This picture was taken last year at a restaurant in Atlanta. I had just finished a book signing for the release of Book 3 in The Stella Trilogy and was to act in the stage-play Blakk Amerika: From Prophets to Pimps the next day. Hungry, me and two sisters decided to sneak off from the group and grab a bite. This is me posing with the daughter of one of the sisters with me.
This picture is significant because it is at this dinner that I explained my vision for my next book, Nora’s story. The ladies were encouraging as we discussed our thoughts on The Harlem Renaissance movement and the ideas for the book. I wanted to create an environment where the character would, literally, interact with history. What if you were seventeen years old and had the chance to be in the presence of such persons as Langston…
I speak. “Thank you. It means deliverance and life.”
“Is that your real hair?” a man asks me on the street. I used to be confused before I went back to Chicago and discovered loc extensions were a thing.
I speak. “Yes. This is my real hair.”
“I like your dreads,” says someone else.
I speak. “Thank you, but I like to call them locs, not dreads.”
She looks confused. I speak.
“The term Dread Locs came from the war between British Colonists and the Jamaican Maroons, descendants of blacks who fought and escaped from slavery and established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica. The Britain’s “dreaded” to see them coming down from the mountain because of their physical appearance. They wore their beards thick and their hair kinky. This hairstyle then became known as dread locs.”
“Oh”, she says, “I’m sorry.”
I speak. “Its OK. I’m not offended. This is just why I like to call them locs.”
“Are you Jamaican?” she says.
I speak. “I have been there but no, I am not Jamaican.”
My husband and I are at Denny’s. Sometimes we are just in the mood for breakfast we don’t have to cook ourselves. Its not a special occasion, its just our thing. And yes, we got tired of IHOP; we decided to switch it up. I order a delicious looking skillet meal. It comes back with melted cheese, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, egg, the works! It looks delicious but there’s bacon in it too. I call the waiter over.
“This has bacon in it but I don’t eat pork.”
“We can fix that,” he says taking my plate back. “We have chicken sausage,” he says.
I love meat but somehow pork always finds its way in the meal. I play it safe with a vegetarian version of the plate.
“OK,” he says and takes my plate.
I really hate sending plates back but I’m not in a mood to be sick today. I have not eaten pork in seven years.
I’m visiting Chicago and I’m at my cousin’s house. We are about to eat. I say a prayer. I always pray before I eat. It is something my mom taught me when I was little and I have always done it. My cousin looks at me funny. He’s a Jehovah Witness.
“Ain’t no Allah up in here.”
My hands are outspread, palms facing the ceiling. My head is bowed. I finish my prayer.
I speak. “That’s good because I’m not a Muslim and I do not pray to Allah.”
He is silent. I eat.
For today’s assignment I wanted to expose the quality of speaking. I talk a lot about the importance of being silent but if we are silent when we are to speak it can be just as damaging. In some cases, silence is not enough. We must speak.
OK, so you’re sitting down somewhere and you decide to read a book. Everything is going well and you’re sure that if given the chance you’ll win “The Best Reader Ever” award. You sit there and you think to yourself: “Wow, I am such a great reader!” All smiles as you professionally turn the pages. Then you decide, at a different time, to read a book. Only this time you decided to read it out loud instead of to yourself. It may even be the same book but somehow it doesn’t seem to be going as well as it did the first time. The same words that flowed smoothly in your head seem to have added more syllables. It’s to the point now that you stumble over words that were hard back in third grade. “Huh? Now I know I can read.” You say to yourself, you cannot understand it and for a second you even close the book and look at the cover. Yes, it’s the same book.
What is the correlation between reading in our heads (silently) and reading out loud? Does speaking guide us deeper into the conversation? What kind of power is there to a voice pumping out words? As I think about this, I wonder how this would sound if I was to record it for you. If instead of a blog post I sent a memo instead, do you think you would understand it better? After all, in this age of technology it is not always easy to discern the intent of text. I wonder if the tone of my voice, my mood, and my pronunciation would change the context in any way.
In my opinion, I think both the written and spoken word is important. And as I write, I do not believe every poem should be spoken. Some of the poems I write are structured in a way that must be read, while others are structured in a way that must be heard. In this way, I believe the difference in the way we react to the written and spoken word is in the differences in structure and style. For instance, in a letter I may write: “I ponder this as I prepare to release…” But if I was verbally speaking to you I would probably say something like: “I thought about this since I’m about to come out with…” It is not that I cannot write how I would speak; it’s just that we tend to speak in a less formal way when we’re talking than when we are writing. It is much more spontaneous, there is no preparation; we use the slang of our upbringing, and neglect complete sentences.
This is what I like most about the spoken word. There are so many additional elements available to help understand the meaning. You don’t just have words to work with, but there is also body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. A speaker is capable of both giving and receiving feedback instantly. Right away he or she is able to determine whether or not their way of dress, hair style, or accent influences the information in any way.
On the other hand when we write, it tends to present itself in a way far more grammatically correct (I use grammatically correct loosely and really for lack of a better word since my writing is not exactly grammatically correct in the English sense of the word but you get the point) than if we were to say it out loud; perhaps a symbolic way of representing things like pauses or tone of voice in speaking. While speaking is straight forward, writing must take on a form of speech in a way that demonstrates the moving of lips without physically seeing which is perhaps the implementation of a more proper usage. You can see my facial expression when I’m talking to you but to write it I must use words to create that image. That is what I love most about the written word, a portrait of something painted not by images but by words. A sound heard not because it is audible, but because it was etched into paper in a way that is loud.
Additionally, the most important, and also the most fun, thing about writing vs. speaking to me is also that it tends to live on longer. This can be a good and a bad thing. It can be a good thing because it gives us the chance to record beautiful words like poetry and stories to live on for as long as they need to. Our books can be passed down to our children and grandchildren like pictures. But it can be a bad thing because if you recorded something wrong or irrelevant that can also live on! I think this is one of the reasons writing has been associated with being a kind of skill. Perhaps it is because we learn to speak before we learn to write. We pick up the language of those around us and attach to them the context of our environment. Before you know it we’re “Mama” and “Dada” all over the place! Now, because we have understood this language and associated it with the people around, this does not mean we know at that moment how to write it which will come much later.
But today is a new day, and with technology the power of speech has taken on new meaning and it too is also considered a skill. Not only can you record permanent versions of speech such as poetry, memos, speeches, lessons, etch, but today writing is not alone but “Public Speaking” has also evolved into a skill.