Just Write Something

Just Write Something

When I was very young, my dad, brother and I left Jamaica and moved to New York. My parents were divorced for about a year and a half but the wounds were as fresh as if it had happened the day before. My dad tried his best, but his meals couldn’t compare. Way too much of this or not enough of that. Homework wasn’t checked. Christmas morning was spent pretending to like poorly thought out and terribly wrapped gifts and for Christmas dinner, we separated the burnt parts from the under cooked and washed them down with tears. In our family, mom was the glue. She was the cook and the organizer and the shopper and the clothes layer-outer. She was the homework warden and the did you brush your teeth checker, the Christmas dinner fixer, and the present wrapper.

Then, one day, we were in a new country. In Jamaica, I was a husky, slightly nerdy bookworm with lots of friends. I had a big yard to play in, bikes to ride, trees to climb, rivers and beaches to swim in. In Queens, I was a fat nerd, living with his dad and brother in an attic, sleeping on a box spring. We were three men together, lonely and licking our wounds. Where we should have come together as a unit to face our adopted city, we stayed apart, battling our individual demons alone, each coming to terms with our new surroundings in our own way.

On my first day at Andrew Jackson High School, I met my new music teacher, a short, stout Italian man with the most pronounced New Yawk accent I’d heard up to that point. It was the first day of school and at a loss for something for us to do, he gave us the assignment to write out the words to the Star Spangled Banner. My stomach fell. I’d been in New York for all of a week and was ashamed that I didn’t yet know the words. I stared at my paper and at my classmates happily scribbling away and I fought the tears as I wished that I were anywhere else but in this strange school, in this strange city, in this strange country. The teacher must have noticed my distress because he came over and quietly asked what the matter was.

I cried when he asked, although I tried not to. I tried so hard, but it hit me all at once. I was the new kid. I had a weird accent, I didn’t have cool clothes, I hated where we lived, our landlady was mean, I didn’t understand this new school with its tough-talking kids and gangs and police helicopters overhead every afternoon. And I missed my mother. I didn’t say any of that. All I said, in my Jamaican accent was, “I don’t know the words.”

He gave me the look that Americans often gave when they didn’t understand something I’d said and their brains were working to lengthen the vowels and smooth out the rough, bumpy syllables of my Patois. A second later he got it.

“Oh, you don’t know the words,” he repeated.

I thought he was going to be mad. He would kick me out of his class and the big, mean looking security guards would escort me to the Principal’s office, where they would demand to see my papers. None of that happened. Instead, that man did something that I will never forget. He put his hand on my shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and smiled.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, in that casual American way. “Just write something. Anything.”

Now that I could do.

He smiled and walked away but suddenly turned back to me and said, “I love your accent, by the way, it’s cool.”

I smiled. Then I wrote.

I wrote about a boy who was lonely and fat and had no mother but had powers that no one but he knew about. He kept his power hidden because he thought once he showed them to the world, the people he loved would also leave, just like his mom did. But then one day he had no choice but to reveal his powers and to his surprise people loved him. His dad stopped telling him that he was too fat, and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t as athletic as his brother. They hoisted him up on their shoulders and the kids on his block liked him and didn’t make fun of his accent or his clothes. He made new friends and his mom came back home and they were a family again.

The bell rang for the end of class and I quickly wrote my last sentence. My classmates slapped their single pages down on the desk then spilled out into the hall in a flood. I removed twelve pages from my notebook and handed them to my teacher. His eyes opened wide in surprise.

“Wow, you’re a writer I see.”

It was the very first time anyone had ever called me that and it made my day.

I wanted to thank him for his kindness, but I didn’t have the words. Instead, I nodded and left to go to my locker. A few minutes later, I had to pass the music room on the way to my next class and saw the music teacher at his desk, reading my story with a smile on his face.

His advice stays with me to this day, it’s served me well.

Just write something.

I don’t know what happened to him. I’m sad that I don’t remember his name. Wherever he is, I hope he is happy, and I hope that he’s had the kindness he showed to me returned to him a thousand fold. You see, it’s the little things we do that sometimes have an enormous impact. It’s the hug at just the right time. It’s the reassuring words when someone is at a low point. It’s saying I love you, and meaning it.

I need that.

We all do.

