In July, 2008, I, Princess Rachella, Intrepid African American Girl International Journalism Consultant, pulled up stakes once again and headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Through my various adventures, I've concluded that if I get any MORE explosively fabulous in these prequel years to "THE BIG 5-0," I will have to register myself with the Pentagon as a thermonuclear incendiary device.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
This posting is DEFINITELY not about that. To paraphrase the brilliant Coen Brothers, my womb is now a "rocky place where no seed may gain purchase." No need for Rachella to worry about pregnancy from here on out.
No, this posting marks the first time I've felt ready to write about my recently- deceased brother Fred Wesley Jones, the one who decided to stop taking his diabetes medication regularly, years ago. The one who could talk the horns off a billy goat. The one with the big dreams and goals and plans. The one whose health deteriorated so badly at the end, he was an obese, stooped, shuffling, wreck of a man. And the one who could dip an old Army boot into his secret recipe barbecue sauce and make it taste like the best thing you ever wrapped your lips around.
But whenever opportunity knocked, Fred seemed to have an excuse to ignore it. Poor Fred never, EVER lived up to his potential. And he had tons of it.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again--I come from a really, really smart family. My mother's IQ was off the charts when she was in high school, but her mother didn't support her doing anything other than helping raise her 8 younger siblings. My father was a genius with all things mechanical, even though he never made it past grade school. All 10 of the Jones offspring were known in Cairo for being the smart, bookish, nerdy Jehovah's Witnesses who were basically social pariahs.
Here's just how smart the Jones siblings were. If any of you readers have ever met ME during these past 50 years, the following confession says it all: I consider myself the dummy of the bunch!! Always have. But that's okay, because being the dummy in a bunch of geniuses still gives you a pretty good jump on the rest of the populace.
Anyway, Fred was was a really good orator, as most of us are (were), and had the same deep, fluid voice we all possess(ed). And he was not only smart, but athletic. Fred was a football star for Cairo High School. I can't remember what position he played, but I know he was good. And I remember his Senior Year picture, which is the way I have been thinking of him in the two months since he was found dead in his chair. In that 1970 photo, Fred was pensive, staring off at an angle instead of directly into the camera. And he was very handsome. And very young.
And very alive.
Anyway, the reason I'm writing about Fred now is because last night, after I'd poured myself onto the couch at the Oasis, after a long day of planning for the next Kenyan Alliance of Health and Science Reporters week-long workshop, after making and answering lots of phone calls, and emails, while preparing myself for a Skype call with someone from Geneva who wants me to take on another really exciting, potentially lucrative short-term journalism training project, I logged onto one of my 3 email accounts and found a message from a woman I've never met, who heard about the project through another woman I've never met, and who's in town from London for only a few more days, and who wanted to meet with me before she left.
I swear, you guys, I almost flung that laptop against the nearest wall!!! I almost wanted to start yelling and cursing and shouting, "ENOUGH!!! I am just one person!!! I can't do everything!!! Stop nibbling away at me like a million little greedy-assed ducklings, for God's sake!!!!"
And in that exact moment, I thought of Fred. I've had a few nightmares about him recently. You see, I'm having trouble visualizing him being in a box, underground. Fred was so full of life...even though the second half of his life was inarguably chaotic and tragic. Even in the depths of emotional misery and interpersonal drama, Fred could talk a good game. He always led with a positive cliche or an uplifiting sentiment, even when all the rest of us just looked at him and shook our heads.
Fred always had a half-baked plan or a scheme to make a mint. He loved scouring flea markets and garage sales, a passion he shared with our mother, because he was convinced he was going to find the one priceless item that would set him up for life. He swore his allegiance to mentoring young people in Cairo and its listless environs, even though his relationship with his own two children was strained at best. He was active in local civic circles, attending town meetings and doggedly researching Cairo's intriguing history, hoping to come up with a entrepreneurial development scheme that would revitalize the entire region.
The saddest thing of all is that Fred possessed the golden key all along. He could have been the "Colonel Sanders of Barbecue," if he had truly focused on that one thing, and given it all the attention and enthusiasm he splintered off in a thousand different directions. He had all the external evidence he needed to chase that dream whole-heartedly; anybody who tasted his grilled meat went absolutely apeshit! It was mostly because of his special sauce, but it was also because of his grilling technique. He attended BBQ Battles throughout the Midwest, loading up his converted metal garbage can-cum-grill, tying on his apron, and turning on the aggressively corny "Fred Jones Shtick." If you didn't have to hear it 24-7, Fred's upbeat, can-do patter was actually mildly entertaining. But it was the 'que that really made believers out of anybody who met him.
At one of those cooking contests, some guy offered to set Fred up in a restaurant franchise. His food was that good, and his persona was that persuasive. I'm not going to sit here and pretend I know all the details of that encounter, because the guy could have been smarmy, or Fred could have done some thorough background checks before deciding to reject the offer. All we ever knew was that Fred said he didn't want to "lose control of his recipe." He didn't want to work hard and make big bucks for some other guy, even if he got a cut of the profits. He wanted to be the big dawg in the fight, and run his own show.
Once again, we all just shook our heads. It was a chance. It was his shot. It was an opportunity knocking. If he worked hard enough, we all totally believed Fred could have eventually bought the guy out and struck out on his own. WE believed in his product that much.
Til the day I die, I will believe that Fred turned down that offer because he KNEW it could succeed. He knew his barbecue could make him successful beyond his wildest dreams. And Fred was afraid of having all his big talk come true. He was more comfortable talking about success than actually being successful.
Which brings me back to my "verklempt" moment on the couch last night. I've told several people that the past few months have been a blur, because it seems that every day, someone else comes along wanting my advice, input, support or partnership. They like what I'm doing. They can see tangible fruits of the KAHSR project. After they've met me, they believe I can accomplish what I say I can accomplish. And as everything I conceptualized in that grant application last April actually starts occurring, it's like that famous phrase from "Field of Dreams."
"If you build it, they will come."
For me, that means if you talk a big game about what African journalists need in terms of support, nurturance and guidance, people will start coming out of the woodwork to ask for your advice, input, support or partnership. You built it, and so here they come to take advantage of what you built.
Am I as afraid of success as Fred was?? Is all this attention making me want to flee for the nearest exit? Will I wind up talking myself out of achieving this goal I set, this dream I dreamed up? Will I let Life, or whatever subterranean demons swirling around out there in the Existential Soup, lure me away from this moment in time that, basically, I have spent the past 50 years preparing myself to be ready for?
"Y'all know me better than that!"
Sure, it's hard. Sure, I feel stressed and overwhelmed at times. A lot of times. Sure, I wish I had a bigger budget and 4 more employees, and 3 more Princess Rachella clones to do this work.
But I don't. All I have is me. And my belief in me. And the knowledge that even if I fail, I will have gained so much because I tried.
That's why I keep having nightmares about Fred being in a box, underground, suffocating. Flailing and clawing and trying to get out. That's how I know I would feel, if I gave in to fear of success, after working so hard to become the supremely capable woman that I am.
That's why I keep going, and I hope Fred appreciates the effort. It's partly for him.