Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Happy Birthday to Daddy! I wish you everything that "Well" is!!

!!!!I pray this is the best year of your life!!!!

In the precious words of Bill Withers:

I wish you flowers sunshine and smiles
I wish your children that grow to make you proud
I wish you pretty things to wear
Sweet things to smell

I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (welllllllllllllllll)

I wish you good friends that always treat you fair
Wanna wish you ribbons to tie around your hair
I wish you, truckloads of cheer
and many happy years

I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (wellllllllllllllllll)

I wish you freedom to do the things you love
Wanna wish you blessings and kindness from above
Wanna wish you sunlight through the clouds
I hope you laugh out loud

I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well ( welllllllllllllll)

oh now I wish you well(oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well ( welllllllllllllllll)

oh now I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
oh now I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (wellllllllllllllllll)

oh now I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
oh now I wish you well (oh I wish you well)
I wish you wellllllllllllllllllllllll (welllllllllllllllllllllllll)

On [finally] meeting Bill Withers.

Six and a half years ago, in honor of Mommae's 80th birthday, my family asked me to pen a poetic ode in her honor to share at the celebration. Immediately, I pulled out my Best of Bill Withers CD and let the funk and sincerity of his "Grandma's Hands" guide my pen to shape the images reflected in "My Grandma's Hands." I'd love this song for as long as I can remember, I'd like to think my entire thirty years. When Blackstreet sampled the guitar intro and gritty moan-hum of his voice in their mid-90's hit "No Diggity", it just made me bump "Grandma's Hands" even harder (even though I did love "No Diggity" as well)! That song IS the gold standard of honoring a grandmother, worldwide, and I wanted to lend the same level of honor in my poem, in ode to him as well.

When I was writing, it never quite dawned on me that I'd be given the opportunity to hand him the poem I'd dedicated to my grandmother. After all, it was well known that you were not about to catch Bill Withers on stage, which meant I wasn't going to be front and center of a concert where he was within reach. And it just didn't seem feasible that I'd arbitrarily run into him on the street and have a copy of the poem at that exact moment. (Though it's not uncommon for me to run into random artists and celebrities; just the other night on my way back to New York, I ran into John Legend at LAX.) But Bill. It didn't cross my mind, back in '03, that I would be able to get the poem directly to him. It was inspired by him, yet for my grandmother.

After sharing the poem with my family, revising it into its final draft while in writing workshops at grad school, and going on to perform it during poetry readings and a couple more of Mommae's birthday celebrations, I started to think that it would be wonderful to share the poem "My Grandma's Hands" WITH BILL WITHERS. You know, one of those thoughts like, "Dag, it would be dope if I could meet him... but WHERE am I gonna meet Bill Withers?" A fleeting thought that turned into a nagging desire the evening of August 10, 2008 when Celebrate Brooklyn paid tribute to Bill during a concert in his honor. That night I ran into an acquaintance I met when I was a student at Sarah Lawrence, a film faculty member and fellow alum Damani Baker, who told me about the documentary he and his friend, Alex Vlack, were filming on Bill's life. He quickly mentioned that Bill was in fact present at the concert that evening, handed me a "STILL BILL: THE MOVIE" t-shirt and hurried off to continue filming! Then, later in the tribute when Bill actually walked on stage during the rendition of "Grandma's Hands" and started moaning out the verses, the wheels in my mind really began to spin out of control because I realized I was just ONE DEGREE of separation from Bill Withers...!! Even if I didn't know Damani all that well! So, basically since 2008, when I realized a film was being made and was going to be released by this familiar face, Damani (who also, coincidentally, attended film school with the older sister of one of my good high school friends), I've been waiting for my opportunity to meet Bill Withers. And, I knew MY TIME would come.

Well, last night that opportunity came on through! On the heels of losing not one but two grandmothers, and after years of honing my poem, and after pining and daydreaming about the opportunity of actually being in the same space as him, I finally met Bill Withers. I'd actually gotten wind that on Wednesday and Thursday of this week Still Bill would be premiering at the IFC Center and that Bill would be in attendance. BOOM! HERE WAS MY CHANCE!! I knew I'd get back to NYC on Tuesday and that I could attend the screening (which I saw earlier in December) later in the week to meet him! The only problem was that the tickets weren't going on sale until the day I was leaving LA, and even when Monday came around, the tickets weren't available right when they were supposed to be. So I went to the Still Bill facebook page and found out that Celebrate Brooklyn would actually be hosting a screening and discussion with Bill on Tuesday evening, just hours after I would make it back into town!!!! So, I printed out copies of the poem to give to Bill and the filmmakers, and then started talking to God, "Lord, please let me get this to him. I've waited so long, I know this will be the opportunity, but please let this be the BEST opportunity; I can't wait! Thank you, Lord! Amen!"

