Of Bitches & Sisters and 4:44 moments

How does a song that lasts only 2 minutes and 38 seconds, a song that’s a throwaway track on a GOAT-level rapper’s sprawling but unfocused double album become a motto, a way of life, a modus operandi for a little over a decade?

Quite easy, really. When the guy adopting that song doesn’t think very much of himself and takes it out on the people he wished he could get close to. When his own ineptitude stopped that from happening, the projection was real.

“Bitches & Sisters” is 15 years in the rear-view mirror, a bonus track on Jay Z’s Blueprint2 album that used the time-honored tradition of the Madonna-Whore complex to separate the bad girls (bitches) from the good (sisters). I still remember the first time listening to the album in the Hornet newspaper office on the campus of Delaware State University and feeling like Hov had written that song for me.

My first few semesters at DSU were really more so about me buying into the hype EVERYBODY on college campuses were fuckin’. Or at least working on finding happily ever after. Easily influenced, I got the romantic words from my mother and other elders (“Girls go to college and look for husbands) and the raw from my peers (“Man, chicks down at Del State be ready to GO!”).

As a lonely high school nerd teased for my weight and many other things, college sounded like a dream come true. Even though I had randomly already begun sexual activity before enrolling, the prospect of smart Black girls who loved sex having sex with me was too good to be true.

And it was. For one, I was still holding onto an unrequited high school love, so the seeds of discontent were already sewn in that regard. Also, I was still a very self-loathing person, a habit I picked up in a flop attempt to be humble and a pre-emptive strike against being roasted. If I thought I wasn’t worth a damn, nobody else would be bothered to insult me, right?

The most important part of this sorry equation is the simple fact I had NO game. No one bothered telling me that in order to have women interested in you on any level, you have to be an interesting human being. That, I was not. I didn’t even bother wearing decent clothes in college. I truly wore sweatpants and a t-shirt every day at DSU. Ask anybody who was there with me – I only wore jeans and a golf shirt when I was covering football and basketball games.

Maybe the dress code wasn’t important, but the fact I expected to be swimming in panties for being “nice” was the biggest red flag of all, and I was too far gone to stop it. Enter “Bitches & Sisters,” a song that might as well have been Amazing Grace to me. The second verse was a dream.

Sisters get respect, bitches get what they deserve

“YEAH! Fuck her for not doing what I want, that’s why the dude she fucked dropped her!”

Sisters tell the truth, bitches tell lies

“Man she know she fuckin’, how she gon tell me that’s not what she lookin’ for?”

Sisters love Jay cuz they know how Hov is/I love my sisters, I don’t love no bitch

“YEAH! There’s a difference! Most of y’all on this campus bitches though.”

If I’d left this mentality behind in college, there really wouldn’t be a point to this. That should tell you where we’re going next.

I graduated with a degree in journalism and not long after that, I got my first full-time job in journalism, another disappointment in itself, but I had a car, a crib, a steady paycheck doing what I loved. Women love that kind of shit, right? Once again, I was sorely disappointed and instead of looking inside, figuring out what I was doing wrong, I ignored the common denominator and went with the easy path of blaming women for being superficial and shallow.

Looking back on Chris in his 20s and early 30s, I can admit that dude was a shit person – insecure, bitter, entitled, very much a projector. Oh yeah, and sex-hungry to the point that women were never people to me – just body parts and bodies in general. I was very much a follower in that respecting women was for corny ass dudes who really just wanted the same thing us raving misogynists wanted – they just took the long way home. Little did I know…

Fast forward to 2017. The same guy who was capable of breaking women down to simple pejoratives just wrote an entire album apologizing for fooling around on and breaking the heart of one of Planet Earth’s finest women MULTIPLE TIMES and realizing that things may not be the same because of his mistakes.

The first time I heard the 4:44 title track on the radio (Tidal was too rich for my blood before this new employment, still is), I couldn’t believe this was the same guy. Emotional Availability? Thinking about his kids? Realizing any miscarriages were of his own doing?

