Nathan Ross Freeman is a playwright, lover of women, dark rums and also happens to be a friend of mine. The first time I met him was at the National Black Theatre Festival in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. I was in my early twenties, which equated to a blissful state of ignorance. Never been anywhere, never done anything type of ignorant. Looking back I can see how meeting him would result in me changing the trajectory of my life.
His apartment sits on top of what was once a barn. All the windows are nailed shut but that place always smells like a breeze just blew through it. The walls are off-white, the floors are hardwood and there is a set of cast iron stairs that serve as both entrance and exit. That night he managed to cram twenty something people into that apartment but it never felt crowded.
Nathan’s best friend from new Orleans made us black eyed peas that night. I’m sure there were at least four other dishes but I couldn’t tell you what they were if I tried. Those beans were magic. They were the only thing that mattered that night. I barely remember my interactions with Nathan that night but good God, I remember those beans. I think the only reason I went back to his apartment was to get the recipe.
When I met Nathan my father was the only man that had ever cooked solely for my pleasure. Nathan changed that and for that, I will always be grateful. The first time and for most nights after he fried me catfish with a fresh cucumber and tomato salad. He is never ready when I arrive. Let him tell it the only way to to make a meal fresh is to do it while the person is sitting dead smack in front of him. Sometimes I bring bourbon, other times red wine if I’m feeling reflective coffee or tea. Nathan never eats with me. He just sits, nods his head as I catch him up on my life and sips his drink. From there we converse, occasionally we dance, but there is always music.
Nathan is brilliant and having a conversation with him is incredibly satisfying. He is witty, observant, and listens earnestly. We talk about Nietzsche, Rumi, The Bible and everything in between. He is so well read it’s annoying. I love his obsession with words. What they mean, how they make us feel, and their implications.
Words are power and if used properly they are dangerous. I think authenticity acts much the same way. We live in a world where everything is carefully curated. Social media takes that to a new level and sometimes I wonder about the future ramifications of being authentic. If we are our authentic selves and someone buys in we become commodities.
Now I’m inclined to believe you can monetize anything, but not without some cost. You write an album about a bad breakup and it goes platinum. People can quite literally hear and feel your pain. Does it take away the authenticity? The short answer is no. Were you aware that someone could relate to this and in turn became more willing to delve deeper in that pain? Absolutely.
Nathan showed me that authenticity requires a certain amount of resolve. You have to be okay with people consuming and judging it. Does that negate the experience? Hell no. It doesn’t change that moment in time, it just becomes something that happened and can be observed with some resemblance of clarity. They say hindsight is 20/20 and foresight is priceless.
Vulnerability is scary but it is edifying. It is an essential life skill if an individual really wants to participate in this human experience. Subsequently, it has become one of my most powerful tools for self-survival. In order to have truly authentic interactions with myself and others, I have to challenge myself to go there.
Nathan was one of a few men I’ve met, that has no problem taking off their cool. He wears it like a robe, when he needs it he throws it on, when he doesn’t he throws it off. Vulnerability is weightless, it never restrains or impedes his interactions. He understands that it is available when he needs it. Seeing that opened my eyes to the fact that vulnerability is not a static state. Its fluid and can be donned whenever necessary.
The present is a present and Nathan’s apartment just happens to be a time warp. You go in at dusk and emerge albeit slightly drunk in the throngs of dawn. No matter what I have going on I’m forced to be present in his presence. He demands that of me and while exhausting, I’ve learned to take pleasure in that level of engagement. He is always engaged. Never multitasking always full steam ahead, blinders on focused. It rules him like a demanding mistress. That type of commitment gets down, eats at the marrow and leaves what’s left on the floor.
Nathan spends his nights weaving stories. He is constantly reconciling his waking life with the one in his dreams. He is driven mad by it, indulges in, and lives for it. Seeing someone do that with their life is eye-opening. I am changed, more whole, and a little softer for knowing him.