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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ethereal Eartha

Some people attract your attention, even from an early age, because they are unique.

Eartha Kitt was a very, very unique presence.


It could have been her features; a strange blend of African-American and Asian, with those feline eyes spread just a little too far apart. It could have been her lithe and sinewy body which seemed especially carved for the most delicious of sinful pleasures. Or it could have been that voice… a voice unlike any other... a voice like electric velvet with a tickle of French filtered through the throat of a Persian cat.

Early Eartha Memory:

As a child, I recall watching Merv Griffin several times when she was a guest. I wondered then: WHY is Eartha Kitt always crying and whimpering about her past? You’re a star now, woman! Get over it! But I was a kid. I didn’t quite get how the past still lives within us, how it can still infect us, especially when it was full of pain and rejection.

She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South. She often spoke of being abused, neglected, unwanted because her 'yella gal' skin tone and because of how different she looked. She even wondered who her real parents were... because it seemed that no one really "wanted" her.

Well Hollywood wanted her, for a time. Hollywood was the perfect place for unique people. And in an era when women of color were relegated to roles of mammies and maids, Eartha Kitt (along with the beauteous Dorothy Dandridge) changed the perception of Black women by showing them to be sensuous, sexy, and yes, beautiful.

For a time she dated filmmaker Orson Welles, and it was he who proclaimed her to be "The World's Most Exciting Woman!"

High praise indeed, for a "Colored" woman... in Ike's America.

Her career would span six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television. She had a hit recording with a sexy rendition of the song "Santa Baby."

She was cast as mysterious women and sizzling exotics in the 1950s. Later, she became a fiercer Catwoman than even the cat-like Julie Newmar in the Batman series. She was a puurrrrrfect choice. This was the role that I, and many from my generation would best associate with the name Eartha Kitt.


But she was famous before and after wrecking havoc on Gotham City.

And then, being a self-possessed, outspoken woman with her own mind, she made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House. Lady Bird Johnson was NOT amused! For Eartha, speaking the truth amounted to nothing short of career suicide. The Johnson administration saw to it that suddenly Eartha Kitt could find no more employment in this country. Shameful!

Hurt from this blatant blacklisting but still hungry to entertain, she left this country and headed to a more embracing Europe. She would make a spectacle of herself there. To their credit and good taste, those Europeans just loved them some Eartha Kitt!


Through the years, Kitt remained a picture of vitality and elegance. She attracted fans less than half her age even as she neared 80. She died on Christmas Day at the age of 81.

The Kitt-woman is gone now, like so many legends before her. But the next time you see Halle Berry or Alicia Keyes, Mariah Carey or Faith Evans, Kelis or Jennifer Beals, Rosario Dawson or Victoria Rowell, Sade or Thandie Newton, Tamia or Paula Patton, Nicole Ari Parker or Mya, Corrine Bailey Rae or Leona Lewis emoting on the screen or singing on stages, it would be nice and fitting to remember Eartha Kitt… because without her contribution, the careers of those exotic bi-racial others may not have been possible.

Rest In Peace, Eartha!



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Let Nothing You Dismay... An Urban Christmas Story ~ By L.M. Ross

(Based upon a True Event)

There was once a young man who lived in a Big Bad City of Rich, Mean and Inconsequential things. This young man had a dream of being different, perhaps to one day even do something epic. This idea of achieving was long ago instilled in him by his grandmother when he was a very young boy. In the summers of his youth, he and his baby brother would stay at her small clapboard home in the south. There they'd share a swing, and the young man would sit for hours with his 'gran' those sunny summer afternoons on that large green swing. It was the most vital piece of furniture on her screened-in porch in Virginia.

It was there, one memorable afternoon, she’d tell him that out of all her many grandchildren (and she had close to 60, by then), out of every single one, this young boy sitting beside her was destined for "Great Things." But she had not told him what that Great Thing would be. Perhaps her eyes were clouded by the cataracts of old dreams and the vision outside them had grown hazy. Or perhaps she already knew and wanted him to realize it fully in his own time, and in his own ambitious skin.

As he grew older, the young man had fulfilled a part of that destiny she'd envisioned for him. When most of his friends were running the streets or rotting from the atrophy of urban youth, he’d somehow excelled in school, and soon became a student in college.

The young man worked very hard and most meticulously. While in a Modern Literature class, it was discovered he possessed a Special Gift. Perhaps this one gift was what his grandmother had long ago prophesied. It seemed he was developing into quite the writer. People, professors, pupils alike, not only enjoyed the things he wrote, they actually FELT the things he wrote. This was a magical gift, indeed.

And so as the years passed, he managed to finish school. Unfortunately, in his senior year, his beloved grandmother passed on.

