Monday, September 27, 2010

Melissamatic (2/3)

I know, you're like "what the f--- did Angie say?", and I'll get to that, but for now we're going to Tarantino this thing to a few years before. Again with the "hmm, where to begin."

Feb. '05
We sat in a dank make-up room. I was auditioning the final female for a play I had written, Embarrassed in Rarig. As we were just finishing up, a white kid burst through the door like a jacked-up Kramer entering Jerry's apartment for the 17th time for the day. "Hey, there's a theatre company looking for- uhh, black males your age, wanna audition?". Uhh, excuse me lost white-boy wanna-be actor, I'm in the middle of an audition about something actually important in this building, for once. Why don't you run along and not bother me with your old-dead-white men play auditions, shiiiiiiiit I got an activist theatre group to push!

None of which I said, because the next words out of this white-boy's mouth were the magic words to get my attention in any conversation, argument, or chat chit over heard in a coffeeshop... But, before I unveil the magic words, understand that they are the most powerful words that will attract the ears, hearts, and potential deepest fury in a person's heart. WARNING: USE THESE WORDS SPARINGLY, FOR THE SECRET POLICE OF ALL-THINGS-WHITE MAY RAIN DOWN UPON YOU, AND IF YOU ARE CAUGHT SAYING THESE WORDS IN A ROOM FULL OF WHITE PEOPLE, OR BACKWARDS PEOPLE OF COLOR, YOU WILL MOST LIKELY NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN AND POSSIBLY WIND UP ON THE BACK OF A MILK CARTON, IN WHICH I WILL SEE AT CUB FOODS AND SAY "DAMN, COULDA SWORE I TOLD THAT M$^&$%#$F&$#@ER."

Take a deep breath and say it with me... "White Privilege". Yes, this kid hollered, the theatre company's covering sociological subject matter, sexuality, gender.. white privilege- "Excuse me... did you say..?". I think a light bulb may have cracked, an old white man may have started having an anxiety attack in the next room, and an alarm went off somewhere in Minneapolis alerting a group of passive aggressives to keep a radius of several miles from this discussion. No clue what I was in the middle of, but I had haulted it and approached the kid. "Chase Korte", "Toussaint, my name's Toussaint". We greeted each other. "Hey, call this guy, his name's Michael Agnew. He'll set up an audition for you". "Cool, sounds good, I'll do that."

Chase waved to the female auditioning and stepped out. Strange, how'd he know where to find me? How'd he know I was interested in this kind of subject matter?... How'd he know the magic words? Of course, I flashed back to all the arguments in Theatre History class, an amalgam of all the theatre majors shuffled into one room to sit down and talk about how white people were responsible for the invention of story-telling and theatre, run by none other than the infamous Mihal Kobialka. Now I've most likely misspelled his name, but at this point I fully give no ---- for spelling this man's name correctly. Him & I would duel constantly each lecture, I showed to, and challenge his theories on the Greeks and Romans being fully responsible for my artistic endeavors. Na cuz, I'd like to credit the Griots, the Harlem Renaissance, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and many others before me that had lineage or connections to the Greeks, and found a means to story-tell on their own. Theatre, story-telling is organic as the heart, and at the ripe age of 21, I wasn't about to practice any tact in letting this man know that I thought his theories were bullshit, and that we could possibly dedicate one week to not studying someone non-white to let myself and the other brown kid in room of 70+ that we weren't alone.

Clearly Chase had over heard the face-offs between Mihal and I. At this point, it was hard for me to hide in the theatre building without catching a glare or look from a white student somewhere from the corner of the building. Fast forward, I make the audition, I get paired with Chase on a touring theatre company that travels the country performing short scenes on race, class, privilege, sex, drug abuse, gender, and sexuality. Which then, after performing each scene, we, the actors stay on stage in character and discuss with the audience. These discussion brought tears, yelling, reconciliation, the worst, the best, the apathy, out of people. The theatre company was called the Gestic Theatre Company back then, but now goes by GTC.

