Monday, December 18, 2006

MEMPHIS MONDAY . . . A FEW RECENT MEMORABLE MOMENTS . . .
Court Square,
Downtown Memphis,
April 1988
from Lori's Pic Collection

I went home over the Thanksgiving Holiday (2006). The following were some of my more memorable moments.

THE WORST: For some reason, the folks at Memphis International decided to keep our luggage. Oh, they claimed it had been held over in Charlotte for inspection. Yeah, right. I could almost swear I saw our luggage in the jet-way as we got off the plane. I'd purposely marked our luggage to make it more easily distinguishable from all of the other black bags. Anyway, it just so happened that the one piece that turned up missing had our son's prescription cough medicine in it--not to mention all of his clothes. This isn't the first time we've had our luggage lost ("jacked") at Memphis International. After returning our lost ("jacked") luggage on that particular occasion, a radio the hubby had been given as a Christmas gift turned up missing. Well, this time around, after the hubby had thoroughly cussed out everybody, we got our bags back all right . . . well after 8:00 that evening . . . which might not have been so bad had we not arrived at around 10:00 that morning.

THE FUNNIEST: After leaving the airport, we went to pick up a rental car. We thought we were all set to go to grandma's house when a Good Samaritan pointed out that the car we were about to drive off in had a FLAT. Sure enough, the rear wheel on the passenger's side was flat as all get out. After watching his irate Dad march back up to the car rental office, the young'n turned and looked at me. After heaving a sigh and shaking his head, he said, "You know . . . this is starting to feel like an episode of "GOOD TIMES." This kid is not even a teen and already he's got jokes. I guess we taught him well. LOL.

MOST SAVORY: Okay, when you think Thanksgiving and food, you generally think turkey, dressing, sweet potato pie and all of that. But whenever I go home to Memphis, I'm always thinking barbecue. Yeah, the Thanksgiving grub was cool. But the barbecued chicken, cole slaw, beasn and the buttered roll I had from CORKY'S was THE BOMB! If I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have wrapped some up and taken it back on the plane with me . . .

MOMENT THAT MADE ME GO "HUH! WHAT THE . . . " While driving down Poplar Avenue, coming back from downtown and right next to OVERTON PARK, I saw a white guy . . . driving a station wagon . . . with SPINNERS. Hey, could be it was Craig Brewer of "Hustle and Flow" fame. Certainly sounds like some ig'nant a$$ mess he'd pull (LOL).

FAMILY-WISE: My Dad, a retired military man, shared several tales from his days in the service with us. The first had to do with his brief stint in a military singing group called the PIPERS. I'll have to see if I can make copies of those pictures and share them one day soon. His other stories dealt with the 3 seperate occasions he had a GUN pulled on him--one in GERMANY, once in the PHILIPPINES and once in VIET NAM. For the record, my dad served in the AIR FORCE and AF folks aren't typically put in position where they have to handle guns, much less get shot at. Also, interesting was how on two of those ocassions (in the Philippines and 'Nam) my Dad claimed that a "guardian angel" in the form of a priest materialized, seemingly from out of nowhere and diffused the situations. Hmm. I may have to share those stories one day as well. What surprised me though was when my father brought up the psychological affects of war. He talking about being burrowed down in a foxhole and/or behind a bunker somewhere . . . and listening to the dropping of bombs . . . bombs that are falling closer and closer ("walking" is what I think he called it) and having to come to terms with the fact that one of those bombs just might have your name on it . . .

MUSIC-WISE: The hubby and I were listening to the car radio while driving back to my parent's home late one night. We were cruising through North Memphis and had just crossed over that stretch where JACKSON AVENUE turns into AUSTIN PEAY when we lucked up on, of all things, a PRINCE-MINI-CONCERT! Oh dag! We turned that mess up and for several long minutes on end we were YOUNG, SLIM, UNJADED and FULL OF DREAMS again . . .

MOST ENTERTAINING: Me, two of my sister-in-laws and a couple of friends went to a play at THEATRE WORKS. For a mere $15.00 I got my money's worth and then some. The play, entitled, THE 24/7 CAFE was written by RUBY O'GRAY and sponsored by the BLUFF CITY TRI-ART THEATRE COMPANY. Talk about "Tyler Perry" funny! We had a ball laughing at the cafe's wacky customers and crew, especially THOMAS (played by JS TATE), RITA (played by DANIELLE CARRINGTON) and MRS. BEA (played by THEREN WOMACK). Collectively, they did an excellent job of serving up a slice of Black Memphis life from the 1960's.

BEST ALL-AROUND: The Saturday after Thanksgiving, the hubby and I took a drive downtown to the MEMPHIS RIVERFRONT and stopped for a stroll through TOM LEE PARK. The weather was perfect and it didn't cost us anything. A lot of other folks apparently had the same idea because families, couples (young & old), kids on bikes, tourists and the like were everywhere. A handful of dare-devils were out on the water, racing each other and zooming around on those little jet-ski boats. The hubby and i had a great time marveling at the big houses on the bluffs, the dark choppy waters of the Mississippi River and just how far our beloved city has come. Afterward, we drove through downtown, past MUD ISLAND, the PYRAMID, the PEABODY HOTEL and the crowds on BEALE STREET. We chuckled at the sight of the condos going up in the spot on SECOND STREET where we use to change buses on our daily treks to and from LEMOYNE-OWEN COLLEGE. And for the umpteenth time, we swore we'd stop one day and actually take one of the horse and carriage tour rides thorugh the Bluff City's downtown district.

Downtown Memphis, TN

1988

from Lori's Pic Collection

As the picture above indicates, this is something we've been promising ourselves since the late 80's. But hey . . . really. . . one day . . . we will.

Monday, December 11, 2006

SOUNDS OF THE SEASON . . . CHRISTMAS SONG FAVORITES . . .

If you stop by my house this time of the year, you're bound to hear some Christmas music. I break out my collection of holiday tunes right after Thanksgiving and don't stop playing them until--well-- sometime in the first month of the new year . . . generally.

The following is a short list of some of my (non-instrumental) favorites:

1) I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (sung by Tevin Campbell on Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration) This is a beautiful song! It's also one of the few that even the hubby doesn't mind listening to over and over again.

2) What Child Is This (sung by Vanessa Williams) VW is beautiful and multi-talented. Don't you hate her? (smile)

3) What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas? (The Emotions)

4) Merry Christmas, Baby (Charles Brown) It's hard to resist a song that has lines like, "Merry Christmas, Baby, you've sho'll been good to me. Well, I haven't had a drink this morning , but I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree." Talk about some down home Blues! I can't help but think about Memphis whenever I hear this song.

5) This Christmas (sung by Donny Hathaway) Even though I don't like snow, for some reason, I always think about it when I hear this song.

6) Santa Claus, Goes Straight To the Ghetto (James Brown) Tell 'em 'bout it JB.

7) Santa Baby (Eartha Kitt)

8) Someday at Christmas (sung by the Jackson Five) The J5 Christmas album holds the honor of being the first holiday album I ever owned.

9) Another Lonely Christmas (Prince) The hubby can't stand this song. So, you know I have to play it LOUD and on REPEAT. LOL

10) Bobby O'Jay's Christmas Song (This is a Memphis radio classic, a song cut and released by WDIA's very own disc jockey Bobby O'Jay! It doesn't feel like Christmas until I hear this song.

So, what are your favorites? Or if you prefer, tell me about those Christmas songs that grate on your nerves.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

HOME IS MEMPHIS . . . MEMPHIS IS HOME . . .

For those of you who don't know, that's the Mississippi River and the Hernando-Desoto Bridge you see off in the distance. Looks like a postcard, huh? It's not. It's a picture I snapped a couple of years ago from the roof-top deck of the Gayoso House (located in downtown Memphis, TN) where my old friend Stanford Lewis was living at the time.

Thus far, I've lived in eight different cities in the United States and one overseas (Wiesbadan Germany), but I doubt if I'll ever really consider any place outside of Memphis, Tennessee--home. I love the Bluff City . . . The Big M-Town . . . always have and always will . . . warts, flaws and all.

