Thursday, February 25, 2010


Some might argue by turning my own words on me that I've been slow to accept emerging technologies, particularly in the realm of literature. But never let it be said that I'm against anything that puts good writing into the hands of avid readers. I'll leave the choice of whether that reading will be done off paper, screen, or some yet to be invented medium up to the individual. My debut novel Patches of Grey was written out on paper and eventually turned into a printed book that I hold in my hands with pride. Not wanting to leave out those who prefer to save space and trees by maintaining their personal library electronically, I have at last ventured into the digital arena and released Patches of Grey as an ebook that can be purchased at for download to a Kindle. There it joins my novella Feeding the Squirrels which is published exclusively as an ebook by SynergEbooks. I have no idea if I'll (via M.U.D. House Books) ever get around to giving access to my novel to owners of the Sony Reader, iPad, Tablet, etc. Demand will dictate supply, I suppose. For now I'm pleased to announce that Patches of Grey is Kindle accessible. If this puts my book in the possession of readers who would not have otherwise obtained it, I'm absolutely thrilled. As always, happy reading!

- Roy L. Pickering (Author of Patches of Grey: the printed book - the ebook)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Second Childhood Continued

Here are some mini-reviews of children's books cherished by my 4 year old daughter, as well as by her mother and I.

The Secret River - Absolutely wonderful! My daughter still yearns for picture books over chapter books with spot illustrations here and there, but she's old (and ridiculously bright) enough to want stories with more depth and substance than is to be found in shorter children's books intended for limited attention spans. This book is a fantastic bridge from child to kid literature. The entire family was enchanted by this sweet, mystical tale of a girl who wants to do her part to turn hard times into soft.

Blueberries for Sal - Grade for story: A+ Grade for illustrations: A+ Such a sweet story despite the fact that at least to the adult reader there's a sense of legitimate danger. After all, in real life not all bear-human interactions go quite so innocently. But this is a children's book, not an episode of beasts gone wild on Animal Planet, and quite a delightful book at that.

The Paper Bag Princess - Any prince who only appreciates a princess for the fanciness of her clothes and skin deep beauty rather than her heroism, spunkiness and quick thinking intelligence isn't really worth admiring, much less marrying. It's never too early to distinguish between what deserves to be valued and what merely lies on the surface, and that is what this tale helps children do.

Blueberry Girl - My first Neil Gaiman book. Probably won't be the last. The non-religious prayer that he gifts readers with in Blueberry Girl is one of the most moving things I've ever read. If you have a daughter, buy this book.

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More - I'm not sure who gets more of a kick out of Karen Beaumont's books, me or my daughter. I'll give the nod to her in a close race. This wonderful book appeals to her stubborn singled mindedness of purpose regardless of what behavior is being asked of her, and her fondness for rhyme, music, anticipation, and color.

Loopy - Just about every child has one possession that gives them security and is an absolute necessity when it's time to turn off the lights and go to bed. Many children and parents have experienced the horror of this cherished item gone missing, knowing that not even an exact replica will suffice, you absolutely must retrieve the object of extreme affection or else chaos will ensue and all hope of sweet dreams will be lost. My daughter's beloved "Nite Nite Baby" was once unknowingly dropped on the ground while we were out and about. The moment of panic when I realized it was missing is not one I wish to ever experience again. Fortunatly she was found, as was Loopy in this delightful, surreal book that all young children and their parents will identify with.

Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth - Alison McGhee throws in amusing details throughout her illustrations so it's best to go through the pages with care, first reading the main text and then spotting various thought bubbles and sight gags. With each re-read you discover a joke that you missed the previous times. So even though my daughter has a ways to go before reaching the practical joke making and tooth losing/regaining years, this deligtful book is a frequent bedtime read.

A Visitor for Bear - Little kids know a thing or two about persistence, whether it's for a sweet treat or a toy or whatever it is that they absolutely must have at any given moment. So they should identify with the relentless mouse in this book who insists on paying a visit to Bear's house, just as parents will relate to the reclusive bear who simply wants to enjoy a peaceful breakfast. No means no, of course. Except when no is simply not recognized as an acceptable option.

