Category Archives: Philosophy
(read time 7m22s)
I found Trish and settled in the seat to her right. She scored us an ideal location, perfect line of sight to the podium, a couple rows back. The aisle was two seats away, good. There’s the door. Got my noise cancellers around my neck, check. I’m fully prepped to endure crowd anxiety for this momentous occasion: an evening with my teacher, Chuck D of Public Enemy. I open my Darth Vader notebook and prepare to shorthand whatever lessons I can gather today.
I noted my inflammed joints and stiff hip from a week of unusually low temperatures, and imagined what it’d be like now to kick up into a one-handed handstand from a flattened cardboard box. My seven year old hands clapping along to the beat, sidestepping to the tempo, watching my brother attempt to breakdance. As I entered into the obligatory, “Go ‘head, go ‘head…” with the other block rockers, I thought, yo that kid is WACK! Hours spent in my room, duplicating what I observed on the cardboard then snapping it tight. My brother wouldn’t let me join his crew, but I figured, one day I’ll have my own, so I better be ready.
A group of three slide from the left into the row in front of us, and I see the muscular man in a blue t-shirt intends to take the seat in front of me. As I scrutinize his eyes and nose, I feel certain I know him. Personally? Historically..? Been a lot of places/seen a lot of faces… My mental Rolodex is spinning wild. He sits down, and I’m relieved his sculpted shoulder doesn’t impede my view of the podium.
We’ve just finished playing Masters of the Universe and my brother has a swell idea: let’s be DJ s! He orders me, as is his right as the elder, to pick some vinyl records from our parents’ collection. Tina Turner’s Break Every Rule? no… Michael Jackson’s Thriller? no… Commodores..? Hmm. Nah. So I grab Kenny Rogers’ 1983 Greatest Hits. That one’s mom’s. She won’t miss it.
I watch my brother and his friends pull the vinyl back and forth, three fingertips along the grooves, making the now iconic rip rip rawr a la Jam Master Jay of Run DMC. We giggled once the record was left to play, only to interrupt his vocals:
You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille/ rip rip a fine time/ rip a fine time/ rip rip
We didn’t know scratching the record might actually cause scratches to the record, and once mommy told daddy, our DJ days were squashed!
A thought fills my head: what if you get a chance to speak to him? Mr. D..? Mr. Chuck? Can’t just call him Chuck, he’s not your friend. Consummate confusion of mine; how to formally address an emcee. Madame Lyte? Mr. Cool J? I never could come up with a cool MC name. Heck, I wasn’t even a good emcee to begin. Middle school lunch room, two rows decide to enter into freestyle rapping. Me, the closet poet and at the time, theater kid, went up against my best friend. Oh I got her, I was sure, she don’t know about rap! So I busted out something so generic: My name is Vonnie, and I’m here to say… surprised that wasn’t followed by a round of boos. She stands up, smug faced, and I immediately realize I have failed. I still hear the smackdown clear in my ears: C to da A to da R-OL-I-N-E/Sweet/Ahh!/Like caramel candy…
Grimace. Melt. Never battle rhymed again.
The poetic political enemy takes to the podium and I grin big, taking in the fitted cap, the wide stance, then eagerly press pen to paper. Chuck’s voice has a signature resonance, and everytime I hear it, I’m called to listen; I the faithful, he the muezzin. Listening to Public Enemy, these “radicals” telling you to question authority and call out injustices, conflicted with daddy’s job, and the environment we lived in. As hip hop flourished into a global movement, hitting the Armed Forces Network radio airwaves and featured on MTV Europe, daddy was adamant in keeping those sounds and influences out of the home. Disobedience meant repercussions:
Playing Salt ‘N’ Pepa too loud from my little red boom box smack!
Dad home early from work, caught wearing sneakers with no shoelaces twack!
To no affect, of course. I’m still pissing people off with my principles to this day.
— Von Simeon (@VonSimeon) February 27, 2015
My teachers – musicians, storytellers, poetic prophets – provided examples of how to protect my mind, gave me fodder for philosophy, reminded me bruises may break my skin but never my soul. It dawned on me as Chuck D reminded the collegians how valuable intelligence is, Hip Hop saved me from abandoning my wits. The movement, not just the music, fortified in me that my art is just as powerful a weapon as a machine gun, that I could equally call for change or kill a man simply by placing the right set of words together. My teacher lamented that we remain a society too caught up in SocMed to truly understand our reality for what it is: too much individualism, too little discourse, too few moments when information technology doesn’t intercede in decision making. Oh my gosh, I realize, I attack those very issues every day, on this blog, in my prose, and in my freestyle poems. Good job MC Von, you paid attention.