That kid that wrote the story is still here, but he’s older and hopefully wiser. He still sometimes keeps things hidden because he thinks no one would care to read what he feels but he’s getting better at that. One thing will never change, he still misses his mother. She’s passed a few years ago but lives on in his heart and in her granddaughter’s smile. Oh, and the accent is still there. If you listen carefully, you might hear it. It doesn’t show up much but occasionally it creeps out when he’s tired, or upset or he wants to make his little girl laugh or maybe occasionally in the random blog post.

Irie.



Candyland

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Big and Tall

Big and Tall

Big and Tall

I recently lost a bunch of weight, a little over thirty pounds in the last few months.

Strange things happen when you go through a transformation like that. You THINK you will be able to handle the changes and you THINK you will be ecstatic about them, and for the most part you are. But, there is a part of you (well, of me) that can’t get quite get fully adjusted to this new person.

For years I’ve shopped in the Big and Tall department of a local store that generally had pretty nice stuff for us Big Guys. All of my clothes, especially pants, are now way too big, so the other day I walked in there, daughter in tow, and did what I always do in that store. I walked over to the big and tall section, picked out a couple of pairs of pants then made my way to the dressing rooms. I tried on the items and they were huge on me.

Duh … dude, you lost weight. You’ve changed.

Strangely enough, instead of being happy, I felt a little anxious. All my life I’ve been a big guy. I still am, I will never be small, but I’m smaller than I was. In that moment, I felt as if part of my identity, the thing that made me who I am, was slowly slipping away.

Scary.

“You didn’t like them dad?” My daughter asked when I emerged from the dressing room with the pants back on their respective hangers.

“No honey, they’re too big.”

I returned the items to the Big and Tall section then looked across the aisle to the “normal” sized section. It would have taken only a step or two to get over there, but venturing into new territory was intimidating. I eventually did and started browsing, a stranger in a strange land. After a few minutes, without even realizing it, I crossed the aisle into the Big and Tall section again.

“Dad, what are you doing over there?” My daughter asked.

I didn’t know what to say, I had wandered back across the aisle by sheer force of habit. Or, more likely, the part of me fearful of losing myself had brought me back into familiar territory.

She took my hand.

“You don’t belong over there, you have to stay over here now,” she said, as she pulled me across the aisle.

She didn’t mean anything deep by her statement, she was bored and just wanted me to stop wasting time so we could get the heck outta there, but I found her words profound nonetheless. I stayed put in the regular section although my eye still wandered over to Big and Tall occasionally. Eventually, I found some stuff that fit my new proportions. They looked good and I was happy to be able to fit into the smaller size, but there was a small part of me that still mourned the loss.

Change is scary. Even a change that you’ve planned for. I guess the key is not to wander back into the aisle of the familiar and comfortable. The new place that you’ve worked hard to get to is well…new but it’s where you should be. It’s where you NEED to be.

You don’t belong over there. You have to stay over here now.



Candyland

Click the button below to get Hugh’s latest thriller – Candyland, from Amazon, or click HERE to download an excerpt.

 

 

Get Candyland from Amazon
Gratitude

Gratitude

The basement of my house is my favorite writing space even though It’s not always the most comfortable. It’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and I share it with the spiders who can’t seem to stay away. Artificial light doesn’t do well in the basement, the illumination from bulbs only penetrate so far, giving the room a timeless quality that can play tricks on an overactive imagination, especially when I’m facing an empty page that I can’t seem to fill. I sit in the circle of light, looking out into the semi-darkness and it’s easy to envision a grandmother down here filling shelves with jars of homemade preserves or kids playing hide and seek while the rest of the family is upstairs gathered around a huge transistor radio.

So, more often than not, I turn out the lights when I’m working so the only illumination is from the monitor with the empty page I’m trying to fill. Sometimes the words are there and sometimes they aren’t, like the ten times I sat down to write this post about gratitude. I took walks to think about it, I spoke with a friend about it, I read my favorite books to inspire me, but the grand and eloquent words I wanted to use to express my profound thanks at the many blessings I had been given proved elusive.

So, I sat and let my mind wander, and soon I noticed the sounds.

Water running through pipes.

The rumble of the clothes dryer.

Thump, thumping of my daughter dancing upstairs.

I refocused and tried to concentrate. I have many things to be thankful for and I didn’t want this to be an ordinary post. I wanted the reader to feel the profound feelings that I felt. It needed to be special. But try as I might, the words failed me again and before very long I turned away from the screen and let my mind wander again.

Sounds.

Water running through pipes.

The rumble of the clothes dryer.

Thump, thumping of my daughter dancing upstairs.

