Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Loving Memory

I attended my 99 year-old grandfather's funeral yesterday. To be honest there is little sadness in the funeral of a patriarch nearing the age of 100 at death. There is a sense of personal loss and the the finality to get used to, but the closing of the circle of life is inevitable. I can only rejoice in how long we had together. I almost feel guilty over how manageable my grief is. No moments overcome by the rush of memories and the ending of our season together. Except for a few tears shed while meditating on my grandfather in anticipation of saying a few words at the funeral, I hardly have cried. But I cannot say there has been a dearth of emotion. There has been the private joy of nostalgia. There have been the contemplative moments of reflecting on a life well spent, and what that means to my own life. Laughing, smiling and telling little jokes between us, I feel blessed to have my family and thus thankful for the grandfather that helped shape our identity. I can be so critical in my analysis of everything in my life, particularly my clan, that I find myself for the first time in a long time really sitting in a space of gratitude in regards to them.

I knew my grandfather through the narrow experience of being his grandson. He was already retired and nearly a septuagenarian by the time I was born. I never gave very much thought to him in terms of being a man: imperfect, torn by his emotions, striving to find his peace. Forever in search of meaning in my life, I cannot help but ponder the meaning of his life and look at him through a new lens... reflecting on his ways, his struggles, his successes and his failures.

I most certainly remember his indomitable sense of humor: a brilliantly honed defense mechanism that helped a talented, sensitive black child come into manhood in 1920's Texas. I don't know if my grandfather ever uttered more than a serious sentence or two at a time toward me in my entire life. He constantly teased, but his eyes twinkled with the knowledge that with this grandchild, he didn't have to be so serious anyway...that this little fellow was being born to a world that finally might seek to celebrate him for his brilliance rather than lynch him for it. My family communicates almost exclusively through humor, each person having his own slant. Even in sadness or anger, we are rarely humorless. More often than not, a seemingly dead serious remark is a set up for a punchline. We aren't so good at expressing our more difficult feelings, and its in the sometimes merciless ribbing and razor like witty observations that we assert some of our more difficult emotions, but I will take being roasted over physical and emotional abuse any day of the week.

When my grandfather wasn't joking, he could be so sincere in his expression of his pride for me. Almost to the point of being dumbstruck by the depth of his own feelings, his words were feeble compared to the raw voice that betrayed the intensity of his love and pride. He often sounded as if he was being overcome. I was too young to understand his past, to understand how much my mere existence, unfettered by the chains of Jim Crow was a miracle to him. My grandfather reacted to the hostile world not with anger but with humility and faith in his God and his purpose, and God granted him the fortitude to live long enough to see the fruits of his sacrifices. Life in his case, wasn't perpetual tragedy

I remember the way he insisted his sons and grandsons kiss him hello and goodbye no matter how old we were and no matter who might be present to see us. I used to hate to kiss my grandfather, but I will miss giving him that harmless delight and I regret somewhat that I only realized today what a sweet joy it must have been. I guess I was too put off by the idea of kissing a man, but my grandfather knew more about manhood than most. My grandfather defined himself as a man primarily by his ability to take responsibility for his actions and in his service to the weak, the innocent, and those who were in need. He understood that most Southerners did not want to recognize him as a man, so he best be able to recognize himself as a man. I don't know if he ever said this to his sons, but I doubt it. The men in my family have always been too busy being men, to stop and explain what a man is. Maybe we all learned from our grandfather that it is each man's job to decide for himself what a man must do and live up to his own expectations. My grandfather felt no shame or embarrassment in shedding a tear of sadness or joy. He didn't see anything noble in stubbornly remaining stoic and detached from his feelings. He was a sensitive man before it was cool...he was ahead of his time.

As I stood at the pulpit in church, I looked at the crowd of men gathered and knew what a rare experience as a black male I was given. I didn't grow up glad to have one decent black male role model...but in a family where I could not throw a rock without hitting a good black man. I also grew up exposed to the beautiful strong women who stood at these men's sides. I got to see the magnificent twirl of men who loved their wives, and women who loved their husbands. I have seen tenderness on the part of these men, and I have also learned that it is a blessing to have a woman strong enough to allow a man to be vulnerable.

Arriving back in Los Angeles today I return to my life edified. Sometimes my friends in Los Angeles who don't know much of my family remark on how uncommonly decent I can be, but I know how far short I fall of some of the examples that were set for me. I think of my what a gift I had in my grandfather and wonder if I will ever find a way to be that gift to someone be a rock, to be dependable, to be a wise and thankful possessor of talents. I think of my out-sized ego and how much I want to have some measurable and recognizable impact on the world, but my ambitions are tempered by seeing how my grandfather created a legacy, simply by being decent and keeping his faith in God and in himself. It seems that no one was ever worse off for having known my grandfather, and many credit him with having been their safety net, their shelter in the storm.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a chief aim in life: first, do no harm...and hopefully to release more kindness and love into the world than fear and selfishness. Now I realize that this is my grandfather's legacy alive in his son, my father, and alive in me as well. What a precious inheritance.

