stuff matters. Please believe me – there are plenty of black women out here who care a great deal as to whether the brother in question finds them attractive and are perfectly willing to do whatever they have to – hairwise and otherwise – to secure him.

Caring what everyone thinks reeks of low self esteem. That’s really at the heart of it all.

No black woman should hate their hair in its natural state or feel as though they are diminished or somehow lesser than because they don’t have a perm. The truth is, way too often in this day and age, this is the case. I’m insulated from having to deal with a lot of that junk because I’m an artist and I live in NYC. And yeah, I love it that black men are making these declarations about loving natural hair and all but if you’ve really got your head together, there’s no need to feel compelled to control or manipulate black women by telling them what to do with their hair. Or verbally abuse them. Or emotionally abuse them. Or physically attack them. Or denigrate them in any way.

Then again, I think that low self esteem/emotionally damaged people are the reason why a lot of things in this world are askew.

In closing, to paraphrase Tony Brown’s Journal: This is just one black woman’s opinion. Thanks for reading this. And thanks to Tanya for inspiring it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

your inner svengali

i've been auditioning a lot this summer for on camera work: mostly commercials and independent film, but occasionally a short here and there. i usually get a callback and then i don't get the job, for whatever the reason -- reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with lack of talent or effort on my part. that's hard to explain to people who quantify success and hard work and employment with an inside-the-box, 9 to 5 day job mentality, that way of thinking that has building blocks that lead all the way to success.

it's even harder to explain to people who've watched way too many episodes of that tv show fame, or who semi-worship the movie - people who honestly believe that if you have talent, you'll "make it," whatever that is. that's right up there with that idiotic all-american horatio alger "rags to riches" myth. nobody pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps. nobody.

let me say this loud enough for you to hear it, whoever you are: having talent does not guarantee your success on any level in the entertainment industry. while it's true that talent helps a great deal, in the grand scheme of things, talent doesn't matter. this is especially true if we're talking about on camera work. i suppose if i lived in hollywood, that's a bigger part of where my focus would be. like i fit into their beauty standard, anyway.

just because you're talented, just because you do a great audition and maybe even a great callback, just because you have presence, that doesn't mean that you'll get the part. and if you do get the part, that doesn't mean you'll keep it. the whole thing can fall apart at any point in the process. there are no guarantees, even when you're working. especially when you're working. because if they think you look funky in the playbacks on that monitor or if your chemistry with your co-star isn't up to scratch or whatever, they will replace you. it happens all the time.

there are so many variables involved. and it's usually stuff that has nothing to do with you. stuff like, how tall you are. or whether somebody thinks you're pretty. or not pretty enough. or whether the camera likes you. what does any of that have to do with whether you can act or not? not a bloody thing.

there, i said it.

let's get one thing straight. there is fat, as in overweight. and then there's hollywood fat, which looks fine in the real world. but in el lay or on camera, a size 8 is positively bovine. i'm not anorexic. i'm not bulemic. i don't have love/hate issues about my body. or food. or anything else. i am simply a theater actor that's hollywood fat. and by working this weight off, i'm doing something about it.

or i could keep eating and turn myself into a big black woman who plays caricatures that amount to little more than what can only be described as mammy for the 21st century -- usually with a lot more attitude and sass than she had in minstrelsy.

i don't want to have some long, drawn out post-feminist argument/discussion about how hollywood's obsession with youth and a size 4 body ideal has given a lot of girls and women in this country a complex and how you may or may not think i'm buying into that by doing any of this. all of that stuff is cute in theory. but this isn't theory. this is my career. and that's what makes it counterproductive - and moot. i realize that this is an important moment for me. i can either get it together and do what i have to do to make the transition to on camera work - get lean and get my teeth fixed - or not. this aspect of the business involves paying a great deal of attention to what i look like, and turning myself into something of a junior triathlete to get the leanness i know i need to look a certain way on camera is par for the course. now i understand why the actors i'd meet in LA were so foaming-at-the-mouth obsessed about what they ate, how they looked on camera, what they looked like, what everyone else looked like. and when they weren't looking at everyone else, they were expecting everyone else to look at them. everyone, constantly checking each other out. think about it: if you look that good, the compliments have to keep coming, you have to stop traffic, you have to look a certain way - or what's it all for, and how will you ever know what you're worth?