But instead of thinking that one Shawn Corey Carter was just pandering, one Chris Stevens began looking at his own dealings with women and how in spite of my presentation of being harmless…I really wasn’t. While I never overstepped my bounds physically, my mouth was reckless, my impatience and heavy-handedness when it came to trying to get what I want and nothing else…or nothing more…was damaging to say the least.

Admitting imperfection is one thing – anybody can do that. Admitting being a harmful person takes a level of honesty that not many of us, man or woman, straight or gay, Black or white, are ever willing to take on. The journey isn’t easy. It took Jay Z a solid 15 years between “Bitches & Sisters” and “4:44” to finally admit that he was terrible. Living with the fear of it being too late (“What if..you over…my shit…”) is a real thing.

And to a lesser extent, I’ve had to admit to myself recently that I’ve been in my own way when it comes to dating/relationships/socializing with women. No one told me to hate myself so much that I might as well have been wearing a neon billboard that said “LOW SELF ESTEEM – DEBBIE DOWNER – STAY AWAY!”

No one told me to not see women as nothing more than tits and ass.

I should’ve always been responsible for developing a personality – that includes going outside for more than work purposes, taking better care of myself physically so I wouldn’t be so self-loathing, being interested in anything a woman says that doesn’t start or end with “Yes, we can have sex.”

So while I’ve had this epiphany in my own life, I can’t say the same for others – everybody reaches a point of change at different times.

Problem with that is there are men still killing women because they can’t handle rejection. There are men who violate women physically simply because they can. There are men who still employ the Madonna-Whore complex or “Bitches & Sisters,” treating women based on how they appear or act. If it’s not in line with a man’s vision of how women should be, which is basically catering to our physical whims, then she’s bad news, branded with a scarlet letter.

Wild part about that is when women do go along with the program, they’re still thought of as being fooled, tricked or gamed, which is a LOUD sign of how men view themselves. “She actually gave it up to ME? I can’t believe it! I got one over! HA!”

It takes some time to work through, but men have to want to work through these issues to begin with. Women in the 21st century have drawn the figurative line in the sand – they really don’t take just anything from anybody anymore. While some of it is jokes, many women have started to give back as good as they once got and men cannot handle it because the prospect of women realizing their true power and adjusting/acting accordingly is devastating as hell. You thought it was hard to give women the bare minimum before? Ain’t no more bare minimum, bih.

So if Jay Z can admit to being a danger to women, regular-ass dudes should take a look at themselves and figure why we even have to have a “4:44” moment when we shouldn’t have even had a “Bitches & Sisters” mentality in the first place.

 

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10 Years of St. Mary’s

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In the Bonneville on 12th street, Summer ’07

I still remember the morning I left home, really left home, for the first time. Just as the sun began pushing through a dark October morning sky complete with a slight shower, I packed everything I could in my 1992 Pontiac Bonneville and after saying good bye to my mother and not being able to face my three year old brother, I took a deep breath after getting behind the wheel and drove off for what I didn’t know would be 3 ½ years of an eye-opening, frustrating, depressing and career-altering era of my life.

After finally earning my journalism degree from Delaware State University in the summer of 2007 and a brief period of freelancing for local papers in Delaware, I was offered the chance to be the sports reporter for a free weekly newspaper in St. Mary’s County. Not a sports writer – THE sports writer (shout out Roman Reigns). I’d be responsible for coverage of four high schools in the county, St. Mary’s College basketball when the opportunity presented itself and of course everything that wasn’t high school or college sports. I was always told that even the best start small, so I took it.

10 years really does fly. I remember feeling hopeful and like I could conquer the world. I had my ideas about how I would help my new employer dominate the sports coverage in the county, win awards and then within two years, I’d be on my way to a daily covering college sports or maybe even assisting with NBA/NFL/MLB coverage.

Chris planned. Life laughed.

I learned as soon as I got there that nothing was what it seemed and that I wasn’t equipped to deal with life as a one-man band for an outlaw paper with a change in regime that left me wondering if I had chosen the wrong career path.

