The Mother Load

The Mother Load

Full (moon) disclosure: There’s a good chance I may go all over the place with my thoughts in this post (more so than usual).

Last night, I went outside to gaze at the supermoon, came in and watched “Avengers: Endgame” for the umpteenth time, and realized I hadn’t done a post to mark the occasion of starting this quiet little blog a whole decade ago!

Spoiler alert: I’m still not (technically) gonna do one.

However long you’ve been rockin’ with this sporadic, occasionally depressing, hopefully insightful and always a tad batshit crazy home of my musings — please know that I am truly grateful to you for generously indulging me. It is my hope that you’ve left this page at times feeling enlightened, optimistic, more vulnerable and/or mildly amused. It is also my hope that you’ve spread the word so others might feel the same.

Maybe you’ve gained perspective in areas you never considered. Maybe some of my stories resonated and made you feel seen or heard. Maybe you, too, have embraced therapy. Or meditation. Or skydiving. Or tragicomical sexcapades with lanky/sketchy Cuban poets or semi-famous narcissistic actors. Or obsessively playing the “Hamilton” soundtrack ad nauseam. Or indulgent self-care rituals. (I’d like to delude myself in thinking there’s something here for everyone.)

When I began this blog, I was reeling from a season of change I wasn’t mentally prepared for and desperately needed an outlet to escape. I was struggling to find full-time work after being laid off from a lucrative job a year earlier, was fresh out of a nearly six-yearlong relationship that had grown abusive (subsequently becoming homeless as a result), and my father had been diagnosed with dementia and early-onset alzheimer’s — setting off a domino effect of health, legal, financial and family drama aplenty for years to come. To say that writing about things as innocuous as baseball game proposals and bridge comparisons provided an unlikely balm at the time was an understatement.

Ten years later, this little blog is where the façade gets stripped. And I love it.

Which brings me to a subject I haven’t really been keen to delve into because up until now I didn’t realize it was such a pain point but whew lawd is it ever!

As April comes to a close, it brings with it more than a slew of Taurus folks reminding me that I need to get my life in order and that my birthstone is trash. It also brings the ominous (for me, at least) reckoning that is Mother’s Day; the one day out of the year where I pretend to be engaged by doling out airy tributes to the moms in my life, acutely aware of my personal views on motherhood, and having come to grips with the fact that my relationship with my own biological mother is nonexistent at my behest.

For years, I’ve grappled with a host of feelings when it came to my biological mother: The classic default of hurt/angry with her for behavior that could clinically be construed as negligent/abandonment. Guilty for the last words I ever said to her nearly five years ago at my father’s funeral, after she repeatedly hit me with a program bearing my father’s face for “not getting her joke.” Sad for her because her inability to see beyond her own experiences and narrative has impaired and/or destroyed any real chance of healing or connection with me and anyone else that just got tired of trying and repeatedly failing to be heard.

And yes, I’m cognizant of the disconnect that comes with using the term “biological,” although it’s not as loaded as it’s just simply my truth. Another woman raised me. To me, she’s my mother. Simple math.

But even armed with those basic facts, I never dug into the emotional ramifications of that equation. Never paid attention to how I internalized that anger. Never noticed how during the rare visits in my youth, she’d find opportunities to insult my father, who never spoke ill of her, made countless efforts to ensure she and her family were kept abreast of my whereabouts and supported various members when they were in need decades after they had divorced. (Admittedly a bad husband, but an undeniably good — albeit flawed — man.) Also never picked up on her habit of assuming the victim role and shirking accountability when she made terrible — and often detrimental — life choices.

If I had…I would have noticed sooner that I’d become the very person I’d vowed to never become…at one point basing my decision to not have children on the fear that I’d one day replicate her actions.

Strangely, realizing I was an asshole was quite a refreshing revelation.

After unpacking how my approach to life and relationships was shaped (distorted?) by the fears, resentments, traumas and biases of both my biological and adopted mothers, I began looking at my past romantic relationships and realized there was a common thread: All of my long-term relationships had been with men who held deep resentments toward their mothers as well. One was angry that his mother brought him to America, forcing him to leave his life and friends across the pond behind…glossing over the fact that she was fleeing an a violent marriage. One was none-too-pleased that his younger, fairer-skinned brother got more attention than he did growing up. One literally blacked out talking about how his mother would take his deceased father’s social security money and give it to his younger brother for clothes and sneaker shopping, while he was supporting himself through college (even though they did not share the same father). All of them at one point had assumed the role of “man of the house” and financially supported them in their adult life to the point of straining themselves fiscally to maintain the appearance of being the “good son” and keep the desired approval/love of their mothers.

Unsurprisingly, all of them thought money, status and material belongings were the remedy for the huge emotional voids they couldn’t fill. And all had massive control issues.

And as simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying as that revelation is, it’s not an anomaly. There are SO MANY mothers who are unwittingly hobbling their child’s ability to have healthy relationships and even function as emotionally stable adults. Hell, without even realizing it, I had preternaturally doomed my children to the point where I didn’t even bother having any, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like being a woman who puts the weight of her world onto the shoulders of her child because her heart is broken to the point where she makes her happiness and dream fulfillment the priority and responsibility of that child.

Actually, I can and just did. It’s shitty.

I think about that when I hear stories of single mothers pushing their sons to be pro athletes in dangerous but lucrative sports without encouraging them to also have an education and a post-retirement business plan. I think of that when I see stage moms who aggressively force their children into entertainment without their consent. I think of that when I hear stories of women who knew their partners were abusing their kids but didn’t want to lose whatever stability that partner provided, and instead took their frustrations out on the child and abused them more.

I think of women who resent when the child gets more attention than them and ignore or put down their dreams and achievements. I think of women who can’t recover when the child is a physical reminder of the man who brought them pain and, by default, punishes them for it. I think of women who mistakenly believe that withholding words of encouragement and praise will make their kids “stronger.” I think of women who use threats and violence to intimidate their child into meeting their expectations instead of talking to them. I think of women who don’t communicate their needs, fears and desires, who risk sending their kids a message that their needs, fears and desires aren’t valid or worthy of attention, fulfillment and care. I think of all these very-real scenarios…and of the future adults walking around feeling unworthy, unloved, unable to express or process emotions and conflict…afraid to communicate what they require and be vulnerable, authentic, joyful and free as a result.

And it’s soul crushing…in addition to generating way too many red flags to keep track of before swearing off dating/mating for life.

