That’s The Way of The World



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We’ve come together on this special day
To sing our message loud and clear

Looking back we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future, past, they disappear — Earth, Wind & Fire, 1975

Today’s day and date marks twenty-eight years exactly since my stepfather beat my mother unconscious not more than twelve feet from my bedroom (’82 calendar = ’10 calendar). It was a traumatic experience, something like witnessing a nuclear explosion but somehow surviving to tell the story, with my vision fully intact. I talked about this before, on this blog, in a number of posts over the past three years. It’s unfortunate that Memorial Day for me is more about this event than it is about patriotism or brave soldiers long gone. Especially since I embarked on this Boy @ The Window project of mine five years ago.

The worst thing about this day and date for me is that it reminds me of loss, sorrow, my past hate, my renewal of forgiveness for myself and for my family. For at 3:30 in the afternoon twenty-eight years ago, my childhood ended. It didn’t matter how much of a child I was, how goofy or weird I may’ve acted afterward, or how much child-like wonder and joy has remained over the years. I can never go back to being the purposefully naive twelve-year-old I was back then. Not at 3:32 pm on May 31, ’82, and certainly not now.

That’s the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
A child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart so cold

It’s too bad iPods didn’t exist in ’82, because I could’ve used a moment or two to give my last rites to my youth through one of my all-time favorites, Earth, Wind & Fire. That is, after helping my mother regain consciousness, feeding my younger siblings, making my older brother help me with my mother and generally being upset with myself that I didn’t call the police. Unfortunately, my idiot stepfather loved Earth, Wind & Fire as well (at least their earlier funk and later disco hits, nothing of substance, thank goodness). Still, the lyrics to “That’s The Way Of The World” fit the emotions of that day as far as my life was concerned. That’s The Way Of The World

My mother swears to this day that she doesn’t remember the incident. Good for her, I guess. My ex-stepfather, now almost sixty, is a Type-2 diabetic whose kidney functions have been non-existent for seventeen years, and as of a year ago, lost a leg to a disease of his own overeating making. There are times, I must admit, that I’m all right with the fact that this man’s life has become a nightmare over the past two decades. That I get a sense of reckoning out of his downward spiral. But those thoughts are quickly followed up by the urge to forgive, and certainly not for his sake. Strictly for my own. I wouldn’t want his health situation, for myself or for anyone else.

You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ‘cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart…

So I’ve come to on this special day to say my message loud and clear. That the ways of this world will choke the youth and life out of us if we allow it. The only reason that I’m still able to feel child-like most of the time is because of my hopes, dreams and vivid imagination, as well as God’s grace over the years. With Noah these past seven years, I’ve stayed young at heart (and, for the most part, in body as well). “‘Cause you’re never, never, never old at heart.”

EWF, A Reminder That I Did Have a Childhood


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Earth, Wind & Fire's All 'N All (1977) album cover, February 6, 2016. (

Earth, Wind & Fire’s All ‘N All (1977) album cover, February 6, 2016. (

I’m still reeling over Maurice White. Yeah, I still have my Earth, Wind & Fire on my CDs, my iPod, my iPhone, on three laptops and a desktop. Phillip Bailey and White’s brothers-in-arts are still here. Their music will always be with me and with us. But it feels like a little piece of my relative (if not contrived) innocence from my pre-Humanities, pre-Hebrew-Israelite days died with White Wednesday night.

Here’s what I wrote about those days of deliberately-induced blissful naiveté, Earth, Wind & Fire included, in my memoir:

“For me, this boy, this tweener, an active imagination and an even more animated dream life was critical. Living in between the hustle and bustle of “The City,” — Manhattan and the other four boroughs of New York — and the relative quiet of the ritzy suburbs immediately north of it was everything and everyone I knew before the age of twelve. Just three blocks after the elevated 2 Subway line ended at East 241st Street in the Bronx was where “Mount Vernon, New York” began. From the hard concrete sidewalks and green street signs of New York to the crumbling light blue slate and dark blue signs were my only indications that I had truly left the city. This despite the claims of so many I knew that upstate New York began somewhere above 125th or 207th Street in Manhattan. I knew by the time I was twelve that, sleepy bedroom suburb or not, Mount Vernon had more features in common with the Bronx and upper Manhattan than most city folk were willing to recognize.

