29. Selfie #7

This is my favorite song right now:

 

JANAE: Why’s it called Drew Barrymore?

ME: Beats me, except she makes a cameo near the end of the video.

Listen, you know I love me a messy girl with big hair and and even bigger voice. If this were 2002 and I saw SZA’s debut album (there’s also an EP from last year) amongst the new releases at the FYE that used to be at the University Park Mall in Mishawaka, Indiana, I’d have bought just simply for the cover art. I’m totally here for streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music (I subscribe to both, because I like to throw my money way) because it’s super fucking convenient to just have the complete discography of Mariah Carey always at my immediate disposal, and really, the $23 or whatever it is those two subscriptions cost me per month is pocket change compared to the hundreds of dollars I used to spend on compact discs each month. Still, some of my favorite albums of all time are ones I discovered by accident, purchased on a whim because I happened to see the CD on a rack at some record store and responded in some way to the cover. But I haven’t bought a CD in a years.

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As it happens, I first heard SZA on Rihanna’s Consideration, the opener of her 2016 album Anti. The song, co-written by and featuring SZA, has all the spunk, sass, and cunning lyricism she pushes to even more gratifying extremes on CTRL. Most easily classified within that burgeoning sub-genre of music known as “alt-R&B” (which I think means R&B that ostensibly “hip” white kids have decided is cool, re: Frank Ocean, The Weeknd), CTRL in fact resists labels and categorizations without quite eschewing them completely. There are, certainly, heavy elements of R&B throughout; inspirations from hip-hop are also prevalent, and there are strong whiffs of soul jazz, indie rock, and mass-appeal, radio-friendly contemporary pop. (A girl I know who has absolutely zero taste in anything, hearing Love Galore for the first time, pronounced it, “A really good song.” She’s not wrong — it’s a slick, sexy jam that contains some of the album’s baddest and most innovative lyrics, but it’s minimalist production is firmly rooted in the now.) It’s this perfect (if unruly) combination of influences that make CTRL such a pleasure. It’s specific and unique, happy to suggest all sorts of identification yet refusing to pick just one.

On the album’s inaugural track, Supermodel, SZA sings over a grungy electric guitar about, according to the Genius-powered “Behind The Lyrics” function on Spotify, “an ex-boyfriend who did her wrong.” Her vocal delivery here (and elsewhere on the album) evokes songstresses like Amy Winehouse or Macy Gray with hints of Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj. “I could be your supermodel if you believe,” SZA sings on the hook, “If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me.” Its poignant, somber sentiment is juxtaposed against the graphic aggression of the verse, in which she declares, “I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy” and taunts her estranged lover with, “How am I so easy to forget like that/It can be that easy for you to get like that.” Here and elsewhere on CTRL, SZA reveals herself straddling the delicate balance between the fast-talking, smart-mouthed bad chick who’s down for revenge sex and sharing dudes on “The Weekend,” and the one whose loneliness might push to put up with the bullshit. The way SZA fuses these apparent contradictions, with such grace, cohesion, whimsy, and cool, reveals a creative mind as messy, distracted, interested, and exciting as the album itself, and I’m here for it.

 

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25. Selfie #6

The worst thing about summer is that everybody wants to do “outside things.” Seriously. Summertime is all about entertaining Caucasian nonsense like requests to spend the day “at the Dunes” ( 😦 ) and having dinner with people who think it’s fun to dine al fresco. It’s not. Whenever I eat outside I’m too distracted by protecting my meal from the requisite Old Testament-style swarm of flies/wishing I’d brought my sunglasses with me/hoping I put on enough deodorant to enjoy myself, and I can’t think of a worse way to spend a ninety-five-degree afternoon than scalding my feet on a hot beach and trudging up some giant mountain of sand. Just the other day, a friend included me in a group text attempting to set up a date to go rafting on the river here. Her heart was in the right place–I’d have bitched for weeks if I’d discovered they’d all gone river-rafting without me, even though it’s not something I would ever actually do–but seriously, rafting? On a river? Like who am I, fucking Meryl Streep? No thank you. Please delete my number. I’m perfectly happy sitting inside where there is air conditioning and all the marijuana and HGTV a depressive, antisocial, habitually non-joining single gal could want.

