The Difficulty of Opening One’s Hands

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[Word count: 489. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

My mother grew up poor. Because she knew the extremes of sometimes having nothing, she learned how to save, preserve, extend, prolong, conserve. She’s the last to throw something away because “you never know when you might have a need.”

In her cabinet, I found an old Sony CD player whose door would not close. I offered to throw it away for her. “Oh no, honey, don’t throw that away. I wanna give it to the Goodwill. Maybe somebody can fix it and use it.”

I groused. “Ma, this thing is done. It has no more value. It’s a CD player that won’t play CDs. No one wants to work to fix it. You can buy a new one for $50 or less. Why do you hold on to these things? They’re just taking up space and making more clutter for you to look at. This don’t make no sense. Forget it. I’m throwing it away.” All of this I told her—in my head—as I put the CD player back where she told me to.

I used to be quite a packrat. But when I got older and started making enough money to lean back and smile a bit, I didn’t stockpile so religiously. My confidence was such that if I needed something, I could get it whenever I wanted it. Continue reading

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Joe’s Cafe — and Here We Go Again

[Part 1 — Word count: 372. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
[Part 2 — Word count: 333. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

1. Joe’s Café

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“We were unbreakable. We were like rock and roll.
—Janelle Monae

Breakfast from Joe’s Café just does something for me. Its tight crew of bright-faced, happy people prepare food like they know how special it is. The place is hard not to like. Light fixtures made out of colanders and cheese graters. Whimsical chalk-drawn menus. There’s love in the details.

The staff seems focused and confident as they move about in a small kitchen space openly visible from the dining area. It’s crowded, but the 7 or 8 of them are comfortable as they graze (but never bump) each other. The chaos is almost choreographed. Continue reading

Dreams and False Alarms

[Word count: 630. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Joni Mitchell's Hejira album featuring "Amelia"

“Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

A friend once told me, “Mark, you’re emotionally unavailable.” I resented both the remark and its laser accuracy. I would meet a girl who piqued my interest, but it would die out like doused fireworks. I started to believe I was emotionally defective, and incapable of falling in love. It seemed to closely mirror my difficulty walking in faith.

“The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you.”

And then something awesome happened. A girl flew in from nowhere and descended over me with her soft skin the color of strong coffee. Smiled like she brushed her teeth with sunshine. Moved like a ray of light, electric, blinding, jittery, and larger than life. I couldn’t take her all in, but I didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t fall in love readily, but this girl got to me faster than I was ready to get got.

“And looking down on everything
I crashed into [her] arms…

Continue reading

Misfire and I

[Word count: 627. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Diane Sawyer on failure:
“Sometimes, of course, it just teaches you that this is gonna be the funniest thing in the world… when it stops hurting.”

While recording original music, I got this brilliant idea to cover a song by my favorite artist Crystal Lewis. Although the original was mid-90’s CCM perfection, I was amazed how well my jazzy electronic cover turned out. So I did another, and another, eventually deciding I was gonna do a full album of Crystal Lewis covers and send it to her as a birthday gift! [Famous. Last. Words.]

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and talk myself out of it. I was so inspired though! Every song was a personal victory. I challenged myself to bend tempos, genres, phrasings, arrangements and pay tribute to the songs I felt most connected to. It was my best work as a producer, vocalist, and musician to date.

I was proud, but every time I neared her September 11th birthdate, I’d waffle. “It’s not good enough. I hate it.” Stop. Rework it ‘til you’re back in love again. Unfortunately, this went on for about 5 years. [Bang head against desk.] Continue reading

Fast As You Can (or Why I Ate Everything)

[Word count: 565. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Welcome to January. ‘Tis the season for loose commitments to new resolutions, changes in federal and state laws, and Christian churches going on fasts. I’ve got no problem with the former, but this guy right here will have nothing to do with fasting.

When I was in music ministry, we would traditionally fast for 2-3 weeks at the start of every year. But we had options. We could maybe give up specific meals, or do the Daniel fast (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with limited seasonings and cooking processes), or the extreme option of drinking water only for a period of time. Some were lenient where others were extra diligent, but we all did something.

The following year, something different happened. After praying, the pastor felt the entire church needed to fast. As previous, the body at large was given options. Those in music ministry, however, were told that a Daniel fast was mandatory.

Mandatory? Objection, your honor. Continue reading

Going Back To My Ex

Taylor-Swift-We-Are-Never-Ever-Getting-Back-Together

[Word count: 785. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

Whenever you come in contact with someone you were once intimately close to but now are virtual strangers, interesting reactions happen. You remember the good things and the bad things. One usually rises to the surface. Sometimes both swirl together unpredictably like iridescent colors on an oil slick.

