It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – June Harris, Moms’ Mantra
Let me just start with Koshies!
And Daddy’s playful voice when he asked for them!
Big, sloppy kisses upside my cheeks. Joyous moments from a father who often worked at least two jobs — including his day gig as lead gardener with the Potomac Electric Power Co, from which he retired.
Sometimes he didn’t have time to be Daddy. Sometimes he failed as Daddy. On May 24th he would be turning 98. He died in 1994, in Maryland across country from my LA home, in the hours after the Northridge Earthquake. Shook me to my core!
His birthday got me thinking about Koshies.
In my mind, Koshies always come with my father speaking tenderness, always conjure a side of Pops that I’m grateful I can recall, when Daddy emanated joy and silliness and hope.
Just writing the word makes me smile and stops time on rare moments in my childhood, even embarrassing moments, especially as I got older. I have no idea where he got that word, or how he came up with it. Since it shakes me to my core that I can no longer ask him, now I don’t even want to know!
For the rest of 2021, I’m forging a new attitude, chasing an uplifting fragrance, seeking an almost evolutionary hopefulness as our species regains, slowly regains, its sea legs after Covid. I’ll be dedicating all Wreaking Happiness posts to exploring Baby Talk, a term I’m expanding beyond the bassinette, beyond the first definitions and connotations the term evokes, beyond the “infant-directed speech” of parents, beyond the diminishment we can inflict on each by the tone of our voice.
I certainly want to recover from, if not neutralize, the coarse language, full of lies and self-serving misdirection, that has left so many of us oxidized in the wake of MAGAteers’ scorched earth version of that foundational American tradition of power pimps scapegoating folks, targeting folks, based on some random marker of our common biology.
That long American tradition of power pimps covering for, and reserving empathy and tenderness for, the psychological state of mass murderers, racial terrorists, Chicken Hawk warmongers, and flag-waving traitors, as long as they fit the profile designated as worthy simply because of some other random marker of our common biology.
In upcoming posts, I will focus on what I can positively control – my own voice – and explore the broader theme of speaking tenderness.
I consider myself – I AM, in fact! – a recovering brooder. Before striking a healthy balance between my extroversion and my tendency to bury, hold or camouflage my feelings, I used silence as a weapon. I bit my tongue until my most trifling instincts gave me the go-ahead to unleash vitriol on someone – usually over some minor disjointed moment that could have easily been resolved with a teeny bit of maturity.
I still got tendencies! So as AA folks say, once an addict … always in recovery!
Ironically, over the years, and at my best, introspection revealed wonderful insights, literary gifts, and neon ideas that regenerated and rejuvenated me.
At my worst, I’ve extended drama, stoked drama. I’ve gloated and leered. I’ve consolidated all my gifts into language that floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee winking over his shoulder to beckon the angry swarm.
I’ve now got years of strengthening an equal and opposite set of tendencies. Now my heroic instincts compel and inspire me with a new set of tasks.
I want to identify, nurture, and burnish my own vocabulary for tenderness. I want to find the resilience inherent in a language of tenderness. I want to wonder how speaking tenderness can actually break circuits on BS and brooding and indiscriminate anger. I want to trace the DNA of the way I cultivate intimacy, sustain intimacy, enliven intimacy.
I want to tap the hum, the drone, the chant, the shifting frequencies, of my Baby Talk.
I want to sing the SongAgain that me and loved ones have created!
If babbling moves a loved one, if song moves a loved one, if one word, two words, if I got to go down on one knee and testify to move a loved one, then I want to humble myself to the inspirational contours of Baby Talk.
I want my Baby Talk to activate in my grown man’s brain the same synaptic fire that a cooing mother ignites in her infant’s brain, the same wave of meanings that swell in a young son’s brain when his daddy asks for Koshies. I want my Baby Talk to imprint a loved one’s brain with the sound of safety, sanctity, humanity, and hunger for more.
Unarmed within Baby Talk. Disarmed by Baby Talk.
Blending my inside and outside voice.
Listening to build the necessary muscle to make the Earth turn faster or slow it down.
Fully armed, I want to sound like myself when I use Baby Talk. I want my Baby Talk to release its own music.
You can guess that mine is infused with the voices of my beloved lead singers! … baby come close … saturated forever with harmonies of idealized Emperors of Soul. You’ll hear my Baby Talk tucked in an R&B classic, yet striated by delicately played Kora, or subtle thumb piano, or the playfulness of water drums, or the moan of an oud, or the berimbau’s call, reflecting powerful echoes I have absorbed from beyond my Briar Patch.
If I strike the right chords, my Baby Talk banishes the generic in its care for the needs of my loved one. If my intonation is resonant, confident as an old head running a Boston, laced with honesty, then my Baby Talk will reflect all that’s unique between you and me. Its pace and particulars will stitch us closer. Its living breathing quiet as it’s kept will play the drumming between us that reflects our own special code of togetherness.
My Baby Talk: familiar as a Quiet Storm, sacred as a series of Koshies on my cheek.
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “… When I spoke at Daddy’s funeral, unlike when I testified at Ma’s homegoing, I was a part of the official program, yet I could only speak in my most unofficial voice. Standing in the pulpit of the Ebenezer AME Church, facing a hushed crowd of over 200 mourners … friends, drinking buddies, co-workers and loved ones …, I searched for my tongue. I found it only when I forgot the body laying in the casket below me in the sharp gray suit, and remembered the man (and the best of what he stood for) whom everybody had come to praise. “Y’all know Daddy as a friend and neighbor. But y’all may not know too much about Koshies!” Koshies was Daddy’s word for kisses when we were kids. He’d call you over to him in his best baby talk: Give me some koshies, he’d say. Then he’d smack big, sloppy kisses upside your cheeks. By now, I had the mourners laughing outright. My family, all sitting on the front four or five pews to my right, smiled in recognition. I could hear Glenn, my oldest brother, laugh loudest and shout, “That’s right!” Koshies — which I acted like I hated as a kid, which I’ll never feel again — soothed me as I spoke at Daddy’s funeral. Allowed me to zero in on the only antidote for the pain I was feeling….” https://blackmanofhappiness.com/shop/