Ghost Dog, Chocolate Chips, & Me

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is an eclectic and brooding piece of cinema, starring Forrest Whitaker, which chronicles the trials of a mafia hit man. (See a short clip here)  I had heard of the film but never watched it, and if it hadn’t been for a magnificent (dare I say “killer”) chocolate chip cookie, I would have missed out on the experience.

I was in San Diego, on vacation, sampling the local cuisine.  I steered our rental car up a steep and winding hill into the thriving hipster neighborhood of Hillcrest, and my wife pointed out a bustling little strip mall.  We ate Mexican seafood and drank craft sodas.  The world ambled by while I smacked my lips on a divine Baja style taco.

We walked out, full and smiling, only to realize that a cookie bakery stood right next door.  We exchanged guilty grins and ducked into the bakery.  The scent of cinnamon, chocolate, and baking sugar dough wafted over us.  I started hand-picking the cookies from my side of the glass deli-style counter–white chocolate with macadamia nuts, dark chocolate with walnuts and M & M’s, peanut butter chocolate chip, and chocolate chips with oatmeal.  The girl behind the counter started boxing up the cookies.  While she worked, I drifted over to the waiting area.  On a square table lay a stack of magazines.  I grabbed one.  It particularly caught my eye because the RZA was on the cover.  The Wu Tang legend posed coolly behind dark shades.  I flipped through the article and gave a low whistle of appreciation.

The RZA: Musician, Producer, Actor, Director

“You can take that home,” assured the cookie girl.

“Nice,” was my only reply.  I walked out with the RZA and my box full of chocolate chip cookies.

Back at the hotel, I munched happily on a scrumptious peanut butter chocolate chip.  It was sweet and velvety.  I read the RZA’s profile while I ate.  Every so often, I had to brush cookie crumbs off the slick magazine pages.   And there it was–his reflections on Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.  The RZA had composed the original music for it.

“The secret of creative success is completion,” the RZA stated.  Hooked on that, I swallowed a chunk of cookie and vowed to watch the movie.

Arriving at home a few days later, I hunted deep through the DirecTV menu guide in search of the movie.  I found it, and watched spellbound, head bopping to the RZA’s driving, hip-hop grooves.

In all honesty, the movie left a lot to be desired.  It just seemed such an eclectic mashup of blaxploitation, foreign cinema, and a good ol’ boys Italian mob flick.  I wasn’t sure where I stood after absorbing the film’s climatic gun battle.  (No spoilers!)  One thing was for certain, though, if it wasn’t the love and lure of chocolate, I would’ve missed out on a pleasant evening spent indulging in yet another of the RZA creative completions.

‘black-ish Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

blackish poster

Image Copyright: ABC

Last Wednesday night, my wife came charging downstairs and demanded to know “what all that noise was”!  It was me, rolling around, pounding the floor, and laughing hysterically at a recent episode of ABC’s hit TV show, ‘black-ish. Through tears of hilarity, I squinted at the remote to find the replay button.

“You gotta watch this,” I implored between guffaws.  She frowned and went back upstairs.

“No worries, babe, ” I called after her. “I DVR’d it!”  I don’t think she heard me.

Well, I love her to death, but it’s her loss.  That was one of the funniest, realest, most refreshing takes on “the struggle” that I’ve seen in a while.

In this episode, entitled Keeping Up With The Johnsons”, Dre and family learn a heart-warming lesson about being financially responsible. It takes effort to hold on to the American dream; navigating office politics at lucrative white-collar jobs, keeping house in an upscale neighborhood, caring for aging parents, all while raising kids, trying to get them to college, and maintaining a functional marriage.  It’s exhausting! (If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, well, the shoe fits!)

But there’s an added struggle that burdens many  people of color as we become more affluent.  It is the struggle to maintain our blackness. In our own minds, of course we’re still black, we’ve always been black, and will always be black.  But this conviction of our own blackness is challenged in dozens of subtle ways by the society around us.  The more affluent we become, the more we are bombarded by judgements: black people are supposed to do this, not that. Before you know it, we’ve gone from ghetto to bougie to oreo in the blink of an eye. It should be up to us to define our own blackness, and everyone else needs to accept that.