This saddened him terribly, for now no matter how hard he worked, or what he would become, his grandmother could no longer see it. The young man began to question the time, the work, the effort of becoming someone epic.

Instead of fulfilling the hazy vision his elder loved one foresaw in him, he began to drift and loiter. With his grandmother gone and his college days done, the Country was gripped in the throes of a recession. There were no jobs that fit his particular skill, or held out hope for any real advancement.

The summer became autumn and autumn progressed into winter, and Christmas loomed ahead.

And there was this talented young man without a job, without hope nor the promising prospects of any employment.

He’d moved back into his parent’s home, and that alone became a setback that severely depressed his spirit.

Day after day he’d dress in his one blue suit, the same suit he’d worn to his grandmother’s funeral, and he’d head out on his quest to become one of the gainfully employed. But the doors continued to close and slam in his hopeful black face. The young man was now way beyond the point of utter despondency. More than this, he wondered how he would possibly manage to purchase Christmas gifts for his mother, his father and his younger brother.

The Holidays drew nearer.

Late one afternoon, as he and his one blue suit walked dejectedly down the avenue, he ran into an old friend. His old acquaintance appeared to be doing quite well. Though this friend had never finished high school, never considered college, never was driven or ambitious, he was now driving around town in a very fine car, and wearing the latest in expensive designer sportswear.

They spoke, and they joked, as they once had in their golden days. Being slightly amazed at his old friend’s fortune, the young man asked,

“So, what you been doing for yourself? I mean, look at you! You’re looking mighty successful, my friend.”

And that old friend informed him of his booming business in pharmaceuticals, and how, if he wanted, the young man too could be driving a nice new fly car, and sporting the latest in track suit finery.

This was his fork in that snowy wind-drift road. This could possibly be the answer to all his out-of-money-blues. Drugs and their sale were a thriving commodity within the community. There were other young men like him, who doing big things by dubious means, and he looked around, he had seen the glossy sheen of their notorious success. Now here was this friend from his past, offering him a ticket to the land of fast food urban riches. The young man was so ready to agree, to do what he had to do to finally, finally achieve and succeed.

Still, something like an old voice haunted him slowly.

And so, he told this friend he would THINK about it, and give him his answer the following day.

On this way home that snowy evening, he passed a group of carolers singing an old Christmas hymn:

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,
Let nothing you dismay…
Remember, Christ, Our Savior Was Born on Christmas Day…
To Save Us All From Satan’s Power
When We Were Gone Astray…”

Odd that he would hear that song now. He recalled how that one carol was his grandmother’s favorite of all the Christmas songs. As he walked away and the caroler’s voices faded… another voice singing the very same song became LOUDER inside his ear, inside his head. It was his grandmother’s voice. Lovely and strident, so soulful and strong… and was if she were his own Christmas angel, singing him home.

The feeling of it made him warm inside, even on that frigid December day.

Later that very night, his grandmother revisited him in a dream.

In this dream: they were sitting together on that sunny summer Virginia porch swing. But instead of the usual warmth of memories past, the young man he felt a sense of cold emanating from her. When he looked closer, he could see his beloved ‘gran’ was crying.

“Why? Why are you crying, Gran?” the young man asked of her.

“Because, my grandchild is blocking his blessings,” she said.

“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

And she told him, “Son, God has blessed you with everything you’ll ever need… and you keep ignoring those gifts. They are what make you special and rich inside, and you don’t even use them,” she cried.

“But it’s Christmas! I want to bless my family… and I can’t, Gran. Even with this so-called ‘gift’, I can’t!” he said in desperation.

“Oh? Really? Can’t you?” she asked.

And then she turned away from him. The young man held his head in his hands, and when he lifted his eyes, she was gone.

He awakened that Christmas Eve, still unsure of everything, except for one thing. He was going to say NO! The answer was, NO, to his friend’s offer of quick cash through dirty deeds.

And though that friend looked at him as if he were crazy, the young man said it. “No!”

On his way home again, strolling by those same carolers, singing that same song, he happened to look down in the snow, and he saw it. It was a brand new Cross pen. The gold inlay gleamed under the Holiday lights in a way that beckoned him. The gleam of it begged his knees to the ground. He picked up the pen as the carolers sang “Let Nothing You Dismay…”

He headed home with that shiny new utensil. That night, he sat at his desk, and as if by magic, the thoughts and the words and the sentiments began to pour out of that pen. They came out of some sacred place in him, like fresh spring water from a gushing well.

This would be his Christmas present to his family: Poetry. For each of them, a poem composed of the words he felt for them, each special, each uniquely beautiful, each heart-breakingly tender.

