Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives (essay with poem)

“The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence…”~Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture in Literature

(This segment of Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives is published in partnership with Voices Compassion Education.)

Like many authors I dive headlong almost every day into a torrential flow of words sparkling with possibilities. I then work to extract from that linguistic flow a collective of sounds, imagery, ideas, and entire compositions capable of offering relevant reflections of the world experienced both inside and outside my own head. Such a mindful exercise in disciplined creative passion tends to focus my thoughts more on striking a balance between the unyielding clarity of prose and the seductive allusiveness of poetry than on the demands of managing a public image.

Because I give myself so wholly to the furious embrace of language on a regular basis, I rarely classify myself as a specific kind of writer. It is usually editors or readers who decide on my behalf whether I am more welcome in their world as an essayist, fiction-writer, historian, poet, or another breed of fever-driven scribbler. They provide the context in which a meeting of our minds may occur and share notes on specific facets of what it means to be in this world.

The differences between the various literary forms are obvious enough but it is not unusual for one genre, during a heated word-session, to flow at will into another. It happens much the way a dancing couple or individual might boogy-bounce nonstop from one song to the next––the rhythm calls and the soul answers.

Please continue reading the essay with poem by Aberjhani by clicking this link:
Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives (essay with poem) (article) by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen


King of Pop Michael Jackson and the World Community – The Journey and the Rainbow

          Michael Jackson with Spanish translation of quote from article by Aberjhani.
(graphic art poster courtesy of Facebook Group Blues Away)

The book Journey through the Power of the Rainbow, Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry, contains a full chapter of quotes on Michael Jackson as well as the short essay which follows. Anyone interested in winning a free copy of the book is encouraged to check out the Goodreads widget at the end of the essay.

At least part of worldwide reading audiences’ growing familiarity with my work has to be attributed to the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson. Although I started writing about Mr. Jackson’s life and legacy after in his death in 2009, I did not understand just how many people around the world had been taking note of those writings. Then it was brought to my attention that several full articles had turned up on multiple websites in the form of unauthorized translations into German, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, and other languages. Given the ease with which Internet technology makes it possible to accomplish such linguistic feats––precision of the translation notwithstanding––I told myself it had been inevitable.

Technological ease was only part of the reason. Another very significant part was what I had sensed myself and what author and Minister Barbara Kaufmann had identified as the “spiritual emergency” into which Jackson’s fans around the globe had found themselves plunged upon his death. They had discovered little to no consolation within a mainstream media and sideline tabloid press that continued to employ guerrilla decontextualization to sensationalize and capitalize off distortions of the megastar’s image even as the worldwide community he left behind flailed about in a tsunami of unrelenting grief. 

Please enjoy the full post by Aberjhani at this link:

King of Pop Michael Jackson and the World Community – The Journey and the Rainbow.

Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes’ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (part 1) – by Aberjhani

Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes typing a manuscript at his desk.
(photo credit: Everett Collection)

“We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs.”––Langston Hughes

Among the superstars who recently joined late-night television talk show host Arsenio Hall on the set of his newly-revived program was hip-hop pioneer and mogul Russell Simmons. In addition to expressing enthusiasm over sharing meditation with his children and exploring new film opportunities in Hollywood, Simmons spoke briefly and somewhat reservedly about a recent controversy involving artistic freedom versus social responsibility.

Without going into details about the scandal-plagued “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” video that he posted on, and then quickly removed from, his All Def Digital YouTube channel, Simmons admitted the backlash it created prompted the only instance where he felt compelled––after being pressured by different civil rights organizations––to withdraw artistic content from public access.

After making a move that he felt demonstrated exceptional sensitivity and social awareness, Simmons was discouraged when those who had criticized the parody video failed to acknowledge his corrective actions. His response to their lack of one illustrated a dilemma with which African-American creative artists have had to grapple ever since the Harlem Renaissance. The quandary is one which forces black artists to confront the question of which is more important: freedom of expression as an artist, or social and political responsibility to one’s community as an African American?