But at the same time, I made a couple of friends that are still friends today and built a bond with a few co-workers that is still cordial and warm enough we stay in touch via Facebook on a regular basis. I also began to see that life really doesn’t owe me, you or any of us anything.

I’m still trying to decide what I want to do with my Southern Maryland experience. Should I write a book? Should I just blog about it in a series? I’m open for suggestions. But as I looked at today’s date when I woke up, I realized that 10 years ago today I started a path that would change my life’s course, for better and for worse.

Is there some bitterness? A bit. But that’s being human. I’d be lying if I said giving my time and health for a job that the boss didn’t appreciate (and might’ve been a racist) was a great experience. It wasn’t. But in finding a positive – I survived it. It didn’t end the way I wanted (leaving for a better paper and mooning St. Mary’s County at the foot of the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge on the way out), but that was a few chapters in my life that I can’t help but look back on with a mix of laughter and lamenting what could have and should have been.

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All there was to do was take selfies in St. Mary’s County. I was handsome, too.

#FreewritingFridayChallenge – Untitled

Today is the first Friday of the #FreewritingFridayChallenge I said I wanted to start on Twitter yesterday and I’m excited to share this little piece of something that I wrote recently just to keep my mind and fingers sharp. Doesn’t have a title, but it definitely has a moral to the story so enjoy and jump on in with your own rough drafts and freewrites on your blogs!

 

Being a man is funny. We say and do some cruel things to women with our broken psyches and emotional vacancies, but we expect them to love and nurture us like the mothers we often shame with our unresolved issues from a perceived lack of caring and affection, their defense mechanism against the men who had already done to them what we were doing to the current generation. Vicious cycle.

I am well aware of this and I’ve never tried to make a potential lover responsible for my well-being and self-love. Then one day, a woman came along and decided I had held back for too long. As much as I resisted, she persisted. When I stepped back, her lively hips swayed forward. When I implied she wouldn’t understand, she stood up to me – and for me. She taught me to accept love. But oh boy, being the man I am, the men that we are, it didn’t come easy.

I silently moved through life with the humdrum, mundane acceptance of “Why change?” My job paid me for 40 hours of work each week, even though it was closer to 34 because I’d mastered “Work smarter, not harder.” I caught a bus home because I was still recovering financially from cleaning up the irresponsibility of my mother that almost saw all of us out on the streets. Once at my stop, I’d get off the machine, throw some chicken franks on a Foreman grill, eat those and then catch a game or go to bed. Rinse, cycle, repeat.

But she wanted for me. She saw more for me. And to think I was too fucking stupid to see in myself what she saw in me for a while. And how fucking foolish I was to almost let her get away.

We met, cliché as it sounds, in the grocery store. My boy Eddie, a true jerk who meant well, called me at home one Friday night and said “You need to go to the store.” Didn’t ask me because he already knew my answer would be yes.

It was kind of a charmed night. The hipster-serving store was actually playing an iHeartRadio station that filled the cavernous, airy aisles with Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye and other legends of soulful song. However, the song that was playing when she caught my eye was actually “You Should Be Mine” by Jeffrey Osborne, or as it’s known by its hilariously catchy hook, “Can ya Woo Woo Woo?”

She was beautiful outside – 5’8 or so, butterscotch complexion, busty and curvy in what we consider all the right places and fire engine red locs covered her head and draped her shoulders. She was in the cleaning supplies aisle, somewhere I desperately needed to be for reasons other than romance, so I just walked through and straight for the Clorox clean wipes. She looked over her shoulder at me, I looked back at her with a smile and then we started talking.

Her name was Niara, one that would eventually become my favorite song to sing, even as I hated my own plain, resume-friendly name of Benjamin.

“So? It’s a cute name. A cute name for a cute dude,” she consoled me whenever I’d grumble about it.

Niara was an artist – a true one. She performed in and directed plays at the community theater, wrote and recited hard-hitting poetry at spoken word nights throughout the city and was even taking a screenwriting class. She lived her life with meaning and purpose, seeing every day as a new scene to do something daring, something different. Something memorable. Any man would be lucky to have her, so why me? The dumbest question a man can ever ask himself, or if he’s really remedial, ask the woman herself.