In 1991 I was invited to submit an essay to Memphis Magazine's 15th Anniversary Issue. Seven other Memphis-connected writers and I wrote about "the power of place." I was both tickled and honored to be included in the company of folks like Norm Brewer, Joan Turner Beifuss, Jerome Wright, Edwin Howard, Miriam DeCosta Willis (who went on to co-edit the ground-breaking EROTIQUE NOIRE), Levi Frazier and Margaret Skinner.

My essay was entitled "From Springdale to Walker." In the piece, I delved into how my experience riding the city bus to and from LeMoyne-Owen College forever shaped my view of both Memphis and my world. It comes as no surprise to me that much of what I wrote then still holds true today, fifteeen years later, including the following . . .

"I see Memphis as a kind of montage, a multitude of elements which coexist and which fall in and out of balance as we strive for more of some and less of others. It is the coexistence of poverty and prosperity, of splendor and squalor, of the lies of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow, of dreams fulfilled, dreams denied, and dreams yet to be realized, of Black and White and Blues all rolled into one. Yes, Memphis is a montage, painted in vivid, sweeping colors and strokes--a montage that I have come to recognize as home."

Quote Source ("From Springdale To Walker" by Lori D. Johnson; April 1991 Memphis Magazine).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

'TIS THE SEASON . . . TO COUNT ONE'S BLESSINGS . . .

Ahh, the holiday season is upon us. I LOVE this time of year. Okay, the busyness, the weight gain, the mindless spending and shameless commercialization, I could easily live without. And the years I spent exiled in the cold Mid-West put a huge damper on my bliss, to say the least . . . But thankfully, this holiday season finds me back in the South and joyfully reconnecting with all those things and beings I know and love--among them, sweet potato pie, Blue Bell Ice Cream, day-time temps in the 60's and 70's, Memphis and visits with Mama and 'nem.

Besides Thanksgiving, Christmas (Chanukah/Hanukkah for those of you who celebrate) Kwanzaa and the coming of the New Year, this season marks as well the birthdays of my two December babies.

My life's journey wouldn't be the same without these two guys. The two sounds that bring me the most comfort and joy during this season, if not throughout the year, are the hubby's voice and our lil boy's laughter. Even when they've worked my last good nerve, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank the Lord for having blessed me with them.

So . . . what are you thankful for? After all, despite what the advertisers say about shopping and buying, above all else, 'tis truly the season to count one's blessings. Dontcha think?

Monday, November 20, 2006

THE HOLIDAY PAT-DOWN

The "pat-down" is one of my family's holiday traditions. It typically takes place just as my brother or I am about to leave my parents' home after having visited for more than a day or two. Before we can say our final goodbyes, my Dad will turn to my Mom and say, "Did you check her/his/their bags? Every time one of them leaves from here, some of my cds and albums turn up missing." We all laugh, but everybody knows my Dad is only halfway joking. He owns a huge collection of vintage jazz and r&b records and cds. And for some unknown reason, he thinks we STEAL his music.

Now, I can only speak for myself. The only cds I have from my Dad's collection are the ones he's given me. But when it comes to vinyl, I've gotta confess, yes, I do own more than a few of THE OLD MAN'S albums. (Yeah, I can hear him now, See, see I KNEW they had my stuff!) In my defense, I didn't really steal them. These were records I used to listen to on my old stereo componet set (the one with the turntable, the cassette player and the 8-track!) before I went off to college. I had them in my room and well, they just sorta, kinda got packed up with all of my other personal items when I left home. For years, my Dad never said anything about them, so I figured he didn't really miss them.

For the record, I NEVER took any of the old man's vintage jazz. I don't have any of his Miles, Coltrane or Bird. Okay . . . I did take an album entitled "Soul Makossa" by Afrique, but I don't really consider that vintage jazz. Anyway, the following is a "near-complete (smile) list of titles.

THE OSM LIST OF ALBUMS I BORROWED (STOLE) FROM MY FATHER . . .

1) THE MAGNIFCENT 7 (The Supremes & Four Tops) 1970 I'm not sure, but Dad might have given me this one. Back in elementary school, me and my friends, Lori P. and Leeda, used to play this album in my room and pretend we were the Supremes.

2) GREATEST HITS II (The Tempations) 1970 Remember the Temps song, "Ball of Confusion?" I can still remember me and my friend Lethea singing that song to the top of our lungs while swinging on her backyard swing set. "People moving out, people moving in, why because of the color of their skins. Run, run, run, but you sho'll can't hide . . ."

3) SKY'S THE LIMIT (The Temptations) 1971 My two favorite cuts from this one were, "Gonna Keep On Trying' Till I Win Your Love" and "Just My Imagination."

4) *WHAT'S GOING ON (Marvin Gaye) 1971 Who doesn't like this album? Let me just say, if I were ever stranded on an island and could only listen to 3 albums for the rest of my life, they would have to be the following three by Marvin.

5) *LET'S GET IT ON (Marvin Gaye) 1973 I bought this album as an anniversary gift for my folks, but ended up keeping it for myself.

6) *I WANT YOU (Marvin Gaye) 1976 The title of my novel, AFTER THE DANCE comes from a song by the same title on this particular album.

7) INNERVISIONS (Stevie Wonder) 1973 There isn't a single bad song on this album. My Dad used to play it to death, before I got ahold to it.

8) FULFILLINGNESS' FIRST FINALE (Stevie Wonder) 1974 I have no idea what the title means, but just like Innervisions, every song on here is worth listening to again and again.

9) SOUL MAKOSSA (Afrique) 1973 The only song I really ever listened to on this one was "Soul Makossa."

10) LET'S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER (The Stylistics) 1974 What ever happened to this group? Dude's falestto was something else.

11) DRAMA V (The Dramatics) 1975 As much as I liked this album, I must admit "cuteness" was also a factor. Ron Banks had some right dreamy eyes and Lenny Mayes had a nice 'fro and a pretty smile.

12) GRATITUDE (Earth, Wind & Fire) 1975 Yes, I did talk bad about Maurice and Verdine's hair. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate their music. I love me some EW&F!

13) PERSON TO PERSON (Average White Band) 1976 Did you know these guys were originally from Scotland? Whenever I'm in the mood for some vintage blue-eyed soul, I reach for this album (or my The Best of Teena Marie cd). My favorite cuts are "School Boy Crush" "Cut the Cake" "Person to Person" "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" "I'm The One" Oh hell, just about all of them (smile).

All right y'all, don't act like I'm the only one. I know some of y'all left home with some stuff that wasn't yours (whether records or something else). So, who wants to 'fess up first? Seriously, any comments about the list are welcome. Do you think this list says something in particular about me? ( I mean, besides the obvious)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

STRAIGHT-TALKING TUESDAY . . . IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING . . .

In case you're wondering or haven't yet figured it out, I don't have an English Lit or English Comp background. To be honest, when I was in school I found those kind of classes incredibly boring and I only took the minimum required. I might also note that even though my work has appeared in a number of literary journals, newspapers and magazines, I only lasted a couple of weeks in the one journalism course I opted for in college.

So, no, I don't always put the commas in the right places, I can't spell worth a gosh durn and I wouldn't know a split infinitive if one walked up and hit me upside the head. Of course, those of you with more discerning eyes already know this (smile).

But here's a little something you might not know--I also don't have that internalized sense of fear that seems to besiege quite a few of the more "grammatically savvy" when it comes to writing. I don't agonize over the technical aspects involved in the creative placement of words onto a page. That's not to say that I think grammar, punctuation, spelling and the like are unimportant. They are extremely important. My thing is, I simply refuse to have some disapproving nymph of my own making (much less someone else's) peering over my shoulder and whispering reprimands and/or inappropriate advice in my ear when I sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper or computer screen.

My approach to writing is largely intuitive. According to Mom, when I was a baby, she and others would routinely hand me a book turned upside down and watch me cry until someone turned the book right side up. Besides being amused, my folks couldn't help but marvel at how I seemed to sense that something about the book just wasn't right.