“My only links to the great metropolis to the south were WNBC-TV (Channel 4), Warner Wolf — with his famous “Let’s go to the video tape line — doing sports on WCBS-TV (Channel 2), and WABC-AM 77 and WBLS-FM 107.5 on the radio. I found the AM station more fun to listen to, but I also liked listening to the sign-off song WBLS played at the end of the evening, Moody’s Mood for Love, with that, ‘There I go, There I go, The-ere I go…’ start. Music had been an important part of my imagination in ’79, with acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Christopher Cross, Billy Joel and The Commodores. Not to mention Frank Sinatra, Queen, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. The music also made me feel like I was as much a part of New York as I was a part of Mount Vernon. It left me thinking of the ozone and burnt rubber smell that I noticed as soon as I would walk down into the Subway system in Manhattan. But aside from my occasional slip of the tongue — ‘warda’ for ‘water’ and ‘bawwgt’ for ‘bought’ — I didn’t sound or act much like a New Yawker. Still, I discovered something about New York from afar. I could sneak up to the rooftop of my apartment building, 616 East Lincoln, a five-story complex of three connected brick buildings with Tudor-style facades and a concrete-stone foundation. I’d find the exit to the roof unlocked and see the tops of the Twin Towers floating over some low-lying clouds on an otherwise sunny day. The symbols of the greatest city on Earth seemed to float toward the heavens on those days, and me with them.

“Besides the occasional reminder of life outside of my world, of Mount Vernon, I was the center of my own universe. Mount Vernon was but a stage on which my life played out, a place I hoped would stay this way forever. I was an eleven-year-old who thought that my world was the world. I lived my life like Philip Bailey and Maurice White would’ve wanted me to. I came to see ‘victory in a life [sic] called fantasy’ as my own life, living as if my imagination and dreams could be made into reality. All I had to do was wish it so.”

Because of what I went through during the Boy @ The Window years, I had to learn to get over my idiot ex-stepfather’s abuse to continue listening to Earth, Wind & Fire between ’82 and ’89. The late Maurice Eugene Washington was a fan as well, and I didn’t want us to both like the same music. Who the heck knew what was going on in his head when he heard “Fantasy” or “After The Love Is Gone,” anyway?

All I know is, there won’t be another group like the one Maurice White founded in ’69, the year I was born. All I can do is hold on to my precious Earth, Wind & Fire music, and the imagination that it helped spark. All I can do now is hope that someone can even begin to approach the kind of ethereal and powerfully Black-and-proud mix of music that White, Bailey, et al. were able to construct for nearly a decade. One can fantasize, right?


The Atomic Weight of Racism


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Visual representation of grand unified theory, explain physical forces at cosmic and quantum levels, via Garrett Lisi, circa 2010. (

Visual representation of grand unified theory, explaining physical forces at cosmic and quantum levels, via Garrett Lisi, circa 2010. (

A few months ago, I found myself pondering the many years in which I and a cadre of experts, scholars, and trolls have written and talked about American racism. The evidence (or lack thereof) that those who fight for racial justice and those who fight for White supremacy (or at least, a White-dominated status quo) have gathered. The sense of righteous indignation or dispassionate sense of racial superiority expressed in sound bites, at conferences, in classrooms, in faculty and staff meetings. I found myself thinking, “We’re never going to convince the majority that they have built themselves a hypocritical house of cards, are we?”

Of course this is true. A person doesn’t have to be a pessimist or fatalistic to arrive at this conclusion. Long before Ta-Nehisi Coates or the great late Derrick Bell, or James Baldwin or Malcolm X, or even W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, there was the sense that the house that racism built could never be broken down with faith and words alone. Frederick DouglassMartin Delany, and Ida B. Wells (or Wells-Barnett) said as much in the nineteenth century. It would take action, perhaps even, a calamity to break down this house.

