Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Words Move Me: The Truth Behind My Move to Baltimore

Almost twenty years ago I moved to Baltimore because every book I read promised adventure, love, discovery—here.

It goes without saying that these stories that guided my path, answered my questions and asked them of me were fiction.

These words guided and propelled, led me home.

Twenty years later, words move me.

The stories I write promise adventure, love, discovery, somewhere—else.

These stories that guide my path, answer my questions, and ask them of me are fiction. 

These words that guide and propel, lead me home.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Death Sells: Nemesis-Ink: Pre Issue I (Fiction)

Dear Editor:

  As the editor-in-chief of Nemesis, the leading source of obituaries in the Washington/Baltimore area, I would like to share one of the secrets of my success: death sells.  Almost every day death is reported in newspapers worldwide in one form or another.  While most expected in the obituary section, it can be reported in the crime, local, entertainment or in almost any section from the front page to the last.  The media coverage a death receives and the placement of the notice depend on the way a person lives or dies.  Your actions in life literally affect your place in history.  In your newspaper, those whose lives or deaths touch the most people appear to get the largest coverage, while others receive minimal space in which their lives are condensed. 

On February 4th, 2005 the online version of the Baltimore Sun announced the death of activist, actor Ossie Davis in an article published by Associated Press writer Hillel Italie. On that day they also announced the death of Elizabeth T. Braden, homemaker and secretary.  Both notices reported the information people expect the obituary to include: the person’s name, age and cause of death, major accomplishments and information about the survivors.   The differences were in the presentation and amount of information in the piece and the placement of the articles.  Davis’ death was a memorial; Braden’s a death notice. Each life deserves to be celebrated, memorialized, each death treated as a loss to the community.

Ossie Davis’ obituary appeared on the main page of the Baltimore Sun website.  In an emotional, informative article, Hillel Italie memorialized Ossie Davis’ life and death.  According to the three-page obituary, at the age of 87 Davis was a writer, actor, director, producer, activist, husband, father and grandfather.   He and his wife of over 50 years had received honors and awards for their work together in the media industry.  His obituary was personalized with quotes from a former cast member, a photo gallery and in-depth information about his role as activist and actor.  This tribute included a poll for readers to vote for their favorite Ossie Davis movie. 

Elizabeth T. Braden’s life was no more and no less significant than that of Ossie Davis’.  According to her obituary, by the age of 91 Braden had been a daughter, wife, mother, secretary, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend and neighbor.  Her obituary says she was married for 68 years and had six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.  According to the Sun, the Baltimore area resident died of a brain tumor in the assisted-living home where she lived.   Braden’s Baltimore Sun obituary has reduced her 91 years of life, relationships, obstacles, joys and sorrows into 20 lines.

Both Baltimore Sun articles painted sketches of the lives of the deceased; as obituaries they fulfilled their roles as assigned by the media.   The attention given to both Braden and Davis may be what is expected for someone with their varying degrees of contribution to society.  If that is so, there is something wrong with the way we measure contribution.  This problem does not merely exist in the Baltimore Sun. 

Fred Barbash and Wil Haygood wrote Ossie Davis’ obituary for the Washington Post.  Describing him as “still handsome and elegantit was a colorful tribute to his life.  Their four-page article was filled with information about Davis’ personal achievements; statements from his family, friends and colleagues and commentary on his activism efforts. While there were no pictures or polls, his obituary painted a picture of a vibrant man, someone you would be honored to have known personally.

Elizabeth Braden’s death was not reported in the Washington Post.

At Nemesis we pride ourselves on our ability to make news happen and to report it objectively.  Each Nemesis obituary is a memorial and we take an active role in each obituary we report. Unlike other reporters, we take the time to investigate each aspect of the subject’s life before we kill them. In this way, we report the facts, photos and the person’s last words, thus painting a vivid picture of them in life and in death.


 Yvonne Battle-Felton, Editor-in-chief, Nemesis  (North Eastern Memorial Editorial Services)

 P.S.  Pick up the next issue of Nemesis; you never know which edition you’ll be featured in.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dating Advice You Didn't Ask For: Catch of the Day

“I cook, I clean, I take care of her kids. What other man would do all that for her?” He asked, “None, I tell you that.” He answered.

For the past few years the young man in front of me had been ineffectively flirting with me while I washed clothes in a local Laundromat.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.   I don’t date guys based on how nice they seem.

And so, for many reasons I had been avoiding him—quite successfully. I try to avoid awkward conversations like: Why don’t you find me attractive? What don’t like you like about me?  What about tonight, are you free tonight?

Something about him gave me the impression of a guy who though accustomed to no’s, will try to negotiate his way to a yes.

I avoided the early morning conversations by doing my laundry in the evening or elsewhere, so I was surprised to run in to him mid-morning last week.

“How was your Christmas,” it began.

“Good, how was yours?”

“Awful, my girlfriend and I are breaking up—after five years and…”

Funny how he had never mentioned having a girlfriend. I’d like to say that I picked up on the girlfriend vibe when turning him down, but I hadn’t.

“She acts like she can get someone better than me…” he continued.

Of course she can.

“…and she’s not even thinking about the kids. I’m a good father to them and they aren’t even mine.”

Now, there really was no reason I needed to know that he has been taking care of her children. So, I would bet that if he told me this in the first five minutes of this conversation, that he has brought it up to her countless number of times and she is likely quite tired of hearing about all that he does.

“She’s only thinking about herself,” he declared.

As opposed to?

When I date, I date for me. When I am ready to include someone in my family life, I may choose someone different, but even then, staying in a relationship merely because he cooks, cleans, and is good to my children isn’t enough if I don’t like him, no longer love him, or have to hear about ‘all the things he does for me’ all the time.

Instead of reminding someone of all you do for them, let them see it for themselves. If they don’t recognize what you bring to the table—eat somewhere else.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saving Christmas or Why I don't Scrapbook

Each year Christmas comes and goes and with it the resolution to mail out Christmas cards. I imagine them—glossy pictures of my children in matching holiday garb. Or, my children and I captured in various stages of semi-natural elation: candid smiles, scrubbed faces, coifed hair snapped mid-life.

I picture these snippets of life and once again living these moments becomes more important than capturing them. I know when my children no longer resemble their present selves, I will miss them.  Perhaps not being able to compare them with flimsy snapshots of their former selves will help me accept them for who they grow to be.  Whatever the future holds I am living today so I don’t need to take pictures of it tomorrow.

Backstory: Reflections on this Month's Theme for Stories at the Storey

Meeting deadlines is as soothing to me as a creamy cup of flavoured coffee. Checking a project off of my mental to-do list settles me. ...