Perhaps this intuition, this gut approach, if you will, is something I inherited. I come from a family of storytellers (at least on my father's side) and folks who seem to derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from a well told lie. Similar to Langston (and so many others), my appreciation for what is generally referred to as the African American oral tradition was born at my paternal grandmother's knee.

Ethel Virginia Johnson, (yes, that's her in the picture, seated on the porch of the house my granddaddy built) also known as M'Deah and/or Ethel V. to those who knew and loved her, could spin a tale like nobody's business. Her stories, which could best be described as a bubbling mixture of humor and pathos, generally centered around the folks and family members who live in "Johnson Sub"-- the 40 some odd acres of land in South Memphis (TN) purchased by my great-great grandfather, Prince Johnson.

My M'Deah's voice and her laughter are integral parts of the "music" I strive for in my own work. I will be forever grateful to my Mom for ecouraging me, way back in the day, to sit down with my grandmother and record both her memories of Johnson Sub and our family's history. I still have those tapes and every now and then, I pull them out for a listen. In my grandmother's voice, there is a rhythm and a cadence that both stirs my muse and speaks to my soul . . . Yeah, I know. I'm going way too deep for some of y'all. So, let me just back up off it a bit . . . at least for now (smile).

To simplify it for you--what my M'Deah did so effortlessly and with such verbal finesse, is what I attempt to do on paper. No more and no less. Through the telling of my own stories, I hope to honor her memory as well as pay homage to all that is Southern, Black, female and inherently Good in me. So, if I misspell a word or misplace a comma or two in the process, try not to be so hard or take it too personally, okay? And if you notice me making the same doggone grammatical faux pas time and time again, by all means, step in and school a sister. I'm open to learning . . . just so long as you don't try to turn my words upside down in the process (smile). Nuff said? All right, then.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

THE SATURDAY EVENING STROLL . . . NEW GROWTH REVISIONS

Just so you know, I didn't forget. But for those of you who don't recall, I said I'd share with you what changes I'd make in that last posted excerpt of New Growth, (Tuesday, October 10, 2006) had I to do it over again.

Well, for one, I'd probably divide the material into shorter pargraphs. Actually, I went ahead and took the liberty of doing so in one section of that particular excerpt. I think shorter paragraphs are a little less daunting for the average reader and a whole lot easier on the eyes.

The second thing I'd probably change would be Jackie Ann's Sunday Morning Dance routine. I don't know too many old school grandmothers (from the South in particular) who are going to put up with that kind of showing out on a Sunday morning. Jackie Ann most certainly WOULD NOT have been allowed to be all up in the living room getting her groove on to some loud secular beat. I'm not really sure how I could have rewritten the scene, but I'm thinking maybe I would had J.A. in her bedroom with the door closed and the music turned waaayy down (smile).

One of my undergrad English Comp professors once told me that you never really get finished with a piece. The more you search, the more likely you are to find something else that could a use a bit of tweaking or could have been written another way. But eventually you have to turn it loose and move on. The key, I suppose, is knowing when . . .

Monday, November 06, 2006

AN OSM TOP TEN LIST OF . . . BOOKS I'VE READ MORE THAN ONCE

1) GORILLA, MY LOVE by Toni Cade Bambara
I love short stories and this collection sits at the top of my list of favorites. I'm pretty sure I've read this particular book more than twice.

2) A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND by Flannery O'Connor
If I were stranded on a deserted island, this short story collection by O'Connor would be one of the three books I'd want to have with me. I love the Southern flavor, feel and honesty of these stories.

3) SULA by Toni Morrison
What can you say about Ms. Morrison? Her prose is breath-taking. I've underlined so many passages in my copy of Sula, I'd be ashamed to loan it to anyone. I've read this book at different points in my life and I've drawn something different from it each time.

4) SONG OF SOLOMON by Toni Morrison
This is one of the those books that forced me to read it a second time, in order to "get it." But again, Ms. Morrison's prose is so beautiful, diving into it a second time was more of a pleasure than a task.

5) A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorriane Hansberry
I "borrowed" this book from my mother's book shelf when I was in high school and never gave it back. The screen version (starring Sidney Poiter) is also one of my top ten favs when it comes to movies.

6) FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE / WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF by Ntozake Shange
This was "the play" back in the day. I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of my friends star in the early 80's stage production LeMoyne Owen College presented of this work.

7) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X as told to Alex Haley
My father gave me this book to read when I was 13. The impact this book had on me is hard to describe. In short, reading it was truly a life-altering experience.

8) THIRD GENERATION by Chester Himes
This is another book I borrowed from my mom's bookshelf and never returned. I'm still not sure I understand the story, but the beauty of Himes's prose pulls me in every time. I'm thinking I may very well read it again sometime soon.

9) MULES AND MEN by Zora Neale Hurston
Even though a great portion of this book is written in dialect (which I personally can't stand) its emphais on African American folklore appeals to the anthropologist in me. Unlike a lot of folks, I'm not a big fan of Hurston's fiction. Hate to admit this, but I didn't read Their Eyes Were Watching God until a few years ago and I still don't see what all the fuss is about.

10) IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS' GARDENS by Alice Walker
This is one of my favorite collection of essays. I'm actually a bigger fan of Walker's essays and short stories than I am of her novels.

The list of books I've read more than once is actually much longer, but 10 seems like a good place to stop. So, what books have you read more than once? I'd love to see one or two or heck even ten from your list, if you feel like sharing. If you're too shy to share in the comments section, feel free to communicate with me via email. My address is : after.dance@hotmail.com

Friday, November 03, 2006

FREE FOR ALL FRIDAY . . . AN OLD SCHOOL MIX Q & A WITH MICHAEL RADCLIFF

For those of you who missed it, on Tuesday (October 31), I had the honor of posting one of my favorite poems, "Dry Hill." The following is a bit of the Q & A I recently conducted with the poem's author, Michael Radcliff.

Q: Do you have any formal training as a poet?
A: No. I took a couple of creative writing courses in college. I think they were with Berry Morgan. Maybe Ellen Douglass. (Maybe both.) That was a long time ago! Poetry was certainly not the focus, but it seem that those were the only creative writing classes to be had. You take what you can get, I guess.

Q: Can you tell me where your poems have been published?
A: Mostly in a few, now-defunct small magazines: Poet Magazine, Artbeat Magazine and a couple of others. Every magazine that has published my stuff has gone out of business. Do you think that's a bad sign?

Q: Have you won any awards for your work?
A: I got a couple of Honorable Mentions and Special Merits. My poem "Land of Childhood" won grand the Grand Prize in Poet Magazine's 1st John David Johnson Memorial Competition. It's funny, I Googled that competition the other day and saw a few people who had won or placed in that competition in the years following and I thought . . .dang . . . I won it too and I don't even have a writing resume!

Q: What inspired you to write "Dry Hill"?
A: I think what brought it on was a realization of my parent's partnership. How they revolved around each other and worked together to get . . or make what they wanted. I think this really sunk in when I saw how they took a little fisherman's cabin and a piece of land and working together turned it into a home. Shortly after they moved there, I was home for a visit and helping my mother get something out of the car. She grabbed me and motioned off to one side. There was a beauftiful doe coming out of the woods. She went right across the front yard and down to the lake. Anyway, trying to tie my folks to that place came out as "Dry Hill".

Q: So, there really is a place called Dry Hill?
A: No. Well, there is to us. We jokingly referred to their place as Dry Hill because it seemed like it would rain everywhere but up on the hill. I remember standing there watching it rain out on the road without a drop ever hitting up at the house. My folks moved from there several years ago, but I talked to my Dad last week and he said it had been raining . . . everywhere except at the house. So, I guess wherever they go is "Dry Hill".

Q: Do you have a favorite poet and/or a favorite poem?
A: Robert Frost. "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." I have been in the woods, in the dark, when it's snowing. There is nothing more serene.

Much love goes out to Michael for agreeing to be the OSM's first guest poet! I'd like to thank, as well, all of you who read and, in particular, those of you who were kind enough to respond. Later Y'all.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

BACKTRACKING TUESDAY . . . "DRY HILL" BY MICHAEL RADCLIFF

Today you're in for a special treat! Rather than any of my old creative musings, today's OSM backtrack offering comes courtesy of my good friend and poet extraordinaire, Michael Radcliff. (You'll have to forgive the formatting. SIGH! I couldn't get it quite right.)