I started thinking about American racism as an atom, then. It could be as simple as a hydrogen atom, but despite the preponderance of Americans who will live out their lives in willful ignorance, America and its racism is a bit more complicated than one proton and one electron. That’s the America most of my students think they live in. When it comes to racism, America is more like a carbon or iron atom before being smashed at light speed in a particle accelerator in Switzerland. With lots of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Enough so that it could combine with anything and corrupt everything.

A visual representation of a carbon atom, electrons, protons, an neutrons, February 1, 2016. (

A visual representation of a carbon atom, electrons, protons, an neutrons, February 1, 2016. (

Carbon is very much a constantly morphing combinator. Scientists can make virtually endless chains and structures with carbon — along with its companions, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen — giving us plenty of other organic compounds not found in nature. That is American intersectionality in a nutshell, between racism, class inequality, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other -isms that combine and recombine from one generation and one issue to the next. Stereotypes, microaggressions, and death by a thousand cuts, are its results.

But carbon molecules in the natural world already exists in long and almost endless chains. Our DNA and its double-helix strands, the structure of hydrocarbons that make up petroleum and natural gas. Even without the interventions that make interpersonal, individual, and internalized racism the fodder for social media and American politics, structural racism and institutional racism are already well embedded in America’s vast array of institutions.

Then there’s the stuff that’s beyond the mix of the six electrons, six protons, and six neutrons that make up a carbon atom. Quarks, leptons, bosons, among as many as 248 subatomic particles — including gluons, neutrinos, and photons. The newly discovered Higgs boson particle (as of 2012), for instance, is apparently what provides matter mass.

The subatomics of American racism, though, are fairly well-known and haven’t been new to us researchers for decades. Imperialism, American exceptionalism, narcissism, and capitalism. They all help give mass to American racism, so that it is not just a matter of perception, or, as some mavericks have suggested, a disease or psychosis. These are the particles that convert the energies of racism into a tangible, weighty reality.

 An example of simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. (where collision of two protons would produce a Higgs boson particle and release energy, in blue), October 1997. (Lucas Taylor/CERN via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

An example of simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. (where collision of two protons would produce a Higgs boson particle and release energy, in blue), October 1997. (Lucas Taylor/CERN via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Yet atoms and their subatomic particles aren’t forever. Heck, electrons are often in two places at the same time, their quantum locations change so often. The way scientists know all this is through atom smashing at places like the Hadron collider in Switzerland. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to smash protons straight into a group of atoms to explode its subatomic contents. Ultimately, somewhere between fusion, fission, and smashing, to break down the carbon-like atom that is American racism. But I don’t think those of us working to do so should hold our collective breath.

Second Semester Crunch Time


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Maybe not a HOF, but a great crunch time catch (literal and figurative) by Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers, Wildcard Game, Candlestick Park, January 3, 1999. (

Maybe not a HOF, but a great crunch time catch (literal and figurative) by Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers, Wildcard Game, Candlestick Park, January 3, 1999. (

As this spring semester begins for me at UMUC — a cruel euphemism in January with a windchill around -10°C and a major winter storm approaching the Mid-Atlantic — I’ve reminded myself of the same calendar twenty-eight years ago. As I’ve already noted through my blog and through Boy @ The Window, this was to be a make-or-break semester for me. I had to step up my game at the University of Pittsburgh or go home. And by home, I mean to 616, a place in Mount Vernon, New York that might as well been my burial plot if I had managed to lose my Challenge Scholarship after that Winter Term 1988.

As I wrote in my book

Despite my advisor, I decided to take a full load of classes, balancing two math courses with two history ones, with “rocks for jocks” Geology being the fifth one. The others were Western Civ II, Roman History, Calculus II (the regular one, not Honors), and Logic.

It was to be a sixteen-credit semester. My advisor, a one-time PhD candidate in the History Department at Pitt (talk about life have no coincidences, past, present or future), thought that after my 2.63 first semester, that I had no business making my college schedule more difficult. But after four years of Sylvia Fasulo at Mount Vernon High School, I decided I was through taking advice about taking it easy. I might’ve not known much about my inner self in January ’88, but I knew this much. I was never the guy to take the easy, path-of-least-resistance road in my education. Fact is, I never had the choice of an easy road at any point in my life.