SOME OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES I FIND ACCEPTABLE:

  • Walking six blocks to the library
  • Walking three and a half blocks to the nearest liquor store that also has my brand of smokes (Parliament Lights)
  • Smoking a cigarette anywhere smoking indoors is not allowed (everywhere)
  • Browsing clearance racks at Shoe Carnival when they put them outside
  • Garage sales

Is seasonal affective disorder even a thing in summer? Somebody help because I’m too lazy to Google it and also I have to avoid at all costs any situation that might result in me going down a WebMD rabbit hole and inevitably diagnosing myself with at least fourteen fatal diseases. (It’s a thing.) I’ve been more depressed than usual these past few months and really wishing hard that I had some fucking health insurance so I could get back into therapy but also so I could do perfectly normal-people things like go to the dentist or have my fucking eyes checked–but thinking like that only makes me more depressed because here I am wishing for the regular things in life. It’s depressimg to sit around thinking grown up things like, Wow, I really wish I had health insurance so I could go to a doctor, which I haven’t done in about a decade, or, Damn, if I could make even 40k a year I would be SET. I used to have big dreams. Now all I dream about is dreaming on an actual mattress and not this foam pad bullshit I got from IKEA eight years ago, futilely topped with three mattress pads.

Last night, for example: I was reading in that bed/watching Chelsea and I paused to take an inventory of the furniture in my budoir: a small white bookshelf I got from Salvation Army a few years ago which houses my oddly-robust VHS collection; a weirdly-designed end table I can barely describe that a former roommate “gave” to me when she moved that has actually has part of it broken off because I dropped a mirror on it not too long ago (don’t ask); on that desk, my TV/VCR combo thing from probably 1992; an end-table with a magazine rack on the bottom that I got from Goodwill; and my bed, which is full-size and depressing. Suddenly, I hated all if it.  It’s all junk, I thought. I said it out loud: “Junk. Just a bunch of junk.” It’s not the bedroom of a thirty-two year old man with a college degree; it’s the bedroom of some transient hipster who is prepared to leave it at any second.

Anyway, that got me thinking about this guy I dated for a hot second last year. He was about my age but he lived in a house that  he owned, where he had all sorts of grown-up things like a home-security system, a sectional sofa, and basset hound named after an early-season Project Runway contestant. In his bedroom, he had what I call “an actual bed”–the kind that require, for instance, a box spring and not the sad slats of wood spanning the width of my bed own bed frame. He had dozens of pillows and sheets that felt like caramel on my skin. He had real furniture that nobody else had ever owned but him and a hot tea selection that rivaled those of many restaurants I’ve worked in. The first time I ever went over to his place, he showed off by giving me a full tour, and I didn’t blame him, considering his tour included two “guest baths” and one guest-bedroom, a study with an antique executive-style desk and one of those kitschy green and gold lamps, and something he referred to as an “eat-in kitchen” where French doors led out onto a fabulous patio with a hot tub. I couldn’t help but imagine giving him a tour of my tiny one-bedroom apartment: here’s the living room/my office/place where I keep my books/room where the window-unit air conditioner is; here’s the bedroom/place where my clothes are strewn everywhere because I don’t even have a fucking dresser, I’m that much of a child (actually, that’s unfair to children, because when I was a child, guess what? I had a fucking dresser); through this door here that everybody thinks is a closet because it’s in the God damn living room is the master bath, which doubles as the guest bathroom, isn’t that fun?! I wouldn’t even bother to show him the kitchen, it’s so pitiful. It was clear right away, standing on his gleaming, “original, but I had it restored” hardwood floors in his actual dining room where the table was set in a way that suggested six other people would be joining us even though no one was, he just always keeps it set like that, that I would have shut this shit down, and pronto. I mean, my God: I got my couch for free after the old woman who owned it died, which she probably did on the couch itself, the disgusting the stains I can’t even bear to think about only confirming that when you die, you soil yourself.

