Be My Guest: Michael Arceneaux

by

CD - Mary J Blige - My Life

This week, I introduce my dear readers to my very first dear blogger. His name is Michael Arceneaux and I discovered him right in the comments section of my blog. He makes me laugh out loud. Both on my blog and on his own blog, where he introduced me to the Stanky Leg and the Halle Berry dances. We’re also following each other on Twitter. A few weeks back, he mentioned on Twitter that Mary was his favorite singer. Not because her voice was perfect. But because of a special story. I asked him to share it with me. And he did. Then I asked him to share it with all of us. And he did.

I encourage you all to check it out. I’m very proud of Michael’s work. Both on this piece. And in his life.

_______________________________________________________________________________

My Life

By Michael Arceneaux

There is no contemporary album that bests My Life. I’ve been bumping it since I was 10.

I would lay in bed with with my Audiovox CD player, (the Sony Discman was too expensive), and play this album over and over.

Unfortunately, I shared a room with my younger brother, Marcus.

“How many times you gonna listen to this song?” he would say, as I played the title track once more.

Everyone else was practicing TLC’s choreography and rapping along to Nas, Biggie, Big Boi and Dre. I had their music too, but I was stuck on Mary. I felt like we had a connection. My Life was about pain, heartache and confusion.

I was very familiar with all three.

From a very young age, I knew that I was gay.  And I was conflicted and confused about it. It didn’t help that when I was six, I went to a funeral for an uncle who died of AIDS. He was a drug addict, which led to his ultimate death. But when people think of AIDS they instantly think of homosexuality. I quickly learned the word faggot after my uncle’s funeral as people made assumptions on what happened to my uncle. Were people going to say that about me? Is that what I was?

I didn’t have the worst childhood ever, but there were many instances where I felt unhappy, alone, and like no one understood me. I could see a lot of myself in Mary.

Watching her fight for her happiness over the years made me feel like I could overcome my own obstacles.

I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to share this with her, but in the summer of 2003 I did.

I was interning at a radio station in Houston. When I heard Mary was coming to the studio I was ecstatic. I immediately tried to think of a way I could tell her how much her music had meant to me over the years.

I was 19 that summer and still turned to her music for comfort. I continued to struggle with my sexuality. Only now I debated over whether or not I should act on my feelings or continue to bury them. Whenever I got burned out on that internal debate, I’d cue up Mary, lay back, and let my Discman (I upgraded) give me a few minutes of peace.

I wanted to let her know how much of a help she was. But I had a dilemma: Did I risk acting like a groupie when I should be a professional at my first internship?

I decided to write her a letter and try to sneak it to her.

I  got on my laptop, and poured my soul out.

Your album was the first album I ever purchased. And I’ve been playing it non-stop for nine years. Even when I didn’t understand everything single thing you were talking about, I could feel your sadness, and it helped me cope with my own.  You’ve helped keep me sane and want to keep going.

I know what it’s like to feel miserable and unloved, I know what it’s like to have people constantly criticize you and I understand what it’s like to want to be happy but simply can’t be.  I know it’s mainly women that admire you. But I wanted you to know that I, too, appreciate the honesty in your  work and the fact that you’ve been brave enough to be so open throughout your career.

Before she came to the studio, there were whispers over how she would act. Apparently the last time she came with her sister, LaTonya, the two weren’t all that pleasant. I believe the word bitch was used a couple dozen times.

Kandi Eastman, the jock I interned for, stepped out of the studio for a moment. And when Mary arrived, I was the only one there.  She entered the room wearing an all white jacket and a big smile.

“Hey,” she said. “How you doing?”

Before I could even answer, Mary extended her arms out and gave me the biggest hug. Maybe she thought I was the DJ, but who cares. I was hugging Mary without having to post bail as a result.

“I have something I wanted to share with you,” I said. “Whenever you find the time to read it.”

“Cool,” she said. She placed the letter into her Louis Vuitton bag.

She did the interview and that was it. I wasn’t sure if she’d actually read the letter or if it would just end up in the trash.

A week later,  I was in Los Angeles at the Staples Center watching a charity basketball game.

During halftime I picked up my phone and saw that I had voice mail.

“Michael, how you doing? This is Mary J. Blige”

My eyes lit up and I almost fell out of my chair.