The only obviously easy course of the five I took was Geology 89, and it was only easy because it was a lecture hall course with three multiple choice exams and one textbook. Calc II — with its focus on integrals, volumes, spheres, and other pre-differential calculations — I figured would be easier than Honors Calc I, partly because I excelled on this part of the AP Calculus course the year before (I probably earned my 3 on the AP Calc BC exam on the strength of that work), and partly because this wasn’t an Honors course.

Advanced logic equations, January 20, 2016. (

Advanced logic equations, January 20, 2016. (

Then there was Logic. An ironic choice of a title, since the course didn’t make sense to me from day one. Inductive and deductive reasoning, so the British-born professor told us the first day. With so many symbols and few numbers, how could I consistently deduce an answer to any logic equation? And, what the heck did any of this have to do with being a Computer Science major, anyway?

As for Western Civ II and Roman History, I was surprised how easy I found both courses by the third week, especially after my debacle in East Asian History the month before. But then again, I didn’t miss a single class, I stayed ahead on my readings — and though I knew nearly half of the material going in — and studied as if I’d never been an A student in a history course before.

I had taken the shame of the first semester, the embarrassment of my internalized -isms and imperfections, the anger I directed toward myself, my family, and my idiot dorm mates and let it fuel me. I was on a righteous path of academic vengeance. At least that’s what I thought at the time.

A Planters Peanut Bar, April 25, 2011. (Evan-Amos via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

A Planters Peanut Bar, April 25, 2011. (Evan-Amos via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

That sober, almost single-minded focus got me noticed, even though it was my attempt at trying to lay low. I made quite a few friends that semester, most of whom I still call friend today. All of them anywhere between one and twenty years older than me. Call it a sense of maturity, my angered march toward my future, or the sense that I needed to be around folks whose lives had taken at least half as many twists and turns as my own. Whatever it was, I ended up on a path where having a social life would play as much a role in saving my educational future as showing up to all but four lectures in a sixteen-week semester.

I finished that second semester on the Dean’s List with a 3.33 GPA, and a first-year GPA of 3.02. Two A’s (my history classes), an A- in Geology, a B in Calc II, and a C+ in Logic (I did learn a few things even in that course). By the end of April, I was already thinking about switching majors to History. Of more immediate importance was my saving my scholarship for year number two. Not to mention, having friends of any significance for the first time since elementary school.


Affirmative action opponents from Supreme Court Justices Antonio Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts — as well as Allan Bakke, Jennifer Gratz, Barbara Gruttinger, and Abigail Fisher — all claim that efforts to use the admissions process to bring racial (and gender and socioeconomic) diversity to college campuses is discriminatory. The College Board and ETS cite their statistics to show that the SAT is especially predictive of a student’s performance in the first semester or first year. Anyone working on college retention — especially for underrepresented students — recognizes that nearly half of all students who drop out of college do so after the first two semesters.

Orange Crush can crushed, June 8, 2012. (Susan Murtaugh via

Orange Crush can crushed, June 8, 2012. (Susan Murtaugh via

I knew none of this my second semester at Pitt. No one could’ve predicted my first semester’s depression or the single-minded channeling of anger and intellectual resources my second, least of all me. And no, Justice Scalia, college at a school of the stature of the University of Pittsburgh wasn’t too hard for me. It wouldn’t have been too hard for me at any other university for that matter. Life was. And yes, Ms. Gratz and Ms. Fisher, race played a significant role in where I was, where I wanted to be, and how I got there. Just not to your entitled, narcissistic disadvantage.

As for ETS and the College Board, your predictions of my struggles and triumphs based on my 65th percentile 1120 score from October ’86 were more than a bit premature. And not just mine. Fact is, the vast majority of people like me attending predominantly White institutions graduate, whether the campus climate is welcoming or not. However, having a welcoming climate, just as the one I began to discover my second semester, really helps. I guess you couldn’t predict that.