In regard to the hip-hop artists with whom he works, and those he admires, Russell stated this in an interview with Huffington Post’s Brennan Williams:

“I would love for all the rappers to talk about civil rights, animal rights, gay rights. I would love for them all to become progressive voices… But I’ve learned to accept people as they are… I want to nurture them. I’m not going to judge them and be heavy handed. Because it’s a waste of time.”

Chatting with Arsenio Hall, Simmons did not express regret over his choice to remove the ill-conceived Tubman parody. However… 

Please click the link to read the full article by author and poet Aberjhani:

Text and Meaning in Hughes’ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (part 1) – National African-American Art |

Dear James Baldwin (in lieu of) Dear Barack Obama

U.S. Postal Service tribute stamp featuring author James Baldwin

U.S. Postal Service tribute stamp featuring author James Baldwin

Dear Mr. Baldwin-

If I were not writing this letter to you as one of my favorite authors, I would probably be writing it to Barack Obama because there is a great deal about him which tends to remind me of a great deal about you. The sentence structures he employs in his memoir, Dreams from My Father , often curve in and out of passages that virtually sing with eloquence and yet, at times, shout with an unruly detachment  in defense of truths many people generally prefer not to hear. The first time I heard such courageous music pour from the pages of a book or witnessed syllables explode like miniature bombs of revelation was when I read your Notes of a Native Son, then later The Fire Next Time.

Your birthdays are very close too-his on August 4, only two days after yours. But he was born in 1961, just after you turned thirty-seven. In that same history-forging year when you published the book of essays titled Nobody Knows My Name, addressed members of CORE in Washington, D.C., met with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, traveled all the way to Israel and Istanbul, Turkey, and then, by the end of the year, completed what some still consider one of most controversial novels ever published in the North America: Another Country.

Mr. Obama reminds me of you also because he could have easily chosen for himself and his family a fairly quiet life in which he might have enjoyed the comforts of substantial earnings and the respect of his peers minus the constant public jabs he now endures while working, seemingly unceasingly, on behalf on his countrymen. By the same token, you in 1954 could have elected to enjoy a nonstop bohemian party in Paris, France-hanging out with mega-diva Josephine Baker, fellow author Chester Himes, and the disturbingly brilliant artist Beauford Delaney– instead of returning home to be spat upon while dodging rocks and bullets as you marched beside Martin Luther King Jr. and many thousands more to confirm, with spilled blood and weeping souls, our country’s commitment to the ideals of Democracy.  Through essays, plays, and novels, you wrestled as naked as naked gets with the operational dynamics of race relations, sexual identity, and social imbalances as you witnessed them. Such a quintessential artist-activist did you become that it was impossible to ignore you.

President Obama appears to me have elevated and implemented the artist-activist concept to the role of empowered servant-leader, as creative in his vision of the world’s possibilities as you were in yours, and as dedicated to the battle to help humanity liberate itself from the collective fears, prejudices, and ignorance that has yet to contribute anything of functional value to the world community. He is also impossible to ignore; so much so, in fact, that an entire new would-be political party/movement has formed to generate automatic negative criticisms of his every move or spoken word, whether instinctively brushing aside a fly or placing his well-traveled feet atop his desk. And you know what else? He said his favorite novelist is your old friend, Toni Morrison , and that he is particularly fond of The Song of Solomon, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorites as well.

Speaking of Ms. Morrison, I recall your description of her (in the late 1970s I believe it was) as “This rather elegant matron with quite serious intentions.” You had already been resting in peace for six years when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, but I had no doubt that on that day you, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and a gang of others were all slurping celestial champagne and dancing to the glorious boom of Mahalia Jackson’s gospel-anointed voice.

Sorry, I kind of got off track. I wanted to say the reason I’m writing this letter to you today instead of to Barack Obama is because, for some reason, last night I was thinking about my own literary works and suddenly recalled your statement that you wanted mostly, “to be an honest man and a good writer.” And then today I received an email from the folks at Red Room suggesting members consider writing a letter to a favorite author, living or deceased. Just like that, you popped into my head and I heard myself talking with you, somewhat similar to the time I was writing my novel, Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World, and got stuck somewhere about halfway through it. I saw you in a dream when you said, “Shit baby, you slamming those keys like I used to! Don’t stop now, it’s getting better than you know.” The dream-I always remember it because you were dressed like a guru with long strings of colorful Mardi gras-like beads around your neck– dissolved my writer’s block and I pushed on to the novel’s completion.