I’d be remiss if I left out the women who inadvertently raise dangerously entitled humans because they fear being labeled a bad mother. They may not be scarring the kids for life, but they sure as hell are making them difficult to deal with in society, which may scar the rest of us.

That said, I know some amazing women who have raised some incredible human beings. I understand it’s no small feat, and it often takes a village. And without the support of a partner and/or friends and family who are equally invested in making sure everyone is functioning on their highest level, things absolutely, inevitably, fall through the cracks.

To them, I say with all sincerity: You deserve your flowers. And the spa days. And the occasional vice-infused getaway. You deserve all the things.

I’ll just close this epic tome by saying that in the thirteen hours since writing the bulk of these words (I was too sleepy to edit and post earlier), I’ve since discovered that Oprah released a new book today pretty much touching on this fun subject, so I’m just gonna take that as a sign I’m on the right path and learned something good over this past decade, and perhaps this is where my generational curse ends.

Also, I’m literally on the same page as Oprah, and I haven’t decided yet if that’s a flex or if I’m about to get cussed out again by the people who keep telling me to write a book already.

Motherfucker.

From the Heart

From the Heart

Today is Valentine’s Day, which also means it’s…February 14th.

I’ve pointedly begun this entry not from the perspective of “hatin’ on the day,” but in the only way that it applies to me realistically: It’s simply just another day on the calendar for those of us who aren’t in romantic relationships.

And that statement will do either one of two things: It will make you wonder if I’m suppressing sad/bitter/lonely/jealous feelings and lying about it to appear to have my life under control (which, I assure you, I’m comfortable enough to declare I do not), or it will do what I hope for most…give you the freedom to detach yourself from the expectations the day has come to be traditionally known for in case you yourself are feeling any of those aforementioned feelings. (Although, full disclosure, the first guess would’ve been absolutely accurate up until a few years ago.)

You can thank (or malign) a four-hour-long “Galentine’s Day” phone conversation with one of my sister-friends for this post. Also, get you a friend where you can be on the phone for four hours yammering about life and love and things to add to your — ahem — “shopping list,” that’ll get you through the period of your life during which you’re cultivating a true love affair with yourself to the point where sex has transitioned from being a void-filler, to the second-most intimate thing you do in a healthy romantic partnership. (With honest and open communication being the first, natch.)

Innocently enough, the call started with me talking about the impeachment acquittal (ugh!), then segued into how after watching that dereliction of democracy, I proceeded to go out into the world to run some errands and got so badly turned around by the MTA service changes and my distracted state of mind that I almost didn’t make it to where I needed to be in time to get something very important. (Yes, this is vague. No, I ain’t telling you what this means. Deal.) Anyway, by the time I got home, I’d accepted that although I was detoured, delayed and distracted throughout my journey, I still managed to get what I needed just in time, and had bonus blessings along the way. And that, I decided, was the life metaphor I was going to take away from a seemingly innocuous errand run.

Then, we spent the next three hours and fifty minutes talking about messy shit.

She caught me up on her current dilemma with the opposite sex, I shared some life experiences with some exes that I felt might be relevant and helpful in informing how she dealt with her situation, we discussed how our painful childhoods contributed to the ways we’ve dealt with our relationship failings, had some amazing revelations about the early days of our 30-year-strong friendship during a lightning round of “Perception vs. Reality: High School Edition,” and laughed and fake-cried about how our middle-aged (but still fine) bodies are rebelling against us for taking our youth and former durability for granted.

Ya know…real friend shit.

But the most important thing we talked about was love, and what our definition of it was, in keeping with the theme of the impeding day that we nearly talked our way into. My beautiful friend has always put her whole self into making sure those she holds dear have everything they need — which can comprise of her time, energy, resources, et al at the risk of self-depletion — to reassure them of her love and fierce commitment to them. As someone who’s done the same, I knew all too well that it doesn’t always net out equally.

So I shared with her what I’m about to share with you; which is what I’ve learned in the nearly five years of therapy, and especially the past year of being in isolation and forcing myself to dig deep and really look at my own behavior and mindset — which almost certainly attracted the personalities and outcomes that drove me to seek therapy to correct.

Before I start, a bit of backstory: While I’ve dabbled in the realm of introspection over the nearly TEN YEARS since starting this blog (whew!), it came as a shock to realize there was still so much more to be done, because I assumed I’d been operating under the premise that I’d been, as the name infers, “blunt” in how I approached my life and my views about life around me and in general. I was wrong. I assumed talking about my abuse, my troubled parental history and perceived injustices throughout my life would be healing for me and helpful to others going through similar situations. To some degree it has, but there was still more left untapped.

What I discovered is that it left questions about what these experiences did to me as a person behaviorally, and how I operated in ways that has consistently sabotaged my life and relationships for decades because I didn’t understand or care to acknowledge how affected my psyche was. I was self aware to an extent where I knew something was “off.” I knew that in order for me to come to a place where I wasn’t beating myself up about it, I had to accept that the things I perceived was “wrong” was just “what it was.” I understood I had to grasp that the things that people I trusted did that hurt me deeply were never about me as much as it was about what they were going through at the time of their interactions with me. But I hadn’t done any of the work that would get me to this place of true peace.

Instead, I’d defaulted to the classic trauma responses: I withdrew, projected my fears on others, gave up on myself and my abilities and morphed into whoever I thought I needed to be in order to be accepted socially, desired sexually and tolerated in circles where I was a square. In the end, I failed spectacularly at trying to convince myself that I could make the best out of situations I never wanted to be a part of, while simultaneously hurting others who were ultimately let down when I grew tired of the ruse. I showed up inauthentically to relationships both personally and professionally out of fear of being judged and avoiding conflict and resentments, and as a result, I attracted that same chaotic energy everywhere I ran.

Then I hit my forties, and realized that way of life was slowly killing me inside, despite surviving so many other insurmountable conditions which I hadn’t even taken the time to consider how extraordinary that made every day I woke up.

The day you decide to have gratitude as the anchoring presence in your life, is the day you commit to doing everything in your power to authentically make the best of it and protect it at all costs. For me, that meant severing unhealthy relationships and finding the grace to forgive myself and the parties involved for making them so. It meant stripping back the façade to replace the broken parts, and strengthen the foundation of the person I didn’t have the courage to be and the life I didn’t believe I deserved.