When a goal has both positive and negative aspects that make it simultaneously appealing and unappealing, it’s called an approach-avoidance conflict. I am traditionally bad at these. Exes almost always bring them up. Continue reading

On Father’s Day: “I Had a King Once”

[Word count: 467. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Me, being held by my grandfather Ralph, standing next to my grandmother Bette.Before, he was just the belt wielder. Barber. Things-around-the-house fixer. Wood chopper. La-Z-Boy occupier. Pipe smoker. Grandmother’s nagging post. I wasn’t fond of him. As a disciplinarian, I came to see him as stern. And mean. So I kept my dealings with him limited. Nine-year-olds prefer grandmothers anyway. They’re softer. Permissive. Willing to bend rules for precocious children. Better at banana pudding from scratch. I was certain I chose well.

Then, certain reversals of fortune cause ten-year-olds to grow rapidly. Age substantially. Wizen prematurely. Grieve deeply.

Rules of the game would need to change. No more hiding in the billows of her dress. I couldn’t pit queen against king. Now, it was just the king and I. Two of us on a somewhat bare board. In a much-too-quiet house. Taken aback. Having to stare at each other in the eyes. Perhaps for the first time.

The king, though prized, is probably the most vulnerable in the game. Only moving about slowly, one space at a time. Not a problem with a queen present. She can fly around accomplishing multiple tasks at one time. Enforcing order while retreating selectively. Defending territory while deferring demurely. A queen makes every piece stronger. Losing one early puts the fate of the whole game at a disadvantage. Faced with the challenge, some kings concede. Mine reworked his strategy. Continue reading

Worship, Unconscious

[Word count: 596. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
DISCLAIMER: I wrote this August 8, 2012, but decided to sit on it until now. In light of my friend Robin’s recent illness and passing, it carries extra significance.

Imagine someone you love—a mother, father, sibling, cousin, or close friend—unconscious and unresponsive. You don’t know what caused it and you don’t know how long it’s going to last. But the doctors say, “Keep talking to them, they can hear you. They may also respond to touch.What would you do? How often would you visit? How long would you stay?

If it was someone I loved, I would become protective. I would be watching to make sure nurses and orderlies treated them right, kept them clean and comfortable. If it was my sister, I would sing our favorite songs to her. I would have DVDs of Good Times and The Jeffersons playing around the clock like she does most days.

If it was my mother, I would recite encouraging and empowering scriptures to her; she might respond to that. If it was my papa, I would massage his feet and make sure his toenails didn’t grow too long and uncomfortable. If it was me, I would want someone to touch me; hold my hand or stroke my forehead. For the love of God, make sure my lips aren’t chapped. I hate that.

And if it was your God, what would you do? Continue reading

In Memory of Robin Hill

[Word count: 813. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Robin HillI met Robin No-Middle-Name Hill in 2002 through a mutual friend. She was something to behold: tall, svelte, and stately. A confident beauty. Her modelesque walk was a fluid dance of elongated, undulating curves. She kept a proud yet understated sensuality. Her brown skin, bright eyes, wide smile, and trademark honey-and-sunlight braids gave her a striking resemblance to my mother. She was warm, funny, snappy, flirty, and wise. I liked her instantly. I called her My Robin Bobbin. She called me Maaaahk.

She and I were among the nucleus of 12 who co-founded a church together. She was 40 then. Nothing about her indicated that she had recently recovered from two strokes. I was astounded. Her friends had already walked through the fire with her. I wanted to be that kind of friend. I promised myself that if anything ever happened to Robin, I would be by her side. I never told her this.

Continue reading

Germophobia

[Word count: 840. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

I dated the sweetest girl in my 20s. Perhaps if I was sweeter to her, we might have stayed together. But I was working at home one day when she decided to surprise me and stop by. As per usual, my dual living-and-working space was a mess. I was caught off guard by her presence, but glad to see her. She walks in visibly excited to see me at my desk, despite my work-disheveled state. I am no knight-in-shining armor today. What is she so happy about?

If you asked me, I’d say the girl’s in love. She would have to be. Only someone with that kind of madness would do what she was about to. I was in the middle of a number of thought processes at the time. And although multitasking beyond a certain point for me is like being drawn and quartered, I had to pull my focus in, snap into action, and protect her.

She walked in and sat down in the middle of my bed, rested her soft purse by her left thigh, and began to lean slowly to her right like a sexy, caramel-skinned Tower of Pisa. As it dawned on me what her intention was, a miniature explosion of panic detonated in my head. Continue reading