Just some thoughts and ideas going around in my head while trying to figure out where I am and where everyone else is going.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Death & The Obituary page

Larry called and said that E. Lynn Harris had died. I knew of course already because it had been all over the net. In fact the first time I read it was on someone’s Facebook page.

I was never a big fan of Mr. Harris, I remember reading his first book when he published it himself, Invisible Life, and thinking how much potential he had. Then he went to a big publishing house and I read the second one and thought that it was trite. There may have been a third book of his that I read but I can’t recall. I felt that he had sold out and I had long lost interest in his work by that time which listening to his last interview on NPR this year, he knew already.

When I was young my grandmother would scan the obituaries page in the news paper to see who had gone to glory before she had. She would see a name and recognize the person as Mrs. So & So’s hairdresser’s cousin who had lived 4 blocks up from where she did as a child and who had gone away for a few months when she was 16 and had come back with a new baby sister. Or she would see listed Mr. Such & Such who lived at the end of the street who was a drunk, or a fancy man, or both and used to make her laugh with his antics when she was young. Now granny doesn’t do that anymore. Partly because being almost 90, most of the people that she knew have passed on already and partly because even if she did know them, I’m not sure she’d recognize them. Come to think of it, I’m not sure she’d recognize me and I’m her only grandson.

Instead, I seem to have taken her place when it comes to looking for news of the dead. Of course I don’t actually do the Obits page in the news paper. In fact I don’t think I’ve read a newspaper in about 5 or 6 years now. I mean I do read the Metro that you get at the train station for free, but everybody knows that’s just a glorified excuse for advertising pamphlet. By the time you’ve read headline for each story, you’ve already read a third of whatever it is that they’ve written. What I do is search for names on the web.

This means of course that if you are a nobody like me, you’re probably still alive as far as I’m concerned since there will probably be very little news about you. But if you are a celebrity, a someone worthy of mention on CNN or *choke* Fox then I’ve got you. I‘ll be able to tell small stories about how I almost met you or how someone I knew almost met the next door neighbor of yours. I will be able to say this, that and the other about how my life was changed and how I became a better person or how I found Jesus.

From Maude to Malden, from Richardson to Jackson and from Harris to…I don’t know Cronkite, I will be able to find something to reflect on, and I guess that’s okay with me. At least then I won’t have to mourn for someone I know. I won’t have to grieve over a family member that lifted me up when I was down, or miss a friend that listened to me when no one else would. I can pretend that death happens to other people and not to those I know and love.

And that's the way it is.


  1. Recently a co-worker had her brother murder during the commision of a robbery. He was young, on his way to doing good things and an all around good guy. When death happens even if its not in your personal sphere it gives you a point of reflection. I felt her pain, but in the back of my mind I couldn't help saying a prayer of thanksgiving that this tragedy hasn't touch my family in a long time.

    As of late, much like you, death is that thing that happens to other people. I've had my turn and it is never comfortable. I was a fan of Harris either, but to be honest "black fiction" as a genre tends to be trite in my opinion. That doesn't stop the reflection on his life. My prayers are with his loved ones.

  2. Ingrid - I hope I didn't leave the impression that I was callous or uncaring about the loss of E. Lynn Harris or the loss to his family and friends. I had/have a lot of respect for what he did and how he got to where he was able to get to. I really had no intention of criticizing Harris. I just know and he recognized himself, from the interview that I linked, that he no longer wrote for me and I think were both fine with that aspect of his career.

  3. ...I had something to say...but I didn't have wood to knock on, so I'll keep it to myself, just in case...
    Grieving for loss...is always sad. But then again, I guess, depends I guess on what you consider loss and anothers gain.

  4. Death is something that we all have to put up with in some form or the other. That's a path we will all have to travel. My condolences to the Harris family and friends. Death tends to bring people together and sometimes divide. Just a couple weeks ago people I grew up with and around have gone on to the great party in the sky. I pray that I live life to the fullest and have accomplished alot.

  5. Blah Blah Blah - Good or bad, don't hold back. Say what you have to say. Having a blog is about the free exchange of ideas and you don't have to prove anything even if all you have is just a gut feeling. It's like the line the bandito gives in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre when Humphrey Bogart asks for identification and he says, "Badges?...We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."