I tried to put a noble spin on it, of course. Here was a man who had his shit together, who actually owned things of value, who went on actual vacations, whereas the most valuable thing I own had been my Macbook Pro until I decided to spill an entire cup of coffee on it last December, and the last vacation I took was three years ago and I just went and stayed at my friend’s place in Chicago for a week, smoking weed out of her Pax and spending too many problematic dollars at H&M (I know, I know). He deserved someone on his level, I said, by which I meant, someone in his tax bracket. I could only bring him down. I think I was convincing, and we quickly stopped seeing each other.

 A FEW WAYS IN WHICH I AM NOT A GROWN-UP:

  • Three of my favorite TV shows of the past few years are Scream on MTV, Supergirl on the WB, and Wilderness Vet on NBC
  • I don’t have a dresser
  • My refrigerator is completely empty except for: a bottle of mustard; a probably-expired jar of mayonnaise; a probably-rotten bottle of something called The Skinny Wine Thin Zin, Flavor That Flatters that somebody left here whenever I was last in the grips of a manic episode and invited someone over that I would never drink yet haven’t thrown out; a container of Parmesan cheese
  • The freezer is even worse: a bag of ice that’s been in there since last summer; four empty outshine Popsicle boxes; an unopened tub of cool whip I’ll probably remember is in there randomly one night in the near future while I’m watching The Net on VHS and eat all of it; an empty ice tray; a frozen pizza I bought several months ago before I realized that my oven had stopped working, a situation I haven’t yet resolved with my landlord because my kitchen has been FILTHY and I’m too embarrassed to let anyone see it but too much of a mess to clean it; a plastic grocery bag, contents unknown
  • I will never have what is called “an organized closet”
  • My bank account is regularly over-drawn
  • I am secretly 100% okay with eating fast-food multiple times a week
  • I smoke in bed
SOME RECEIPTS:

 

On Holding Grudges

A little grudge-holding is good for one’s health, in fact. This flies in the face of common knowledge. We’re told that stewing on past offenses is the purview of the small person, that an unwillingness to forgive or at least forget old transgressions is its own defeat. If someone wrongs you–say, if they cut you off in traffic, or appear in front of you in the express lane at the grocery store with a haul far exceeding the twelve-item limit–and two or three weeks later you’re still harping about it to your friends, for instance, you’re not righteously indignant; you’re obsessed. If a relationship goes south and results in hurt feelings, however deeply, and you’re still trying to make your ex’s life hell two years after the fact, you’re no longer heartbroken; you’re wallowing. If you’ve got time to hold grudges, you likely don’t have a whole lot going on in your pathetic, miserable, emotionally stunted life–at least according to the cultural wisdom.

The common wisdom is wrong. In fact, one ought to be ardently cultivating at least two but never more than four grudges at any given time. Just as with children, it is unwise to hold only one grudge, because devoting too much time and attention to just one thing exclusively is never wise. Conversely, more than four grudges (or children), and each grudge is not likely to receive the proper amount of attention it requires–nay, deserves. I personally find three grudges to be perfectly manageable; however, one should proceed according to one’s own skill set.

One should not devote too much time to deciding which transgressions to cling to. Say, for instance, that it’s Friday, and your best friend does something awful, like gets engaged, or cancels on you at the last minute, when you’ve already gotten dressed. Either of those things are perfectly reasonable violations over which to harbor ill will, if one is so inclined. But what if you still totally haven’t forgotten that on Monday your co-worker Steve, who you hate anyway (for no particular reason, something to do with this affability) “mistakenly” ate that individually sized Oikos you had stored in the staff refrigerator, and you’re also still working black magic against that ex who wronged you? And say you’ve decided that two grudges at a time is your personal limit. What to do? No worries! Merely trade out one grudge for another. As grudge holding is an essentially personal endeavor, one is free to change one’s mind about which specific hatreds to foster pretty much whenever the hell one feels like it. In this regard, there are no hard and fast rules. As in anything–for instance, acrobatics, or being one of those gross men who travel a lot for work and secretly have entire an secret family in Baltimore or some place–balance is key.