The State of the Union, That’s Not Optimistic


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President Barack Obama's final State of the Union speech, The US Capitol, January 12, 2016. (Evan Vucci, Pool/AP, via

President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union speech, The US Capitol, January 12, 2016. (Evan Vucci, Pool/AP, via

President Barack Obama ended his eighth and final State of the Union address in front of Congress and the nation last night with the words, “That’s why I stand here as confident as I have ever been that the state of the union is strong.” The president’s crescendo came after nearly fifteen minutes of describing the America that he sees and believes in. Obama illuminated individual examples of dedication and hard work and courage he has witnessed since he first began running for president in February 2007.

That President Obama chooses to look at his hundreds of — if not several thousand — examples of individual Americans striving for and maybe even achieving some sort of American Dream is admirable. But in light of the remaining 320 million Americans unaccounted for in his speech, the president’s speech isn’t an expression of optimism. President Obama has chosen the path of too many in power, to ignore how deep the wounds and injuries of the nation go, to fight what the US faces in terms of its cavernous and even cancerous problems with beliefs and limited actions. That’s not optimism. That’s both faith — albeit a bit misplaced — and blind devotion to an ideal that this America in 2016 has been moving away from for decades.

There are just a few examples from President Obama’s speech that point to a combination of near-religious faith and ostrich head-in-sand denial. Most notably:

The idea that the US economy has produced a net +14 million jobs since the day President Obama took office. That number is probably correct, but just like with all previous presidents since FDR, this number is hardly the whole story. Fact is, millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the Great Recession have yet to regain employment. Millions more have taken the jobs that the American economy creates the most frequently: low-wage, part-time, seasonal and/or contract work. And for those Americans who have been able to hold on to employment despite the Great Recession, their real wages are just in the last two years beginning to approach 2008 numbers. More importantly, their ability to move to a better or higher paying position has diminished since 2008, which is part of a four-decade-long trend. Yes, Americans should credit the Obama Administration for stanching the bleed from the femoral artery in 2009, 2010, and 2011. But the American economy still needs an arterial graft and a heart transplant.

2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA, October 21, 2012. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald;

2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA, October 21, 2012. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald;

President Obama’s claim that Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-Muslim, anti-Black, and anti-feminist populism is just “wrong” and “doesn’t represent our American values.” Trump’s campaign certainly doesn’t represent American ideals or visions of a “shining city upon a hill,” to quote the late former President Ronald Reagan from his 1984 campaign. But despite what Obama said last night, Trump and his supporters and potential voters are a strain of American values and politics that has always been, and perhaps always will be. Trump is very much exploiting a clear-eyed vision of America as a White (and male) Christian nation, one with automatic exclusions from the club of those not entitled to the American Dream socioeconomically, culturally, and even spiritually. While President Obama acknowledged this in his speech, he ignored the reality that this strain of -isms in American politics and culture remains powerful and needs to be fought, not just wished away with a more conciliatory vision of America.

The idea that a better statesman, that an all-time great president like FDR or Abraham Lincoln could have bridged the divide in Congress, with the Supreme Court, and in American politics in general. This is patently false and extremely tongue-in-cheek on President Obama’s part. His great-man-in-politics theme has actually grown tired over the course of the past nine years. For as great as both of those presidents were, President Franklin Roosevelt and President Lincoln presided over an America in def-con-one crises, before America was officially a superpower. As terrible as the Great Recession and its after-effects have been, as deplorable as American use of force in the Middle East, East Africa, and South Asia has been, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II were foundational periods of change. President Obama might not have been the GPAT (Greatest President of All-Time), but in an era of an oligarchic Congress and a plutocratic Supreme Court, he did as good as job as FDR and President Lincoln would have. It still wasn’t good enough, but not because President Obama wasn’t a great person or very good president. Americans needed someone willing to make radical changes, and not just a centrist committed to a grand vision of bipartisan compromise and slow, incremental changes.

I will definitely miss President Obama as my president when he relinquishes the office on Friday, January 20, 2017 at 12 noon. But I won’t miss his brand of optimism. For optimism that relies on falsehoods about America as a meritocracy, Americans as a tolerant people, and American imperialism as a force for good in the world isn’t optimism. It’s a fable more vast and more deadly than any the Grimm brothers could have written two hundred years ago.