I met Michael in Memphis, back in the late 80's. Our paths crossed during my brief and loveless tenure at a small and extremely chaotic non-profit organization. Mike befriended me right away and it didn't take us long to discover our mutual affection for the written word. My respect for Michael turned to awe the day he showed me a poem he'd penned, entitled "Dry Hill."

Even though he insists he's had no formal training, Michael estimates he's published 17 or so poems. "Dry Hill" first appeared in a 1984 issue of Poet Magazine, a small magazine that, sadly, is no longer in publication. So, without further ado, take it away Mike . . .

DRY HILL

by Michael Radcliff

We call our place Dry Hill. It seems as if the rain always passes us by.)

Mama startles awake,
but settles back.
She thought she heard the yellow rumble of The Bus
rounding the corner on dust plumes -
brown in the early morning.
Our shadowy faces smile from the wall in the half-light.

She rises quiet as a moth,
leaving Daddy in his dream;
brushing across the carpet,
through the comfort of her keep...
the almost-paid-for-furniture.
She fills a pan with water from the tap
and strikes a match to light the stove.
The yellow glow illuminates her face as a candle would -- softly
but not quite all revealing.
It is a young face
even after many, almost-paid-for-years.
The face of a farm girl with ribbons in her hair.

She steps onto the summer porch
that Daddy built for her...(she helped).
It is Spring and cool
and a faint glow preaches the morning sun.
Careful of its creaking
she perches on the swing
and lifts the steaming cup to her lips.
Daddy appears in the doorway, yawning,
before memories can begin.
There is love there
that doesn't come from any touching of hands.

Daddy inspects for The Government.
He says they're unfair
and she believes him. He doesn't lie.
Mama inspects Daddy.
Every day she turns his collar down.
She cooks him eggs
and hot biscuits from scratch.
Their kiss is brief, but telling,
and she wonders after him
as he crosses the bricks she made by hand,
to the drive he graveled,
to the almost-paid-for car.

She steps into the shadowy, emerald backyard
carrying nuts and seeds
for squirrels and birds
that wait in hiding.
They chatter at the intrusion
but accept her offering as she walks away.
She gazes down the steep bank to where
Winter Creek waltzes through the woods.
She listens to the water's structured, intrinsic babble.
The water looks as cool as ice tea...
cool, clear, clean
and green like limes.

She tends the lawn and flowers,
petting and fretting over roses--
scruffy cuttings someone else had thrown away.

She snacks on buttermilk and cornbread
and naps in the hammock.

Afternoon passes and she gathers peas and radishes,
but in the evening, she is again,
among the roses,
and when Daddy returns to Dry Hill at dusk,
she blossoms from the garden
into his harvesting arms.

Copyright 1984, 2006 by Michael Radcliff

Come on y'all, let's show Mike some love! (Applause. Cheers. Big Grins.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

(SUNDAY'S REVISION OF) THE SATURDAY STROLL . . . POETRY 101 . . . SOME OF MY FAVORITES

As much as I enjoy tuning into HBO's Def Poetry, my taste in poetry tends to lean toward the "old school." Some of my favorite poets are folks like Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight and Carolyn M. Rodgers.

The first two on my list, Hughes and Giovanni are names most of you probably recognize. There can hardly be a discussion of the Harlem Renaissance without some mention of Langston and his work. The same goes for Nikki when it comes to the Black Arts Movement of the 60's and 70's.

On the other hand, the names and works of the other two poets, Etheridge Knight and Carolyn M. Rodgers aren't as widely known. But it is my sincere hope that you will take a look (if only a quick peek) at their work via the links embedded in the following commentary.

LANGSTON HUGHES There are no words to describe how much I admire Langston Hughes. His love of the oral and musical traditions of African Americans and emphasis on them in his work mirrors my own. My favorite poems by Hughes include, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "I, Too" and "My People."

NIKKI GIOVANNI While better known for her more strident work, I have always been fond of Nikki Giovanni's softer, more personal poems, like "Nikki-Rosa" and "Poetry" the latter of which is my all time favorite Nikki G. poem.

CAROLYN M. RODGERS My favorite poem by Carolyn Rodgers is one entitled, "Poem For Some Black Women." (note: after you get to the site, click on "featured works" and "Carolyn Rodgers" in order to view this poem ) Even though the poem was written way back in the 60's, it is a timeless gem that could very well serve as an anthem "for some" if not most of the artistically-driven, community-minded Black women I know (smile).

ETHERIDGE KNIGHT Etheridge Knight's "The Idea of Ancestry" is a poem that holds the TOP spot on my list of favorite poems. "The Idea of Ancestry" is a poem that nearly always moves me to tears, especially when I listen to the recording I own of Knight reading the piece. I FEEL that poem somewhere way down deep in my soul.

The more observant of you have probably already noticed that in addition to being "old school" all of the poets I've mentioned, thus far, are African American. Just so you know, I do like and read the work of non-African American poets, among them a dear friend of mine, Michael Radcliff.

I'm sure there will be those who will find my inclusion of Michael on my list of favorite poets, perplexing, to say the least. But Michael's poem "Dry Hill" hits me at the same visceral level as Etheridge's, Nikki's, Carolyn's and Langston's. In an upcoming post and with his permission, I intend to give you a closer look at my friend's work. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

BACK-TRACKING TUESDAY . . . LADIES OF THE 80's . . .

The following is my first published piece. It appeared in the March 1986 issue of Memphis State's (now the University of Memphis) Black Student Association Journal.

I don't/can't write poetry. Believe me, I do know this and I have nothing but respect for those of you who can and do. So, let's just call this a prose piece (smile). The piece holds the honor of bringing me into contact with my very first fan. About six months or so after it was published, I was coming up out of the basement of either Clement or Patterson Hall (before you go getting it twisted, they had classes down there, y'all) when I bumped into a brother who said, "Hey, I know you. Didn't you write that poem (his words, not mine), 'Ladies of the 80's' that was in the BSA journal earlier this year?" I think he even went onto recite a few lines. I was like, "Dag, you still remember that?" It was a nice moment. Anyway, here's the piece. As always, feel free to comment.

We Are The Ladies Of The 80's
by
Lori D. Johnson

Remember our first few years?
From Sunday afternoons in the park to Friday and Saturdays after dark
we played long and hard
saving any seriousness until our final year
like spoiled, fun-loving children who hurriedly rush to clean house
moments before their parents' arrival.

The world was ours to conquer and divide.
Armed with the false security of innocence and youth
we plunged tongue first
into heated discussions about what we wanted
from life
from men
from one another
and from ourselves.

We wasted money, time and tears
in our awkward and often bitter ascent
toward something called womanhood
learning one miserable lesson after another
from the mistakes--
our own
and those of our sisters.

Filled with all the thrill and terror
of babies, abortions, broken hearts and passion marks
each Alice emerged
from her own personal Wonderland
with a blues song of her own to sing.

Admid the rubble and debris
of broken promises, failing grades, sorrows, defeats and unfulfilled dreams
the seeds of maturity found a place to blossom
and now
looking back
we laugh at our efforts
question our motivies
and reflect upon our gains.

Yes, we are the Ladies of the 80's.
Brown-sugared, and honey-coated.
Hard to handle
difficult to hold
and so, so full of ourselves.

With our heads thrown back
a bit of sass in our hips
a touch of sparkle in our eyes
and rekindled fires in our hearts
we walk into the wind
knowing the journey will be hard
and full of disappointments
but each one realizing
that we have evolved from a long history of struggle.

And like those before us
we too
will survive.

Friday, October 20, 2006

THE OSM'S TOP TEN LIST OF BROTHERS WHO NEED TO LET THE PERM GO . . .

Before we get to today's list, let me just mention that a dear relative of mine (PM) called to tell me that like my friend Sharon J., she disagreed with my placement of Florida (Esther Rolle) on the OSM's Top Ten List Of Jacked-Up 'Fros. According to PM, Florida's 'fro wasn't the problem, it was rather those rolls of fat on her neck . . .

