A few weeks ago, Mel had this post about the Great Interview Experiment 2009 , and I thought it sounded really cool, so I signed up. It turned out to be a fascinating project. The way it works is that you leave a comment to the post, and then you end up interviewing the person who comments right before you, and you get interviewed by the person who comments right after you.
My subject turned out to be a blogger known as UnderOvr, or "the U," a 59 year old African American man who writes over at UnderOvr . It was such a great experience to go through and read his blog archives, because in addition to sharing some of his poetry and fiction, he also has an array of really insightful, thoughtful posts about life that I just loved, like this one. I definitely encourage you to go and wander around his blog for a while--you will definitely find something that speaks to you.
And now, the interview:
1. Why have you decided to move back to Texas from VA?
My youngest son was recently diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy; a disease which can cause muscle weakness, muscle cramping, fatigue, lack of endurance and poor balance. We are hoping that since he didn’t experience any symptoms prior to this year, the degree of cellular mutation will be minimal. After a recent stay, my wife asked me to move back to Austin so that we are geographically closer.
2. What motivates you to write now, at this point in your life?
Simply put, I discovered a passion to write. I suppose it is rather late for me; I was never interested in writing before but as my professional career begins to set, I hungered for something that continued to allow me to express my creative drive. Some years ago, I began to travel; going places I dreamed of as a kid. I love to travel but I needed something more; something creative. It may sound strange but I always saw software programming as a creative act. I read a blog last August and the topic talked about a man having a sense of fashion and style. I left a comment telling the blogger how impressed I was with his post and that he inspired me to think that possibly one day I might try blogging. Once I started blogging, I discovered a whole new world of expression. It allowed me to find my voice and articulate what I think and feel.
3. How do traditional gender roles/traditional gender stereotypes impact your way of thinking, and how you live your life?
I know my view of traditional roles and types has changed over the past year and much of that has to do with my being open to hear thoughts, ideas and voices which I would not interacted with, if I didn’t blog. I’ve established virtual friendships with men and women who live in other states and countries. One thing my career has helped me recognize is that, there are several ways to view and resolve a computer problem. Some options are more efficient or expedient but any viable option will work. We all have a tendency to look at things one way; our own. Recognizing there’s more than one way to see and solve a problem allows me to accept input from others. Because of that view, I try not to allow gender and stereotypes to shade my perception of a person. Biases do not allow me the opportunity to get to know a person or appreciate their unique perspective.
4. What characteristic(s) do you think allows one person to succeed and thrive in the face of adversity and another to fail, of two people with similar backgrounds and life experiences?
I grew up in Chicago on the West Side. Anyone who knows Chicago will tell you that, “You don’t go to the West Side for sightseeing purposes”. One of my brother’s was murdered and one spent a better part of his life in and out of jail. Failure is so easy when the obstacles seem insurmountable. Gangs, drugs and crime are the most obvious obstacles but education, opportunity, family and friends are very subtle obstacles which can undermine a life. I think for me personally, self-destruction was my biggest obstacle. My youngest brother and I grew up in the same home and yet our lives are drastically different. I can only say, “We both made choices regarding our lives and that I learned to accept responsibility for my actions, I didn’t want to go to jail and I wasn’t ready to die. I decided that my life needed to change and I went about changing my behavior.” Many guys allow themselves to believe there are no consequences to my actions. That form of self-deception often blows up in one's face. In a cartoon, watching Buggs Bunny light a stick of dynamite in Elmer Fudd's mouth is funny. Seeing a life destroyed because of bad decisions isn't funny.
5. What's the best advice you ever received and followed, and why?
The instructor of my first computer programming language class pulled me aside one day and told me that I had real talent and that if I applied myself I could have a successful career. I think that was the first time someone other than my Mother or Grandmother ever said something that meant so much to me. Looking back at that time, I can say I was just searching for something, anything; I just didn't know what. But from that moment I was totally committed to succeeding. I don’t know why he said it but I’m so very thankful for Gene Robinson (wherever he is now).
6. Why do you blog?
I blog because I have to and want to write. I write because there are times when I hear a voice and the voice leads me to type. I may read another blog, a newspaper or magazine article that becomes the catalyst for a post. I may get the idea for a fictional character and begin constructing sketches and scenes. Even if no one ever read my blog, I would still blog because writing is what I love to do now.
7. What do you think the solution is to the lack of involvement of Black men in the Black community?
Wow! I hadn’t anticipated a question on race. There is no easy answer to that question. Today, the Black community isn’t just geographically situated. There are black men in the community I grew up in but many of those men have their own agendas and that precludes helping someone else. As I said earlier, there are obstacles and when you are young and faced with the kind of obstacles many young Blacks encounter, the opportunity for discouragement and resignation is high. There is a reason for the term, “At Risk”. Learning to overcome the obstacles one faces growing up puts you at risk and before you know it, years have gone by and faded from memory. Not recognizing one’s value makes it difficult to contribute to the success of others. I think Black men are too often governed by pride, selfishness and jealousy. That's a rather general statement but I think investing in the lives of others in the Black community requires a sacrifice of time too many are unwilling to give.
8. What question were you hoping you'd get asked, but didn't (and answer it!)
Another tough question. What do I consider some of my best writing? There are many posts which have meaning to me because I invest myself into what I write. I wrote a post on poverty in Haiti where the people eat mud pie cookies when there is no money for food. I wrote about the genocide in the Sudan. I recently wrote about the abuse of women which meant a lot to me because a member of my family and two fellow bloggers inspired me. Writing about the murder of my brother and the criminal struggles of my youngest brother was cathartic. Where does your writing struggle? There have been a few occasions where I’ve tried to be funny or irreverent but that’s not who I am. What kind of bloggers are you drawn to read? Sometimes I’ll read someone’s blog that’s funny and witty or so honest and revealing, that I’ll think, “Why can’t I write something like that?” But I’m comfortable with my voice, I genuinely love to write and I have my own style, flavor or whatever you want to call it. I think because I’m comfortable with my writing, I find it easy to let another blogger know I enjoyed what they wrote. I have a blogger friend who writes with a wit, humor and style that always makes me feel playful. Another blogger friend writes about his life with such detail that I have often identified with similar experiences and yet he’s from Glasgow. I think I’m drawn to those bloggers who write with humor, honesty and strength. Let me just add that I find there is real strength in expressing one’s weakness too.
If you'd like to read my interview by Nonlinear Girl, you can catch it here.