Silly Tilly - Very cute story about a fun loving duck whose silly antics are not particularly appreciated by her peers until she agrees to refrain, at which point life on the farm quickly grows much duller as result. I wouldn't have thought that "sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone" was a message of much use to a young child. Seems like you should have a bit more mileage on you before this invaluable lesson applies. Nevertheless, this book proved to be an instant winner with my daughter. She became so upset when informed that it had been returned to the library that we immediately took it out again.

Anansi and the Talking Melon / Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock - Anansi's trick playing greatly amuses my daughter, especially the episode describing his tomfoolery with "talking" melons and the one detailing his antics with a sleep inducing, moss covered rock.

The Story of Ferdinand – My wife is floored by the illustrations in this book while my daughter keeps asking why they weren’t colored in. We’re all in agreement that Munro Leaf penned a masterpiece about the joy of being true to yourself.

Corduroy – A classic tale that I don’t recall reading or having read to me in my own childhood, so I’m very happy to have discovered it in my daughter’s. There’s something very comforting about it.

Oink? - This book was a huge hit with my daughter though I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. Something struck her as hysterical about barnyard animals having a litany of complaints about Thomas and Joseph, and a variety of solutions to at first impose upon them and then assume responsibility for themselves. Yet the pigs either don't understand, don't care, are too lazy, or perhaps they’re too clever to be bothered. There is no shortage of those who want to fix us for a variety of reasons. But if firmly convinced that you aren't broken, who can possibly convince you otherwise?

I Wanna Iguana - A charming story written in the interesting format of back & forth notes between mother and son. Each note from the son is a plea to get a pet iguana, each response from Mom is a reason why this doesn't sound like such a good idea. The son's perserverance and mother's insistence that he prove he's ready for the responsibility of iguana ownership make for an amusing exchange, with David Catrow (one of my favorites) providing the quirky accompanying illustrations.

Princess Grace - As the father of a princess obsessed little girl who has learned via parenting that obsessions and insecurities about appearance starts amazingly early with girls, I greatly appreciate a book such as this one which shows that there's much more to being a princess (what do they do beside look pretty is the question that sets this story rolling) than the Disney variety.

The Yellow Tutu - Children can be very creative in their choice of attire, and what pleases them they assume will delight others. But children, like adults, can also be judgmental and terribly conformist. In this wonderful book a little girl is ecstatic over the yellow tutu she received as a gift and quite entertained by a whim to wear it on her head, thus transforming her into a flower, a lion, the sun. When her friends mock rather than share in her excitement, she is crushed and confused. Fortunately she finds a like minded peer who is able to appreciate the power of imagination, bringing about the birth of a beautiful friendship. The message in this book is a valuable one. It is a collaboration by sisters, one who wrote the story and the other who provides extraodinary illustrations. One particularly poignant page features a picture of the teary eyed girl so skillfully rendered that it could grace the wall of the finest museum.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

John Mayer sings the blues with foot in his mouth

Below are my thoughts, originally stated on Twitter, about John Mayer's controversial statements in his interview with Playboy.

In an interview with Playboy, singer John Mayer said "My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart & a fuckin’ David Duke cock" when asked about his interest in black women. Here’s a link to the full interview -

John Mayer doesn’t owe me an apology for being an A-hole. But he does owe me the $5 back that I spent on bootleg of his 1st CD

Plenty of black people on here can only love other blacks. Plenty of whites can only love only whites. I find them all idiots but live & let live.

If you are able to find the humanity in another person, potential for attraction is there. If you can't see the humanity, such potential is vanquished.

To those so blinded by love for John Mayer that they don't "get" uproar over his Playboy interview, let me explain. Yes, it's true that nobody cares if he's attracted to/dates black women or not. That isn't what has gotten anyone upset. What's disturbing is John Mayer's inability to express who he is or isn't attracted to w/o bringing David Dukes, head of the KKK, into it. Do you get it now?