And that…to me…is love. Being brave enough to say and do the unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial for everyone involved (even if it’s only me, myself and I) even when it hurts to acknowledge the truth. It’s accountability. It’s vulnerability. It’s humiliating and humbling. And it’s a lot of work!!

And so, on this day dedicated to love, I pledge to continue doing the work and loving the person I am becoming as a result: Someone who can simultaneously exist as a person who celebrates your love stories, while also being mildly annoyed by the expectation that I have to participate in the pageantry, or risk being deemed sad, bitter, lonely and/or jealous, when I really just want to spend a weekend parked on my couch watching “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Disney+, while eating vegan ice cream and fan-girling over Jamie Raskin and Stacey Plaskett’s work in the impeachment trial despite its unfortunate-yet-unsurprising outcome.

And if you’re wondering how I segued into politics while talking about love, I invite you to re-read the part about “being brave enough to say and do unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial.” Raskin, who lost his son to suicide, buried him, showed up to work the next day to certify the election with members of his family — all of whom were then put in mortal danger — in tow, and then continued to show up to make sure the person responsible for inflicting a pain that spread across party lines and country face repercussions…did so for the love of his country and the people who live in it. That kind of love is unfathomable, and brings to mind the words of Jimi Hendrix, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

And with that, signing off wishing eternal love and peace for us all…from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Unmasked

Unmasked

It would be the understatement of the year to say the past two and a half months have been…let’s just say…different.

Seemingly overnight, the world was forced to adjust to a life in quarantine; staying indoors for the sake of saving themselves and the lives of others from a virus that attacks the body swiftly, quietly and violently.

Not only would it achieve the unthinkable in silencing the city that never sleeps, which has also lived through multiple terrorist bombings, a couple of blackouts and the residency of a certain tyrannical president who shall not be named (unless and until his inmate number is created). It has also made wearing face masks and gloves a mandated look beyond Michael Jackson tributes, and called BS on all those people who swore after watching countless shows and movies featuring zombies or dystopian themes that they were prepared for “the apocalypse.”

Turns out, they start pleading for haircuts and refuge from their children and/or in-laws the moment the leaves start forming on the trees.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The reason I’m writing about it, after pointedly avoiding the subject as a blog post for approximately ten weeks is for no other reason than to say this: “I’m glad it happened.”

Before perception goes way left, I’ll explain.

While I’m horrified by everything about this pandemic — the incalculable losses of life, work and income, the families torn apart by all of it, the egregious disparities that have arisen in the wake of the resulting economic and industry-busting disaster, and especially the lack of sympathy or compassion from the officials elected to protect the interests of all of the country’s citizens — this pausing of the world has been the most unusual blessing in disguise.

The world has forced us to stop and take stock of what’s important. Nature reset itself. Families, friends and lovers are reconnecting. People whose professions often go ignored and taken for granted — the healthcare workers, transportation workers, grocery store employees and others now deemed “essential,” and even educators who have had to find creative ways to do their jobs — are now being recognized as the heroes they are. There’s a wave of kindness and compassion from neighbors who want to make sure others are safe and have everything they need to get through this together.

For me, the coronavirus and the subsequent quarantine has been a bunch of things. In the beginning, it was the thing that took away my physical health and senses briefly, an event that I’d been excited about working on which would’ve been a proud moment in my career, my first real vacation in three years, my full-time job and the insurance that came with it and my sleep schedule.

What it’s become is the best thing that ever happened to me, because, for the first time in my life, I was riding completely solo (unlike when I fractured my ankle and my squad came all the way through since broken bones weren’t contagious and/or potentially fatal for others).

After the initial sadness of having to go through illness and carrying bags of groceries long distances “all by my lonesome,” I have to confess that right now…It. Feels. Glorious.

Not just for the obvious shallow reasons of not having anyone around blowing through the aforementioned groceries at a breakneck pace. I love my peeps, but I admit it’s kinda nice not having anyone pitching a fit because they need food, attention and direct sunlight. (Shoutout to the folks who used to shame me for being single and/or childless and are currently being driven slowly insane because they can’t escape their spouse or child. Sending thoughts and prayers.)

It’s because, like the earth, I’ve also taken time to recalibrate. Historically, I’d be embroiled in messy distractions that saved me from taking a hard look at — and accountability for — the string of disasters that formed my existence back in the day.

This time…I had time. Also: I’m in my mid forties and increasingly intolerant of nonsense. And since the universe can sometimes be as subtle as a sledgehammer, I was constantly being hit with reminders of the timeframe I needed to tackle because it’s currently dominating pop culture (and someone from it slid into my Facebook DMs).

So I ripped the bandaid off, and poked at the crippling fear of being my authentic self out of fear of rejection and abandonment, til it burst and oozed all over my resignation that not everyone who’s been a part of my story will make the next chapter (even, and especially, my biological mother). It then scabbed over the painful realization that I never set a goal in life because I honestly didn’t think I’d live long enough to require one. I used shots of tequila as an antiseptic.

When I opened the new(ish) wound of the anniversary of my father’s death occurring during this time, I risked my phone and inbox being hit with a barrage of concerned messages akin to the moment I revealed I’d lost my sense of smell and taste.

Which brings me to the other healing (and less trauma-inducing) blessings. I’m healthy. I’ve watched some really great TV and movies. Read some outstanding books. Danced nights away thanks to DJ D-Nice, Club Quarantine and Verzuz. Had hours long (mostly vulnerable) conversations on the phone, and attended several birthdays, group chats and graduation parties through Zoom and Houseparty with my family and friends. Upped my culinary game to the point where I can’t bring myself to eat things like “Hot Pockets” again. Got my first article published, saw the special issue I worked on released with emotional results, and doing work I genuinely get joy out of with my (kinda) former employer. And even though the world seems unstable right now, I’ve never been steadier.

So when things seems hopeless — as we get inundated with news drenched in racism, hatred and division — I think of those things, and the fact that it wasn’t too long ago that I was jobless, homeless after leaving a man I feared for years, and suddenly thrust into the role of taking care of a parent who lost his memory…and then everything else. (That year was also a doozy!)

And I relish in the fact that the only mask I need to wear these days is covered in flowers.

Hopefully, these times have unmasked greatness for you as well.

For Toni

For Toni, I…

…am writing my first post in four months.

…made a mad dash after work to Barnes & Noble yesterday, to pick up as many of her books as I could get my hands on to put in my permanent collection. (Like everyone else, apparently.)

…celebrate my blackness and humanity more.

…listened to as many interviews as I could find posted on the internet yesterday, just to hear her voice.