Author James Baldwin getting the job done. (UPI file photo)

During the four years I was stationed with the Air Force in England, you were still alive, and I was tempted every pay day to spend the rent money and car payment on a ticket to fly or float across the English Channel and see if I could track you down in the village of St. Paul de Vence. I was always proud of myself when I resisted the temptation, even while I shook like a junkie hungry for a fix in the worst way, and placed the endangered funds in my wife’s hands.  I told myself I would get there at some point, and clearly had no way of knowing that less than a year after getting out of the Air Force, I would be in Florida, collecting unemployment checks and working on a book, when the news would hit that you had died from stomach cancer. I didn’t get pissed about never having spent the rent money to visit your home in France. I simply got drunk and read random passages from your books.

Once, I came across a response from Maya Angelou to critics who compared your works in fiction unfavorably to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Angelou said there was no question that Invisible Man is a masterpiece but she held you in great esteem because you “did the work and produced the books.” At the time, Invisible Man was Ellison’s only published novel and would remain so for the rest of his life.  By the time of your death, you would have published some eight novels, at least as many volumes of nonfiction, four plays, and a collection of poetry.

Despite stones aimed at your head, guns pointed at your heart, or nooses tied with hopes of hanging you burning from one of them, it was just like Angelou said: you got the work done in a fantastically and indisputably admirable manner. And the fact that Mr. Obama is currently your homeland’s president demonstrates that none of your words or works, on or off the page, were produced in vain. This letter comes to say Thank You for the example provided, and to acknowledge that although I cannot confirm any definitive results at this point, I continue trying very hard to get the work done because you proved it is not only possible, but worth the aggravating labor required, worth the numbing anguish so often endured, and worth the miraculous joy that sometimes-just sometimes-follows in the end.

by Aberjhani
©June 2010

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To Walk a Lifetime in Michael Jackson’s Moccasins

Michael Jackson giving it his all in concert around 1995. (photographer unknown)

Michael Jackson giving it his all in concert around 1987. (photo by Neal Preston featured in Oct 12, 1987 People Magazine)

You probably can’t read the words on the note next to the accompanying photo of Michael Jackson, but they were handwritten by the singer himself during the late 1980s when he was constantly on tour and just as constantly a subject of much public ridicule and condemnation. This note was composed on hotel stationery and, complete with original spellings, grammar, and format, reads as follows:

“like the old Indian proverb says do not judge a man until you’ve walked 2 moons in his moccasins.

Most people don’t know me, that is why they write such things in wich most is not true

I cry very very often because it hurts and I worry about the children all my children all over the world, I live for them.

If a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written.

Animals strike, not from malice, but because they want to live, it is the same with those who criticize, they desire our blood, not our pain. But still I must achieve I must seek truth in all things. I must endure for the power I was sent forth, for the world for the children.

But have mercy, for I’ve been bleeding a long time now.”

M.J. (1987)

It’s hard to think of Michael Joseph Jackson as having been a baby boomer because nothing defined him quite so much as his music, and his music possesses the eternal quality of genius that makes all superior art timeless, ageless, and endlessly compelling. But a baby boomer he was, born August 29, 1958, and now gone so soon to his rest June 25, 2009.

Reporting on Jackson’s death just hours after it was confirmed, NBC News anchorman Lester Holt noted, “We were the same age. I remember being a ten-year-old watching this ten-year-old kid on television.” A familiar feeling. I arrived on the planet one year before either of them but like Holt I also watched the young Michael Jackson on stage on television. My attention was fully captured with no desire to be released because there he was: a cultural mirror image of myself who was not the watermelon-eyed “Buckwheat” (all due respect to the actor who played that role) or a stereotypical barefoot “pickaninny” movie extra in some Gone With the Wind spin-off, but a little black boy musical genius so charged with the lightning of his talent and confidence that he could take the lead singer position with his four brothers behind him and an audience of thousands in front of him–and perform with all the grace, skill, and maturity of someone three times his age. How did that kid do that? Living as I did in a southern region where black skin and a male anatomy often reduced one’s life expectancy by decades, the answer of how that kid did what he did was important to this future author.