I'm guessing maybe Mayer was drunk or on something when doing Playboy interview. It’s one thing to think something, another to say it aloud. And if you depend on people buying a product you create to make a living, it doesn't seem wise to cause animosity where none previously existed. Nice move Mayer.

This is a “taken out of context” world we live in. People often get their news in sound bite flashes. So to those who say Mayer’s quote was taken out of context I say if you haven't read the full interview, you’re probably in the majority. This means all you have to go by are Mayer’s quoted words, and they aren’t very melodic.

Based on his persona I'm prepared to accept Mayer was trying to be funny in his own way. But common sense should dictate when not to go THERE.

You don't say something like what Mayer did without desire to alienate, even if it’s subconscious, even if you later try to hide behind "I was just playing".

I don't see Mayer getting an immediate pass from people regardless of their race who aren't “fans” of racism. Those who love the guy blindly will continue to do so. Eventually just about everyone will forget all about it. He’s one hit song or relationship with fellow celebrity away from giving most of us amnesia.

When Bill Clinton made questionable remarks during primaries I gave him a partial pass because I saw it was from desire to fend for his wife. Mayer has no such excuse.

There are about 7 billion ways to say who you're attracted to and who you aren't particularly attracted to w/o offending a single soul.

The real problem isn't really when those who have made one decent album make ignorant remarks. The problem is when those elected to run this country do. But still, not helpful.

In case Robin Thicke and John Mayer were grappling over the white boys with decent black fan base title, I'd say Thicke is about to pull way ahead.

btw - I personally don't strongly connect artists to their art as a rule. If writer/painter/film maker/etc. is genius, personal life doesn't change my opinion about that.

So although he may quite possibly be an A-hole (or else someone with serious explaining to do), I'll always dig Your Body is a Wonderland.

If I still shake my ass to old school R. Kelly and sing along to best of Chris Brown, I'd be hypocrite supreme for boycotting Mayer's music. But there's a very good chance that all three of these guys mentioned are serious A-holes.

What struck me regarding Mayer’s controversial remarks was that he brought up the subject of his relationship to black folk, not the interviewer.

He chose to describe himself as "very", then said that's why black people love him (they do? All of them? Really?). He could have stopped right there. Instead Mayer rambled about having vs. not having a "hood pass", so interviewer asked about his collaborations with black musicians, not women.

Mayer proceeds to talk about definition of being black, as if there is such a thing, as if he's an authority on the subject. Interviewer then brings up black women, asking if they throw themselves at him like white women presumably do. Mayer could've given simple yes or no answer but instead - "My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart & a fuckin’ David Duke cock".

So taking all of this into consideration, no, I do not give Mayer a pass for his moronic offensive statements. That said, he comes off in the interview more insecure and self centered and god complex having (pretending to be humble is the best way to brag btw) then white supremacist.

A couple points I’d like to make. 1) If Mayer was only attracted to / comfortable with black women over white & brought up David Dukes to make this point, he is equally an a-hole. 2) If Mayer was black & brought up Dukes to explain exclusive attraction to EITHER black or white women, he's equally an a-hole.

Are black women now going to start throwing themselves at John Mayer to make him change his mind? I'm guessing no, but one never knows, do one?

It's possible that John Mayer has come up with the most brilliant way to make sistas chase him of all time. We want most what we can't have.

Dear @johncmayer – You are in a unique position to hook up with countless women. I highly recommend you diversify & grow up. Just avoid Tila Tequila.

Next thing you know we'll be finding out that Adam Lambert isn't attracted to ANY women. I don't think I could handle that. :-)

To those who say Mayer's intent wasn't foul, just his phrasing, I say all words can either be benign & malignant. Phrasing determines effect.

Mainstream media & Twitter (at least my stream of it) not really in synch. On MSN the feature story I see is "Mayer talks candidly about Jessica Simpson".

Lately a number of high profile people have made news for making racially insensitive remarks. I could devote a blog just to that topic if I wanted to. Harry Reid is one prominent example, but I pretty much defended him whereas I’m ripping Mayer a new one. If Reid says "black" or "urban" rather than "negro", his incident is a non-story, a matter of semantics. If Mayer leaves out David Dukes I'm okay with his remarks, but he didn’t leave Dukes out.