…”Liked” the same pics of her over and over again, because they were being posted by different people who all felt compelled to take time out of their day to pay tribute to her and it felt like community.

…unexpectedly burst into very real tears when an amazing woman in her own right shared a story of how her writing played a role in the achingly beautiful love story the woman had with her now-deceased husband. It made me acknowledge – out loud – that I crave that kind of love.

…have resolved to operate with more grace when confronted by open racism – which I had to learn throughout the day today thanks to Twitter.

…acknowledge the imperfections in me and in this big world, and accept that there are some things that I will not change in this lifetime, but there are many things that are very much within my power to change in my time.

…will remain  grateful for – and humbled by – the many blessings and lessons I’ve experienced thus far, and continue to be amazed and unapologetically jubilant as more manifest.

…am listening to the rain pour outside while sitting in blissful silence inside my home…typing away for reasons solely my own…with a salt lamp glowing in the distance and “Song of Solomon” sitting to my right side laying limp for the next few minutes before it carries me into my bedtime.

…live.

 

 

Tough Breaks

Tough Breaks

Injuries are as humbling as they are incredibly painful.

In a sick way, they’re the tangible versions of time, or the physical embodiment of ending a relationship of some sorts. (In this instance, your relationship with your body changes — in some ways irrevocably.)

It has been four weeks since I fractured my ankle roller skating, and — needless to say — I’ve had some time to think about this and many other things. Of some of the more profound revelations I’ve come to, my top takeaways are:

  1.  Optimism is cute, but realism is necessary in the long-term. When you actually hear the snap of your bone, chances are it’s worse than a sprain. Let the X-rays guide you to the promise land of true (and proper) healing.
  2. Speaking of things that are “cute” until it’s not…pretending to be old and crippled when you’re a kid (i.e., using the “big adult umbrellas with the handles” as fake canes, and/or borrowing an elder’s “equipment”) isn’t so much adorable as it is being an asshole who will eventually get theirs. Also, those umbrellas aren’t very sturdy numerous decades (and pounds) later. The more you know…
  3. Be the kind of person whose friends will voluntarily help you pack for a move, transfer stuff from one apartment to another using a granny cart, make grocery runs for you, drop off food, pills and orthopedic boots, periodically check on your vitals with calls and texts, and do your laundry and cook for you. I literally get by with a LOT of help from my friends. And I’m judging any and every one who wants to be in my life based on these people. Be advised.
  4. “Jane the Virgin” is the best thing to watch when you want to forget you’re relegated to laying motionless with your leg in the air and not getting any pleasure out of it. Real talk.
  5. Never underestimate the power of a pedicure. I had my first pedicure in months done just days before I’d end up with a mummified foot that practically screams “Nevermind the swollen, multicolored mess under these bandages…look at how cute my toes are!” Timing — and self-care — is everything.
  6. Mercury Retrograde is a very real, and very scary, thing. Just sayin’.
  7. When something in your life isn’t for you, the universe has a way of eliminating it…no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves we can make it work, or force ourselves to “just go with it until something better comes along.” Trust.
  8. The experience of moving around on crutches for several weeks will inevitably give you the arms of Angela Bassett, but the overall dexterity of a muppet. In other news: Atrophy is the fucking worst!
  9. I’ve lived through a lot of shit, but there are few images in my life as traumatic as having an Über driver cancel a ride on me, and speed away as I wave to him in the pouring rain while mouthing “I need help!” after one of my crutches loses a screw while I’m attempting to climb the three baby steps outside of my apartment building. That stings more than the rejection of a lover.
  10. People will remark on how positive you are, how you’re managing to take it all in stride and even find moments to laugh, and wonder why. And the answer is…you know it’s only temporary.

There’s always a running joke or meme about how we thought it’d be so great getting older, until we realize that we didn’t have to pay bills or taxes, and struggle day-to-day in unfulfilling jobs and relationships. Then the subject of our mortality becomes a little too real. At forty-two, I’ve already experienced the loss of loved ones; family, friends, classmates and more and more people who shaped my upbringing culturally, politically and in some cases spiritually.

I’m here to tell you, there ain’t a multivitamin or homeopathic cure that’ll keep you from fretting about getting older. Sure, we may embrace it differently at different stages, but we still dread the process. I attribute my fear to the effective advertising back in the day that warned of the dangers of osteoporosis. And Life-Alert. (We were all emotionally scarred by the lady who’d “fallen…and couldn’t get up.” Admit it.)

The moment my ankle snapped, something inside me did the same. At the time, I’d been burning both ends of the candle maintaining two gigs to pay the bills and having a pretty stressful Summer contemplating and processing all the changes the year had brought. I’d use my free time to escape to an outdoor concert or movie theater in hopes of forgetting how miserable and increasingly lonely I was feeling because I’d mapped out a completely different plan for myself, and it somehow had gone awry.

Then, an unfortunate twist in the realest sense reminded me  — no, demanded of me — to stop, take time to take stock and heal, and start over anew on a healthier path.  And I did.

It also forced me to be more vulnerable, and to cease the practice of being too proud to ask for help. I’ve always been independent by nature, so having to rely on others to do things for me has been a huge adjustment. One that I’m not always comfortable with. But the connections that have transpired over the past few weeks has been soul-filling in ways I didn’t know I needed. It’s a feeling that can’t be achieved by cool events, online dating or social media validation. Someone standing on a Trader Joe’s line — I repeat, a Trader Joe’s line! — for you, is worth a million “Hey stranger” texts from some dude who was never invested in you when you were dating, but suddenly thinks you’d be a cool person to chat up and/or hang out with.

And finally, it increased my awareness and respect for people whose physical struggles are not temporary, and reminded me of very intimate examples in my travels. As my right leg has shrunken, I was reminded of the days following my father’s leg amputation, and the hours I spent in his nursing home observing once-vibrant people who could no longer perform seemingly basic everyday functions like walk unaided or lift a utensil. As I amble awkwardly through my kitchen, burning myself with a pan because I was distracted by a falling crutch, I’m reminded that there are people with no limbs competing in high-performance sporting events, cutting hair, and doing some incredible things without so much as a scratch.

Of course I cannot, and will not, compare myself to those extraordinary people, but when I put that in perspective, it’s why I can’t help but smile and feel fortunate that in time, I will be back on my feet.

And honestly…I injured myself roller skating. I absolutely should laugh at myself!