Ironically, I find this idea reflected in the title ‘black-ish, as if wealth somehow threatens our authenticity.  It’s a theme we’ve seen before in the The Cosby Show, and before that in The Jeffersons.   The humor is driven by the inevitable culture clash that occurs as typical, every day black people become more affluent. Is it possible for the average guy to be rich and black? For some reason, rappers, athletes, and movie stars can acquire wealth and their blackness remains basically unchallenged by society. Ah, but I digress; let me save some exploration of this for another post.

Bottom line is, I love the fact that ‘black-ish portrays an affluent black family dealing with the day-to-day in humorous ways.  However, I think you will agree with me that oftentimes we need to be reminded that life is about people, and we don’t always need to put a color or ethnicity or hyphenated adjective in front of the description.

 

 

 

Blogging 101: A Personal Awakening

I just realized something: blogs change. They grow, adapt, expand, become more focused, and sometimes drift off course.  It’s such a pleasant and liberating experience, one that I’ve been anticipating for a long time.

Now that I’m in the game, I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog. I definitely love it.  And thank you so much to everyone for all your support so far.  I hope you will bear with me while I clarify a few ideas and let the blog expand and grow as I do.  I’ll be tweaking things here and there along the way, and will do my best to keep you posted on all these new insights that are flooding through my being.

I suddenly realized that I needed to make an important distinction about the title of my blog.  I am sharing “my” black experience, not necessarily “the” black experience.  I don’t presume to speak for everyone who resonates with being black or who considers themselves a person of color.  And I’m certainly not trying to be the “black interpreter”, you know, that one guy who tries to explain stuff to white people.  Yeah, that’s not me.  What I’m striving for is a connection.  A chance to honestly and openly discuss this lens that sharpens my view of the world.  I hope my thoughts resonate, and I hope it gets you thinking also. Then maybe we can compare ideas, share insights, and build a more nuanced and complex vision of this journey called life.

Whew! Confession is good for the soul. So once again, thanks for all the follows and the wonderful support.  Tweaks are coming and everything’s up for grabs: the title, my about page, the visual layout, etcetera, etcetera.  It’s an exciting time for me!  As always, your suggestions, feedback and ideas are much appreciated.

PEACE!!

 

Want to Feel Like the Ultimate Bad Ass?!? Then Play EVOLVE!!

Parnell 2

PARNELL: Image Copyright Turtle Rock Studios

If you want to experience what it’s like to be the ultimate monster-hunting bad ass, then you’ve got to play as Parnell in Turtle Rock Studios’ asymmetrical shooter, EVOLVE.

EVOLVE is a truly innovative sci-fi action video game set on a futuristic planet called Shear.  Earthlings have settled here to mine the planet for its valuable minerals.  Unfortunately, Shear is plagued by giant monsters that wreak havok all over this fragile human outpost.  In response, the settlers of Shear have commissioned a group of intergalactic mercenaries to hunt and destroy the monsters.  You can play as the monster or as one of the hunters.  Enter Parnell and his supercharged arsenal of kick-ass monster-crushing weaponry.

As this video shows, Evolve delivers big on the sci-fi power fantasy.  Who wouldn’t want to strap on a jet pack, don an armored suit, and track down a slavering beast with a multi-shot rocket launcher? I know I do!

Parnell brings the swagger of Carl Weathers in Predator, mixed with the intense cat-and-mouse monster hunting of Aliens. In this game, the tide can turn at any time.  One minute, you’ve got the monster on the run, the next, you’re getting your face smashed in by a well-timed ambush.

The next time you fire up your PS4, XBoxOne or PC, do yourself a favor and give this one a try.  You’ll be glad you did!

Hello World! It’s Blogging 101!

Well, here I am, finally tuning in to the Blogging 101 course on WordPress to really get things kick-started.  As you’ll see below, I’ve got a few posts already, but I’m happy to plug in to Blogging 101 and get connected.