If the interviewer asked about black women out of blue and perhaps took Mayer off guard, I’d say his only sin was trying to be too clever/cute in spur of the moment. But he broached the topic so I think his awful metaphor was preplanned, conceived in advance of interview to be worked in whenever he got the chance.

John Mayer is a songWRITER. Unlike some, maybe many, maybe most, WRITERS usually say what they mean & mean what they say.

Even when saying something tongue-in-cheek, your words are still your words. Always own up to them even when dumb, especially when dumb.

I'm throwing stones at John Mayer today, but by no means from a glass house. Since joining Twitter I've defended comments I didn't see as racist but others did, & criticized remarks some found acceptable that I found offensive.

There is no black & white when it comes to racism. Patches of Grey. Every situation has its own context. Various factors affect translation.

John Mayer eventually took to Twitter to defend himself, tweeting “And while I'm using today for looking at myself under harsh light, I think it's time to stop trying to be so raw in interviews...”

Then Mayer tweeted “It started as an attempt to not let the waves of criticism get to me, but it's gotten out of hand and I've created somewhat of a monster.”

My response to @johncmayer - While you're going on about the so called "N" word, John, don't forget 2 apologize for David Dukes reference & we'll then call it a day.

@johncmayer Do you want to play the guitar for people, John, or the world's smallest violin for yourself? This is worst apology ever. Man up or shut up.

For those who think it doesn't matter much what Mayer said, look at his follower count (3,035,344 as of this writing) . No doubt at least 5% of them are impressionable, no?
Video of Mayer's public off-Twitter apology at a concert - - Seems sincere enough even though I supspect he's still doesn't entirely get the point, being too caught up in feeling bad about the fact that he made people mad at him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lessons Learned From Super Bowl XLIV

Super Bowl XLIV turned out to be a competitive game between two excellent teams, featuring less scoring than one might have expected, and that was far closer than the final score of 31 – 17 indicates. One second it looked like we were headed towards overtime as soon as Peyton Manning engineered another routiine 4th quarter touchdown drive to tie the game, the next second Tracy Porter was racing towards victory for the New Orleans Saints with a game clinching interception securely in hand. Like many I considered the Colts favorites to win, but certainly not by overwhelming odds considering the impressive season enjoyed by the Saints and their remarkably accurate quarterback – Drew Brees. The outcome was a surprise to me, but a relatively mild one. I didn’t have a strong rooting interest in the contest either. Both teams had beaten my beloved New York Jets this season, the Colts most recently and more painfully since their victory knocked the Jets out of the playoffs just one game shy of the Super Bowl, but I can’t say I was really pulling for one team over the other. I simply hoped for an entertaining game, and that’s what I got. I’m happy for the citizens of New Orleans who have literally been through hell, not that a win by a football team will restore homes or lives, but it’s a nice feel good story all the same. Kudos to Drew Brees who has had a roller coaster career and life to date. He seems like a good guy who is deserving of his moment in the sun. As for Peyton Manning who handled himself with less class in defeat than might have been expected from a guy who comes off as ever so charming in his countless number of commercial spots, he has 4 MVP trophies and 1 Super Bowl ring and plenty of touchdown throws left in his career, so no tears are shed for him by yours truly.

In addition to it being a good game, I also found Super Bowl XLIV quite instructive. Metaphors about football are extremely overused, with an onslaught of comparisons to war and other life and death situations rather than simply being described as the boyhood game it is. I get caught up in the emotion as much as anyone else, for professional football is a breathtaking spectacle that exhilarates and inspires perhaps more than any other sporting event. But beyond being a thrilling televised event viewed by more people than had ever watched anything on the boob tube before, there were moments in this particular Super Bowl that offered significant life lessons for those who choose to view them that way.

