Saturday, March 24, 2018

Birthday Musings: “Yes, it was My Way”

And when I die 
and when I'm dead, dead and gone, 
There'll be one child born and 
a world to carry on, to carry on

“And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat & Tears

My birthday was Thursday. I’m sixty-one. Damn!

I’m not trying to sound morbid but lately, I’ve been thinking about my last days on this planet. Life is a precious but fragile thing so, I’ve been contemplating what I’ve accomplished, what’s left to do and what I want to leave behind.

If I do kick off soon, please know it’s been a wonderful journey. Within the past six decades I’ve received incredible gifts in the guise of relatives, wives, lovers, children, supporters, friends and readers. Owning my own magazine (Take Five), writing for the Post-Dispatch and starting the Sweet Potato Project has provided me with a spiritually lush life of challenge, purpose and gratification. Writing from the heart all these years has been my doorway to many wonderful, long-lasting relationships.  I did my personal best to make the world a little bit better than when I entered it. I have been blessed.

There’s so much more I want to do before the final curtain. I’ve always known how I want to spend my last days on earth. It’s a Walter Mosley/George W. Bush/Jimmy Buffet type scenario. I my mind’s eye, I see myself in a warm place near water, writing fiction and painting pictures.

To get there, I gotta make some some stuff happen-quick like. The Sweet Potato Project, interacting and inspiring potentially young entrepreneurs who share my hue, working to build a sustainable, replicable, urban agricultural project in North St. Louis fires my soul and keeps me jazzed.  

Yet, I wonder if I’m the guy to bring it to full fruition. Raising enough money to operate the program, grappling with operational deficiencies and trying to convince politicians and people with clout and resources that this is a viable way to create a long-term economic engine in the city is more than a notion.

But just when I think it’s time to call it quits there are signs that we’re close to the finish line. I have a few students eager to own land and grow food. Across the country, urban agriculture is now viewed as a positive, productive means to revitalize disadvantaged neighborhoods. Politicians like Alderman John C. Muhammad have introduced bills aimed at putting vacant land in the hands of poor people. State Rep. Bruce Franks has introduced a bill aimed at instituting trauma curriculum in schools where kids deal daily with crime, violence and poverty in their neighborhoods. This is a huge concern of mine that I address in my soon-to-be-published book, “When We Listen.”

This summer, a collection of nonprofits representing the North City Food Hub (NCFH) will offer classes on land-ownership, writing business plans, food-growing, culinary certificates, and will open a professional shared-use kitchen in the Ville where anybody who wants to develop a food-based product can do so with the help of trained chefs. There is indeed progress on this front.

My goal is to get SPP to a place where it can operate without me. Oh, I plan to always be its champion, its spokesman and spend time learning, listening and being a part of young people’s lives. But, honestly, I’m tired of the struggle. The project needs to be under the stewardship of an organization that’s better than me at fund-raising and the day-to-day operations of a strong, viable nonprofit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my first love, writing, supersedes all my other endeavors. For the past six months, I’ve been mostly researching and scribing. I have three books in motion, the last is a work of fiction. Doing this has been economically challenging but, it feels right. In total, the works speak to my passions, my love and concern for our city, politics and progression. Unrestricted writing has allowed me to deploy my real-life experiences, my woes, joys and dreams in real and imaginary formats.

I cherish the fact that I’m still a na├»ve dreamer, even in my early 60s. I still believe that the power of love, compassion and humanity will ultimately defeat greed, tyranny and restricted thinking. I hold on to the notion that genius has no color-code and I’m encouraged by the creativity, resiliency and tenacity of our youth. I want my grand exit underscored by the fact that I left something tangible behind that my children and/or another generation of dreamers-those not willing to live lives in vain-will utilize and push forward in their own unique and wonderful ways.

It’s funny. As a youngster, I used to draw. Up until my mid-twenties, I pursued a life as a painter, cartoonist and political satirist but, writing was always a part of that. As a kid I used to make my own comics that reflected the things I was experiencing in life-poverty, bullying, girls and fighting evil. There was something fascinating about creating something new and unique. That aspect of creativity transcended into my actual life efforts.

I’ve only had two “real” jobs in adulthood, Laclede Gas (12 years) and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (six years). Everything else I did was of my own making-Take Five Magazine, When We Dream Together, a multi-media website and the Sweet Potato Project.  I was miserable at the gas company and the daily newspaper. I simply don’t do well with institutional racism or down-right white superiority thinking. My own projects have been economically and emotionally-straining but, Lord, so fulfilling.

I’m not itching to die but life is promised to no one. Mine, so far, has been one of living, learning and loving and I desperately want more. I’ve been blessed to paint on canvasses of my own making. Writing has been my way of coping, connecting and interacting with opposing and supporting souls.

I want to thank everyone for sending me “Happy Birthday” wishes this week. It's been an absolute pleasure sharing this journey with you. The Blood Sweat and Tears tune above speaks to my hope that young people will carry on where I leave off. But “My Way,” popularized by Frank Sinatra, perfectly sums up my feelings about my life and humble accomplishments.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.
Yes, it was my way