As he entered into the original days of hip hop and the struggle for equal air play, Chuck pointed out, “The Cold Crush Brothers were selling out shows, never blew up, never got their fair share of airplay…” Ah yes, nodding in my seat, I remember the Cold Crush crew, and then Chuck D extends his right arm my direction and says, “Charlie Chase is sitting right there, he can tell you…”
Rolodex stops at Cold Crush Brothers. The DJ. DJ Chase. DJ CHASE IS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.
“Don’t. Explode,” My inner sargent-at-arms instructs. I shudder with pure excitement, then chuckle a bit. My big bro can suck it!!
I wanted to pull DJ Chase towards me and exult, “You know, I used to DJ my friends’ house parties? I love music! I love youuu!”
Phone is ringin/oh my god Get it together..
I still dance but I’m afraid if I start popping I won’t be able to push my bones back into their joints! I may not have vinyl to scratch, but I’ve got eclectic playlists out the wazoo, and I share what’s new to me every week on Turn It Up Tuesday. While my spoken word sucks, my written word is vicious, and now, available in book form.
Knowing there are few moments in life when you can credit people who’ve positively influenced you, after the presentation I quickly, timidly tapped Charlie Chase on his shoulder. He was slow to turn then presented a warm smile once he saw me. I fought the tremors to tell him, “I just wanted to shake your hand and let you know because of you I wanted to be a DJ.” He was kind enough to shake my hand tightly, then asked, “What’s your name?”
What’s my muthafuckin’ naame..?
“My name is Von Simeon. I’m a local artist. Thank you for your time.” Zoom! Towards the door.
“You handled that very well,” Trish complimented. I could feel the tremors building up. There’s no way I can approach Chuck D in this state, so I’ll just follow him on Twitter, @MrChuckD.
Oh. So it is the full emcee name after Mister or Madam. Good to know.
Now this was a cool event. This unique pub crawl, arranged by Wordier Than Thou, a local literary organization, and hosted by businesses in downtown St Pete’s Grand Central District, featured published writers reading from diverse works as the audience enjoyed drink specials and grub! As the night grew later, our presence on the mics were a bit confusing to the normal barflies. I personally found our district occupation revolutionary!
My contribution was a challenge because the cafe did not have a working sound system, so I stage projected my voice for a full 15 minutes! Going from rarely speaking to performance delivery hurt like a muthafucka, but love is pain, and I love to share from my novel, I Blew Up Juarez. :)
Some photos and videos; more can be found on Facebook and at Wordier Than Thou’s YouTube page.
Do not drink kratom right before a performance:
Keeping St Pete Literary:
Wanna play the I Blew Up Juarez Drinking Game? The 12 minute interactive video is posted on the Facebook Page. Go Like and enjoy (alcohol not necessary but highly recommended)
2015 is off to a great start! Bunch of new readers, new follows, Facebook activity is relatively paying off. Good stuff! Appreciate your responses and affections!
Preface: This is not directed at a specific person. You know me…if I have a problem with you, you will know! I have, within the past four months, experienced this very scenario more than twice, which provoked me to prepare this letter. The “You” in reference is an amalgamation of the culprits of this terrible, divisive behavior. Do you recognize someone in your region like this? Do you recognize…yourself? Here we go…
You and I haven’t met personally, but I was in the crowd that night you were the featured author and speaker for a literary event. I love these; they allow me an opportunity to kick back and absorb a fellow literary artist at play, as well as allow me to learn while being entertained. I drove quite a way to get to the venue, and I made it to my seat the moment you stood at the microphone.
You either weren’t in the mood to be there, or you didn’t care if anyone was there to hear your art, for the moment you started speaking, you felt compelled to tell us all we were the unfortunate ones. We fellow composers, we choreographers of words, us language artists fiercely painting the scenario behind the eyes, are nothing without a major publisher. Huh?
Hardbacks of literary interpretations of your world sat on the stool beside you as you extolled the virtues of a true writer: literary agent, book deal, major publishing label. I recall arching an eyebrow, waiting for the punch line, then widening both eyes once it was clear you were being serious! Artistry, soul, technique, a talent for storytelling? None of these attributes came from your smug lips. You admonished those (me) who have gone the route of self-publishing, claiming, “There’s no real style in those works.” To stand there and boldly state the art form has been cheapened by the advent of digital media, sounds much like a person resistant to change.
Dear guest-speaker-turned-hyperbolic-lecturer, pure artistry is change agency. What we plume or type or swipe can never be un-experienced once it leaves our writing surface. Regardless of format delivered in, an accomplished author should savor the fact that there remains, rather strongly too, a voracious reading community, and we should honor their appreciation for our beloved art form by publishing in whatever gawddamn format they want!