Example # 1: Towards the end of the first half the Saints were near the goal line and faced with a crucial fourth down decision. They were down 10 – 3 at the time, meaning a touchdown would tie the game, a very short field goal would close the gap to 10 – 6. Many coaches would have taken the sure three points rather than taking the risk of coming up short, remaining behind by a touchdown, and handing momentum over to the Colts. Coach Sean Payton chose to go for the touchdown and the Saints were stopped, seemingly the worst case scenario. At the time I thought it was an awful decision, but in hindsight I see wisdom in it from a football standpoint and beyond. Strategy wise, if the Colts made a goal line stand and got the ball back in the shadow of their own endzone they would need to operate cautiously. Failing to pick up a few first downs from such precarious field position, they would have to punt and the Saints would get the ball back in a much more advantageous location. New Orleans would get a second shot at a field goal if simply able to move the chains a couple times, although a considerably longer attempt than the chip shot they turned down. This is precisely the sequence of events that took place. Had the Saints made a field goal the first opportunity around and then kicked off, the Colts would have had much better starting field position for the ensuing drive and enough time to get into scoring range themselves, thus negating the Saints field goal. The Colts may even have gone on a touchdown drive to end the first half, putting themselves up 17 – 6 and in firm command of the game. Therefore, what looked like a reckless gamble by the Saints was in fact a calculated risk with less chance of backfire than appeared to be the case at first glance.

Example # 2: The Saints decision to go for it on fourth and goal was somewhat risky, but starting off the second half with an onside kick was downright shocking. Typically we only see an onside kick precisely when we expect to, with a game down to its final minutes and the trailing team desperately needing to get the ball back before time runs out on them with their offense on the sidelines. An onside kick is not a common way to start the third quarter of any game, especially not a close one, not even a preseason game when teams are doing all kinds of stuff just to practice it, and definitely not in a Super Bowl. The broadcasters confirmed that there had never before been a non-4th quarter onside kick in a Super Bowl. If it fails, the Saints are practically handing points over to the Colts. As it turned out the plan worked to perfection. The Colts were taken off guard, the Saints recovered the ball and proceeded to take it down the field to score a touchdown and take the lead. All is well that ends well, but why take such an enormous chance? Perhaps because the risk was not as big as it first appeared. Peyton Manning showed when the Colts finally got the ball that he was fully capable and had every intention of leading a touchdown drive to start the second half. This very likely would have been the case if the Saints kicked off conventionally and the Colts had to go 80 yards, or if the Colts recovered the onside kick and had less than 50 yards to go. The only difference between these scenarios would have been that the longer of the two potential drives would have chewed up more clock than the shorter alternative, leaving Drew Brees on the sidelines for a greater period of time. Sean Payton wisely feared that if the Colts began the second half by scoring a touchdown, they would have gotten far enough ahead to remain in the lead for the rest of the game. The key to victory for the Saints was for them to score first in the third quarter, and since it was the Colts turn to get the ball, the Saints needed to somehow get it back from them right away. The probability of a Colts turnover on that drive was much lower than the probability of them failing to recover an offside kick that they had no reason to expect. So with the gift of hindsight I can now see that the seemingly crazy onside kick was actually the more judicious way to go, providing an opportunity for the Saints to be where they wanted to be at that point in the game rather than hopelessly behind.

Super Bowl XLIV was just a football game, not a battle in a war, not the means by which to salvage a city drowned by a hurricane and ineptitude and awful luck. But I didn’t simply enjoy watching, I also learned from it. I learned that often what looks like taking a brave risk is actually the enacting of thoughtful strategy which improves rather than reduces the odds of success. I learned that what looks like traveling the safe route may in fact be a way to guarantee failure. In life if you don’t take chances you often end up just sitting there waiting for opportunity to be handed to you, and it’s never guaranteed that fate will be so kind. Anais Nin once said “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Have truer words ever been stated? Taking a shot and failing to pull it off always hurts considerably less than sitting back and wondering what might have been had you gone full out for glory. There is never a shortage of people who will mock our aspirations and tell us not to bother, because by pursuing them, all we’ll be doing is wasting time. But the way to truly waste time is letting it pass without attempting to realize your ambitions. Surrendering in advance of making an effort may be easy, but it isn’t cautious or conservative so much as it is self-destructive. We usually can rebound from failure, but often we cannot come back from failing to even try. Whatever risk there may be to blossom is worth taking. Playing it safe can be like not really playing at all.