Niara cared about all of me. Not just the goofy, voice-mimicking comedian I could be when relaxed and de-stressed, not just the intelligent, open-minded and entertaining conversationalist I could be when I was REALLY feeling good, but the dominant side of me – the depressed, glass-half-empty loner who’d come to accept his lot in life, not happily of course, but what else could he do?

Niara showed me what I could do.

The first time we made love, I watched in amazement as she undressed to reveal an amazing canvas of curves, thickness and softness. I looked down at my pudgy, non-heartthrob body and was already apologetic about how unsatisfied she would be once we consummated.

“Stop that,” she insisted. “I wouldn’t be here with you if I didn’t want to be.”

And as she smiled a wide-eyed, wise-gal smirk of approval once I dropped my pants, the cloud of insecurity and self-loathing disappeared into a swirling twister of ecstasy, passion and pleasure. She cooed in the afterglow about my attentiveness as a lover, how I listened to her and her body, helping her climb a peak few men had ever assisted her in achieving.

It wasn’t enough.

I waited for the other shoe to drop.

Some handsome, 6 foot 5 skyscraper motherfucker who wasn’t as dark, was in better shape and with a baller-ass career was going to sweep Niara off her feet an there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

“I don’t know how long this will last,” I would say, “But I’m glad I got to be with you.”

She’d joke at first, growling “Who is she,” with mock anger, but as I continued to speak an executioner’s tongue over our thing, she stopped joking and…just stopped. Period.

The day I knew it was over or close to being over was the day I told her I finally got up the nerve to submit a short story for inclusion in an anthology being released by one of the few (and most successful) Black publishing companies in the country, she dryly said “Cool” over the phone.

Cool.

She was cool on me.

My inability to accept her fiery love had frozen her heart solid and I had no one else but myself to blame.

For days afterward, I fell back into familiar patterns. Not caring about myself. Going through life because I had to, not because I wanted to. Days became weeks and I once again, I was dealing with the old standby of acceptance. Acceptance that my toxic issues had fatally polluted what was potentially the beautiful life with someone beautiful that I longed for deep down.

Of course, Niara persisted. Swayed forward. Stood up to me. Stood up for me.

The ring of my cell phone on a dreary looking Tuesday snapped me out of a solemn, glum trance as I prepared to clock out.

“Niara?”

“I’m down in your lobby, Ben. Come on.”

The ridiculously rapid beat of my heart and the measured shallowness of breath sounded as loud as anything I’d ever heard before in my life on the elevator ride down. She was sitting on one of the sectionals, looking unbothered but with a purpose as I walked over to her.

She took my hand and forcefully led me outside to her car. Instead of dropping me off home or going to her place, she drove us out to a deserted park on the river, got out of the car and flipped off her ballet flats and walked barefoot in the growing grass.

I joined her, kicking off my Black dress shoes and stuffing my work socks in them.

Niara came to a sudden stop, just steps from the riverbank and I caught up to her.

“Ben, do you know why we’re here?”

I hesitated, took a deep draw of air into my lungs and slowly breathed it back out.

“Because I pushed you away.”

“See, I knew you were smart!”

We both chuckled, but Niara got serious again.

“You guys don’t get it – not every woman is the monster you’ve made us out to be in your sexist imaginations,” she said, letting the chilly breeze embrace her flawless face. “I know you feel like I’m too good for you, that I’m only leading you on. That’s the worst attitude to have, because instead of lifting me up, you’re making me feel like shit for choosing you. Never question a woman’s choice if you truly want her, because odds are if she’s chosen you, she really does want you.”

I could only nod, ashamed of myself.

Niara continued, “I see you, and I see a great guy who feels stuck, but has everything necessary to turn his life around. But baby, I can’t want it for you more than you want it for yourself, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” I softly said, looking at her profile as she continued to stare out into the gliding river.