On the road for weeks at a time, flying, hotel crashing, driving rental cars, and sharing stories, Chase and I began to become akin to each other. He'd jump into random song from a musical, I'd sing along. I'd strike up a random voluminous Samuel L. Jackson quote, he'd strike up a random voluminous Al Pacino quote. We played off each other well, so well, I had him take the lead for the first play I produced, wrote, and directed, Embarrassed in Rarig. More than a friend, Chase became my counterpart in art activism. Ask any artist that has a background in sociology or hand in activism, and not only will they tell you it's tough to organize, but it's damn near painful to find other artist/activists that they see eye to eye with. The several tours that Chase and I worked on, definitely brought us to realize we were in the same book as well as the same page.

After the first tour ended, Chase went to scrapping for small theatres getting paid 50 bucks per gig, performing Shakespeare to handfulls of folks that frequented the intimate theatre spaces. I bumped into him that next school year in Rarig, I said something off the cuff about white people (with a grin), whereas Chase quickly turned to me, back pedaling with arms stretched out in the air to prove his innocence saying, "Being white is only thing about me, man. There's a lot of things to me, and white's only one of'em." I think I laughed so hard I nearly missed the staircase in front of me to topple to an embarrassing injury. As a person of color, there's white people that crack race jokes where you can clearly tell they have no clue of what the f--- they're talking about, and then there's white people that crack race jokes that go so tongue-in-cheek it's almost like you give'em a wink and a smile just because they get it. Race aside, anyone knee-deep in sociology studies can crack those jokes and give the wink and smile, or any affirmation, that says "we all know the history prologued to now, and I'm not even going to begin to pretend we're all born on the same starting line in this marathon." Chase and a few other people at this time in my life understood that, and it was hard to imagine putting in the work to graduate without them. It was hard to imagine caring about college without these people along side, pacing the momentum and direction.

The plan was always to move to la la land, and score a made career in film acting. It's always been the dream, and Chase was first to take a shot. More than take a shot, he landed commercials, films, documentaries, the whole 9. The kid was a beast when it came to ambition, application, and audition. Just before he left for LA he came to see The Blend's first show at The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. Afterwards, he flagged me down, put his hand on my shoulder and gave me one of those looks. The kinda look that says "Damn good show ol' boy", from one performer to another there's those compliments that only take a gesture. With that said/unsaid, I thanked him for finally making it out to one of our shows, and he was off into the night... and off to LA.

One of the strangest moments I can recall flashing to the past was the 2nd tour Chase and I made to Iowa State University in Ames, IA. We were always happy to perform at ISU because they booked 3 to 5 shows in a row, so within 2 days of acting, we'd make what we would've made in 2 months of 9 to 5 summer job bs. I was exiting the restroom when I heard Chase entering the room, singin' some song at random he had been humming sparsely throughout the entire ride.

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

He got all in my face with it as I was washing my hands, a bit of a dare the two of us would pull sometimes. We'd get in each others face close enough to freak the other out. The loser would either hault pushing his face into the others, or back away at the others advance. I wasn't backing down this time, so he went on singin' his song. "What the hell are you singing?", I asked. "Flaming Lips, man. It's good shit". I finished sanitizing my mits, smiled, gave him one of those gestures without words as to say "Well done asshole. You got me." I lost the dare, and pulled my face out of the challenge. He smiled in victory and slow danced to the bathroom stall. I laughed, "You're crazy, man.", as he kept on with his hummin' and singin'.

It's funny, I look back on those moments with Chase, and am in aww of how we played off each other so easily, so well, so frequently.

On my way to the performance, my dress shoes knocking against the well varnished floors of the ISU Memorial Union, I grinned.

"Love that kid", I thought to myself. "Love that kid."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Melissamatic (1/3)

For every blog, there's a name for it. And for this blog, I feel it's appropriate for me to tell the story of how the title "Chase Your Bliss" came to be. Kind of a long story, so we'll break it into three parts. Hmm, where to begin, how bout...