-mr. wilson's grandson

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Did Not Sign Up For This

A reader in the desert wants to know about this article entitled: "Gay or straight: He's still your husband":

I can get down with what the rabbi is saying. Relationships are about compromises. Her husband's admission to her of his feelings is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of a discussion in which they find out if they can compromise or not. I will admit that discussion may never happen because some will be too hurt, angry, confused, making accusations about being "wrong" or just generally shocked to even consider accepting the reality and talking about it. I am not saying the woman isn't entitled to be pissed as hell and feel cheated. She doesn’t have to do a damn thing, but everybody doesn’t let go and give up easily.

If she is going to talk it out, it seems like her first question should be "why have you told me this?" Some will see the husband’s admission as unforgivable and the sign of a further desire to “cash-in". But this is playing the slippery slope game of "I know how everybody's sexuality works based on my subjective observations". The mainstream does this all the time by trying to enforce its dualistic "gay/straight" model on the entire population in the first place. Just the fact that this gentleman has decided he exists on the other side of that arbitrary line is not a statement about what he intends to do about it.

Perhaps he does not need to act on these feelings, but only needed to admit they were present. That may seem like a far-fetched idea, but maybe he has matured and has finally decided not to be intimidated by shame and fear of rejection any longer. Maybe he longs to be genuine and sincere in a desire for greater intimacy. For many people true intimacy trumps sexual preference and fantasy. Perhaps the wife does not require his strict fidelity and is willing to consider allowing him to "cash-in" under certain constraints. She might have her own wishes and desires she wants to explore as well. Maybe she would be willing to tolerate his experimentation if she has some leverage in negotiating how he goes about experimenting. Of course the rabbi didn't say anything about that. Or perhaps they won't be able to find a common ground they can both accept...but that can happen to couples no matter if the issue is sexuality, money or whatever.

Is the argument any different if the husband is admitting an attraction to another woman or type of woman? What if the admission is that he has no interest in sex at all and considers himself asexual? Can you remove sexuality from the wife's letter and replace it with any admission? What if he admits he is republican, or atheist, or chronically depressed, or doesn't want kids, etc.? Isn't it ultimately the same type of challenge? Isn’t the only real question “does she want and need him enough to try to understand?”

Two people who want to be in each others lives have to be committed enough to try to represent themselves and their needs. They have to be committed enough to try to be receptive to the other person and that person’s needs as well. We all change and we all discover new things about ourselves, but a person should understand and expect that potential outcome when they commit to a partner. How can we desire the personal freedom to grow and evolve, and seek to put limitations on those we claim to love? To give love is to encourage their growth and believe that the person we love is immutable and will always be there, regardless of what direction life takes them. I think if more of us received that kind of unconditional, reassuring love as children from our parents, then we would have an easier time conceiving of it between a husband and wife.

I know I sound like an idealist. Maybe these attitudes are why I am not married. Or maybe I just like guiltlessly sleeping with random women,and needed to throw y'all off the trail…whatever.

mr. wilson

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Chain Of Fools

I have been told on more than one occasion that I have an opinion about everything. To test this theory, I am going to accept one request per week and blog about that topic.

The following request comes from Fairfield, Connecticut and the reader writes:

"[mr. wilson, ] you need to write an eloquent blog called the Tao of Chain E-Mails...

i always get the 'pass on this prayer to 7 people' email from people would don't even write "hi" to me's a strange phenomenon.."

I am sorry, but I have nothing eloquent to say about chain emails. I suppose I could explore the reasons behind the forwarding, but that presumes rationality is at work in the universe of chain emails. Or I could try to empathize with the forwarder by getting inside his experience. But I find this surprisingly hard for me to do, like trying to clap offbeat or thinking of police officers as helpful.

Or maybe I could offer some kind, earthy observation like: "chain emails reveal a child-like optimism about magic, miracles, and magnanimity that lives in us all." That would be a nice thing to say, but I don't feel like being nice today.

I am far too tired today to hug the world and embrace humankind's quirky flaws. So rather than muse, I can only offer my pseudo-objective social commentary, thinly veiling my lonely sadness and contempt for the everyman.

Just for the purpose of this exercise, lets call the sender of the chain email Moe.

What is the first thing that goes through my mind when I get a chain email from Moe?: "Why me? C'mon Moe! Don't you have seven or ten or twenty friends who are equally gullible, superstitious, or stubbornly waiting on that free Microsoft money? They won't weep quietly for the failings of the public school system the way I will? And besides I only count for 3/5ths of a person anyway, so can't you send it to some land-owning white male and get your full karmic credit?"