“So you have to let me know,” she concluded as she turned to look me squarely in the eyes. “You know I’m here for you and would do anything for you. But love is a two-way street. I can’t be the best for you if you won’t even try to be there for yourself. And you definitely need to be the best for me. I know you can. The question is Benjamin, do you want to?”

Standing on a deserted riverbank with a woman who in spite of my ineptitude was ready to love me without question, my mind flashed of all of our wonderful moments together and it was at that point I knew I couldn’t let her down again. And I damn sure couldn’t let myself down again.

“Yes,” I finally answered her. “I’m sorry for questioning your love. I’ll gladly take your word for it and give you the love you deserve in return.”

“And?”

“And I’ll cook and clean?”

Niara laughed as she walked over to hug me tight and kiss me on the lips.

“And give yourself the love you deserve. That’s how we’ll last.”

With a little help from my friends…

As summer gives way to fall, this is going to be the first time in almost four years I won’t be freelancing. Budget cuts at the parent company of the newspaper I covered high school sports for have taken that source of income from me, which I really need.

Working for the News Journal, a newspaper I grew up reading, was a dream job most days and nights. Even with the stress of flagging down coaches and players after games and hustling back to the house or parking at a McDonald’s with Wi-Fi to beat deadline, it was still great. I miss it already.

That’s why I’m asking for your help to stay in the game and cover the sport I love the most and get myself going on some long past-due projects that would make my multimedia dreams a reality.

In a few days (or whenever I finalize a plan and a name), I’ll be launching a news site strictly devoted to basketball in the state of Delaware – there will be feature stories, a game or two of the week story, photos, possibly video and the crown jewel is a podcast where I will sit down and talk with coaches, players, fellow members of the media and legends of years’ past.

I also plan to start the non-fiction books I’ve always wanted to write – a complete history of Delaware State University sports, the story of high school basketball in Wilmington Delaware and a book detailing the Japanese automotive import invasion of the 70s. And I’d like to keep my music podcast The Groove Line going.

Last but certainly not least, the car me and my household had been using died in the summer and we’ve had a hard time trying to replace it so transportation is very important for all of us to get around.

So with that in mind, I’ve started a crowdfunding effort to help me get over the top while I continue pursuing other sources and streams of income. Hopefully by the time November 1st rolls around, I’ll be ready to go, so any help you can give is greatly appreciated. Check out this link for a breakdown of what I’m hoping to raise and what it will be used for. You can reach out to me if you have any questions and any help you can give would be great. Share and spread the word!

Do you know what today is?

Spring and Summer 2014 was a rough time for me (you can go back through the archives here to see allusions to back me up) – I was being pushed out of a job, my car died and personal/family issues set me back so far I’m still trying to recover from them to this very day. Two things I always had though – my laptop and the desire to write. I had played around with writing a novel before, but the anger, depression and overall hopelessness 2014 had given me so far was enough fuel that I wrote 11 short stories in literally six days.

That was the beginning of my self-publishing journey, my short story collection I’m Feelin’ That, and the encouraging feedback I got from the e-book version inspired me to keep going. As I begin work on Book Number Six (and a short story submission which I’m super excited about), I’m celebrating my 3-year indie author anniversary by making I’m Feelin’ That and my first novel Brothers Lunchin’ FREE on Amazon Kindle all weekend long.

Click on the books tab of this site to find the Amazon link to each book, then just hit that 1-Click and you’re in there.

Also, reviews are very important to us indie authors, so when you read and Amazon e-mails you asking you do you want to review – please do. Rate it as many stars between 1 and 5 as you like and write a small review.

If you thought it was great? Write about it.

If you thought it sucked? Write about it.

If you thought it was aiiiiiight? Write about it.

In the three years I’ve written and self-published books, I’ve learned a lot, made some friends in words and fulfilled some smaller dreams. I’m still hopeful that my work will find a wide audience because hey, I’d be lying if I said I was doing this just for the hell of it. I love writing with all my heart, but at the same time…kinda want the perks that come with it. It’s the sneaky Libra ego at work.