The Cold Light of Grades


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University of Pittsburgh after a snow storm, Cathedral of Learning, downloaded January 5, 2016. (

University of Pittsburgh after a snow storm, Cathedral of Learning, downloaded January 5, 2016. (

Dateline, Tuesday, January 5, 2016. Exactly twenty-eight years ago on this day and date, I left Mount Vernon and New York for my second semester at the University of Pittsburgh. I sensed, but did not know, that this was a make-or-break time for me as a student and as a person. At least when that day began. I had a 5 pm Continental Airlines flight out of Newark (my last time flying out of there, thank God!), and had plenty of time to kill before catching a cab to East 241st at 2 pm to catch the 2 Subway to 42nd, the Shuttle to Grand Central, and then the Carey Bus to New Jersey.

Then the mailman arrived a bit earlier than I expected, around 12:30 pm. I’d been anticipating and dreading this moment for seventeen days, since Saturday, December 19, the morning of my last final in Pascal.

The day I was scheduled to go back to Pittsburgh was also the day I finally received my grades. I earned an easy A in Astronomy, a B- in Pascal, and a C in Honors Calc. All three of those grades I expected. The C in East Asian History was completely unexpected. My grade point average for the semester gave me a 2.63 to start my postsecondary career. That might’ve been good enough for most folks. But of course not for me. My Challenge Scholarship absolutely depended on me maintaining a minimum 3.0 average at the end of every school year in order for me to stay eligible. That was my wake up call to what I’d allowed Phyllis, and my thoughts of her and me — and of her with me — to do to me. I didn’t even give Mom the chance to see my grades.

Because I was seventeen when my first semester began, my Mom was still the responsible adult and my Mom’s address the primary address for my academic records. This was the first and last time I received my Pitt grades this way.

I was so mad. But I was more disillusioned than angry, especially with myself and my view of the world. I knew I had no margin for error this Winter/Spring semester at Pitt. I needed to raise my overall GPA to a 3.0 or higher in order to keep my academic scholarship for my sophomore year. I could barely afford Pitt as it was, between room and board and books. It wasn’t as if I could depend on Mom and my father to keep sending me money. They had sent a total of $480 my way that first semester. I was still $1,200 behind on my Pitt bill, even with student loans and me working sixteen hours a week.

The days after I got back to my dorm I spent assessing my situation and what to do about it. The first decision I made was to consolidate the funds I managed to secure at the end of December. I had General Foods cover my remaining room and board payments for the school year, increased my Stafford Loan amount for the semester, and marched down to Thackeray Hall. I waited all day to take care of my bills, get my few hundred dollars of leftover cash from all of my aid — all of which I needed for books — and registered for classes. The last part took the most time, and was the hardest to do. The low the second morning of the semester was two below zero, and the high that day was eight above. Fahrenheit, not Celsius. I stood in line outside for over an hour in that weather surrounded by two feet of snow with the occasional winds and snow drifts before getting inside at nine that morning.

But in the moments I had that week, between some quiet time for myself and in discussing my performance with two of my professors (I just couldn’t believe I earned a C in East Asian History!), I realized two or three things. One was that I over-performed, given how depressed I was the last seven weeks of the semester. I missed nearly three out of every four classes in November, and nearly forty percent of my East Asian History class during the entire semester. I went without a textbook for Honors Calc I after someone stole it from my job in the computer labs in the Cathedral of Learning at the end of October. I managed a solid C in the course anyway. It could’ve been much worse.

Two was that my East Asian History professor Ann Jannetta was right. I really was “lucky” to have managed a C in an upper-level history course my first semester of college. I still acted as if I was in Humanities at A.B. Davis Middle School or MVHS, that a C was some indication of low IQ or confirmation that Whites had bigger brains or something. Jannetta was very encouraging. It was the first time any of my professors had made me feel like I belonged in college.

