I liked Jasmyne the first time I saw her. I can't remember exactly the circumstance, but on another occasion we happened to be in the same place at the same time. It was the end of the seminar and we were headed in our own separate directions but still on the same path at USC's campus. We shared some brief reflections on the event and suddenly she stepped into character and gave me an honest opinion. Most of the time ordinary people have to step out of character to blurt out some truth, but with us writers it's different. We have a mode that we go into where we are compelled to say exactly what we think and to describe exactly what we sense. We get all documentarian, and we know that we have to or else we'll be stuck with the burden of handling the truth alone.
As soon as she did that, I had one of those very rare impulses which tells me, hmm, I could be with this woman. And so I tilted my head and jumped into character with her all the time wondering when I might see her again. It has been at least two years and I haven't seen her, nor have I been looking for her, but I do remember the moment. For some reason, Iyanla Vanzant was mixed into the moment as well. Either I had just met her or was just about to meet her.
At the time, I was most definitely on the downslope of my media career. I had concluded that I didn't want to be spending my spare time climbing political and social ladders in order to make some impact on.. well that whole edifice of black edutainment of which Steve Harvey is King and TVOne is the institution of choice. Other people want it more than me, and I know how ethically difficult it is to navigate those pathways. I must confess that this is a Talented Tenth dilemma I have dealt with before and I essentially see no future in it for me. So I needed to stop dabbling and be serious about what I truly want to be serious about, which is my actual career.
Jasmyne is for real in the dimensions of a few of my other black media pals, Jimi Izrael, Lester Spence and Jennifer Longmeyer - of the most well known. In particular, they have genuine hearts and are in no way the sort of opportunists who prey at the hopes of the black Americans. These are people who walk into a room and see individuals, not 'a people in need of leadership'. I am proud to call them friends because I know how rare people with charismatic talents of the sort those three possess and wreck havoc in today's media climate. I would summarize it this way. There are not many people on this planet who can get onto the national broadcast media and not make a fool of themselves, and fewer still who can make a positive impact. Do not be fooled, that is a death-defying business. As one of Cobb's Rules states, never underestimate the intelligence of people in power. The long knives are everywhere.
Now I'm going to say something that I believe most people would think I have no right to say, but it is true about me in a way that Michael Jackson once sang, I can't help it if I wanted to I wouldn't help it even if I could. But I do not care about the personal pain of individuals. I'm a stoic, and I have always been prepared to be one. Like Spock, perhaps, and certainly as a writer as I have described above, I possess a certain emotional detachment from the sort of personal emotional drama that has grown into the minds of America. And it is that facility, plus my age and experience that finds me moved ever so slightly (enough to write this post, but not a whole lot more) by the tale of Jasmyne Cannick's that I think is going to make it's impact felt on a lot of people. You see I have had a best friend die of AIDS back when people basically died of AIDS. And I have had a brother die before his 30th birthday. I've gone through the process. And since 07, it seems, almost every year, someone close to me has died.
So for most of my adult life, since the age of 30, I have had the experience of dealing with grief and much of my personality is tempered with that. Who died and why? That's what I want to know. And I say that most of human activity that counts for something requires that grown ups are dealing in life or death decisions. Everything else is just shopping.
So let me jump then, directly into the drama that Jasmyne had to deal with. Here, she speaks of a turning point in dealing with an ex-lover who was withering away in a hospital:
What I did find out was that apparently her right leg basically went numb and I guess her mom had stopped by to visit her—because she was keeping herself basically hidden away from everyone. Her mom saw her and took her to the nearest hospital—again under the illusion that her daughter was suffering from “stress-related” health problems.
At the hospital my friend never told them her status, so while they were wasting time testing for this and that, she just let them knowing all along what was wrong. Why? Because she couldn’t let her mother, her “up in the front pew, every Sunday church going, sanctified and holified” mother know. She would rather die first, and was well on her way to doing so if you ask me.
Well, sorry, I can’t play that game and I told her that I was going to tell the doctor and the nurses immediately.
She almost had a heart attack.
I had to explain to her that they couldn’t tell her mother anything because of patient confidentiality. I had to explain that they weren’t going to treat her like a leper and that she wasn’t going to be shipped of to some remote area of the hospital and left to die alone.
She didn’t believe me.
If it was me, I'm hard pressed to say that I would remain engaged. I would struggle with it. People who are ill-prepared to handle the truth - even of their very own condition? Is every such death a slow suicide?
I am reminded of Sex Panic. There was a clique of gays who were so enamored of their own sexuality that even knowing that their riotous ways were a high-wire act, they would rather be so engaged until death, rather than grow old, boring and unsexy. But at least they had the bold sort of stupidity that understood the consequences. Self-conscious lemmings are, in that way a bit better off - they leap from the cliff with a 'Whee'' rather than a 'What?'. Jasmyne roping in her friend halfway down the cliff from a position of strength is admirable from the close up perspective. A life, after all, is a life. But how complicit is the person who runs with that pack of lemmings?
One of the reasons I excel at my solitary pursuits is that I understand the value of what I do, whether or not anyone else does. There are a number of parts of my life that simply need no ascent or recognition. This is not unusual - many altruistic people express the same conviction, with the exception that their actions are pointed to individual intervention. "If what I do makes the difference in just one life, then it's all worth it.", they say in defense of their seeming folly. So there is a carefully constructed edifice of thought I've been building here at Cobb and elsewhere and it has led me to certain unavoidable conclusions. One of these is that is that grim outlook.
I'm glad that there are lucky people. There are lucky people just like there are exploding stars, and the effects of the inevitable gift of chance gives us all a reason, like the birth of a nebula, to consider the eternal forces that mock our plans. But for the most part, the Universe remains constant with rules in effect that can be ignored but not avoided. As a stoic, I align myself with that which cannot be avoided, with the constant in the mainstream of the forces of life. And these alignments tell me that saving the life of a fool can make a lucky difference, but 99% of the time it is merely an act of individual choice. No monumental significance, no butterfly effect. Nevertheless, we humans are social creatures who are profoundly affected by certain types of drama. Awaiting Taleb's or Ariely's perfect term, I call them mental illusions. Like optical illusions, they are tricks and traps that lead us to believe that the true meaning of something is what we immediately perceive.
There is no way to percieve Jasmyne's heartbreaking quest as anything but noble. Unless you're me and you have the habit of jumping into the character of a writer who is compelled to say something else. Something not obvious but evident. Yes, I am the grim faced crank who plays video war games for entertainment. I am the hardcase who has figured out how we all go soft in peacetime, how in this new wonderful Twitter-filled world of Instagrams, nobody is showing photojournalism of screaming naked Vietnamese refugees any longer.
Everybody wants to be a lifeguard, because every once in a while, you get to save the drowner up close and personal. But...