Friday, September 28, 2012

27 Views of Durham: Missing in the room

I sat waiting to read a brief section from “Home is a Cup of Coffee” the short story I wrote in the book 27 Views of Durham.  The room was packed with people who take pride in calling Durham their home.  I was surrounded by people I love and respect – Barry Yoeman and John Valentine.  Connie sat behind me. I could feel her love pressing me to represent the voices of those I write about.
I closed my eyes and took deep breaths before taking the stage. The room was dark.  Tension brewed after I consider the glasses I wore, old ones used after the most recent were damaged.  The prescription is wrong. I hope I can see the print, I thought as I stepped to the microphone.
I saw no one when I read.  No one.  It was a fitting moment due to who was absent.  They joined me on the stage as I began reading about Stick, a character made up to symbolize the homeless men and women in Durham. I began reading…
I couldn’t stop thinking about Stick. Everyone on Ninth Street knows him by name. A black man in his early fifties, Stick is part legend and part man to be pitied.  His hair and beard is covered with gray, giving him the appearance of one much older. His fashion reflected all things given, yet chosen with care.  The bold colors often clashed.  The purples and greens and blues wrapped his body like a Soul Train dancer. His style begged attention.  His walk said even more.
His walk was trapped in an age were cool was bold colors and footsteps danced like James Brown getting down to one of those funky beats.  Stick talked slow like his words were set in motion to spit rhymes. His head nodded when people passed on their way to a mocha release.  Stick is old school cool aching to play with new school dreams.
Every homeless person has a story.  His is one joined to the tragedy of consequences.  Those old school ways caught up to him in a way that took his mind on a journey, a one way ticket.  He hasn’t been able to find his way back home. The game of memories became a war for sanity.  He lost the war long ago.
I walked off the stage.  There is more to the story. The layers of agony that went into writing “Home is a Cup of Coffee” came to the surface as I took my seat.  It’s a story about finding a way home after consequences rob a person of the strength to move forward.  It was more than a story about Durham, it’s a story of the lives of the people who grapple with life in Durham.  It’s not a story about a place.  It’s about those who can’t find a place.
I dreaded they were not in the room.  They never are in the room.  They are isolated for those who take pride in living in a city named for its bullish ways.  They are unable to embrace the transformation from a community known for textile mills and tobacco to one adored for diversity.  They didn’t fit among a mass of people content on celebrating the home town team.
They remain in the cold.
“Where are the black people,” Connie asked as we approached the car after the event.
“This is not their Durham,” I responded.  “For those who celebrate Durham, this is what their diversity looks like.”
Connie dropped me off at my place and said goodnight.  I couldn’t rest.  Then, it hit me.  Tears followed.  How can I? How could I? Who will write about those not in the room?
The tears came in the middle of thoughts of leaving Durham.  As I approach the decision to leave, the frustration of leaving brews like boiling water in a full kettle.  It’s too much to maintain.  How can I leave? How can I stay when there isn’t enough to support my work?
I cried because there isn’t a vast difference between me and Stick, the homeless man portrayed in my short story.  He depends on people to give him change each day. I depend on people to support my work.  You can’t survive devoid of the support from the people.
No, they weren’t in the room last night.  They never are in the room. 
27 Views of Durham.  My view is for you.


  1. But they "could have been"...writing about them is not enough, get to KNOW them, pick them up, and make them YOUR guests of honor.....that way they don't have to fit in....everyone else gets the opportunity to KNOW them not just through your book......but from the opportunity you have created.......even if you are not driving...engage a church van...whatever it takes
    "do it for the next one" HUGS!!!!

  2. I really appreciate this perspective, Carl. It was a wonderful event but also a very particular community of Durhamites. Glad that you can bring other voices into that room.

  3. I don't know if we'll have a voice if you leave Durham. I definitely know we won't be better off if you're gone you much. I wait with abated breath, your decision to stay or go......

  4. That was a great and very true blog. Very insightful and very sad. I agree 110%.


  5. I, too, hope you will stay in this City you have adopted as one of your homes. I love hearing the voice that you lend to this community and love supporting your various advocacy works. Ironically on the day of your reading, I had sent a letter to Dave Fellerath who had reviewed the book for the Independent, and in our dialogues back and forth, I was curious how the 27 were picked...since there were others of our voices who I felt should have been heard and which would have caused even more voices and views to be heard....and which would have clearly added to the diversity in the room....but once again let it be known that the minister of culture, My Dad's nickname for me which has been adopted by others, wants you to STAY!!!!

  6. Regret we could not make the event Thursday night, but stopped by Regulator Friday evening to get a copy of the new book. Also picked up a copy of "Preacha Man", one i've wanted to read for a while. Thanks for all you do for and share with our home Durham. - Kevin Mizzou '84