in this weight loss struggle, i am not alone. there are many bright shining examples of actors and actresses and performers in hollywood who did what they had to do to get that look. i just read lena horne's excellent bio stormy weather and i didn't get to the middle of the book before she was popping pills to get her weight down after having had two children, because the studio demanded it.

all in all, the results of such studied efforts have been transformative visually for many, to say the least. here's two of my all-time favorite examples:

once upon a time, greta garbo was a working film actress in sweden and happily studying theater. she was on her way to becoming a funny fat comedic actress with bad teeth, but filmmaker mauritz stiller saw something more.

 greta garbo at 16 years old. cute!

he made her take elocution lessons to walk and talk differently, and he got her a stylist so she could dress differently. he gave her acting lessons for the camera. and yes, he made her lose weight. she went on to star in two very successful european films.

 mauritz stiller and the much less chubby, frizzy haired virtually unrecognizable swedish movie star greta garbo, 1924

then they went to new york city. they languished there and almost went home but something interesting happened -- they took portraits of garbo and -- on the strength of those pictures alone -- MGM bigwigs decided to meet with them.

this is the photo that got her that interview.

look at those horrible teeth! but who cares about dental work when your beauty is mesmerizing. here she is again -- in 1924, photographed by henry b. goodwin in stockholm.

these photos were taken by arnold genthe for vanity fair in 1925, prior to garbo's arrival in hollywood.

irving thalberg didn't think garbo was pretty at all (remember, she is considered by many to be the most beautiful woman who ever graced the silver screen - and some believe that she is the most beautiful woman who ever lived) but if you consider what he saw when he looked at her -- a heavy set 21 year old frizzy haired swede with bad teeth who could barely speak english -- maybe you could cut him a little slack.

so he had her straighten her hair and get her teeth fixed. on a scouting trip to berlin, louis b. meyer actually looked her over and told her to lose more weight before she attempted to work in hollywood -- this, after she'd already lost enough weight at the onset of her on camera career to become a successful european star -- with the admonishment, "in america, men don't like their women fat." they groomed her for a few choice roles here and there, she made it through the transition to talkies and the rest, as they say, is history.

here's the finished product -- the one that most in the industry agree is the most beautiful woman to ever appear on film. wow -- she really doesn't look all that thrilled about it, now does she?

at the other end of the stick, of course, there's joan frackin' crawford - otherwise known as lucille le sueur.

joan's story is one for the books. she didn't have a svengali/lover at her elbow, telling her what to wear and what not to say. hers is a story of raw discipline, true grit and just plain old hard work on her physical self. i LOVE it! she knew everything that was required of her as a movie actress and as a star, and she handled her mutha-effin' business. period.

one day, joan was having stills taken by a cameraman, her friend johnny arnold, for a picture they were working on at the time. he told her offhandedly that her face was "built" - her bone structure was perfect for the camera but the camera couldn't get to any of it. for that to happen, she had to lose weight. joan took his casual remark to heart and promptly went on a diet of steak and tomatoes for lunch and dinner, and grapefruit for breakfast. in a month, she lost 20 pounds. her face changed so drastically, everyone assumed she got plastic surgery to make her eyes bigger. she didn't. at 5'1" and 149 pounds initially, she was pretty buxom. she dropped all the way down to 108 and never weighed more than 118 pounds for the rest of her career. and now -- to paraphrase paul harvey -- you know the rest of the story.

this is joan before the weight loss. (i'll bet you didn't even know this was joan, did you? i didn't.)

will you just look at that belly and those thighs? now that's hollywood fat.

and this is joan after the weight loss. of course, this new look garnered much more work and ultimately, success.

any questions?

i don't know. maybe i've got it all wrong but i don't think so. to make this transition, you have to plug into your inner svengali. after looking over pictures like this from back in the day, mine is totally on point.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A book review - "Are You Somebody?"

Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O'Faolain

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When a really cool black female friend presented this book to me as a gift, she told me that other black women had been reading it voraciously and that through it, they saw themselves. I think her exact words were that they found their voice. I didn’t understand how an Irish writer, journalist and tv personality could pull that off but I decided to keep an open mind. I’m glad I did.

I think that ultimately, it’s the human experience that connects us and binds us. This is the stuff that transcends culture and gender and race and anything else that people tend to wallow in and use in divisive ways. It’s this human experience that touched me to the quick as she swung back and forth throughout moments in her life, from her childhood to her love life to her mother’s school days to her father’s career to her brother’s demise and more, much much more. Back and forth she swung like a pendelum, exacting and so full of feeling, swirling you into a conversation that she’s having with you, with her subconscious, with her very soul, perhaps. It really does read like an intimate chat, the kind you have with a close friend well into the night that reverberates within you whenever you think about that friend. No wonder so many have taken this woman to heart, and cherish her, and hold her close. Especially other women.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. At the end of the book, she talks about how you become invisible in society or are treated like a nutter after a certain age if you are a woman because you are no longer considered sexually attractive or viable. (Remember how they treated Susan Boyle?) The frustrating thing is that you still have those sexual feelings. What’s true is that women outlive men – females outlive males of every species, actually – and so the population curve is that eventually there will be a lot of single older women out there. Actually, according to stats, over 60% of African-American women are single and/or have never been married.

In the end, the snapshots that she creates with her words are so vivid, so painful, so real that I couldn’t help but think and reflect on my own life. I think that black people are used to being treated like they are a collective nobody by society but this is especially true for black women. Society wants us to believe that we are invisible, that we don’t matter at all. We don’t become invisible when we are no longer sexual objects. We are perpetually fetishized sexually. We know exactly how that invisibility feels at ANY age.

My black female invisibility doesn’t phase me in the least. It just makes it easier to get stuff done, to get what I need for me and mine, and to conquer the ground I stand on. And we black women, we can certainly see each other and stand together. Maybe that’s our strength, our advantage. Maybe that’s the lesson for our Irish sisters.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

another day, another list

when i said most actors have to do more than one thing well to make a living, i meant it. you don't even want to get into what i've done already, so here's a list of all the stuff i do currently. where's y0urs?

  1. Freelance writer
  2. Producer
  3. Voiceover artist (commercial, animation)
  4. Solo performer
  5. Teacher/kiddie wrangler
  6. Proofreader
  7. Librettist
  8. Vocal teacher/coach
  9. Medical narrator
  10. Lyricist
  11. Blues singer
  12. Playwright
  13. Cabaret performer
  14. Medical copy editor
  15. Copy editor
  16. Essayist
  17. Musical theater performer
  18. Actor (theater/film/tv/commercials)
  19. Writer
  20. Jazz singer
  21. Performance artist
  22. Torch singer
  23. Songwriter
  24. Jingle singer

Friday, August 21, 2009

Black Man Fridays: Bayard Rustin

this is a clip from the documentary brother outsider: the life of bayard rustin. most of us know this brother as a tireless activist, a civil rights strategist and the architect of dr. king's march on washington. not many realize that mr. rustin's career spanned 60 years (he died in 1987), that he was actually dr. king's mentor - he was the one who turned dr. king on to ghandi - or that he led an openly gay life as far back as the 40s.

what i didn't know is that he had a beautiful tenor voice, went to college on music scholarships, performed regularly as a member of the blues group josh white and the carolinians at the infamous cafe society in greenwich village.

he was also from pennsylvania. and he was a quaker.

clearly, this is a biopic that is screaming to be made. i can't begin to imagine who in hollywood - especially black hollywood - that would have the balls to pull it off.

this is what you do when you get a little money, a little power as an actor: you start your production company and develop projects that give you a starring role and grow your career. waiting for the phone to ring shouldn't ever be an option. but hey, that's just me.

take a look at this video clip. i think mr. rustin was even more radical than malcolm x.