Archive for February, 2010


First Person Plural

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was short notice for me, too. But there’s still time. Bethesda Urban Partnership and Bethesda Magazine‘s Essay and Short Story Contest Topic: What is your approach to life? Reveal your personal philosophy. Requirements: Essays should be limited to 500 words or less. Winners will be honored at the Bethesda Literary Festival, April 16-18, 2010. Deadline to submit is February 26, 2010.

Had you met me in high school and asked me then where I saw myself in 10 years, I would’ve told you anywhere but unemployed, living in my parents’ house and sending out rounds of resumes and cover letters to online job postings.

But that’s been my reality since I was laid off from my job as a staff writer for the Afro-American Newspaper in Baltimore. I was laid off after working there for a little over a year. Now, someone else might see the situation as cause to panic, or cause for something worst. Instead, I choose to see it for something else. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of guy, one to always see a silver lining in any situation—no matter how grim the circumstances may appear.

(PHOTO: http://scandinavian.wisc.edu) Hans Christian Anderson

But my situation is not grim at all. In fact, it’s a blessing. The job was a stressful one, where I was overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. I was going through the motions waiting for something better to come along. If the Danish author and poet, Hans Christian Anderson, were around to see me then, I’m sure he’d shake his head and say, “Just living is not enough.” To hear him tell it, “One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

My sunshine and freedom came that August day I was laid off, collecting unemployment, trying to figure my future out. In the past, time to figure it out would have been a luxury lost when I was assigned a former colleague’s beats in addition to generating my story ideas and working over the weekend. In the past, I was prone to hallucinations and could see the deadlines punching their palms with a wink and a smile.

But since that August day, I’ve smelled the flowers and took advantage of my free time by completing a poetry manuscript and participating in a big writing project for a literary journal. During that time, I was nominated for both a Pushcart Prize and to be published in the Best of the Net anthology. I also considered switching career fields after jumping at an opportunity to teach creative writing in an afterschool program.

(PHOTO: Courtesy of The New York Public Library) W.H. Davies

I also put that free time to good use when I applied and was accepted to the Stone Coast MFA writing program at the University of Southern Maine. Looking back, it would have been difficult to accomplish any of this. Those accomplishments would have remained mere dreams if I hadn’t been laid off.

Looking back, I’m reminded of the Welsh poet and writer, W.H. Davies. The question he posed in his poem “Leisure,” as well as its answer, was a lesson for me. “What is this life if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare…A poor one…”

Davies, I couldn’t have said it better.

For more information on the Bethesda Short Story and Essay Contest, please the First Person Plural Blog.

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(PHOTO: mochadad.com)

Every time a guy sits in a chair for a haircut it’s an act of trust. One that most of us aren’t willing to engage with someone other than our favorite barbers.

When that barber wasn’t around for me, I’d hesitate and wonder: Do I go on faith and a prayer that the available barber would do a good job? Or do I pass and come back another time?

That act of trust isn’t granted to just anybody. That’s why I shuddered when my lady recently asked if she could cut my hair and line up my goatee and sideburns. I have naturally curly hair that’s wavy when it’s cut low.

Other times it’s known to take on a life of its own. Even the most experienced barbers have a hard time cutting my hair. So if my lady thought she could do a better job than them, I’d just have to take her word on it.

And I’m not alone. Several Black men interviewed for this story varied on opinions. One guy preferred the barbershop atmosphere over a trial-and-error situation with his woman; most said allowing their girlfriends to shave their faces was one thing, but letting them trim their crowns was a no-no.

Among them was Abdul Ali, a New York City transplant now living in Washington, D.C. The 25-year-old hasn’t gotten over his mother trying to cut his hair when he was 4 years old. To hear him tell it, Ali still feels the sting of his mother’s scissors accidentally snipping part of his ear. “No, I would not let my lady shave my hair,” he said. “Let’s just say I learned my lesson.”

Plus, there are incentives for him going to the barbershop. “It’s where men really ‘talk’ and swap stories about all sorts of things,” Ali said. “I enjoy going to the barber too much.”

(PHOTO: brownbook.net)

Over in Oxon Hill, Md., Sting Appiah doesn’t even trust himself with his own hair. In fact, he’s got a backup barber for when his main barber is not around. And despite having a hard time growing facial hair, the 27-year-old said, “If I had a woman, I still don’t think I’d let her”—or any other woman—“shave my facial hair.”

(PHOTO: 2.bp.blogspot.com)

As for the hair on his head, it will take a desperate situation — one where both his barber and backup barber weren’t around, and he really needed a cut — for him to let a woman barber touch his hair. “Nothing against women,” Appiah said. “I just prefer my barber.”

But Fred Joiner had another take on the issue. Since most women shave their legs and under arms more than guys do, he figured that makes them more deft than guys at handling razors. “So, in theory, I am not opposed to the idea,” the 34-year-old D.C. resident said.

It’s not uncommon for men with coarse and curly hair to suffer razor bumps, also known as pseudofolliculitis barbae. That’s when curly and wiry hair tends to curve back and re-enter the skin when it’s shaved, according to various hair care blogs. This causes irritation and possible infection.

Recent estimates from hair experts put the number of Black men who suffer from razor bumps between 60 percent and 80 percent. “This reoccurring condition causes major discomfort in the beard and neck area and can affect black men for years at a time,” according to an article on Manscience Androceuticals, an online resource for men. Those nuances are what Joiner thinks is lost on some women. Even so, it doesn’t change his decision on the matter.

(PHOTO: fotosearch.com)

“I don’t have any specific hair style or needs so I would be comfortable with this,” said Joiner, who’s never had a woman shave his head before. He added that he would be more comfortable if a woman used an electric razor. “The margin of error is less,” Joiner said, “especially if you…just want all the hair off your head and/or face.”

As a man deep in his 30’s, Patrick Washington, a husband and father of two, is even more self-conscious about his hair.

While he doesn’t mind his wife shaving his face, he won’t let her anywhere near his crown. “There are spots that don’t need to be made any thinner and women don’t understand that right away,” Washington said. “I never cared about hair that much before, but as I get older, it’s become pretty important.” He added, “I want to make sure that I keep what I have because I’d look crazy bald-headed”

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