In any case, it’s been a wild ride, and while I could sit here and lament all the quantifiable losses, I’m choosing instead to recognize that I’ve gained much, much more from this experience than even my best laid plans.

Also, I’ll be more careful with my words in the future. This definitely wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a break.

 

In The End

Picture2-1

By now, many, if not all of you, have read about, heard about and talked about the deaths of designer Kate Spade and chef/adventurer/humanitarian extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain. Both were shocking, but none more so to the world than the latter.

As the world grappled to find an explanation as to why two people who were at the top of their respective games and had fame, fortune and influence to boot would end their lives, those of us who’ve actually contemplated taking our own knew the answer: They were simply done.

Both Spade and Bourdain found success bucking the norms. In a sea of sameness when it came to handbags and accessories, the “kate spade” brand was a quirky and colorful breath of fresh air, and her personality was equally as such. For Bourdain, he literally pulled up the rug and exposed all the unsavory critters that embodied the restaurant industry, while still maintaining his passion for good food and the importance of the industry as a whole. He then bolstered his newfound notoriety into an enviable career where he traveled the world, told the stories of its people, and found community and unity in the sharing of a meal. For those of us who still haven’t managed to live following our passions, this would seem like the dream.

But there’s a price for that life, and every day, more and more people who seemingly “have it all” have been paying it.

They call it “mental health issues,” but what it really is is a lack of self care. It’s the instinct of wanting to make sure everyone else is taken care of around you, and that everyone’s needs are being served, while ignoring your own. It’s keeping up appearances so people “don’t think of you as a burden.” It’s empowering others while secretly believing you have no power. It’s listening to assholes who mock people for oversharing on social media, and then wonder why they were the last to know when someone close to them has a breakdown. It’s not acknowledging your self worth.

It’s prioritizing everything else above being authentic with yourself, listening to your heart and body, and  having the courage and good sense to walk away from the noise and take a day, a week, or even a month to devote to what makes you whole. It’s pride. It’s shame. It’s anxiety. It’s isolation. It’s denial. It’s reckless.

And, to quote Linkin’ Park’s Chester Bennington (another famous person who succumbed to suicide), “in the end…it doesn’t even matter.”

Because people will pontificate about what could possibly be so bad about life where you give up on it. There’ll be think pieces and statuses posting the suicide hotline aplenty. But unless those people have genuinely shown an interest in something beyond the glitz and glamour of your exterior life, they’re kinda feeding into the reason it’s become moot. While we are ultimately responsible for our life choices, being surrounded by people who only respond to you when you do something they find appeasing is a shitty way to live.

That’s why I value the small number of women in my life who I can reach out to when things get heavy (and right now, things are heavier than a cargo ship carrying automobiles on concrete slabs). Even though we are all currently embroiled in some form of unpleasantness in our lives, we know the best way to cope and/or get through it is to reach out and have that network of folks who check in, listen to us and call us on our shit when we fall into the default response of “everything’s fine.” Because we all are acutely aware of how freeing vulnerability is, and yet we still struggle to be just that because we were taught to be “strong.”

That’s also why I’m suspect of people who mostly post “hot selfies,” and travel pics talking about how great life is. They aren’t real. That’s also why I’m never surprised when a story about an Instagram influencer or some social media personality that made heaps of money getting graft while promoting perfection, ends up having a spectacular meltdown and revealing how they were “living a lie.” That’s also why I really don’t fuck with people who only comment on my throwback pics and/or semi-glamour shots, and stay radio silent when I speak on subjects like traumas, injustice and how the current political climate feeds into them.

A few weeks ago, there was another suicide that had made the news, and it was too close for comfort. A woman leaped from the balcony of a hotel, carrying her 7 year-old son in tow. As I read the story, it occurred to me that the woman was the ex-wife of my former chiropractor, and the child was his son. My immediate response was shock, anger and heartbreak because there was a child’s life taken involuntarily. But it became clearer that the man I’d found to be extremely pleasant and doting on his wife and child (at the time) as he adjusted my spine, may have had some demons of his own for this woman to see no other option than to end their lives.

I’ve said all this to say that society gets so caught up in the presentation that they miss the work that goes into the final product. We see ducks and swans floating gracefully on the water while they furiously paddle underneath and out of sight. We see pristine works of art in museums and galleries, unaware of the chaos of an artist’s studio (and perhaps even more so in their heads). We celebrate a culture where people get famous for sharing glamorous, opulent illusions of perfection, while shunning those who show the gritty and not-so-aesthetically pleasing parts. We prefer pageantry over process.

This is why Bourdain’s death was so hard to grasp; he showed us both the beauty and the grit of this world, and he called bullshit on those who only wanted to keep the ruse going for their personal gains. Sadly, those people far outnumbered people like him.

In the end…that matters.

 

 

My Sister’s Keeper

When they aren’t selling your information to the highest bidding megalomaniac, or creeping you out with hyper-targeted ads of something you maybe mentioned in a text message five minutes before, Facebook is actually not too awful a place to be sometimes.

For me, it’s a place where I can keep up with relatives I haven’t seen in years, and/or live in places that I’m sociopolitically allergic to. A place where I’m privy to the success or struggles of classmates I promised I’d keep in touch with in our yearbooks, but realized that required actual work to do so. (Shoutout to my college sister-friends for occasionally restoring my sanity and faith in humans in the group chat!) And, most importantly, a place that keeps me informed about birthdays and stances that either deepen my connection with someone, or validate any suspicions I had as to why I never quite connected with them.

Yesterday, it became a place where a pretty big “Aha” moment in my life transpired, and it started an unexpected wellspring of emotion, and hopefully something much bigger.

It all began when I posted the following status:

“Just saw a video in which a group of female 45 voters expressed their opinion on the Stormy Daniels affair. Not surprisingly, they doubled-down on their support for their man, and lambasted Daniels, saying she was in it for the money and degrading her.

Just as I was about to post that video, I paused. I was ready to say “What kind of woman would still support this man after all that he’s said and done, and then drag and ridicule a woman for speaking her truth?”

I stopped because I realized that these women aren’t anomalies. I, too, have defended and forgiven men who I knew to be absolute trash in their behavior towards women – including myself – but was kinder in my thoughts and actions toward them, than I’ve been with women who simply gave me the minutest attitude. (I deemed a former female friend “dead to me” for disparaging me behind my back, but have had cordial interactions with a man who nearly choked the life out of me. That’s just crazy!)

And I’m not alone.