See, I'm not even trying to go there (LOL). I'm strictly talking HAIR, people, something that can be altered with a comb or a brush or the right hair stylist. I'm NOT talking about physical features/flaws that folks can't help and/or change without divine intervention or at least the services of a good plastic surgeon. Being that I could most certainly use a few nips and tucks, here and there, myself, I'm not about to go that route. And for the record, jacked up 'fro nonewithstanding, I've always thought Ms. Rolle was a fine actress who never got her proper due.

Anyway, let's move onto the topic of today's list--"Brothers Who Need To Let The Perm Go." Need I say, I'm not too big a fan of hot-combed and/or chemically induced curls, waves, pony-tails, locks and the like on those of the male persuasion. Hey, everyone is entitled to their own personal likes, dislikes and pet-peeves right? Excessive dippity do up on a man's head, just so happens to be one of mine. Okay? So, the following is my list. Again, it's in no particular order.

1) JERMAINE JACKSON Y'all know, I wasn't even thinking about Jermaine until my friend JG (who I really am starting to believe is one of Papa Joe's outside chillren) spoke up on the (or should I say HIS) brother's behalf in the OSM's TOP 10 List of ENVIABLE 'FROS. See what you started JG? (smile). Anyway, remember back when Jermaine was making the talk show rounds in his most admirable quest to defend his baby bro? Well, did anyone besides me notice just how jacked-up Jermaine's head was when he appeared on Larry King's show? I'm still not sure what he had going on up there. It looked it was part perm, part Jheri curl and part something something a big, fat, greased-up cat licked on, spit out and spun around in . . .

2) MICHAEL JACKSON I'd dare say this boy's head ain't seen a nap since OFF THE WALL (Michael Jackson, 1979). One of the truly sad things about MJ is, even if he let the perm grow out, he still wouldn't bear the slightest resemblance to the cute, brown-skinned little boy with the Negro nose he used to be . . .

3) MISS J. (from America's Top Model) Don't play. Y'all know you've seen Miss J swinging both his perm and his hips on America's Top Model. Of course, the politically correct thing for me to do would be just to give him a nod and a pass. But I'm sorry, somebody needs to tell Miss J that a dress simply does not become him . . . much less that doggone French Maid outfit, I had the misfortune of seeing him in while channel surfing a couple weeks ago. Can I get a big, "Hell to the naw?!"

4) PRINCE Those who know me well know that back in the day I had it bad for my boy Prince. Yes, I plastered his posters on my walls, bought his albums (remember those) and cds, went to all of his movies (even the bad ones) and even camped out all night once in hopes of scoring choice seats to one of his concerts. Even though His Royal Badness is well into his 40's now, he's still capable of putting on one heck of a show. But I'd give up a good portion of my purple-tinted memories to see dude's hair in it's God-given state of au naturelle.

5) VERDINE WHITE I'm guessing bad hair must run in this family (see Maurice White under The OSM's Top Ten List of Jacked Up 'Fros). Maybe with VW it's a Samson kind of thing. I'm saying, it just might be that if he cut his hair, laid off the black dye and missed a couple of touch-ups, he'd lose some of his musical magic. You think?

6) KAT WILLIAMS (the comedian) This brother's 'do actually bounces. Forgive me, but I can't help but pity the poor woman who finds herself waking up next to some joker who has his head done up in rollers and tied up in a doggone do rag.

7) REV. AL SHARPTON You'd think if he were really serious about being President, he'd give up his standing appointment at the beauty salon. Unfortunately until he does, he won't get so much as a sympathy vote from me.

8) JAMES BROWN I think JB's last mug shot pretty much said it all. I also can't help but wonder if that particular episode was Mrs. Brown's own personal version of "the big payback" ( James Brown, THE PAYBACK, 1973).

9) NICK ASHFORD Okay, I like Nick and I love me some Ashford and Simpson. But come on, is it me or does NA look like he conditions his hair with a case of vegetable oil or what?

10) ICE-TEA The only thing more annoying that a young pimp, is an old one sporting a doggone pony-tail. Let that mess go, IT. Let it go.

Okay, enough with the silliness. I guess I owe you all a serious post on the whole hair topic, huh? Well, at least a semi-serious one. I'll see what I can do. But as for JG . . . hey, don't start none and won't be none . . . LOL

Monday, October 16, 2006

MESSED UP MUSIC LYRICS . . . FOR YOUR MONDAY AMUSEMENT

Have you ever had a friend or family member just totally mess up the words to a song? I'm saying, he or she is really getting all into it, singing loud and even half-way on key when--BAM--home biscuit comes up with some ole OFF THE WALL (Michael Jackson, 1979) lyrics that you know good and well are no where close to being right? But this person insists, I mean straight wants to argue you down about the messed up lyrics he or she has injected into the doggone song.

Well, just last week, I was telling the hubby what I'd heard about TERRANCE HOWARD and CRAIG BREWER getting together to do amovie about the Black Country and Western singer, CHARLIE PRIDE. The only CP song I know is "Kiss An Angel Good Morning (Charlie Pride, 1971) and I asked the hubby if he remembered it?

He said, "Heck yeah," then proceeded to sing "Kiss an angel good morning and WHUP her like the devil when you get back home."

At first, I thought he was kidding, but the look on his face let me know he was dead serious. I said, "Wait a minute! Hold up! That is NOT how that song goes. Why in the world would CHARLIE PRIDE, of all people, be singing a song about whupping his woman like the devil? The song came out in the 70's . . . it's not like it's some SNOOP DOG remix."

But nooo, the hubby insisted he knew what he was talking about. He even tried to convince me that "whup her like the devil" was a metaphor for putting some of that good ole down-home loving on her. I was like, "Man quit! You're not doing anything, but making it worse. It's a country song, not a blues tune."

So, of course, we turned to the good folks at Google and pulled up the song. See for yourself. It's "Kiss an angel good morning And LOVE her like the devil when you get back home." Now, why anybody would want to love somebody "like the devil" is a whole 'nother question (smile).

For the record, the hubby claims he's not the only one in his family who messes up music lyrics. He says he has a female cousin who for years thought the refrain the 70's disco group CHIC was singing in their song "Good Times" (CHIC, 1979 ) was "Going to church! We are going to church!" rather than the correct lyrics which are "Good times! These are the good times . . ."

Go figure. I can't decided if these folks need their heads examined or their ears cleaned out. Feel free to share your own "messed lyric" stories in the comments section or email me at after.dance@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

BACK-TRACKING TUESDAY . . . ANOTHER TASTE OF "NEW GROWTH"

Remember poor Jackie Ann? (click here for a quick review)

If I were writing this story today, there are a couple of things I'd write differently. I see at least one of the things I'd change in the following section of "New Growth." Perhaps, you'll notice it too. If so, leave me a comment in the comment section or send an email to after.dance@hotmail.com. Anyway, here's where we left off . . .

Except for the vehement, "No, don't cut it!" that accompanied the sight, sound or mention of scissors, Jackie Ann chose to endure both humiliation and mutilation in silence. A passive stance it was, but one frequently subject to betryal by her body which spoke eloquently in the language of dance. Her musically inspired performances, marked by fits of jerking, twisting, jumping, sliding, humping and whirling 'round and 'round until she was drunk with motion and high on movment, led her puzzled kin to believe the child was truly crazy.

Here's where we pick up . . .

She was in the middle of one such high-powered routine the day Princess, Toots, and Lil Bit arrived home from college for summer break.

"Go on and git it, girl!" Princess dropped her bags at the front door and ran over to turn up the music while Toots and Lil Bit joined Jackie Ann with some wild steps of their own.

M'Deah came in from the kitchen, smiling and fussing. "Don't y'all come in here with no foolishness now. Making all that racket on a Sunday morning."

The three went over and showered M'Deah with hugs, kisses, and hellos, leaving an annoyed Jackie Ann standing there wiping sweat from her forehead and silently cursing their arrival. Obviously none of the prayers she had said so faithfully every night for the past month and a half had worked. All three were alive and well, and loud as ever.