Feb. 07
It had to be the dead of night in Minneapolis, some 3am or even 4am-ish hour. My phone went off into the middle of the night, following the late hours, buzzing away repeating the same ringtone after ringtone. My girlfriend at the time, and I, were deep sleepers and it wasn't until the 13th or 14th ringtone that she woke up. She had gone to bed happy, but with her boyfriend's phone going off around 3am, ladies and gentlemen welcome to Monday Night Raw. If you have any intention of keeping a relationship from joining Thelma & Louise off the cliff, understand this is the type of activity that will turn a perfectly lax mood to a significant other waking like the dragon from Sword in the Stone.

Out of respect and to keep things anonymous, we'll call this ex-girlfriend... Melissa, and Melissa was pissed. I woke up to getting muffed in the side of the head by Melissa's would-be closed fist, but I guess she felt like giving a little mercy at this hour of the night. "Toussaint. Wake up. Your stupid phone keeps going off". I grab the phone like a zombie and step into the living room, completely negligent of time, space, the fact my cash & prizes might be hanging out in the open for Melissa's roommates to take a view... but we're in the dead of night. No one's awake. Personally, I'm not even awake at this moment. There's only the rattle from the heater and possibly some other electrical device in the apartment maintaining the temp in the building.

The phone reads several missed calls from an area code I don't even recognize let alone have ever seen before. Upon first view of any area code calling you that you don't recognize, it almost feels like Mars might be giving you a ring to let you know the War of the Worlds is about to go down. Unfamiliary area codes are exciting though. Shiiiiiiit, I wish Mars was calling right now to let me know it's goin' down tomorrow.

Back to the phone. I'm confused, this could be good, this could be bad- but how could it be bad, what- is someone gonna tell me I need to pay my student loans now, or else. Yeah right, it can't be a bill collector or anyone I know- hold up, what if I'm in trouble with the law? Narp, I paid all those parking tickets for the Blend Bus, even the ones on tour... I think. So... I don't know.

SIDENOTE: In case you haven't noticed by now, Toussaint is an over-analyzing, meticulous, CSI forensic detective shoulda-been. I don't like to speak in 3rd person, but I think it's appropriate to do that in a sidenote. Moving on...

I can't figure it out so I just call. A woman picks up the other end of the line... crying. This is bad. I should've guessed it, but I talked myself out of it. We become so good at talking ourselves out of, or into, things, that we become surprised with the reality that was facing us the whole time. "Hello". "Toussaint, hey, this is Angie". "Angie! It's been too long! How's L.A.?".

What Angie had to say next had nothing to do with L.A. but everything to do with an event that would stop my heart for the next few seconds, derail my sanity for the next year, and cut a permanent alteration in the fabric of my life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Enter the Silver Dragon

Once again in the land of dogs walking off the leash, misty rain, and the god damned best mocha know to man (Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia). I had the privilege of attending my best friend's wedding. Jeb and I go back to pre-Blend days. Before I ever put a band together, back when I was pleading to rock bands to to turn the volume down while I rap over their riffs, Jeb approached me after I had performed at the Lake Harriet bandshell. In classic Jeb fashion, he asked me if I wanted to work with him on some music, connect, network, take over the world. I was like "who is this crazy white boy"? Meh, got his number, he called me a few times, I dodged it, but finally came around.

When we met for the second time, I noticed Jeb's presence; declaritive, sincere, honest. He had an air about him that commanded the present moment without uttering a single word. We chatted about hip-hop here and there, and quickly jumped into sociology, white privilege, the relevance of hip-hop culture in the U.S. Since then we've worked through music, community organizing, and numerous crazy nights of debauchery.

Jeb's wife, Lian, had family flown into the U.S. from China, visiting the country for the first time. The reception was huge- I mean giant curtain with Chinese characters across it in the background, placed in the Silver Dragon Restaurant smack dab in the middle of Oakland's lovely Chinatown, 200+ seated, 10-course meal, folks from all walks of life (hikers, scholars, professors, musicians, bboys, reality TV stars, etc.) I couldn't help but take a step back and look at all of these people that Jeb & Lian have touched throughout their lives. I had a hard time believing I made it to the reception, after the last few nights out in SF, just to find the dude sitting across from me is visiting the U.S. for the first time in his life.