Sorry, that seemed a bit proselytic.
The second slap to our faces was when you asked for a show of hands, “Who in here is serious about writing?” Don’t take the bait! I remembered thinking, then cringed when I saw slow wriggles into the air. You told those earnest raised hands they needed to come out of pocket. Invest in conferences. Arrange meetings with agents. Travel out of state to the big conventions. There I felt a bit of relief, because in that moment, you exposed your cards. You’re not an artist, you’re an elitist! How dare you burn those fingers hailed towards you? They, like me, are expecting your wisdom, but in your pomposity, you demonstrated you are a fraud.
You know what you could have done, featured acclaimed author? You could have exercised some compassion. Instead of coming off as Ayn Rand’s disciple – I’ve got mine, you better get yours! – you could’ve relayed some of your challenges when you were at our low level. You could’ve shared with us how you managed your personal affairs while preparing your manuscript. You could have shared how you kept the romance alive with your physical lover while deeply engaged with your spiritual lover. Instead, you jangled your hardbacks triumphantly over your head, as if car keys in the air at a football match, indicating game over, time for you busters to go home.
Were you really that surprised when you asked for closing questions, and nobody asked any? I do have a question for you now, sweet, delusional sage upon the mountain top, and I’d really like your honest answer: What do you value most…the commas separating words, or the commas separating numbers? Such is the indicator of a true literary artist versus a true schlub of an entertainer.
Continuing this week’s exploration of the artistic struggle, I thought it’d be fun to dig through the crates, find a composition about “struggling,” and explore the emotions and events which evoked the piece. I shall take the phenomenological approach and react first, then reflect.
How old was I when I composed this? 2006…it’s 2015 now…that puts me at 29 years of age. Ooh! What a particularly conflicting year. End of February-beginning of March-ish, I had received an acceptance letter from The Graduate School at Penn State University. I was absolutely stoked, so stoked that I jumped onto my motorcycle, burned it to the job site, found my co-worker/secret lover, pulled him aside, and whispered, “I’ve got some big news!” expecting him to be proud of what I was about to relay.
Oh gosh, I remember being filled with excitement, wide eyed and eager to announce this achievement. Emotionally, I was still in that phase of thinking guys I’m fucking care about me as a person, so of course, when he interpreted my excitement as something regarding him and his mediocre achievements in the workplace, I was stunned! Clearly it had to do with me, how is he making it about him??
Dumb silly cunt I was.
The acceptance letter meant two things: one, despite being away from academia for seven years, my past academic achievements coupled with my professional achievements validated a Masters candidacy at one of the top three research facilities in the country, possible PhD if I was so emboldened. Second, my professional achievements since high school had risen me to executive leadership qualification, and all I needed was a Master in something to FINALLY break through The Glass Ceiling.
But again… dumb silly cunt I was.
Instead of taking his lack of care as a cue to tell him to fuck off, I collapsed into a depression. I recall taking a day off to make a three day weekend (I would fake physical illnesses because I was too embarrassed to admit my mental disorder then) and I sat there, a pajama pity party in full swing, writing sad, woe-is-me, nobody-loves-me poetry.
Thank the Universe for Penn State! And thanks to Spirit for trumping Ego, because I’m certain if Ego wrote back to Penn State, Ego would’ve said, “Thanks but I need to work on my career/desperate need for male affection right now.”
Spirit wrote an enthusiastic confirmation letter back, and in August 2006, I moved to State College, PA and became a Nittany Lion.
Reflecting on this poem now, I’m glad I kept it. It demonstrates the inner turmoil of the futility of trying to please Society. I did everything right, I followed all the rules, I followed all definitions of “success,” and despite all my sacrifices, I was not worthy of unconditional love.
It’s what comics fondly call “IGDI Girl.” I had Daddy Issues, but not with my father; it was the macro issue of having excelled in traditionally masculine roles as a woman. At the time, I was the only female salaried employee in the entire division. I ran a crew of twelve, all men. They took orders from me, orders I relayed straight from the executive director, whose weekly meetings I attended and contributed to. The acceptance letter was another stroke on the masculine tally board: I was going for a Master of Science in an economics concentration, not the stuff for girls.
I was 29, single, well-paid, no babies, I owned a sedan and a motorcycle, and I lived in an exclusive condominium. I was living the life!
A man’s life.
Critiquing this poem, I realize in bright technicolor the why of the matter…what man would want a woman who’s better at being a man than he is?
No wonder I was lonely…