In the last lines of the poem he'd penned to his mother, he wrote…

“I wish I could purchase you a fine new mink
I wish I could lay the moon, there, at your feet…
I wish I wouldn’t cry as I write this poem
I wish I could prove how much I love you, mom.”

And so, on Christmas morning, he presented those gifts to his loved ones. Oddly enough, knowing his circumstance, each of them truly FELT the love implicit in his words. But his mother felt hers most especially.

She said through eyes full of tears, “How did you know, son? This is this best gift you could’ve possibly given me.”

He wanted to tell her that he saw it in a dream, about an old woman, sitting on a large green swing.

But instead he embraced his mother very tightly, and simply said, “Merry Christmas.”

* * * * * * * *

One Love.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How To Succeed In Writing When Spike Lee Doesn't Call...

In the last few years, I’ve found myself answering this one question countless times:

“So, how do I get published?”

Seriously, without exaggeration, I must have answered this same question for 6 or 7 hungry-starving-struggling-artist-writer-poet-type people just within the last week. In each instance, I’d take time out of a busy day to explain it, in detail. Then, it finally dawned on me that maybe I needed write it all down, save it, and simply go back to the file whenever that question was broached again.

So, without further ado…hereitgo:

** First and foremost: Mad, MAD PROPS to YOU for dreaming, for writing, for seeing a world, for penning and winning and sticking to your goal, and most of all: for finishing what you started! That alone dictates an inner fire and a Real Passion for what you do.

You need to know, everyone’s journey will be different and there are no surefire ways, only some tried and true ones from each writer’s personal experience.

My situation dates back to poetry. While in high school, an English teacher first noticed I had a gift for writing. She submitted a poem of mine to a National student magazine, & BAM! There I was, 17, and a published poet. That part was easy.

But, the following years were anything but easy. And maybe they weren’t supposed to be. Each of us gets tested in various ways. Maybe this is to separate the walkers from the talkers. In college, I had published and polished professors tell me that I had "a Voice," and that I should really "get published."

Cool-cool. How lovely. How flattering! But no one, not a soul would volunteer the needed info on HOW I was to get published, where I should go, or what I had to do to make that happen. Was this some State Secret? Would it have killed them if they’d TOLD me how to go about it? Or if they told me, would they then have to kill me?

So, I kept writing, poetry mostly. But sometimes I’d get inspired by some life event and I’d create plays and songs and rambling monologues. I just kept writing, not knowing if any of it would ever see the light of publication. I was doing it for me. I was doing it to purge, to unleash, and to let my soul sing. And like any muscle, the more you work and exercise it, the stronger and more vital it becomes.

A small turning point came when I picked up an Essence Magazine, read the work contained in their poetry section and thought… hmmm… I can do that. So, dammit! I tried, and a month later received a beige business-size envelope from the Poetry Editor. Inside, I found a terse rejection slip.

*Pipe in the BUZZER SOUND: Annnnnnt!*

Oh damn! It hurt my feelings. For real. But I'd grown accustomed to having my feelings hurt. So I just pressed on. I still wanted to get my work inside the glossy pages of Essence Magazine. Folks asked: why… when it only paid $25.00?

Well, it had a circulation of over a million people. If a percentage of those people read my work, I would become known. Maybe the famous person on the cover would read it, and I too would become mad famous, and hip and cool, if by association.

Ok. Foolish! Major mistake in thinking! HUGE, in fact! No one needs to be writing if their only goal is to become famous. That was stupid. But so was I… well, at the very least, ignorant. Again, I had no one telling me, pointing me, advising or guiding me.

So, I issued this challenge to myself: I will BE in Essence Magazine before the year is done. I went so far as to visualize my words, and more importantly my name in the same print and the same font as the other writers they featured. I stared at that page for the longest time until I could actually SEE it.

And then, I sent them four more poems.

One month later, another long business-sized beige envelope arrived. But this one felt different. It was slightly heavier than that previous one. I took a deep breath and I opened it.

A typewritten letter with my name in the heading was followed by the beautiful word: Congratulations!

I’d made it. My work was to appear in the shiny pages of Essence magazine! THANK YOU ANGELA KINAMORE, Poetry Editor!

I was hyped, yo. I was so mad happy. I was high. Dammit! I’d arrived, yo!

Spike Lee and his sister Joie graced the cover of the issue in which my work appeared. I received two copies and a check for 25 beans.

I was beside myself. I told most everyone I knew. It was my calling card. Even to perfect strangers, it became my M.O. to say: “Have you seen this month’s edition of Essence? Well, I’m in it.”

I was living the dream, bay-bay! For a whole month, I was living, gloating and just-a floating on Cloud Nine. Besides, all that… maybe, just maybe SPIKE would see it, read it, and dammit, maybe we’d be like riffin' and dialoguing, spitting and co-hittin' , and maybe even co-writing screenplays for his joints together.