Princess was her cousin, Uncle Jake's daughter by his first wife. Since the age of 13 she had traveled from Atlanta to Memphis every summer in order to spend a few weeks with her father. It was a trip which typically involved the tagging along of her longtime and equally obnoxious running partners, Toots and Lil Bit. But recent events, namely Jake's separation from his third wife and the troublesome trio's admission to a college in Nashville, had somewhat altered the nature of their arrangement--not to mention life itself as Jackie Ann had come to know it. It was bad enough that Uncle Jake with his cigar-smoking, loud-talking, good-for-nothing self had moved back home and into the spare bedroom across the hall from Jackie Ann's. But now, to make matters even worse, Princess, Toots and Lil Bit were here in Memphis--not for a few weeks, mind you, but for the entire summer!

"Princess, stand back and let M'Deah see how pretty you done got. Oooh chile! I declare if you ain't looking more and more like your old Aunt Claudie Bell."

Yeah, she was another stuck-up, long-haired, high-yellow, cow-faced heifer, Jackie Ann thought to herself. As her M'Deah's smile turned into a frown, the little girl feared for a split second that her thoughts had been read.

"Jackie Ann Johnetta Jones," her M'Deah said with wrinkled brows. Jackie Ann winced. The full birthname business usually meant trouble. "Would you please turn that music down, or off, or something!"

Jackie Ann rolled her eyes and turned off the radio with a violent click. Not here five minutes and already they were cramping her style. She stood there watching them with her arms folded across her chest and her lips poked out.

"Where's your manners, Jackie Ann? Can't you speak to your cousins and her friends?"

"Hey," Jackie Ann half-whispered and half-mumbled.

Her M'Deah scolded. "Don't you be trying to get no attitude, young lady. It's too early in the morning. Now, go on and show them where to put they things. And when you get finished, come on back here and give me a hand in the kitchen."

"Yes, ma'am." Jackie Ann trudged down the hall, head hanging, shoulders slumped, and bottom lip threatening to sweep the floor.

It was in this same evil spirit of hospitality that she led Princess, Toots and Lil Bit to the room that had once been her own private world of make-believe. A world safe from the critical eyes and biting tongues of unkind kinfolk, where dreams pulled from dust-filled corners of imagination had once danced their way into reality. Yes, in its heyday it had served her well, providing ample space and inspiration for her musical and musicless flights of fancy. "Dance, Jackie Ann, dance!" the walls had seemed to whisper, and she would, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

But with the recent influx of unwelcome houseguests and uninvited borders, those days had all but faded into memory. Her private world was now nothing short of a boarding room, with too many beds, boxes and quite frequently bodies. A room where dreams, when they dared emerge, were promptly crushed beneath odd looks, crude language, and laughter--loud and long.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A LASTING MEMORY OF FALL . . .
Gosh, is it Fall already? The leaves are changing colors and just about every store has a pumpkin display of one kind or another. Check out my own lil
punkin's first visit to the pumpkin patch.
Yes, it seems like only yesterday . . .
but the truth is, he's just about outgrown this sort of thing.
Ahh, but the memories.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

SUNDAY BEST . . . Some Words of Wisdom From BARACK OBAMA . . .

The following quote comes from a speech that United States Senator Barack Obama gave to the 2005 graduating class of Knox College in Galesburg IL:

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challeges that we face as a nation and make them your own, not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation . . . Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential."

Quote Source (Jet Magazine; August 8, 2005; page 23; )

Friday, September 29, 2006

THE OSM'S TOP TEN LIST OF JACKED-UP 'FROS . . .

Before we review today's list, let me just say I got an email from my old friend JG wanting to know why I was HATING on Jermaine Jackson so tough (see the OSM's list of Enviable 'Fros). Hating on Jermaine? Please. Tell me this JG, what's up with you always taking up for those dogone Jacksons (LOL)? If I didn't know any better, I'd swear you were one of Papa Joe's love children . . . Go on and 'fess up boy (smile).

Also, I need to add an honorable mention to the OSM's list of Enviable 'Fros. Comedian Steve Harvey always keeps his 'fro tight, doesn't he? Of course, something tells me he's doctoring his do with a heavy dose of dye, but still . . . it looks good on him (Yeah, okay I borrowed that last line from Bruce, Bruce).

Anyway, back to the business at hand. Like I mentioned before, this is all in good fun and in no particular order.

THE OSM'S TOP TEN LIST OF JACKED-UP 'FROS

1)LEROY "SUGARFOOT" BONNER (the original lead singer of the Ohio Players) I'm sorry, but he was the first somebody to come to mind when I thought up this list. Not sure why, but something about the way dude's 'fro cascaded over his eye, like a nappy triangular-shaped bang, has always seriously bugged me.

2) MAURICE WHITE (the original lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire) Yeah, I can already hear my friend JG calling me a hater again (smile). But y'all know, back in the day, brother Maurcie (bless his heart) had durn near as much forehead as he did 'fro. Which only makes all the more peculiar the recent pics I've seen of him. Dude's hairline has actually moved forward a couple of inches since the 70's. Come on now. Who's Zoomin' Who? (Aretha Franklin 1985 ). Anyway, did you know that both Maurice and his equally hair challenged brother, Verdine, (also of EW&F fame) were from Memphis? Both were Booker T. Washington grads, if I'm not mistaken.

3) LIL STEVIE RAY (naw, y'all don't know him) Lil S. Ray appears on the list courtesy of my LeMoyne-Owen (the historically Black college located in Memphis) College days. Lil S. Ray was a little short dude, who I distinctly remember belting out a pretty decent version of EW&F's "Reasons" at one of LOC's talent shows. But the main reason I remember Lil Stevie is because his 'fro sat way back on hs head, just like Maurices's. Matter of fact, I'd dare say, his sat back a couple of inches further.

4) ROGER (from What's Happening!) I don't know if I even own the words to describe Raj's 'fro. I'm thinking his head was the reason why so many little boys got sent to the barbership every other Saturday with specific instructions to "get all that mess cut off."

5) FLORIDA (from Good Times) Y'all know had Willona been a real friend she would have hooked her girl Flo up with one of ther wigs . . . if not the name and number of a good beautician.

6) GEORGE JEFFERSON (from the Jeffersons) Just like the comb-over and the toupee, the hole in the 'fro look is a major fashion DON'T, unless, of course, you're goal is to look like a character as opposed to either cute or cool.

7) CORNEL WEST Now, I don't mean no harm . . . but every time I see brother Cornel's head, I get hit by an overwhelming urge to go dig up and dust off my old clippers (I cut my son's hair when he was a toddler). Actually, I think the professor's 'fro would go from jacked up to jazzy in no time with a regular shape up and trim.

8) MY COUSIN C. I almost didn't put Cuz on the list because he really was a good-looking brother. His being tall, dark and handsome, only made it all the more puzzling as to why he typically looked like he picked out his 'fro with a table fork and a butter knife.

9) BEN WLLACE (of the Detroit Pistons/Chicago Bulls fame) I must say, I do admire Ben's boldness and don't give a flip attitude. But that whole sticking straight up in the air, Buckwheat look, really doesn't become him. I'm thinking a round or two with somebody's hedge clippers and a weed whacker would suit him just fine.

10) ME (in high school) Hey, I call 'em like I see 'em (LOL). I'm pretty sure if my knuckle-headed brother is somewhere reading this, he's shouting, "Show 'em pictures! Show 'em pictures!" Nope, not gonna happen. I will go as far as to admit that even today, on occasion, I can still be caught sporting a right jacked up 'fro. All I can say is, cut a sister some slack. I'm working on it. All right?

Coming up next on the OSM's Top Ten Hair List? Brothers Who Need To Let The Perm Go . . . Y'all come back now, ya hear? ("Jed's Ballad" from The Beverly Hillbillies 1962-1971 )

Sunday, September 24, 2006

SUNDAY BEST . . . I HOPE YOU DANCE

is the title of a song by Lee Ann Womack. Yes, it is a country and western tune. No, I'm not what you might call a fan of C&W music, but the lyrics to I Hope You Dance are simply beautiful, for lack of a better word.