Maybe I should be happy and take it as a compliment that Moe chose me, but then again I am neurotic enough to find an insult underneath a Christmas tree. I bet if Moe was lucky enough to have the email address of some highly respected and admired individual, (lets say Bill Frist) Moe would not even consider filling the senator's inbox with meaningless drivel? No Moe would closely scrutinize his correspondence with Frist, because Moe respects Bill's time and attention. Moe wants to inspire admiration and respect in the distinguished gentleman from Tennessee, but Moe could give a fuck about me. You see, Moe sends chain e-mails to me in a fit of passive aggressiveness that whispers, "your life is just as dull and uninteresting as mine so here is a little something to do between solitaire and sudokus."

I am not really mad at Moe for forwarding the chain email. I think most people forward the email because of a knee-jerk emotional reaction. Of coure, its always some negative emotion: trepidation ("don't want the good lord to smite me"), guilt ("I will not have the blood of some poor innocent child on my hands") or greed ("I don't want to block the 'blessings'"). Come to think of it, those are all fear in some form or another. But really, what does it hurt if our actions calm our fears and gives us a sense of power and control in an uncertain world? That never leads to any major trouble, right?

mr. wilson

Oh yeah, you can send all chain emails normally reserved for me to Senator Bill Frist by going here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Shake Those Dreds...

The following post was stimulated by a blog of a friend (well, a "myspace friend") Angela, in which she contemplated cutting off her locks. She was questioning if men were intimidated by women with locks and vice versa, and dealing with peoples preconceived judgments and expectations for those with reply was as follows:

-------------------- chop or not to chop...

Any man that is intimidated by a hairstyle isn't really much of a man now is he? I mean if dude gets intimidated by a sisters locks, maybe black women ain't his cup of tea in the first place. Some men are going to be intimidated by a woman's beauty, intelligence, success, or just intimidated by her expectations, but why should she apologize for being valuable and aware of it? She can play down certain attributes and try to amplify others, because of what she thinks the typical man values, but who wants typical? The best wines can only be truly appreciated by a few with well developed palates, but I have seen a lot of Chteau Lafite ladies emulating 2 Buck Chuck* broads who appeal to the vulgar masses. Besides, the further she travels from her genuine self, the more difficult it becomes to maintain the illusion. How long can she stay out there while her real self is ignored and unappreciated?

As for brothers such as myself with dreds, I think women tend to like or dislike locks on a man from a strictly aesthetical point of view: do they agree with him or does he look like a broke-ass Busta Rhymes? I don't think locks on a man could ever really intimidate a woman. I didn't notice a major difference in the way black women responded to me when I locked my hair...they were just as suspecting and cynical as ever. (Just kidding...sort of.) I mean maybe some tended to presume that I was vegan (until they saw me eating the filthy swine) or politically left-leaning (I am undecided on whether Che Guevera is martyr or murderer) or a weed smoker (*cough* drugs are bad..mmmkay) but these are secondary traits that don't say much about my character anyway. I have to prove I am actually worth a woman's time and energy, before she starts assessing whether she is comfortable with herself in relationship to me. By the time her insecurities come to the surface and she can feel intimidated, she is fairly comfortable blaming me for whatever she is experiencing anyway. Women...

But I am not bitter.

Lets see…where was I? Oh yeah, dred locks

As for the preconceived notions you spoke of...I say fuck it. I think people are going to have preconceived notions about you no matter what you do. There is much worse that people can presume about you than characterstics like self-aware, conscientious, and maybe a little elitist. People could presume you were a violent, hyper-sexual nihilist as they inject their fears about their own unchecked will to power into your presumably large genitalia, all the while trying to appropriate your presumed cool and swagger and buying 90% of the schlock masquerading as hip hop that you produce. That would kind of suck.


I try to use the dred stereotypes to my advantage. I have always wanted people to be titillated enough to spend a little time getting to know me as an individual, so my only rule has always been not to send one cohesive message. If I exuded the archetypical black bohemian (you know dreds, sandals, spoken word poems about his nubian queen, broke, trifling) that would most likely be a mark of anything BUT an individual, in my case anyway. It says "I don't know who I am nor do I trust that you will accept me, so I am going to put on this pre-fabricated identity, if you are equally confused maybe you will be impressed."

Priests, policeman, and politicians alike, they all put on one uniform or another to gain our trust, but we all know better. Very few people fit perfectly into a mold and its always the people who walk their own path who leave an impression on us anyway. That is why I am just as likely to quote Jay-Z as Ghandi, why I don’t see anything wrong with Hennessey and soy milk, and why my Nag Champa is right next to the Camel Lights and scat porn. Okay, I don’t really have scat porn, but if I did I hope I wouldn't keep that shit** hidden away just because its not consistent with having dreds.

mr. wilson

*I am not hating on Charles Shaw. There is a time an a place for inexpensive and readily available goods, literally and figuratively...

**If you got my pun in the last sentence, thank you for being perceptive you little pervert.