I'd read on the website that there was going to be a meet and greet with Bill for the members of the Celebrate Brooklyn organization, of which I am not a part. But I thought, "Maybe--just maybe--I'll find myself inside of the meet and greet!" Though, I didn't want to chance it, so as soon as I got to the theater, I sat on the second seat of the second row in front of where Bill and the filmmakers would be sitting for the discussion afterward and determined that when they opened up the floor for questions and comments, I would tell Bill how much I appreciated his music, recount the quick story about my grandmothers, and hand him the poem. I didn't even know if there were going to be many questions from the audience, but I was going to get mine in.... And as it turned out, there were only two: a gentleman on the first row, and me! (They actually did let a little bitty girl say hi to Bill on the mic!)

................and Bill Withers was sooooooooooo completely gracious in accepting my poem (sigh*swoon)! He listened, offered condolences, thanked me sincerely, and smirked that the way I wore my hat reminded him of his cousin, Betty from DE-troit! (No! MARVA! It was definitely his cousin, "Marva! wearing that hat!!") He came over to give me a hug and gladly accepted the envelope I'd prepared for him. And it was all I could do to keep my eyes from misting up. Once the discussion formally ended, I got a picture with Bill, then later on still ended up going to the "VIP" meet and greet for a few minutes before I floated out on cloud nine!

Well, for the record, Grandma's Hands isn't the only song by Bill Withers that I am completely enthralled with. I'm sure I annoyed the guy sitting next to me by singing along with all of the songs I knew in the film. But in the grand scheme of his catalog, there are sooo many jewels that I still don't know. So all night I've been listening to his earliest albums on the music site, Lala... I dream of penning timeless ballads like Bill Withers. And again drawing inspiration directly from him, I hold dear the fact that he didn't become a professional songwriter and recording artist until he was about 32 years old, after overcoming a number of obstacles in his young life, including being a severe stutterer from the coal-mining town of Slabfork, West Virginia. Imagine, building aircraft toilets until after age 30 and THEN going on to become a Grammy award winning soul music icon.... So, I've been writing, and I'll keep writing, and I'll keep listening to Bill Withers, and I'll enjoy the journey to greatness in which my life is unfolding.... and I'll look forward to meeting Bill Withers AGAIN!


My Grandma’s Hands
“Grandma’s hands, boy they really came in handy…” — Bill Withers, Grandma’s Hands

My grandma’s hands have a story to tell—

not about how they ache and swell,

but have guided her through a life so well.

This life, well-planned according to the Master’s hand,

has covered a multitude

and planted roots that began in her own backyard.

My grandma’s hands have protected and touched

the lives of those who needed them most.

My grandma’s hands were shields of comfort

when youngin’s needed to be held close.

My grandma’s hands are TOUGH.

Her hands have picked loads of cotton and loads of laundry,

wiped little bottoms and smacked big mouths,

popped hands, pressed hair, plucked splinters,

and burped EVERYONE’S babies.
These hands have written checks

that support individuals and families.

My grandma’s hands have clapped, they’ve praised;

Clapped and praised the Lord.

Clapped and praised the Lakers!

Her hands have flipped the television
from her sports to her stories
while circling every word
in the puzzle search
as she eats a glazed donut.
I’ve seen these hands fry chicken and bake 7-Up cakes

as she sips her morning lukewarm coffee

in the middle of the day.

My grandma’s hands have taken weekend trips to Vegas

with hopes of big earnings from the nickel slots.

She’ll journey back east,

or far east on birthday cruises

with a few of her kin.

Her hands have nurtured
many gardens
of collards and mustard greens,

red tomatoes, white daisies, roses pink;

Cultivating tirelessly—

picking, pruning, arranging offspring into her prized bouquet,
to honor her life and celebrate her love.

Dedicated to Georgia Mae “Mommae” Erby, on August 23, 2003 for her 80th Birthday Celebration, who we lost on December 26, 2009; and also dedicated to Betty Jean "Gran Gran" Jones, who we lost on January 6, 2010.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Philippians 4

Philippians 4

1 My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don't waver. Stay on track, steady in God.
Pray About Everything
2I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn't want his children holding grudges.

3And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you're right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.

4-5Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Content Whatever the Circumstances
10-14I'm glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you're again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don't have a sense of needing anything personally. I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don't mean that your help didn't mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

15-17You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I'll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. Not that I'm looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity.