The Nate Parker Problem

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Nate Parker is having a hard time. Although for the actor and filmmaker 2016 started off roaringly–in January, Fox Searchlight acquired his Nat Turner biopic, The Birth of a Nation, for an astounding $17.5 million after it screened at Sundance–by summer that roar, no less garrulous, revealed a marked tonal shift when we were reminded that as college a student back in 1999, Mr. Parker had been accused, though ultimately acquitted, of raping a classmate. (His friend and co-defendant, Jean McGianni Celestin, was convicted and sentenced to prison, but this conviction was later overturned. Mr. Parker and Mr. Celestin have, apparently, remained close over the intervening sixteen years: Mr. Celestin has a writing credit on The Birth of a Nation.) The discovery that their accuser committed suicide in 2012, coupled with Parker’s disastrous apology, in which he repeatedly evoked himself and presented that “painful moment” in his life as something that had happened mostly to him, only bolstered public calls for a boycott against Mr. Parker’s film, with popular writers like Roxane Gay vowing in The New York Times that she would not see it. Touted since Sundance as a definite front-runner for all manner of accolades this coming awards season, this praise was quickly replaced with speculation: would Mr. Parker’s troubled past hinder his chances for, particularly, Oscar glory? Would audiences be satisfied with the word of the court, which found Mr. Parker innocent of any wrongdoing? Would audiences, critics, and Academy voters be able to differentiate between Mr. Parker’s past and his present, his work and his art? Or would the bad press prove to be the proverbial nails in the coffin of Mr. Parker’s once-promising career?

Whether or not The Birth of a Nation will be embraced when it is formally released in October remains to be seen. In the meantime, things keep getting worse for Mr. Parker. This month, an interview the director gave with BET surfaced, in which Mr. Parker, among other things, laments the sorts of roles available for black male actors in Hollywood, noting that such performers are often required to perform in drag or play “men with questionable sexuality.” “To preserve the black man,” Mr. Parker is quoted as saying, “…you will never see me take a gay role.” The internet is still grappling with this: Ms. Gay notes that Mr. Parker’s comments “read as homophobia,” and Goldie Taylor, writing for The Daily Beastthough she plans to see the movie anyway, as well finds Mr. Parker’s comments distasteful. Ebony.com’s Michael Arceneaux was less forgiving, declaring, “He’s never getting a dollar of mine again.”

All press is good press, perhaps, and while Mr. Parker’s repeated public bunglings might not speak to the merit of his work, they do speak, I think, to the content of his character, and what seems very clear is that Mr. Parker is a misogynist. Because he was acquitted of those rape charges in 2001 it’s not fair to call him rapist, but his public attitude regarding that “painful moment” — as Gay notes, “The solipsism is staggering” — and his blatantly homo- and femme-phobic comments reveal the internalized chauvinism he mistakes for masculinity and the propagation of harmful systems of oppression he mistakes for a “legacy.”

Mr. Parker’s observation that black actors, especially black male comedians, are routinely given roles in which they have to perform as women is not inaccurate. The list of black actors and comedians who have performed in drag is long and includes, to name but a few, Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, Ving Rhames, Arsenio Hall, the Wayans Brothers, and Tracy Morgan. Keenan Thompson routinely portrays women on SNL, just as Flip Wilson, in the 1970s, regularly donned a dress on his own television show, and Tyler Perry has built an entire career (and amassed a considerable fortune) upon pretending to be a woman