“I read your letter finally,” Mary said. Her voice was wavering. It sounded like she wanted to cry. “I just want to say to you. You have no idea. You made my day. You made it to where I want to go on. I thank God for you and this letter. ”

I was stunned.

She even left a number for me to call her back.

When I called back, her then fiancé, Kendu, answered the phone. I could hear Mary grab the phone when her husband said my name.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Hey, this is Michael, I’m the one who wrote you the letter…in Houston?”

“Hey Michael,” she said. “I remember you.”

“Thank you for taking the time to read my letter,” I said.

“No Michael,” she said. “Thank you for writing it.”

After that call, I realized I could make a connection with people through my writing.

But it wouldn’t be until this year that I got that personal again.

Last month, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Massachusetts student, hanged himself after enduring bullying at school. Days later another 11-year-old boy, Jaheem Herrera, from Georgia, also committed suicide.

Both were on the receiving end of countless gay slurs leveled against them.

I’ve never written about my sexuality. I’ve given hints, danced around it, and dropped some obvious clues, but I’ve never written the words “I am gay” in any published piece. Though much of that had to do with worries over being placed in a box as a writer, I also feared that I would be alienated from my family.

But when I learned of these two boys hanging themselves, I needed to say something.

I thought about all of the people who called into the radio show that day to thank Mary for sharing her story. It made me realize that sometimes it’s not about me, it’s about those suffering who need an encouraging word.

Since the article has  been published, I’ve gotten letters from people thanking me for my honesty and for keeping the story of Carl and Jaheem alive.

I don’t regret my decision.

Years ago, Mary told me that I encouraged her to go on. It’s taken me a few years of listening to her voice mail to actually get it. But I get it now.

I can’t sing a lick, but I’ve learned from Mary another way to use my voice.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

mike

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated freelance writer now based in Los Angeles.

He maintains blogs for The Root, BET.com, and TV Online and also contributes to outlets like XXL and Comedy Central Online. Actually, he’ll write for any publication that still has an actual budget.

When he’s not writing for others he’s comparing his Uncle to Rick James and sharing fun facts like which pop artist resembles a Teddy Graham on his site, The Cynical Ones.


dear readers, have you had moments in your life where you had to step outside your comfort zone for the greater good? Have you had an encoutner with a celebrity that changed you? (For better or for worse.) Was there a particular album or artist that really had you open at a time when you were impressionable and vulnerable?
Michael and I  would love to hear from you…
mary-michael
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26 Responses to “Be My Guest: Michael Arceneaux”

  1. Far Above Rubies Says:

    I’m a big fan of Michael, and read his “Recession Diaries” blog on “The Root.” He’s a great talent. And by the way, I’ve looked up to you, Ms. King, for years! May God bless you both :-)

  2. Katura Says:

    No life-changing celeb encounter for me, but I enjoyed reading about yours. Great first guest blog.

  3. Ozakie Says:

    Oh so many things I want to say.

    First, Aliya, such a great idea for the guest blogger. Definitely keep them coming as long as they are people writing them;-)

    Second to Michael, as a gay male, I can COMPLETELY relate to this story. I must have been going through some emotional turmoil during my sophomore year at college bc My Life released during that year became my life’s soundtrack. Hell, it was being played out of the dorm rooms of pretty much every black female student and possible some other male students who felt what Mary J. was singing. Now Mary has released other albums that people felt were significant in her career like Mary and The Breakthrough, but to me My Life will always stand out like Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear as a defining album. Great job Michael hope to read more from you.

  4. Tanisha Says:

    Great story! It was good to know that Mary also touches the lives of men like I know she has done for so many women. Kudos to you Michael for sharing something so personal. Mary is one of my favorites and has been for a very long time.

  5. Luvvie Says:

    Wow. That was the best thing I’ve read today and I was at my desk smiling towards the end. I think coming out is one of the most courageous things people do, and I can’t imagine the anxiety behind the decision. I was already a fan of Mary J. Blige but I’m an even bigger fan now.

    Thanks for writing this, Michael. :-)

  6. Maiya Says:

    Firstly, Aliya, you know I adore you and your writing :). And Michael, my dear friend since Freshman year at Howard, yours too. You can and WILL change lives through your words. What a lovely collaboration. And I am beyond proud of you for publishing this.