Years later I considered the greater scope of what he had achieved. While the vast majority of those in our peer group at age eleven or twelve were at home evenings studying for a quiz in school the next day or building up nerve to steal a first kiss, Michael Jackson was working–working in clubs, working in theaters, working on television, working in concert halls, working working working his ass off. On how many continents, and in how many countries, was that child a stranger in a strange land? Yet one who repeatedly channeled gifts of song and dance and love to bring respites of celebrated joy to the lives of others? His labors as a child played no small role in laying a foundation of lasting wealth for what has been called America’s “preeminent family of pop music.” Later on, those labors would pull a lagging recording industry out of its deathbed slump, and jump-start a new industry art form known as video while trashing racial barriers on TV and radio in the process. Did that make him a saint? No. Does it make his memory one worthy of respect? Most definitely.

Not all “child prodigies” who exhibit the level of talent that Jackson did as a child tend to fulfill the promise of those gifts in their adulthood. He was one of those who did. Once his ambition led him to pursue and establish with phenomenal results a solo career, each year thereafter when birthdays came around (his in August, mine in July) I started studying what he had accomplished to date and would challenge myself to do better in my own career. That’s not to say I ever did, or even that I thought I could or should match him; only that his accomplishments motivated me to reach for some of my own.

The judgments of different critics aside, he outdid himself repeatedly: with the flawless album Off the Wall in 1979; the all-time bestselling Thriller in 1982; Bad in 1987; and Dangerous in 1991. By the time Jackson’s HIStory-Past, Present and Future, Book I was released in 1995, I was managing a multi-media book, video, software and music store, which allowed me to indulge the pleasure of dancing along to the album’s combination of anthology and new music while shelving and selling books. True, I was dancing to his life’s soundtrack rather than my own and another three years would pass before my first book would get published. But: I celebrated this last album (not the last of his career) in particular because it was the first one released after the singer had descended into the tar-thick shadow-side of celebrity-hood: constant hounding by the paparazzi, reportedly “bizarre” behavior bordering on insanity, and allegations of pedophilia. The fact that his fame had become his cross made me less envious that he had achieved it so early.

Yet in the album HIStory, the purity of the music declared that whatever might or might not be the truth behind the scandalous headlines, all had somehow remained well with his soul. Whereas madness attempted to take over his life–and for a time possibly did–he fought and won his battle to turn it into superlative art. The new songs on HIStory presented his defense of himself even while going beyond that to champion the environment and level substantial social criticism of his own. It was around the time of HIStory‘s release that he wrote the above note and the photo that accompanies it was taken (my apologies for failing to track down the exact date or the photographer’s name). When I saw them published in People Magazine, I cut the page out and placed it in a photo album, then said a prayer for this man whose voice had helped awaken my voice.

We human beings tend to demand that our heroes fulfill many fantasies, but one fantasy no hero can fulfill is perfection while in this world. They can make the effort to give as much of themselves to the global community as they can, and then beg forgiveness when the gifting isn’t enough and the less appealing aromas of their humanity dim the air with the funky truth of their flesh and blood limitations. It was good that “the King of Pop” had been tested and learned something about his limitations in one major battle because he would need whatever strength he gained from it for other confrontations down the road. In the end, it was strength he was reaching for once again to begin his journey anew and do the one thing he did better than anybody else.

A lot of tabloids, magazines, websites, radio stations, entertainment personalities, and retail chains made tons of good hard cash peddling before the world what they presented as Michael Jackson’s eccentricities and possible moral failings. Perhaps now that he has left the stage for the last time, they can pay a bit of that forward by leaning in the opposite direction and honoring the brilliance of his dynamic artistry, the beauty of his dazzling creative passion, and the simple sincerity–however wounded it may have been–of his love for his fellow human beings.

by Aberjhani
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love