We danced, we drank, we ate shark fin soup, danced some more. and finally headed out on the town dive bar hopping with an amalgam of folks from across the country. Reflecting on it, this is what I want. I've always known what I want, but seeing it in motion puts you at grips with the reality of it versus what it looks like in your head.

It's not the ceremony, the dancing, the open bar, the 100$ per bowl of shark fin soup- the aesthetics are nice, but not the point. The point is being capable of loving with sincerity, genuity, and compassion enough to wake up each morning and chose the person your heart dances for... everyday. Still reflecting on it, I'm excited, because I know I'm capable of this, I know I want this, and I know that I am already in motion with it, driving right alongside it. It's truely not a thing of getting there, attaining it, or accomplishing a married life, but moreso practicing love everyday.

I'm damn honored to be Jeb's friend, and blessed to spend my time with so many positive folks, activists, and community organizers in the same room. It's been a trip, time to head back to Minneapolis, finish the mixtape, finish the album, tour the midwest and somehow find my way back... to here, Chinatown, Oakland.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beautiful Morning After Mess

I have a greyhound bus ticket stub (L.A. to San Francisco), some change, my wallet, my camera, and my phone all contained nicely between 3 pockets of the dress pants worn last night for Jeb's wedding. The only thing that really matters in my pockets is the spare key Cole gave me to his apartment when I landed in SF. I search for it, stumble over the ticket stub, scrounge through the other pocket- nope, not there- Christ, where is this thing. I don't get into this god-forsaken door, I leave California an entire bag of clothes, toiletries, and belongings poorer. But it's at this exact moment, when I should be in holy &$%$ panic-mode questioning if the axis of the earth really does revolve around my shitty luck, I don't feel a thing. Matter of fact, I feel pretty empowered by the idea that I could careless if this bag is gone, and I never see it again. I can take another week in San Fran if I want, dressed in Banana Republic with the dress shoes of a starbucks supervisor. I'm down. I'm totally down for the madness, getting lost in an unfamiliar city in a slightly deranged/neglected/dangerous side of town. Let's do this, let's go baby- Oh, there it is. Found the key

Entering Cole's apartment, here's the stats. Fallen string lights flash from the ceiling to the floor, some still stapled in place, the others draped over a drum kit most definitley used by Cole last night, and a guitar amp topped with a can of PBR. The can isn't alone, crusted with cigarette ash, and some wet stains, I pray my bag survived the birthday bonanza Cole threw. The floor is scattered with painting equipment, clothes, cigarette buds, and wounded soldiers otherwise known as cans of beers the attendee was so intoxicated to remember he or she was drinking and left the damn thing sitting to ferment in the jungle. On my way to the bathroom I almost step on a used condom. Yes, I will re-type that, a used condom. This place was sufficiently destroyed with anything and everything to let loose for the weekend and blackout the thought of another inevitable Monday, or tomorrow for that matter.

Hotness, the bag's still intact. Feels a little wet on the bottom, but I'll pretend like that isn't important and the fact the bag is in one piece rather than ripped to shreds to match the rest of the living room. What's this? I draw down to my phone. It's a text from the rocket scientist I chatted with last night at Jeb's wedding. Good lookin' gal, smart, shy, but has me a little miffed at the moment with the short question she just texted me "What is your race?"... Again, another nuance in my bay area morning I'm going to pretend is a normal everyday occurence in the life and times of Toussaint in Minneapolis. The question that should be asked at the moment is "What is your rush?", and my answer is simply "The flight with my name on it, that leaves Oakland Int'l Airport in 2 hours." Paired with the text, I discover a missed voice mail from last night. Friends from Wisconsin fighting over a phone explaining how a coin was flipped and it was decided to call me at bar-close. The meaningful message wraps up with, "yes, I'm drunk. Whatever."

I won't begin to describe the grin stretching to my right ear at the moment. Here I am in the bay area via flight, bus, bike, good ol' fashion walking, and all the friends in the world to let me partake in their lives. Guess I should wrap this up with some kind of heartfelt conclusion, right?