The most important thing I realized, though, was that I couldn’t let anyone or anything get in the way of me bringing my A-game (or A- game, maybe) every semester and in every course. Phyllis didn’t matter. My internalized sexism or what others though of me because of their racism didn’t matter. My idiot classmates or parents didn’t matter. Heck, being hungry, cold, and short on money didn’t matter. All that mattered was my ability to do what I did best back then. Get A’s in bunches when I needed to.

Of course, all these things really did matter. I merely decided to play the game of college that semester with a combination of fear and anger, arrogance and obliviousness. To the tune of a 3.33 and the Dean’s List! Yay me!

But when that semester ended on Saturday, April 30, those demons and distractions resurfaced. Oh, the days before I spent five days homeless and weeks eating tuna fish and pork neck bones!

Black Lives Matter and My Dreamy Heaven


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A shower of photons, December 31, 2015. (

A shower of photons, December 31, 2015. (

It was a strange place, this place of peace and comfort. To realize that at the quantum level, we each were all bundles of energy, that our bodies were but vessels that carried our real selves in our earthly years. That heaven was much, much more. Pearly gates and a white-bearded God? Nonsense! Try singularities and endless connections between the past, present, and future, between multiple universes and realities! We existed everywhere and in every time. There was no pain and no need, because we were everything and everything was in us and with us.

A high-resolution picture of the Pillars of Creation, in the Eagle Nebula, 7,000-light-years from Earth, via the Hubble Telescope, circa 1995, retouched January 5, 2014. (Armbrust via Wikipedia via NASA). In public domain.

A high-resolution picture of the Pillars of Creation, in the Eagle Nebula, 7,000-light-years from Earth, via the Hubble Telescope, circa 1995, retouched January 5, 2014. (Armbrust via Wikipedia via NASA). In public domain.

In this space and place, I met them. The ones that once left us behind. The entities who once lived in the earthly realm, whose bodies were decimated, whose minds had been wounded. It was here that I met Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Kindra Chapman, Samuel DuBose, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Raynette Turner, Christian Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, and Jonathan Ferrell.

There were so many more bundles of light and energy in my presence that I felt myself cry. Not real tears, because while I could see and hear everything, I didn’t have any eyes or ears. I wanted to hug them all, but didn’t have any arms. I wanted to embrace them, but didn’t have any lips.

But there was one thing I could do. I merged my little bundle of energy with theirs. It was a joining more real and miraculous than anything I ever felt when tethered to Earth. I felt so alive, so free, so one with the universe. It was as if my material life was a nightmare and a dream, and this heaven the one true real.

In an instant, every feeling and thought I had merged with the feelings and thoughts of hundreds, if not thousands of other lights. And in that instant, the one question I had they asked and answered before I knew what my question was.

Don’t feel for dead. We are alive and well, and will be always so. Feel for the living. For theirs is a world of struggle and suffering.

They do not know who they really are. They do not know that their bodies are but machines, and their lives are not real.

In that singular moment, I understood. How could anyone in the living years truly appreciate the privilege of a corporeal existence when that is but only one form of life? If we as humanity could not know ourselves, how could we protect ourselves from ourselves?

I did get a glimpse, just a brief one, of another answer.

“To make our lives matter, fight for a better world. It doesn’t matter if you lose, but it does matter if you give up.”

As soon as that thought materialized, I woke up, sad to find myself in my middle-aged body, reconnected to my one quadrillion cells and Earth’s gravity and pressure.


A collage of Black and Brown people killed by police and White vigilantes, February 2015. ( via

A collage of Black and Brown people killed by police and White vigilantes, February 2015. ( via

If I could, I’d want to meet all of the recent victims of police brutality and murder and White vigilantism and have a conversation. I would ask each of them only one question. Something like, “What did you want to get out of life?” or “What did you want your life to mean?” Because ultimately, that’s the most important question any of us can ask ourselves while we are alive in this physical world.

The structures that allow law enforcement agencies to assume those with Black and Brown bodies are criminals and undeserving of life pass those assumptions on to their individual police officers. The fourth estate does at least as good a job of passing these assumptions on to millions of ordinary civilians. The result is that thousands of us never got the chance to answer this most important question in our living years. If we cannot agree that this is a shame and a pitiful way to live, than we truly live in a nation in which Black and Brown lives (not to mention, people in poverty and others of different religions and ethnicities) don’t matter. For that — if for no other reason — is why we need Black Lives Matter, and we need Black Lives Matter to matter more, in the here-and-now linear world right now, in 2016.