Mr. Parker is certainly not the first to comment on the phenomena. In 2006, Dave Chappelle famously discussed the issue with Oprah Winfrey, recounting a story in which he “took a stand” against producers who wanted to put him in a dress for a Martin Lawrence picture. The following year, director John Singleton griped to Black Star News, “I’m tired of all these black men in dresses,” and wondered why no one was organizing protests against the tradition. It’s a frequent enough occurrence to bear discussion, and the emasculation of black men as a tool of continued oppression is not without its theoretical merits: the condition of the black American male as he navigates a society bent on his destruction, and the tactics, both subtle and overt, upon which that society might rely, always bear consideration. Nevertheless, the argument that images of black men in drag or portrayals of black men who are not necessarily heterosexual are somehow detrimental to, as Mr. Parker would have it, the preservation of the black man is both disparaging and reprehensible, and that too bears discussion. Aside from suggesting that there’s something shameful or grotesque about femininity (his self-pitying recollection of those rape allegations drip with this same, thinly veiled misogyny), it’s a deplorable act of erasure and exclusion, attempting the removal of gay black men from the equation–as if their homosexuality somehow cancels out their blackness.

If it seems like I am here conflating homosexuality with cross-dressing or drag, it’s only because Mr. Parker’s comments conflate the two. While he expresses, explicitly, an unwillingness to play gay, the roles he offers as examples–Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma in Big Momma’s House and Mr. Perry’s multiple Madea movies–are hardly gay roles. These characters aren’t even of dubious sexuality: Mr. Lawrence’s Malcolm Turner is a straight cop who only puts on a dress because he needs to go undercover, while Madea, matriarch to an ever-revolving band of relatives, is an ostensibly heterosexual (and apparently progenitive) woman. (Indeed, Mr. Parker’s attribution of homosexual subscript to the Madea films is laughable, when one considers Mr. Perry’s consistently flawed perception of black homosexuality, wherein same-sex desire necessarily leads to disease and the destruction of family.) Mr. Parker, lacking the depth to see things like sexuality and gender as textured issues requiring textured terminology, uses these terms interchangeably, a collusion as offensive as his insistence that queer roles would be contrary to “material that I can be proud of, that my kids can watch, that my grandmother can watch.” This view upholds a rhetoric that frames homosexuality as somehow crude, distasteful, or otherwise inappropriate for the family. (And let’s not even talk about the hypocrisy this point of view betrays, considering Mr. Parker’s drunken college three-way–as if there’s nothing even a little gay about running a train on a girl with your bestie.)

It’s evident that Mr. Parker’s version of black masculinity, with its obvious macho underpinnings, is one that considers homosexuality as not only deviant but obscene, and likely fails to recognize the boundaries of sexual consent. That he cops to these notions under the guise of faux black empowerment and concern for the black community only is equally discouraging, as his positions, far from advancing any cause of liberation, in fact encourage further animosity within the larger black community and strengthen divisions between marginalized groups, which only benefits the status quo. In a time when Hollywood has been confronted with its own diversity issues and has vowed to work to address those issues, it’s disheartening — and perhaps a bit terrifying — that someone with Mr. Parker’s insidious message might become the beneficiary of that change.

 

work

An essay I was going to write about Rihanna’s song WORK based on a conversation I’d had one night while nursing a Jameson neat and a Rolling Rock with a friend of mine in a bar that was still gay and where you could still smoke. I had been excited about writing it. But when I sat down to work on it I realized the only thing I really wanted to say about the song was to point out how its varying incomprehensibility—the muddled vocals, the monotonous, almost mumbled lyrics—reminded me of trying to talk to you. The devolution into unintelligibility, into something that is language but not quite. Indeed, “What can I say?” Rihanna-as-narrator implores of her lover, at one point about halfway through the song. In answer, the “Work, work, work, work, work” of the chorus becomes something like “werh, werh, werh, werh, werh,” punctured by gibberish, by nonsense, on loop. I though it was smart—clever, in a way, even if it was a bit winky. The chorus even evokes the colloquial “blah blah blah” lovers on the outs often use to mock each other. As if to say, there’s nothing you can say. Please recognize I’m trying babe. But I never wrote that essay and this is not it. I’ve never been a fan of Rihanna’s but there were many songs on that album that made me think of you.