For right now though, I’m very happy with seeing my name on a book cover, seeing family and close acquaintances supporting my work and the sense of completion and accomplishment having books out there provides. Not to mention I have stories to tell. So no matter how stressful the process is, I keep writing, because trusting the process is more important sometimes than the actual process itself.

And three years really isn’t that long of a time, so the process is just beginning.

Video killed the radio star – my new book announcement

I probably picked the wrong holiday weekend to do my first Facebook Live video accompanied by a major announcement, but if you missed it, I revealed the next short story compilation I’ll be publishing and I also took some questions about writing, so if you’re interested, check out the video here.

If the video doesn’t interest you, I’ll just go ahead and tell you now – “When Innocence Becomes Experience – A Revealing Compilation” will be coming out Friday July 28 in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.

It’s my first time publishing straight-ahead romance and erotica, so I’m a little nervous, but I’m looking forward to it. Finishing up edits this week and I should have cover art by the end of the week as well, which will be debuted either here or on Twitter.

I’m still open to having beta readers and folks who want advanced copies reading through it and telling me what they think, so if you’re interested, e-mail me at chris.stevens2007@gmail.com.

The Facebook Live video is me trying to explore new ways to raise my visibility and profile as an author, and hopefully finding new readers and supporters. I decided to go live on Friday night and I thought it’d do well and the fact it didn’t is a slight disappointment, but I still think it’s a relevant tool for anyone trying to create their own way professionally, so I’ll probably be doing it again.

How to focus when sh*t gets stressful…

I’d be lying if I said the state of the world right now doesn’t have me shook. We don’t know what world we’re going to be in tomorrow, the next hour, the next minute, the next second and it’s terrifyingly stressful. Hard to say life goes on when one segment of the population is bent on destruction to get their money.

That makes it REALLY hard to focus on your daily responsibilities and makes it almost impossible to pursue hobbies, side hustles and goals. I haven’t recorded either of my podcasts in months. That’s how stressful things are right now.

All that said, we still owe it to ourselves to do what we can for ourselves and those around us. It’s a trying process, but you don’t want to leave here with any regrets. This is something I’ve learned as I try to complete much of what is on my vision board, much of which is still in progress and a few things nearing completion. This post is a quick checklist of what I’ve learned and hopefully it’ll help someone else trying to get things done during hard times.

Breathe. That’s Rule “Nombre” Uno, as the Notorious B.I.G. once said (of course it’s numero, but I’m not correcting the greatest rapper of all time, rest his soul). You can’t get anything done if you’re tense. So try to give yourself a few minutes a day and a few seconds at a time to just breathe in, breathe out. You’ll feel a lot less stressed and slightly refreshed.

Write it down. For someone who makes whatever living he can with his words, I’m awful at making lists and journaling. That’s something I’ve been changing in recent months as I prepare to run my first official 5K in September. I’ve had to chart my endurance and distance since I started running again in May and right now I could run a 5K today with minimal stress. All because I’ve kept a chart of my progress.

Self-Care. This is the wave. Please take time out of your day to do something for yourself. Whether it’s something as small a trip to your favorite coffee shop or corner store or something as big as date night (and if you’re anything like me, a night cap!), you have to take some time out for you and you only. If that includes someone else, fine. But for me, watching ESPN 30 for 30s and TVOne Unsung episodes OnDemand makes my life just a little less stressful.

Do what you can. You can’t finish something all in one day. Lord knows it took me almost two years to complete my fourth novella after publishing three in 15 months. So whatever it is you’re working on, you don’t have to finish it all in one day, but it is important to keep plugging away at it until it’s done. If it matters to you and it’s important, find a way.

Be kind to yourself. Last, but certainly not least. We are our harshest critics, as anyone who knows me can attest. It’s not helpful when you’re beating yourself up because you didn’t finish something when you wanted, or you compare yourself to someone else’s progress and life. Run your race in your own lane and pump yourself up while you’re doing it. You have to be your own cheering section first before other people jump on the bandwagon. So write down what you like about yourself, good things you’ve done and that you think you can do and go from there.