Believe it or not, I wouldn't even know the words to this song, had it not been for the hubby, who brought them to my attention, for the first time, just yesterday morning. I'm not sure what made him start talking about this old show we used to watch together--Any Day Now. He said there was a song that accompanied one episode of the show that for some reason he always remembered. That song was/is I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack. He went online, pulled up the lyrics of the song and printed them out for me.

The words to this song really do speak to me. If I didn't know any better, I'd say ole boy was trying to tell me something (smile). Anyway, I thought the words to Ms. Womack's song were inspirational enough to share in the SUNDAY BEST portion of the Old School Mix. I hope you enjoy them.

I Hope You Dance.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY . . . TO ME!

YES, today is, indeed, my BIRTHDAY! How old am I? Old enough to know better than to answer that question (smile). Hey, I've got my "old school" card and that's all you need to know.

Some of the folks who share a birthday with me include:
Ray Charles Julio Iglesias Jermaine Dupri Bruce Springsteen and John Coltrane who was born in Hamlet, North Carolina in 1926.

On this day in history . . .

Did you know that on this day (September 23) in 1957 the nine students who had entered the Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas were forced to withdraw due to threats of violence from an unruly mob?

Happy B-day to all of the other first day of autum, equinox children out there. Also, I'd like to extend an extra special thanks to SP of Cleveland, Ohio for taking the creases out of my baby picture for me. Peace & Blessings, Y'all.

Friday, September 22, 2006

THE OSM'S TOP TEN LIST OF ENVIABLE 'FROS . . . (This is all in good fun and in no particular order.)

1) PRINCE (Okay, I know I'm not the only one who remembers that "before the perm" poster of His Purple Badness that appeared in RIGHT ON! Magazine.)

2) MICHAEL AND JACKIE JACKSON (of the J5) (Yeah, I could have put Jermaine on the list too, but he was probably my least favorite Jackson, back in the day.)

3) LINC (from The Mod Squad) (Okay, with Linc it wasn't even about the hair. Brother was just cool with his.)

4) ANGELA DAVIS (When you look up 'fro in the dictionary, Angie D.'s picture is the first one you ought to see. To let you know just how "old school" I am, I can still remember my Mom's "free Angela Davis" t-shirt.)

5) NIKKI GIOVANNI (Did you ever see the back cover of her book The Women and The Men? Yup, Ms. G., had a right cute little 'fro.)

6) PAT CLAPP (Yeah, I know. Y'all are saying, who? Pat C. was a girl who went to JR High with me. She had the most perfect 'fro I've ever seen, bar none.)

7) THE BROTHERS IN THE SYLVERS (Don't play. Those "Boogie Fever' boys were somethin' else. Betcha didn't know they were originally from Memphis, did ya?)

8) DWAYNE AND SHIRLEY (from What's Happening?) (Shirley died, not too long ago. Wonder what ever happened to Dwayne?)

9) RON DELLUMS (You know, the retired Congressman who was recently elected Mayor of Oakland? Yeah, he's old enough to be my daddy, but hey. I've admired his hair and had a slight crush on ole boy for years.)

10) JESSIE JACKSON (Okay, work with me here. I'm talking the good Rev.'s WattStax days and on back . . . before he started putting that kit on those kinks and started using all of that dippity-do on his head.)

Well, that's my list. If you think I missed somebody, don't like one of my picks or want to submit a list of your own send me an email or feel free to use the comments section. Coming up next, the OSM's top ten list of Jacked Up 'Fros (smile).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

NEW GROWTH . . . COMMENTS

Did you feel the music all up in that piece? *(see previous post below)* I'm still not sure what inspired those particular characters. I just sat down one day and they appeared--fully formed and ready to cut up and act a fool.

Interestingly enough, there are folks in Memphis who still ask about Jackie Ann. "What's Jackie been up to? When are you going to write about Jackie Ann again? What's been going on with her hair these days?"

After eyeballing the questioner in a right peculiar fashion, my standard response has been something along the lines of, "Now, you do know Jackie Ann is a figment of my imagination, don't you? (LOL)

If you don't mind, I think I'll stay on the topic of hair for a minute. Stay tuned for my (totally off the wall) list of the top ten best 'fros, worst 'fros and brothers who need to let the the perm go (smile).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BACK-TRACKING TUESDAY . . . A TASTE OF "NEW GROWTH"

The following is an excerpt from my very first published short story. "New Growth" debuted in the November 1990 issue of Memphis Magazine. Not to brag, but it also placed first in that year's Memphis Magazine's Fiction Award Contest. It's a fun, playful piece with more than a few serious undertones. Most of my work is like that, I think . . .

New Growth
by Lori D. Johnson
(an excerpt from a story first published in the November 1990 issue of Memphis Magazine)

Jackie Ann was a pretty little brown-skinned girl, who at the drop of the right down-beat could dance herself into a righteous frenzy. But these were facts that went unrecognized for their merit in her family. Whenever the spotlight turned to her, it seemed to focus on only one feature--her hair. It was always the hair, one and a half inches long and orange in some places, that pushed the reluctant Jackie Ann onto center stage.

From Tika and Shante, her long-haired half-sisters (half-monsters according to Jackie Ann), came the chant: "Short and nappy! Short and nappy! Ain't gone ever make no man happy!"

From her cigar-smoking, loud-talking Uncle Jake: "The girl sho' nuff got it honest though. All them folk on her mama's side of the family got that bad-ass hair."

From Charles, her father, a genuinely sympathetic but pretty much misguided soul: "Don't worry 'bout it, baby. When you get old enough, Daddy gone buy you a hair weave."

From Barbara Jean, her stepmother, who took everything to the most serious extreme: "Hair weave, my behind! You know how much those things cost! Humpf, if it was left up to me, I'd shave all that mess off and get her fitted for a wig."

And finally from Rose, Jackie Ann's grandmother, and the woman the family affectionately referred to as "M'Deah,' a tender-hearted: "Lawd, chile, what are we gonna do 'bout your head?"

What were they going to do about her head? A better question might have been--what hadn't they done to her head? It had been hot-combed, jheri-curled, permed, and cold-waved into a state of exhaustion. But still it remained defiant, steadfastly refusing to give in to their demands for luster and growth. Instead, it split at the ends, came out in patches, and turned orange from the unmerciful chemical warfare that had been launched against it.

Except for the vehement "No, don't cut it!" that accompanied the sight, sound or mention of scissors, Jackie Ann chose to endure both humiliation and mutilation in silence. A passive stance it was, but one frequently subject to betrayal by her body, which spoke eloquently in the language of dance. Her musically inspired performances, marked by fits of jerking, twisting, jumping, sliding, humping, and whirling 'round and 'round until she was drunk with motion and high on movement, led her puzzled kin to believe the child was truly crazy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

SUNDAY BEST . . . Something Within.com. for thinking women of faith

is the title of Dr. Renita Weems's e-journal. For those of you who don't know, Dr. Weems is a writer, a speaker, a scholar and an elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

I've had the pleasure of reading several of Dr. Weem's books Listening for God: A Minister's Journey Through Silence and Doubt (2000) I Asked For Intimacy (1993) and Just A Sister Away (1987).

The book that initially stirred my interest in her work, Just A Sister Away, is one I stumbled upon while in the library, doing research on some totally unrelated topic. Prior to reading the book, I'd pretty much written off a couple of the women in my family. As far as I was concerned, these particular women were just some mean ole heifers and I wanted little to do with them. But after reading Just A Sister Away, my whole perspective changed and I started viewing those same women in a more compassionate light. I started seeing them as women who had been hurt and scarred and whose negativity towards me reflected their own inner pain. Rather than wish they'd change, I began to change my own behavior and how I chose to interact with them. The change (the one I made) not only improved my relationships with these women, but made me a better person as well.

I strongly encourage you to check out Renita Weem's site for yourself. http://www.somethingwithin.com/

Even if you're not a woman of faith, I'm fairly certain you'll find some bit of wisdom or insight that resonates within you. Below you'll find a link to an achieved piece by Dr. Weem's entitled "Trust Your Passion."

http://www.somethingwithin.com/archive-trustyourpassion.htm

In the piece Dr. Weem's mentions, among other things, a saying, "religion is not to be believed, it is to be danced." Her corresponding statement to which is, "Who wants to serve a God that doesn't make you want to dance from time to time?" Frankly, I couldn't agree more (smile).