This has brought me to the very horrifying discovery that there are SO many of us who’ve accepted that men are entitled to behave badly, and women are expected to just shut up about it. We’ve been conditioned to forgive, laugh it off, and look the other way. That’s kinda effed up when you think about it. The possibility that WE are OUR OWN worst enemies.

There are monstrous men out here wrecking lives and legislation because there are women in their circle doing the absolute least to check them, and instead are cheering them on. The chants tend to be louder when the woman being punished is a free-thinker.

That’s a real sobering takeaway during this Women’s History Month.

Just saying.”

What happened after that was magical.

While it didn’t “go viral” or bring me internet fame, it did spark a conversation that we’ve sorta been having during the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but haven’t really had until Stormy Daniels admitted on national television to having sex with someone she didn’t really want to have sex with because she felt she’d placed herself in that situation and therefore must follow through. It’s the same awkward discussion we had when Aziz Ansari was placed in the spotlight for essentially being a bad lay.

But I digress. The point is, women were attacking Daniels’ character, instead of considering the character of a man who had unprotected sex with a person whose profession is literally having sex with people she barely knows on camera, while his wife was nursing their newborn child. A man who has a history of infidelity, misogyny and questionable and unethical decisions, yet still was elected President of the United States. A man who makes cringe-worthy comments about his daughter, normalizes racism and discrimination and comments about grabbing women by their vaginas gets a moral pass, but a woman looking to set the record straight and fight for her family’s safety gets lambasted.

This is the world we live in.

A world where boys will be boys, and the shit they say is just “locker room talk.” Where they can knock a woman unconscious in an elevator, but still get signed to a team before the guy who takes a knee to protest injustice and police brutality. Where they can beat a woman til she’s unrecognizable, or record themselves urinating on a minor, and still sell out venues and have countless female fans and collaborators in the years since. Where they can force their mistresses to have abortions, while simultaneously structuring laws to keep other women from terminating an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Where they can shack up with their stepdaughters and still have actors clamoring to star in their films. Where they can play fast and loose with the rules that govern and protect, but get you ejected from the game for your emails. Fucking emails.

Coming to terms with my own permissive history was the breakthrough I needed not just to comprehend the mindset of the women who looked the other way, but to understand that there is a disturbing pervasiveness of double-standards globally that has shaped societies for centuries, and we are still woefully compliant to them.

When I think of all the shit I let slide, it’s really disturbing, and yet it makes perfect sense why I’m single. The insults. The verbal abuse. The physical abuse. The unannounced children. The unannounced live-in girlfriend. The unannounced wife. The unannounced move to other cities. The unannounced resentment, and my new favorite: The unannounced intent to punish women stemming from maternal neglect and/or conflict. Until fairly recently, this all seemed normal…until one day it didn’t.

But for many women, it is still normal. It makes more sense for us to say “He’s just going through some things,” or “That’s just the way men are,” instead of “What the fuck is your trigger, and why can’t you handle your shit in a way that doesn’t punish everyone else around you?”

And it’s because of our desire to keep the peace where men are concerned, we end up doing more damage to our fellow sex, and future generations of boys who will grow up thinking it’s okay to disrespect women, and girls who won’t be able to identify the disrespect until it’s too late. We break our necks coddling male egos, while simultaneously ignoring the very people who need guidance and encouragement the most.

That’s probably why the swift justice bestowed to Harvey Weinstein, and the movements that followed, were initially so confusing to process. We’d just voted in a man who admitted on-camera to sexual assault, but somehow found outrage that brought down one of the most powerful men in entertainment. We still treat Bill Clinton as a rock star, while Monica Lewinsky still can’t have a career without ridicule, and Hillary is still being dragged for everything she says and does despite losing to a man who — once again — admitted on-camera to sexual assault. Let that sink in.

So how do we break the cycle of condoning the transgressions of men, while simultaneously holding a safe space for women to tell their stories and heal from their experiences?  How do we come to that place where we own our shit and say “Hey, maybe we are much harder on women than we are on men because we live in a society constructed by men?” How do we come to terms with the very real fact that the men we revere as fathers, brothers, friends, mentors, lovers, legends, etc., are capable of committing unspeakably evil things against other women, children and just people in general that they don’t deem on their level?

Maybe the first step is admitting that we aren’t perfect, and to own and accept that we can be biased, frightened people who do what we can to survive, and it’s much easier to sweep things under a rug, than do a deep-clean and start fresh sometimes. The problem with that, is there are people breathing in the residual filth we leave behind…and it can be toxic.

I’m heartened by the recent cultural shifts that have seen more women in the forefront as heroes, warriors and leaders in activism and slowly but surely on the political spectrum. I celebrate the voices of a young generation that basically just told us that they’re fed up with our nonsense, and “since we’re not old enough to drink beer, keep holding yours while we figure out how to get these assholes you blindly voted into office out.”

And I appreciate the men out there who embrace, support and encourage all of this necessary change without taking it as an affront to their existence.

That said, being my sister’s keeper doesn’t mean Stacy Dash and her ilk get a pass.

Just sayin’…

 

 

 

Pull The Trigger

There is no greater buzz kill than returning to New York on Christmas Day.

This was my takeaway after leaving my family in Philadelphia, as they were preparing to host Christmas dinner. In the midst of the Cavalier/Warriors basketball game.  I knew then that I’d regret that decision. I was correct.

Heart already heavy from the realization that I’d spent less than 24 hours with them before heading back, the lateness of the train to Trenton, the loneliness of sitting and walking in silence for four hours, and the return to a city awash in people just trying to find their place in it, stole whatever joy I managed to muster in those brief moments filled with laughter, long tight hugs, deep conversations and an unexpectedly fun game involving a shit-ton of saran wrap.

It has taken me hours to place the source of my sadness: Everything feels unstable in my life right now.

On the surface, things look great. I’m in the most ideal job, home and relationship that I’ve ever been in throughout all of my forty-two years. And it scares me to death to think that it’s all too good to be true. But the last few weeks have me bracing for a future in which I’m about to find out how much I’m capable of handling on my own…again.

Which brings me to my parents. Because everything ultimately leads back to the people who made you.

There are days when I resented them. There are days I pitied them. There are days when I try to understand where their heads were at when they thought it was okay to leave me with strangers, neighbors and members of their families who turned out to be child molesters. There have been days where I’ve felt personally affronted when they’d get credit for my accomplishments in life, when neither had been in it full time since I was twelve. And there are days when I accept the fact that they had no idea what they were doing and – in the case of my father – eventually did the best he could, considering he didn’t have the most nurturing parents.