Hey. I mighta been published, but I remained very much an ignorant Brotha.

Spike never called, yo.

Time passed, and Essence would later accept yet another piece. Coolness! Cha-Ching! Another 25! Now I could finally buy that island in Tahiti!

But in between, it was a very dry season. I mean drrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiier than the Gobi desert in my writing life. No one else was biting.

It was with the help of a WRITERS MARKET, and then POETS MARKET, NOVEL & SHORT STORY MARKET reference books that I found other places actively seeking the kind of work I offered. I submitted to those places, and was lucky & Blessed enough to have a lot of it accepted. BUT even though my work has appeared in over 200 places, I must have submitted to over a THOUSAND more places where it was NOT accepted. The lesson there is to never stop at rejection and to just keep plugging. Let rejection FEED you… NOT fade you!

So, if you want to get your name out there, start out small... make baby steps, like poetry and short stories or excerpts from your novels or works-in-progress, simply because publishers like shorter work, as it saves them time and, yes, money.

HOWEVER, if you get yourself a NOVEL/ SHORT STORY MARKET, you'll save so much time and needless frustration. That book is the Bible for any budding novelist. WHY? Well because it lists thousands of people, places, publications, addresses, editors, when and how to submit, and how NOT to submit, what they’re looking for, when to expect a reply, and what they pay. It also has sections for each kind of writing under the sun: childrens, black, feminist, romance, sci-fi, gay, lesbian, mystery, adventure, technical, erotica, comedy, experimental, etc. So you can find a niche and discover the many places that seek exactly what you have to offer. Feel me?

You can find the books at most public libraries. But your best bet would be to invest the 30 bucks, and purchase the mofo, so you'll have it at your reach. It would truly behoove you to check it out, because it’s also full of valuable ideas, help tips on sharpening your ms.... and making it more salable. There are even agents, resources and contests, oh my!

The story of how I got published is simply one of diligence, hard work, and never giving up. I kept submitting EVERYWHERE. Finally, it paid off.

As I mentioned earlier, everyone's journey is different. But the one thing most people have in common is a love for what they do.

So, if YOU have a need to do it, possess a passion that doesn't die with rejection slips, if you’re not doing it to get rich and famous but have a purpose, something REAL and important to say, and if you possess the Balls and Bravery it takes to SUBMIT your work, you WILL eventually get published. It's your fate.

The rest is finding the RIGHT place, the right fit, & the right hands to place your work into.

So, GET the Writers Market Book, whether for POETRY, SCREENWRITING, or NOVELS & SHORT STORIES. Study those mofos! Find your markets, & then dammit submit your work!

That's it.

Unlike so many other selfish, insecure, spirit-poor writers, I actually WANT to see YOU succeed! If writing and getting published is really your dream, your passion, then by all means, go for it! Talent helps, but determination and *support* provides a Giant push forward.

When one of us wins, we ALL win!

Feel me?

I wish you many Blessings in your endeavors.

Keep Writing! Keep Fighting!



Monday, December 1, 2008

Poem For World AIDS Day

As a teen,
Faces I thought I'd see
Clear into gray senility
Withering shadows
Aged by
Antique memories

The bodies of
Young gods
With vital dreams
In their eyes were
Toppled from their pedestals as
An ill wind blew inside…

This urban wasteland.

And I carry them with me
Like songs inside my chest.
So hard to sing them now
Through these screams of my

Tears fall in silent
For tens of thousands of
Names forming
A quilt
From flesh
And broken
Hearts turned
Painfully into

Inside this country's guilty

And an ocean
In between us
Children will die today
Having seen their
Aching fathers,
Having watched their
African mothers
Quickly fade away.

Seemed no one cared
To warn them of
The terrible price to pay
Inside this global wasteland...

And I think of J,
I think of Jett,
I think of Kim, Cunning and Cliff.
I think of Deb and Mike and Wilson and
The list has grown so long,
I almost lose my breath…

I think of smiles we've lost
And dreams we've tossed
Like old sneakers to the air
Dangling now from power-lines
Above streets everywhere…

Our memories broken
Like needles in the rain
We spray-tag their names into
Physical graffiti
So a part of them
Always remains

In this urban wasteland.

On this World
AIDS Awareness Day
I remember,
I reflect,
I ponder,
And I don't quite get it


How 33 million
Souls can be
How some
New fools
Still refuse to heed
The Lesson:

How needles never
Gave a shit about
Friend or family…
How sex without


Can easily
Flip the script
On the most beautiful-est
Men, Women
And children,
And turn them

A reference
A half-life
A past-tense
A sad poetry
Of skeletons…

Here, in this HIV wasteland.