18-20And now I have it all—and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes.

21-22Give our regards to every follower of Jesus you meet. Our friends here say hello. All the Christians here, especially the believers who work in the palace of Caesar, want to be remembered to you.

23Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

11 months and 20 days...

I think I'm giving myself a one year deadline; if January oh-eleven comes around and I'm still feeling restless and unsettled and unsure about the prospects of most of the things I'd like to be more sure about now during January oh-ten, then I think it will be time to go on ahead and live abroad, somewhere like Paris, Tuscany, Brisbane, Panama or Accra (or all five, if I have it my way). This year, though, I'll just get in position to jump [high and far] if need be, ie renew my passport, take some language classes, get in a financial position to leave the states for a while, and uncover the actual opportunities that will pay be to be elsewhere for an extended period of time. Elsewhere can be good for development and growth. The world is bigger than Los Angeles, and is bigger than New York. And whereas I do not believe entirely that I've done ALL there is to do in New York City, and I could forsee leaving for a little while and then going back to The City as a seasoned and cultured world traveler, I do recognize that before you can talk about where you'll COME BACK to, you have to actually LEAVE.

If the war ever ends, maybe I'll join the Navy.... (chuckle) Yeah, right. Me, of all people, in the military, I DON'T THINK SO. But, getting TESOL certified and teaching English abroad may be my ticket. Or maybe there are some opps through the University. I don't know, but there's got to be more for me to see and exerience besides what I've seen and done in the Five Boroughs, with an insatiable jones for live music and uncommitted love interests.

As of now, January Twelfth oh-Ten, there is no specific draw keeping me in the states, no one person or job that feels my departure would be problematic. (Everything is very tentative, very take it-or-leave it. Even after five years. And maybe that's the way life is in general for most people -especially with the emergence of online social networks and mobile communication, it's almost like no one every really needs to be near any other person to have a connection- but I'm really old fashion and I'd really love to find myself in a position where someone or something is like: YOU are irreplaceable and we really need YOU to be here, things just are not the same when you are not around... but I digress.) One can publish, be an artist, and teach anywhere in the world. So.... maybe in order for me to really become the person I need to be it will be necessary for me to try my wings out once and for all and see how far I can go in this journey. Especially since, as Mommae (who I still can't believe is gone) called me, I am a free bird out here with no family of my own to look after. If that is still the case in oh-eleven, then I'll count it a blessing and carry my free self on somewhere else.

So. the countdown begins. 11 months and 20 days...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Surreality of it All.

I had two grandmothers when I arrived home on December 21st. Even in their poor health over the past year, 2009, I had no idea this trip would be my last time seeing them. Here, as I know them. They were both strong, strong women who assured and reassured me, my parents, one another, and whoever would listen, that they were holding on for the day they would see my brother walk into their living room to greet them with a great laugh and loving hug. That's what Mommae talked about for a good majority of the time I saw her on the Tuesday after I arrived, and when I saw her on Christmas eve. It was the same with Gran Gran. I was convinced their hanging on was a pact they'd made and would be seen it through as planned. THAT was the plan. But God had another plan. His plan was to call them home, just eleven days apart on December 26th and January 6th, to give them a better life with him and their other loved ones. As we sat with Gran Gran in the hospital this morning, Daddy said that Mommae was probably standing at the entrance of heaven waving at Gran Gran, "Girl, what took you so long! Come on in, let me show you around!" The consensus from the family, my parents, though utterly shocked at the timing, is that we are at peace because they are no longer in pain and affliction from their failing , deteriorating bodies. How can you question that? Maybe three more months was more than they could bare, and the saying does poignantly state that God does not put more on us than we can bare. I don't know if that wording is a scripture, but it is widely believed to be truth.

So, at some point, it will really settle in for both of us, me and Marcus. That we no longer have grandparents, grandmothers. I don't know what that means just yet. I just, I can't wrap my mind around knowing that I will not be hearing from or calling or seeing or laughing with either one of them. Even if the conversations were short, routine and nutshell, they were a standard and comfortable part of my existence. They just wanted to know we were alright. And they did know that. Ultimately.

There is so much to say about both of my grandmothers. But the only thing that is willing to come out, at this particular time, is how surreal this whole experience of them leaving really is.



I just got a poignant message from a friend of mine saying that she remembers that the Obama's grandmother passed away just days before he was elected as the President of the United States, and that somehow, she feels this, my grandmothers' passings, are just as much a positive sign that great things are to come for me this year, moving forward. It's a lovely sentiment, isn't it.