Last year after my father’s passing, I unexpectedly found myself digesting story after story about how involved my father was in the lives of so many people. Normally, that would cause a swelling of pride to know how beloved your dad was, and how many lives he touched and impacted. The thing is…he was being other people’s hero during the years I struggled to pay tuition, find a job that paid a livable wage and compensate for his absence with remarkably insecure and occasionally abusive partners after deeming myself unloveable (the thought you have when your parents are alive and well, but not involved in your life).

And while years of tough conversations in our later lives healed that wound enough to compel me to assume the role of his caregiver in his final years, the pain of the time and moments lost will never fully go away.

In my adult life, it has manifested itself into someone who is fiercely independent, but constantly seeking connection. Terrified of becoming her mother, no longer interested in becoming mother, but strangely aware that her ability to listen to and comprehend children would’ve made her a great mother. Someone who now knows that words unspoken lead to opportunities unrealized…for better or worse. Someone who somehow managed to take decades of trauma, fear, anger and resentment, and turn it into the fuel that keeps her going in her daily journeys to a place where she finds peace, love and acceptance in who she is…and who she isn’t.

Someone who is still struggling to understand what’s become of this world in the past year; where it seems everyone is reminding her of her parents, — in the sense that they willingly chose roles in which they have a responsibility to take care of people, but everything goes to shit because they’re too busy serving their own interests and enriching their own lives while those who need help suffer from neglect.

See what I did there?

This whole year has been a trigger of near catastrophic levels. As vocal as I’ve been over the past year and change to friends, family and the social media world, the words somehow escaped me to truly express how I feel about all this chaos.

To be reminded on a daily basis that there are people in power whose mission in life is to take away my power takes me to places only this blog and my therapist can pull me out of.

With that, I’m going into 2018 absolutely terrified, yet still acutely aware that I’ve done this before.

And I’m still here.

I have to believe there’s something good about that.

Even if it’s to testify that things can – and will – get better.

Also: If they haven’t already, your parents will fuck you up in some way, shape or form. I cannot stress the importance of having a fantastic support system, an openness to look into your self to clean and mend the wounds properly, and let go of the things you thought you knew so you can learn something new.

The past can be our anchor, or it can be our teacher.

We still have the power to choose which it will be.

Happy New Year.

 

Good Mourning

Good Mourning

Yesterday, the body of a 41 year-old woman was found lying motionless in her bed for several hours in a Brooklyn apartment.

Foul play was ruled out because she was breathing, conscious, and simply recovering from coming home at four in the morning after dancing (and sweating profusely) all night at a Prince and Michael Jackson tribute dance party. She was also just happy to be laying there in silence – ears still slightly ringing from the night before – and only realized shortly before arising from the soft sanctuary of that bed, that she still had the top sheet tucked into the mattress, and was sleeping between that and her duvet most of the day.

That moment, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my current mid-life crisis.

Not the one-night stand I had last month in Cuba, mind you. Just the struggle of getting out of bed after a night of dancing, which technically came on the heels of walking through an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and a Target run…but still.

Anyway, I digress.

Time is forcing me to acknowledge certain truths about life. More specifically…that it ends. Last year was a pretty brutal one for mortality, and as I brace for the inevitable acknowledgement next month of the first anniversary of my father’s passing, I’m reflecting on how I’ve handled it, and if there’s anything I would’ve done differently.

But really, how does one handle these things? What’s the right way to deal with loss…or anything?

For me, I chose to do the following:

  • Holed myself up in a luxury hotel for a night in a city that’s home away from home; this time as a tourist and without my family’s knowledge.
  • Began going to therapy again.
  • Saw The Total Bent off-Broadway, and EclipsedThe Color Purple and Hamilton on Broadway. (And yes, I’ve been obsessed with the the latter’s soundtrack ever since.)
  • Traveled to Chicago, Bahamas, and Cuba for the first time, and Washington D.C. – twice in six months.
  • Watched Beyoncé, Alice Smith, Gregory Porter, Angelique Kidjo, Andra Day, Gary Clark Jr., Thundercat, Camp Lo, Leela James, Daley and many more artists perform live. (Shoutout to Michael Olatuja and Greg Osei – two artists of African descent with very different and beautifully unique music. Check them out!)
  • Saw the Cubs win at Wrigley Field, the Knicks lose at the Garden,  and the craziest Super Bowl ever on a television in a place stocked with enough booze to get us all through that second half.
  • Actually saw most of the movies nominated for this year’s Academy Awards, which made that finale all the more satisfying!
  • Discovered the artwork of Kerry James Marshall at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the futuristic brilliance of fashion at the Manus x Machina exhibit at the Met, the impressive collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the stunning and iconic sports photography at the Brooklyn Museum, the historic and life-changing experience that is every inch of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (which I still haven’t cleared after two visits and logging nearly eight hours in), the vibrant and achingly poignant works of art depicting the history and cultures and resilience of the Bahamian and Cuban people, and attended two visually stunning and contrasting fashion shows.
  • Joined two dating sites…and promptly regretted it. But gave it three months before completely disabling and scrubbing them from my phone and inbox. Bliss ensued.

Yes, reader, I went on an epic cultural binge while simultaneously embarking on a journey of self-discovery and opening up to the possibility of new love.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right…it has been expensive AF! In the place of where savings would ostensibly be, there are just awesome memories, and a shell of a bank account that doesn’t get to fully reflect on paper what my 800+ FICO score would have the world believe.

Should I have been monetizing these experiences in the form of paid content? Hell yeah I should’ve! But that’s neither here nor there now. What matters is that I enjoyed every minute of what I did – even if I didn’t necessarily relish in the reality of not having the pleasure of telling my dad about my new adventure, or having a significant other to share them with.

To the outside world, in particular, anyone unfamiliar with me or my thought process, the past year would appear to be escapism at its finest. A fair assessment, and one reached by many (well-intentioned, but often close-minded) people who expressed concern for my well-being; unaware that for the first time in a very long time, I was in my element, and happier than I’d been in some time.

Here’s why: Art in all forms brings out various emotions: Joy, triumph, wonder, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, humor, heartbreak and hope. They can all be elicited from a song, a painting, a film, a photograph and even a destination. And in the last eleven months, I’ve tapped into every emotion imaginable. I’ve even encountered some I didn’t imagine. That’s where the beauty of having a therapist on this journey comes in. It’s been especially helpful given the current state of affairs in this country politically.