My main reasons for blogging are pretty simple:  I want to enlighten my readers and share my personal reflections on the black experience.  I don’t necessarily want to get political, because I’m not looking for death threats and hateful retaliation.  I am looking for healthy dialogue, and I feel that a safe place to start exploring my ideas is by commenting on portrayals of African-Americans and people of color in film, television, pop-culture and video games.  I’m purposefully avoiding the music industry for starters, as this seems to be a topic all to itself, and I’m way more of a film buff and gamer than a music fan.

That being said, my second goal would be to build an audience for my fiction.  I’m writing short stories in the horror and weird fiction genres.  I will also write some historical fiction.

My third goal is to eventually make a full-time living as a writer.

On a personal note, I am an African-American male. I’m in my forties, married to my wonderful wife of 21 years, and raising two amazing teen-aged boys.  I’m an educator and activist (I’ve been a public school English teacher for over twenty years) and I am finally realizing my dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Whew! That felt good.  Thanks for all your support and welcome to my blog!

Where Have All the Child Soldiers Gone?

Video games consistently get a bad rap for violence and inappropriate content, but how often are they recognized for sending positive messages?  In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, creator Hideo Kojima stirs our souls by dramatizing the plight of child soldiers in Africa, and urging us to do something about it.

As a whole, the Metal Gear Solid franchise both amazes and baffles me with its eclectic mix of realistic military action and sometimes bizarre sci-fi Japanese anime.  In this fifth installment, I find it particularly intriguing that within this mash-up of fiery juggernauts, fantastic bi-pedal mechs, and teleporting enemies, the writers still managed to embed some disturbing truths about modern-day conflict zones in Africa and around the world.

A high-ranking official within the global child-advocacy organization UNICEF was quoted as saying “Children should be in school, not on the battlefield.” This was in response to civil conflict in the Sudan which has seen the exploitation of child soldiers as recently as 2015.

After playing through this emotionally moving section of the game, I stopped to ask myself a few questions:  Why don’t we hear more about the plight of these abused children in our mainstream news and media? What can be done to change the situation? And most disturbing of all, what would my life be like right now if I had been born in the south Sudan?

The answers to these questions are haunting and complex.  And these are the kinds of thoughts that we often seek to escape from when we play video games or immerse ourselves in entertainment media.

But I for one am glad to know that content creators aren’t afraid to raise these issues, and to create thoughtful, conscience-stirring moments in their gaming narratives.

 

 

Top Five Favorite Dred-Hedz

Well it’s the end of the year, and what blog would be complete without a countdown!  Indulge me while I run down a few of my favorite dred-hedz of all time! Peek this list and leave me a comment. Do you agree? Did I leave out your favorite dred-hed? Let me know!

 

DRED-HEDZ FAVORITE #5: STEVIE WONDER

stevie wonder

I hope I look this good when I get to be his age.  My hairline is receding too (though hopefully not that far back). Anyways, thanks for the ray of hope, bro!

DRED-HEDZ FAVORITE #4: MATRIX TWINS

matrix twins2

Admit it, you’d never seen anything like these two dudes from The Matrix:Reloaded.  Their ghostly moves mystified Neo, Trinity and the gang.  The freeway chase is the best scene in the whole flick!

DRED-HEDZ FAVORITE #3: SUPER BOWL CHAMP RICHARD SHERMAN

sherman

This guy rocks! Style, swagger, athleticism, sophistication.  Need I say more? They called him a thug, and he called them out on their hypocritical bull$&%!  Educated, venerated, never duplicated!

DRED-HEDZ FAVORITE #2: MICHONNE 

michonne

Danai Gurira portrays this sultry samurai from The Walking Dead! Michonne proves that you can stride through the post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden landscape and still maintain your dignity, compassion and humanity! You go guurl!

DRED-HEDZ FAVORITE #1: BOB MARLEY

th

Come on, you knew this! Could you ever have a list of dred-hedz without including the world’s favorite Rastafarian! We love him, we love his music, we love the locs!

So that’s it, y’all. My favorite dred-hedz. Happy New Year and best of luck to everyone in 2016.  Again, hit me up with some comments. Hope you enjoyed the post, and let me know what you think about this list!