The Fountain of Middle Age


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Alexander Stirling Calder's "Swann Memorial Fountain," Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, August 18, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

Alexander Stirling Calder’s “Swann Memorial Fountain,” Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, August 18, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

By most measures, today marks my full transition from relative youth to middle age. Although, when I really think about it, didn’t I really hit middle age in December ’07, when I turned thirty-eight? The average life expectancy of an American male is about seventy-seven, right? And for Black males, it’s barely sixty-five. Given my family history, though, I won’t hit middle age for another two years. My maternal grandfather turned ninety-six three months ago, and my paternal grandfather lived until he was ninety-six. Even my father’s still moving along at seventy-five, despite his battle with alcoholism between the ages of twenty and fifty-eight.

I do feel things in my body and mind that until a few years ago were merely minor aches and pains. My right hip is misaligned with my left hip, likely from years of walking at warp speed, lots of basketball, and six years of my running regime. My L-5 vertebrae is a bit compressed, due to years of activity, including many years hunched over a keyboard trying to make myself into a writer, author and educator. My right knee has been a bother since I was twenty-four, but the issue has gotten worse in the past two years (maybe time for some HGH or microfracture surgery?). I now have white-coat syndrome (because most doctors and nurses get on my last nerve), and I’m mildly anemic. No, folks, forty-six isn’t the new thirty-six, even if I can still run forty yards in under five seconds, pop a three over my son’s outstretched hand or leg press 360 pounds.

Me via Photo Booth, December 17, 2015. (Donald Earl Collins).

Me via Photo Booth, December 17, 2015. (Donald Earl Collins).

But I still have good health and a mostly healthy body and mind. Since I turned twenty-seven, my weight has never been higher than 241 pounds (including clothes, wallet, phone, and keys) or lower than 212 (I weight 229 now). I can still memorize when inspired to do so, remember virtually anything important from my life from the age of four to the present, and could still probably win at Jeopardy if I ever got the call.

What’s more impressive, though, is whom remains in my life now that I’m no longer “young” anymore. My friends live all over the map, from the DC area to Pittsburgh to the Bay Area and New York, from Atlanta to Athens and from Seattle to Shanghai. I’ve made peace (mostly) with my family and my past, even if they aren’t always at peace with me. There’s my wife and son, of course, who are mostly likely the reason I’m still “young” relative to my age. Though I remain a Christian, I do not have the blind faith or evangelical -isms of my youth, and I’m at peace with that as well. I’m probably further to the left culturally and politically than I was at sixteen, twenty-six, or thirty-six. Because I’ve learned, sadly, that so much of what I was taught or fed growing up was either incorrect or a complete lie. But even with that sad disillusionment, I’ve come to accept the possibility of change for myself and the Sisyphean task that this nation and world always has been.

Me at 45 and 364.25 days, Pittsburgh, PA, December 26, 2015. (Donald Earl Collins).

Yet even the idea of middle age has changed in the minds of capitalists as the Baby Boomer generation has begun retirement and all of them have received their first AARP cards. Before 2000, the ad folks and entertainment folks had split up adults into the age demographics of 18-34, 35-44, 45-64, and 65 and up. Now, it’s 18-24, 25-54, and 55 and up. This privileges Baby Boomers (as usual) and props up Millennials (folks who used to be Gen Y). My middle age is not the same as Baby Boomers’ middle age. Even in demographic representations, money-grubbing capitalists give us Gen Xers little respect.

Rodney Dangerfield quipped this funny line in Back to School (1986):

Coach Turnbull: What’s a guy your age doing here with these kids?
Thornton (played by Dangerfield): I’m lookin’ for the fountain of middle age.

Maybe when I’m sixty-five (like Rodney Dangerfield was in this film), I’ll be looking for the Fountain of Middle Age, too. But my choice will be to stand in it for the next thirty or forty years!


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