We all have our ways of coping with loss, but I’m grateful for the route I chose – even if it’s left me somewhat fiscally anemic for the time being. Death – notably one following a long debilitating illness – teaches you the greatest lesson about life. It teaches you to relish every healthy moment you have left on this earth, and don’t take for granted the things and people who support you and help you get through each day still standing. During this time of exploration, I’ve also managed to catch up with friends and loved ones I haven’t seen in ages, and in my travels I have forged new bonds or strengthened old ones. To me, that’s priceless.

In all…I have no regrets. And now that I have an Amazon fire stick…I now have no desire to leave the house much in the coming months. (I’m kidding. Kinda. No, seriously, this sucker is a game changer!!)

Fin.

Standards for Living

It has now been nearly two weeks since I’ve entered my forty-first year.

Or, as I’d like to call it, “Forty won.”

In a year marked by so much death – from ones intimately close, to strangers known and unknown, not to mention the brutal murder of democracy – I end my fortieth year with an even stronger zest and appreciation for life. Especially my own.

Because, in spite of all the tragedy and turmoil that 2016 embodied for most of the world – admittedly the first half was brutal for me as well – I somehow managed to ride out the rest of it with one of the strongest years I’ve had in nearly a decade on a personal and professional level. I made uncomfortable choices, found more of my voice, embraced the unknown, and found freedom in letting go of things that weren’t right for me. I’ve knowingly disappointed some, and unknowingly inspired others.

What resulted was the universe opening up a world of opportunity in the form of more love, support and fellowship from new and unexpected sources. Ones that allowed and, at times, insisted on, finding acceptance that I once sought from relationships – both familial and romantic – within myself.

So I took those trips. Went to those shows. Saw those movies. Booked those therapy appointments. And so on.

…and didn’t wait for that call to do any of it. And also didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it.

In the spirit of keeping that momentum going, and in honor of all the fucks I’ve lost during this year, here’s a list of my standard for living for 2017 and beyond:

Stop Hesitating (“Take the trip!” “Buy the shoes!” “Go to the fucking doctor!”) When you have gainful employment, insurance, decent credit, and a shit-ton of people in your life who are in your corner, there are no excuses. Life is too fucking short…and it can all be gone tomorrow. I say this 7 months after my father’s passing, and over a year after the sudden loss of a very dear friend who lived his life fully and generously, so it’s not exactly an epiphany. Death has a way of putting you in “YOLO” mode; forcing you to face your own mortality and, subsequently, your “bucket list.” And the savagery of this year has been the biggest wakeup call of all.

Speak my mind. Anyone who really knows me might be like “When have you NOT?” To them, I say “Hush.” But recently, someone I was once close to, told me that I didn’t communicate with them during the time we spent together. In this instance, I no longer trusted them or had faith in their ability to act in my best interests, but they had a point. It is best to speak one’s mind, for better or worse, that way everyone can move accordingly.

Refuse to spend any of my hard-earned cash on the following: Hip Hop albums from most of this era’s artists (although anderson.Paak might get my money for a live show). Rihanna concert tickets. Anything with the Kardashian name. Poor-quality shoes, clothing and undergarments. Events where most of the demographic is under 35, or frequently uses the word “lit” with more intention than sarcasm, and/or people who like to invite you to functions/dinners/trips/etc. with the expectation that you’ll be bankrolling them or their friend’s portion of it. If we’re not in a long-term partnership, and I have not given birth to you…you’re paying your own way. I am not Angelina Jolie or Mia Farrow. Call Tyrone.

Don’t take anything in life for granted. Not to be mistaken with “not complaining.” While I try to avoid the other c-word, there are gonna be times in life when things aren’t perfect and something needs to be said in order to address and improve it. (See “Speaking my mind.”) That doesn’t mean everything is shit – it just means it’s important enough to me to be made better. But at the end of the day, even the lessons from failures are appreciated.

Do not entertain the idea of a long-term relationship with any man who isn’t equipped to be my best friend. New rule for 2017: “If he doesn’t make plans, doesn’t keep plans, doesn’t respect my time, doesn’t respect what I say, doesn’t respect my gender, doesn’t respect my family or friends (or – as my sister-girl once said after an ex spent two days at her home but never engaged in one-on-one conversation with her – “doesn’t find out who they are to you“), doesn’t show any interest in spending time knowing or building upon mutual interests…I’m not wasting any time with him. My desire for an honest, selfless, interactive and collaborative partnership supersedes my desire to have a proper lay any day. I believe “Stronger Together” isn’t just a nice and sunny political slogan. I’ve seen too many solid relationships where couples travel, party, and make plans and important decisions together. They respect each other’s input and rely on each other for mutually beneficial contentment and growth. They also have each other’s backs when times are hard for either of them. This is what I aspire to be and have in return. And because I’d rather be alone than feel alone…nothing else will do.

Never apologize for being who I am, and take zero shit from any “friend” or family member who has opinions on how I should behave. I’m single, childless, live in a city bursting with culture and vices, and I’ve survived four decades of life that consisted of  events that have broken many. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told.) And for the most part, I’ve done it solo. That I continue to maintain a sense of humor, optimism, desire and enjoyment of intimate connection and only have a marginal social media addiction – I’d say I’m doing okay. Not Oprah okay…but you never know what the future holds.

Stop doubting my abilities and gut. That I still do this on occasion means there’s more room for improvement, but I’d like to think I’m headed in the right direction.

If I’ve taken nothing else from this year, it is that there is no reward for playing it safe. Those who’ve impacted our lives most – in both life and death – have been the most extreme risk takers. The rogues. The controversial ones. The ones who colored outside the lines and bulldozed their comfort zones to fit big dreams (and in some cases even bigger egos). The ones who set a standard for the way they lived, and fulfilled it to the best of their ability, in spite of (or perhaps because of) how others said they were supposed to live.

If we all set standards in our lives, then we’ll do anything to preserve it for our own well-being and joy. Our jobs, relationships, finances, living conditions and even our political leanings are a reflection of those standards. Or lack thereof. I mean, how else can you achieve a “gold standard” without actual standards?

We owe it to ourselves to have them. We owe it to each other to honor them. If, for no other reason, for our own self-respect, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing we did all we could to make the world a better place by being a better person in it while we could.

Those are my standards for 2017 and beyond.

What are yours?