    ♫Hershey's Kiss♫ - Sure death is the one journey that we all will take one day and I will grieve for all those that take it before I do with their friends and family. But I don't think that I can grieve like a friend or a family member because I know I'm not and if I can't find some other justification to feel more than I feel then, well there it is.

  6. I am always qoting that line...
    but usually after some drinks...and always when asked for ID...lol

  7. Whatever do you mean you haven't read a newspaper in five or six years? Shame on you spoil brat retrieving all your information via: the internet. LP.

    I can't help but chuckle after reading your blog entry, I too have a relative that searches the paper's orbits for death notices, she would even call the local funeral home(s) in her small town and inquire as to whom they had down there, their reply would always give a name and my great aunt would say " Lord have Mercy Ms. So and So done passed away, or Mister So and So done died." She would even attend the services if she knew them or not.

    I search names and orbits, and recently found a teacher I used to TA for many years ago, although the man was only fifty five years old when he passed earlier this year it was a shock and I could actully mourn his death, not like all the recent celebrities inwhich I didn't know personally with the exception of Bro Harris whom I met some years ago at the beginning of his career, he was selling books out of his trunk of his car.

  8. Chet - I'm not saying that I'm proud of the fact but most times whatever you will find in a newspaper is often copied on to the net, so I don't feel cheated at all. As for E. Lynn selling books out of his car, so the stories are true huh and not just something made up for publicity?

  9. ^ I think they are true. Viki Stringer lives in my town she's the CEO of some company (I'll find it later) - anyhoo, she did the same think and is a multi-millionaire. The genre: Hood fiction.

    I agree with you about Mr. Harris, loved his first two books, and then it felt like I was reading Eric Jerome Dickey. Not my thing...

  10. And...not going to get too personal here, but his first novel gave me a glimpse into something I never had a lot of compassion for before - it would take days to explain that one. Short version: The idea of having to hide ones sexuality was not foreign to me, but I don't think I ever really deeply considered what black men go through when making the decision to be dishonest with female partners.

    You know J.L. King - the D.L. "I'm not gay dude" ? I grew up with his daughter.

  11. KST - Most people are dishonest somehow with some people for whatever reason. What Harris perpetuated was that most black men were dishonest with others and most black gay men were not only dishonest with other people but with themselves until they got their just deserts by getting sick and dying. I found his writing to have an offensive and defeatist outlook that I didn't care for.

  12. ^ Ok, I see your point. Without the time and space, I should have held off on my comment. See, for me, the first book was an inside look at how difficult it must to be a black man and have to hide your sexuality. That said - the D.L. meme is a whole nother bag of biscuits. Also note that in later books there was always a gold-digging black bitch who tried to bring the confused black man down.

    What I was talking about is not that aspect of it, no, I mean the emotional aspects of not being able to be who you are for fear that your family, friends and culture will may view you differently, or turn their backs on you.

    Black men are held to an interesting standard of manhood in some areas, and the cultural def. of black manhood has been one of large penis, super sexual prowess, with a hefty dose of machismo. Now, look at the limp wristed, femmy stereotypes of all gay men - and you've got a major clash of who is or is not a man.

    I look around at men I know who are older who have had to live their lives in the closet, never being able to date, love or show affection to another man. Some would say that it was their choice - I can tell you that it would not have been accepted. Yes, they made a choice - keep quiet or lose your family.

    Regarding Mr. Harris again - it was the first two books that I enjoyed. The subsequent ones where awful, and yes he played into a lot of fears about gay black men.

    Another thing that really bothered me is that at least one character in each book had been sexually abused. Now given the stats - hell that's reasonable. However - what I didn't like is that there was the subtle implication that the abuse by another man somehow led them down the road to being gay. As if you're not just born being attracted to who you are attracted to. And it fits into the argument that some have set forth as an explanation as to why someone is gay. I hated that part of his books.


Did you like or dislike what you just read? Go ahead, tell me why. All comments are welcome here, good or bad let's both open up and discuss our differences or our similarities.


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