Like Cole's apartment, life is a beautiful mess. I don't mind waking up to it, cleaning it, watching it get downright dirtay all over again. It's the nature of the apartment to get shitty after cleaning it, but what counts most is how we deal with it. I picked up a few pieces of trash to throw away... wait now, where the hell is the garbage can in this place?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

San FranF&$^%#@Cisco

A man with one leg is hollerin' at a gal, Cole is giving people a light like fire was just invented, and the guy with the 2nd longest beard doesn't care for caution while pissing in the corner of the bus stop. Bgirls and bois, welcome to San FranFuckingCisco (to quote the t-shirt I almost bought on Haight St.) Cole admits to being homeless for several months. Excuse me, he less admits, but more openly slides that bit of info in with his love for Los Coyotes tacos. They bear the same importance to him. Homelessness was a phase in his life, whereas for me it crushes my soul to think of it. They say the homeless in Minneapolis have a different name for death, it's called "February". SanFran gets as cold as 50, but Mpls drops to -10... which I feel safe with dropping in the category of "Soul Crushing". Listening to Cole, watching the scenery, hearing the one-legged man spit game as well as he can, I come to the realization... not only do I have it pretty fuckin' good, but I have it REALLY fuckin' good.

Perception is reality (I half believe) holds true to our situation as I wait for the BART with Cole on 16th and Mission. Everyone within a block radius could easily give up at any moment, snap, grab the 9 and unload it on the entire neighborhood... but we don't. This current state of co-existence seems to suffice enough for everyone's comfort to not bother the man pissing in the corner of the bus stop.

Cole speaks of his father, Alfred. How he gave him the spine to stand up in front of a crowd of people and dance, laugh, perform, everything. I still don't know what I've been passed along from my father. Alfred served as one of the several most important men in my life. He took myself, Cole, and Will out to the bus stop for elementary school, he taught us theatre, taught us to stand up on stage... he gave me a spine as well. For the moment, it's not so soul crushing to be homeless for this trip in San Francisco. I'll thank Cole later for giving me the spine to be ok with not having a roof over my head.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Going Places, Going Crazy

Woke up this morning, drank what seemed to be a gallon of water, found 15 one-dollar bills in my backpack, and discovered the people I was chatting with last night still haven't woken up. It's 10am.

So far on this trip, I discovered Yan still believes in a fairy tale wedding, Cole's obsession with death has lead to a life I admire, Jeb has an uncanny glow of victory, defeat, and perserverance all at the same time, and Claudia could be my long lost sister... or wife in a past life. Wife could be pushing it, but I'll take it there for now. It's been 24 hours since I landed in San Francisco, and I already feel grounded. A man burst into the coffeeshop last night screaming "YOUR BURRITOS SUCK!!! YOUR BURRITOS ARE HORRIBLE!!!.... THEY TASTE LIKE COFFEE!!!". He then paused, grinned, and said in a soft tone, "Is Joe here?... Joe... no. Oh, Ok... YOUR BURRITOS TASTE LIKE COFFEE!!!". After he left, the barista looked over at me and said, "He does that every night".

Being openly crazy is openly common in San Francisco. I watched a guy spin in circles on a corner in Castro for 30 seconds. Just when you thought he was going to cross the street, he'd back pedal to the Harvey Milk Plaza, come out and start spinning again... absolutely out of his mind, and loving it. Stars, schedules, streets, and anything else that could derail super-villainous plans have somehow aligned. Dropped into LA, met with Ben, kicked it in the shitty suburb of Studio City. Woke up the next morning to be picked up by Claudia, drove to Silver Lake, spotted the dude from Crash and Observe & Report at a coffeeshop, drove off in a Porsche with Andrew to Sunset Strip, and boom... there I was discussing the next year of my life in music in California. As much as I love Minneapolis, moving to LA is inevitable. If I could make it all happen in Minnesota, I would. As much as I complain the winter to death, and the passive aggression seeping into my veins, I absolutely love Minneapolis, and leaving it makes me appreciate it more. However, I will say San Francisco rivals the hometown. Nothing like a city in eternal autumn weather, rain that mists softly through the air, and a f'ng beautiful view wherever you go.