I'd like to thank AD for sharing the link to Renita Weem's work with me. If you know of any similarly inspirational and/or encouraging websites feel free to email me the links. I'll try to share as many as I can in the SUNDAY BEST portion of the OS mix.

So, shall we, as my friend MR recently put it, "Let the dancing begin?" Stay tuned in the coming days for more dancing in the form of an excerpt from my short story "New Growth."

Friday, September 15, 2006

AFTER THE DANCE . . .

Q: Isn't that the title of a song? A: Yes, a Marvin Gaye tune. It first appeared on his I Want You album back in 1976.

Q: That's also the title of your novel? A: Yes . . . unless, of course, my editor suggests otherwise.

Q: What kind of story is it? A: I guess you could call it a romantic comedy, of sorts.

Sorry folks. Until Ms. Agent gives me the "go ahead," I'm really not at liberty (in this particular forum) to say more than that. As soon as all of the paperwork has been Signed, Sealed and Delivered (Stevie Wonder, 1970), I will happily disclose all of the important details (like the name of the publisher, the publication date, etc) as well as reveal a bit more about the story, the characters and the plot.

Until then, I'd like to invite you to take a look at how I think AFTER THE DANCE differs from some of the other "urban" romances/love stories currently on the market.

What AFTER THE DANCE does not contain:

1) Folks getting shot, killed, kidnapped or sexually assaulted

2) Cars, clothes or homes getting burned up

3) Dope smoking, sniffing, stealing or dealing

4) Triple X-rated sex

5) Excessive profanity

6) Name dropping of designer clothes, cars, shoes, bags, etc.

7) Brothers going to jail

8) Sisters getting beat-down or smacked around

9) W/Folks as villians or saviors

10) B/Folks as simpletons or saints

What AFTER THE DANCE does contain:

1) A father who openly demonstrates his love for his children

2) Ex-spouses who make a genuine effort to get along

3) B/Folks struggling to do better

4) Strong father/daughter relationships

5) Expressions of tenderness between a B/man & a B/woman

6) B/women behaving civilly towards one another

7) A number of old school musical references

8) Young people showing respect for their elders

9) A convergence of the urban South & the rural South

10) Modern day examples of B/Southern etiquette

Uh-huh, I know what you're thinking: "What?! No, triple X-rated sex? Nobody getting "stabbed, shot, kilt or hurt" (Arrested Development's "People Everday" 1992 )? Not so much as even one sister catching a beat down? Dag, girl, I thought you said you were a sister who wanted to be read?"

Yes, I did say that. Didn't I? (LOL)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COMMENTS . . . ANYONE . . .

Hey, thanks for all of the nice emails. Understandably, quite a few of the comments have been about the picture--most of them complimentary (thank you very much). Still not so sure what to make of the "You sure WERE cute," (as in once upon a time, a heck of a long time ago) comments. LOL!

Anyway . . . One of my Cleveland pals, SP, has kindly offered to smooth the creases out of the picture for me. So, don't be surprised if it reappears at some point looking all new and improved (Thanks again, SP).

Another sisterfriend, AD from Memphis, sent me a cool, inspirational link that I may very well share in the coming weeks.

My ATL-based bud, YN, who has known me since our grad school days at the U of M (called Memphis State, back then) and who accompanied me on at least one of the 5 or 6 times I went to see the COLOR PURPLE upon its release umpteen some years ago, emailed to express her complete surprise at my mention of TO SLEEP WITH ANGER on my list of movie favorites. Turns out it's one of her all-time favs too. Hmmm. I'm thinking one of us just might be in the beginning stages of Old-Timer's disease 'cause I could almost swear we talked about that once . . .

MR, my "go-to-guy" in Memphis emailed me wanting to know what was up with me describing myself as "shy" and "innocent." He obviously doesn't see me as either. LOL. All right MR! Don't let me have to break out some T.I. on you. How's that one verse go? "When you see me in the street shorty, you don't know me!" (Well, at least that's how the cleaned-up version goes, anyway) Of course, when MR reads this he's going to be like, "Huh?" Being that he's even more "Old School" than myself, I'm not so sure he knows T.I. from the FBI. But that's all right. He knows I don't have nothin' but love for him.

Need I say the preceding sentiment is one that goes ten-fold for AL, who apparently was the only somebody brave enough to step forward with a public comment (appreciate ya Sweetie).

Seriously y'all, it is my sincere hope that over time the OS Mix will evolve into more of a dialogue. What I'm striving for is an on-going exchange of ideas and comments. In other words, don't y'all have me up in here talking to myself, like somebody crazy! I'm saying, if nothing else, grant a sister a public, "Amen" every once in a while. All right?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

PICTURE PERFECT . . .
See that black & white picture in the corner? It's one of my favorite photographs of "me." According to Mom, the snapshot was taken at Scott AFB in Illinois, where Dad was stationed at the time. Furthermore, Mom states that I am somewhere between the ages of 2-3 in the caputured image and the hooded coat I'm wearing is pink with white trim (Yep, leave it to Mom to remember all of the pertinent fashion details).

I think I like this picture because I can readily see so much of the "core" me in it--the shy me, the innocent me and even the mischievous me. Best of all though, this snapshot grants me an unobstructed view of the quick to laugh and smile little girl that most days I still am--behind the adult facade. The picture is one I used to keep in my wallet until the day a friend shamed me out of the habit. "How many people do you know, who actually walk around with a picture of themselves?" is pretty much what she hurled at me. Not wanting to be thought of as vain or in anyway self-absorbed, I shoved the photo into the back corner of a drawer and all but forgot about it, until just recently. I suppose I've FINALLY reached that point in life where I honestly DON'T CARE what other folks think when it comes to CERTAIN things. I mean, come on y'all, ain't like it's some totally unflattering photo of me caught in some compromising position (like say, a snapshot of me sitting up somewhere slanty-eyed drunk and dressed like a hoochie mama or else one of me all snuggled up next to somebody else's husband or, God-forbid, one of me swinging around a pole in some fool's shake 'em up joint). No, Mom, I don't actually own any pictures like the aforementioned. I'm just saying . . . Anyway, this is indeed, a new day. Later for letting folks (whether friends, foes or family members) push their self-esteem issues off on me (smile). Besides, if showcasing one's babygirl picture is good enough for the likes of -- Jill Scott http://www.jillscott.com/ and

Nichelle Tramble http://www.nichelletramble.com/biography.htm

(Thanks for the inspiration, ladies!)

Hey, it's durn sure good enough for me. Nuff said? All right then.

Monday, September 11, 2006

INTRO . . .

At the end of the day, I'm just a sister who writes and who wants to be read. I am also proud to announce the pending publication of my very first novel--

AFTER THE DANCE

(stay tuned for details)

WHAT IS "OLD SCHOOL?"

I was born in the 60's. Need I say more?

WHAT IS LORI'S OLD SCHOOL MIX?

I intend for the Old School Mix to be a hodge-podge of commentary, information, trivia, interviews, links and reviews. The OS Mix will cover a wide array of topics--music, literature, history, art, pop culture and social issues to name a few. Every now and then the Mix will rock hard and serious, but on most days it will swing toward the light-hearted and fun. If at any time you feel like adding your voice to the Mix, please, don't hesitate. Your comments, feedback, opinions and suggests are always welcome.

ABOUT MY WORK
My work is heavily influenced by music. I grew up listening to my mother's Aretha Franklin and Al Green, my father's Miles and Coltrane as well as the James Brown, Johnny Taylor, B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland that typically greeted my ears in the dark North Memphis cafes, grills and smoke-filled lounges that kept one of my grandmothers gainfully employed.
Perhaps that is why, for me, beneath the words there is always music--whether a throb, a hum, a quiet melody or a rhythmic beat. In a sense, my approach to writing is all about chasing the music. I know if I'm able to string together the "right" combination of words, I'll find it. I know once I've found it, I can make the piece sing.