    XOXO
    Maiya

  7. Naturally Alise Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that, made me feel “some kinda way.”

  8. Melody Jones Says:

    This is so inspiring, I am a faithful reader of Michaels blog, and feel honored to be able to witness such a personal side of him through this guest blog. Keep up the great work!

    -Melody Jones

  9. Yolonda Says:

    Mary is one of my favorite artists because she is so transparent with her ups and downs. Michael, kudos to you, for sharing so much.

    PS. That VM speaks VOLUMES.

  10. smallmediumlarge Says:

    wow. this is just what i needed today. big up to michael for being honest and touching without being maudlin.

    big up to aliya for her unending enthusiasm for writing and her virtual mentorship to one and all.

    big up to mjb just because she’s mjb and she had me wearing leggings, combat boots and blazers back in 1992, singing “love no limit” at the famu talent show, and weeping during her “mary” show at njpac…

  11. tyrone Says:

    Michael’s piece is one of the most beautifully human and honest stories I have ever come across. It reminds us all that we can only be who we are, and that we must allow folks to be who they are.

  12. Timothy Says:

    Very entertaining guest blogger blog

  13. jackieholness Says:

    I was touched…

  14. clove Says:

    keyshia cole could learn a lot from Mary! :) really touching story. can’t believe she went to those lengths. I wrote a fan letter to ja rule in high school. didn’t hear back from him lol

  15. Miriamwknc Says:

    Michael, I truly appreciate you opening up and sharing your story with us. You are truly special and I look forward to seeing your words printed in every major publication in the future.
    And although I have to return the wedding dress I’d bought for our wedding, I will continue to support you in all you do.

    It also just really brings into focus how the people inspiring and motivating others need to be encouraged sometimes as well. I always knew I loved Mary for a reason.

  16. www.hassanmunford.com Says:

    Hey Aliya and Micheal,

    WOW, I wish I wouldve logged on yesterday cause I sure have a nice amount to share. But I will keep it short.

    My Life – The title track was dedicated to me by one of my best friends when I returned home from Mountainside Hospital’s Mental Health ward, after a nervous breakdown. It brought me through a lot.

    Yesterday, when this was posted, I was stepping out of my box. I stood in front of Newark’s baddest kids in the detention center and discussed the issues I faced growing up after being sexually abused. I have been working on this for awhile but yesterday’s session was the most personal and powerful setting.

    They were amazed and many came to speak with me about issues they were currently facing. I always knew that God would one day use my story to inspire others but I never thought I would be ready to give it to the world. But HE is….

    Peace
    Hass

  17. DaniK Says:

    Wow! Am I so proud of Michael…as a writer, new alum of HU and former intern at The Root.

    Makes me proud to know that we can still change the world through words.

  18. Michael Says:

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my entry and leave feedback. I really appreciate it.

    I’m still really uncomfortable with opening up (I believe you’ll see that in a future post on here lol), but I’ve really encouraged by all of the feedback.

    Thanks so much, ya’ll!

    And [thank you] Aliya for the honor. :)

  19. Michael Says:

    *I’m really encouraged.

  20. Aliya S. King Says:

    Michael, I’m very proud of you.

  21. Joanna Says:

    Mike, That article made me tear up. The title track and You Gotta Believe got me through a lot of hard moments as well. You are right, sometime it’s not about you, it’s about possibly through your story, giving someone that encouragement and word that they desperately need.

  22. ketchums Says:

    This is an incredible story. I don’t know dude, but I’m proud of anyone who can use their own story to help both themselves and other people. Keep on doin’ you, Michael.

  23. The Frugalista Files Says:

    I just saw this, Michael. You are one of a kind! Bison!

  24. lbelle Says:

    What a beautiful person you are….your story touched me, I can so relate to you and like you relate to Mary, it’s in a totally different way but so the same.

  25. Rob Says:

    You sir just earned a new fan, the ability to convey emotions through words is something that only artists can do and you sir did it in a few paragraphs. Keep up the amazing work Mike!

  26. Fall Music Preview // The Cynical Ones // The Cynical Ones Says:

    […] much as I love Mary (read here to learn one reason why), I forgot her new album was coming. “The One” was cool, but much like the review I wrote her […]

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