I took one more life lesson from the Saints road to Super Bowl victory. Never underestimate the value of surprise. When your adversary has a pretty good idea what’s coming, such as Terry Porter’s suspicion that Peyton Manning would come back to his tried and true quick pass to Reggie Wayne on a slant pattern for a third down conversion attempt, then he/she is in good position to thwart it. But when you do the very last thing your adversary is expecting, rather than reckless it’s often plain smart. So I resolve after watching one hell of a football game to pattern my life much like the Saints’ game plan. I will take the risks that are most worth taking, err when I do on the side of confidence rather than caution, and never let them see me coming.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fatherhood and Black History Month


Some recent thoughts of mine about fatherhood and February (aka Black History Month), originally expressed 140 characters or less at a time on Twitter.

Looking forward to teaching my daughter (who I last wrote about here) about some black heroes in February & beyond. At 3 she's smarter than she should be, a learning machine.

Her daycare has done a nice job of teaching more than ABC 123. She comes home talking about recycling & Haiti & Martin Luther King's dream. Way to go!

Still, her mom & I are her primary teachers as all good parents should be. Kids pick up everything so must be careful what info is put down.

Parenting a little kid is as much about re-teaching nonsense she picks up than about passing on knowledge of our choice.

The only President of the United States my daughter has ever heard of and knows anything about is a black man. How cool is that?

Actually that's not totally true. She's also fascinated by George Washington because he's on money, we drive over GW bridge regularly to visit family, & on account of his wooden teeth.

Ultimately I want to teach her that there should be no need for a month dedicated to black history, it's a year round thing to be proud about.

And while she happens to be black, I want her to know this fact is a segment of how she is defined, not the full scope of her world view.

I've taught her that music education begins with Stevie Wonder & Bob Marley, not because they're black but because, well, you've heard them so you know why.

I teach my daughter nothing is beyond reach or too good for her. No restrictions or barriers to her success. And that I'm the boss...for now.

My daughter has yet to express interest in becoming a doctor, lawyer, CEO or POTUS. For now a princess with a pink castle will do as top goal.

Prior to Tiana [star of The Princess & the Frog in case you're wondering] the princesses she saw (mostly courtesy of Disney) were fair skinned with long straight hair and rather wimpy, waiting on Prince Charming to come and save the day.

Eventually I found fairy tale book series by Jump at the Sun. Yeah, ownership can be traced to Disney, but a step in right direction.

After finding Jump at the Sun books (which cover fairy tales we’re all familiar with, but characters made black) I discovered HBO's Happily Ever After. International flavor.

So now my daughter has the option of seeing her favorite fairy tales told in multi-cultural fashion, with narration by Robert "Benson" Guillaume.

My daughter knows that presidents and princesses and Barbie dolls can and do come in a variety of shades, way more than I knew at her age.

If I was a dad in 1950 or '60 I'd have to work overtime to instill black pride at home because the world outside our door would reinforce opposite. 2010 is easier yet more complex to negotiate.

Rather than strictly praising blackness I'll need to focus on teaching that intelligence/creativity/self-esteem = beauty before she comes to associate beauty with booty shaking video sirens.

Right now America kinda promotes "black is beautiful" one month a year, but hip hop videos & housewives of Whore-ville are year round 24/7.

I'm smart enough to know the allure of the latest cleavage & belly baring pop star will blow away tidbits about Frederick Douglass.

But if I do my job early & well enough I'll give her a fighting chance to distinguish between flash & substance, self-worth & crafted image.

And as the praised images you'll find available for purchase by clicking on the link at the end of this sentence show, she'll know she's a princess by her own shifting definition of what true royalty is -

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Artwork provided courtesy of Erin Go Paint