Speaking more on Minneapolis, music, and California, my plan is to make it in music, raise a family, and be a kickass grandfather. Haha, easy, right? Maybe I die before any of it happens, but I'll go out on the way there at least. Kurt Cobain said it's better to burn out than to fade away... in his suicide letter. In reading it, Ms. Love responded quickly on a tangent, "And that's a load of bullshit". Either way, comiserating over fish tacos on Sunset Strip with Andrew made me realize how much is on me to finish this album, this mixtape, and how important the next year of my life is. I blew 24, 25, 26 away touring with a band across the country, paying rent for apartments I rarely slept in, and jumping summer job to summer job... and loved every moment of it;) I guess this year is only as important as I make it, but I'd hate to blow all these opportunities on worry, neglect, or good ol' laziness.

Meeting with six-digit incomes, scholars, virtually homeless, models, actors, musicians, and the ever familiar struggling artist, I've had the kickass pleasure of hanging out with peers across the scale, and also noticing a commonality between each of them: moving forward. I realize my best friends are forward thinking, ambitious, crazy-about-life folks. They leave the past in the past, revel in the moment, and meticulously plot the future like comic books ending with "to be continued" (a mandatory law of all comic books). We never settle, juggle sometimes too much, push time to its limitations, and have an appetite to rival self-destruction. Don't know where I'm going with this, to be quite honest, but perhaps it falls into the category of going "openly crazy" in San Francisco, or better yet, walking circles on a street corner.

Sidenote: If you're ever in SF, visit Four Barrell Coffee. This guy with shoulder length hair makes mochas like a f'ng gangsta. He take about 4 to 5 minutes to craft the cup, but hot damn, that shit is made with love. Best coffee of the trip goes to dude with the hair at Four Barrell Coffee.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ashley the Apostle

For the sake of the kids I work with, I've changed all their names in this blog.

She covers her head with her arms and buries her face into the table as to tell the rest of the world to leave her the f---alone. I can't though. I'd like to, and I wish my occupation, working with children, allowed me a bit of liberty to chalk an "L" next to the situation and actually leave her alone, but we have to leave for a field trip... in 10 minutes.

Ashley, accused of hitting someone, doesn't want to deal with me, talk to me, or look at me, so she blocks me out with a blanket of her own arms and a table. She's good at this. Very good at this. So good in fact, I feel like giving up, sitting next to her in the hall way of the daycare, repeating "Ashley, if you don't talk to me, we'll have to send you to the office"... but she doesn't care. She's seen the office. She's been punished before. Consequence doesn't scare her. I've watched her take authority over a kickball game in a matter of seconds without words, devistate a group of kids with the raise of an eyebrow, snatch the life from a smile, and give it back all in the same moment. Ashley is probably one of the smartest kids I know, which is why it's so hard to have words with her. Her complexity makes me question my adulthood, ability to converse with humans 20 years younger than me, and what the hell I'm actually doing repeating myself to despondent ears.

So, I sit. Two minutes pass, and she finally responds to my request to speak with her. She's in trouble, and she knows it... but again, not afraid. Every kid knows that hitting another kid is a big no-no, but consequence doesn't apply to the human heart. In the heat of the moment I've seen people throw punches, pull guns, dissolve friendship, abandon everything- whatever, this gal has a heart and knows what she's doing... I'm just not sure if I am.

However, she speaks... says she wants her mother, doesn't want to go to the office, understands what she did wrong although she disagrees with me... and I get it, or at least am trying to. Good thing for me, trying is good enough for her. Because all of a sudden it appears that maybe a lot of people haven't tried with Ashley, and me simply weathering a storm of silence is enough for her. Maybe, sitting and being open to listening is more an open forum than she's ever gotten at school or home. And maybe, I have more to learn from Ashley than the other way around. I'd like to believe the latter more than anything else, so I do.

She smiles and follows the rest of the class to the bus for the field trip. The blessing of working with children isn't in leading them towards what you believe is "good", "better", "moral", or even "right". The blessing is in their ability to detect bs. If we serve each other as reflections, we may see a lot of things we don't want to, but coming to terms with it is beautiful, redeeming, and ugly... all at the same time.