I gathered my thoughts and refocused (again) and began to write. About thirty minutes and a frustrating page and a half later, I stopped to read what I’d produced.

Garbage. It was forced and not at all genuine. I was trying way too hard. I deleted the whole thing and leaned back in my chair.

Sounds again, or rather, only one sound. There was no water running and the dryer had completed its cycle.

Thump, thumping of my daughter dancing.

Then the thumping stopped and I heard footsteps running through the kitchen then down the stairs and into the basement where the empty page and I kept each other company.

“Look at this Dad,” she said.

I spend the next ten minutes watching her proudly show me the progress she’d made on the move she was practicing upstairs and discussing the difficulties of handstands and bridges and back walkovers. When she was done, she hugged me and ran back upstairs. In a moment, the thump thumping began again as she’s started to practice the next move.

As I listen to her dance, I realize that I’ve been going about this all wrong. I was like a bull in a china shop, stomping around and looking outwardly for the thing I only needed to be still to find. I would have heard it, the thump, thump, thumping that means that my daughter is dancing. As long as she is dancing everything is fine.

Gratitude.

I am thankful for many things. For health and strength, for Sunshine in the morning, for you reading his post.

Another Dance with Cinderella

Another Dance with Cinderella

Another Dance with Cinderella

 

“Hugh, the first rehearsal for the father-daughter dance is Saturday,” my daughter’s dance instructor said, smiling.

I smiled back, but inside I was groaning, kicking, screaming. It’s that time ALREADY??

“I just have one request,” I told her. “PLEASE don’t let us dance to that Dance with Cinderella song again, or anything like it.”

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s going to be funky this year.”

As I left the studio, daughter in tow, it hit me that she put WAY too much emphasis on the word funky. That worried me. Funky I am not.

(more…)

The Poet Donald Green

The Poet Donald Green

I noticed the signs first. Then I noticed the Poet Donald Green.

His signs were scattered all over the Broadway Lafayette Subway station.  Small, large, black & white and in color they all carried a variation on the same message. New York Times published poet sells his poems.

They signs made me pause, then I saw the man and I stopped.

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It takes a lot to make a subway rider stop. Especially when it’s 10 o’clock on a freezing night during the coldest month of this century, and the subway rider is a tired Bronx expatriate living in New Jersey with at least an hour more to go in his journey home. Something about the man made me turn back and approach him. Whether it was the kinship of a fellow writer trying to get someone to read his words, or something deeper I couldn’t tell you.

The Poet looked tired. I imagined he’d been standing in the same spot for hours and the day was taking its toll. His eyes were closed and as I approached, he swayed slightly on his feet, trying to keep awake. I began to speak but as I drew closer, his eyes popped open.

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Honestly, he looked homeless. His outfit was a mishmash of pieces. Long dark coat over what looked to be several layers, combined with a large winter hat tilted slightly askew, and a loud New York Rangers scarf. His hands were dirty and his nails long and unkempt. The Poet’s smile was bright and sincere despite his bad teeth and filtered as it was through a scraggly beard. For a second I rethought my decisions, and then the Poet spoke.

 

The first time I heard Maya Angelou speak, I was a teenager and knew nothing of poetry besides dirty limericks and Dr. Seuss. Then, our literature teacher rolled in the AV cart and put in a tape of Maya Angelou reading her poems. I remember being entranced, not so much by the poems, but by the beautiful running water that was her voice. She began slowly, then the words would lift then go back down again. She lengthened words that were born short and so her sentences seemed to go on forever, beautifully.

And so it was with the Poet. He closed his eyes when he spoke and he raised his hands and moved them in time with hiswords. His voice belied his appearance; it had a culture about it, a class. Born in Harlem, but raised in the Ivy Leagues. And his words, like Ms. Angelou’s were like clean water over rocks.

 

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We stood in the subway station as trains came and went and New Yorkers passed us by, on the way home, or out and about for the night. We spoke of writing and its challenges, he told me of his early life, his encounter with the late E. Lynn Harris and other literary greats. We spoke as two Black men who try to reach others with words. My purchase of two of his books earned me my own poem and I watched as the Poet wrote it with a Sharpie, reciting it as he did.

“…you find your way

and grace our world with luminous novels

and God takes care of the rest…”

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When he was done we shook hands and he thanked me profusely for the ten dollars I had spent but honestly, I know I got the better part of the deal.

Good luck, Poet.

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