All The Things We Leave Behind

Tragedy never strikes when it’s convenient.

That was the hard truth I learned Sunday afternoon while en route to see – of all things – “Amy,” the documentary about Amy Winehouse.

As I stood in my own little world on the platform at Church Avenue, desperately looking at my phone to avoid any interpersonal connection that would distract me from my mission, readying myself to board the incoming Q train…I see a Facebook post that changed (or, dare I say, punctuated) the course of the day.

A woman I’d known through one of my best friends, an esteemed writer and jewel of a person I regret not spending more time with when she lived here, posted a status expressing her heartbreak at the passing of another mutual friend…one who had crossed my mind only moments before during my walk to the train station.

My initial reaction was disbelief. I’d known he was in the process of finishing his novel and he was wrapping up other projects and had a flair for dramatic expression. I thought it was a joke. I texted another friend who’d introduced us, and inquired about his whereabouts and headed into BAM to watch the movie.

I checked Facebook once more, and this time was informed he’d had a heart attack, to which I immediately asked “How could a heart so big just give out?” Then I exhaled, exhaled again, turned off my phone and watched the movie. Numb.

At the time, I didn’t know if watching the story of a troubled and tremendous talent like Winehouse would be better or worse in terms of helping me deal with the reality I would face when the lights came back up. We all know how the story ended there. It just seemed as if I were adding fuel to the fire. Piling on more stories of lives cut too short.

As it turned out, it was the best thing.

Like Amy, my friend Brook was an immensely gifted writer who made a name for himself through his prose and simply being his authentic self. While he didn’t belt out a song the way she did, or possess an obscene amount of demons that would ultimately lead to self-destruction, he did leave his mark on the world indelibly.

Unlike Amy, Brook was the product of a close-knit and nurturing family, one that lauded education and ancestral history, and taught him to embrace and appreciate all things different and new. He developed a sense of adventure, a love for life and good food, and believed in – and cultivated – a world with no boundaries and full of boundless potential.

It was no surprise that those of us drawn into his circle were all of the same mind and spirit. It is also no surprise that when we all learned of his passing, we found it incomprehensible that he was no longer here.

Creatives by nature can be notoriously moody, self-absorbed, reclusive and in the case of the really good ones…absolute assholes. He was neither of these things.

That’s not to say he didn’t have “quirks.” We all do.

But at his core, you would never find another person more generous with his time, and more ready to take on the world. Even when he stumbled.

He was also very passionate about changing the world, and did his part as a writer, a teacher, a mentor, a cultural vessel, a friend, and a man who simply had a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, and knowing exactly how to start – or guide – the conversation.

Although he didn’t have the level of fame Amy had, Brook Stephenson’s name is legend amongst those in the know; a staggering creative collective comprised of artists, writers, music makers, tastemakers and all-around genuine spirits who’ve created the glorious multicultural fabrics that make New York, Detroit, Atlanta and beyond, hotbeds of realized (and soon-to-be-realized) potential.

Reflecting on these lives and the legacies they’ve created in such a short time on this earth forced me to acknowledge not only that I have yet to realize my own potential, but to truly consider exactly what legacy I’m poised to leave behind if, and when, I finally do.

It’s common for death to inspire self-reflection and a more keen sense of our own mortality, but how often do we truly take an account of the footprints we leave on this planet? How have we lived? Have we really lived? How have we treated others? How have we served others? What have we contributed to this life and the lives of others? Have we done so because we were motivated by accolades, acceptance, padded profiles and increased value on the theoretical food chain, or did we do it simply because it was good to do? Have we used our gifts to the best of our ability to be the best with our ability?

Am I waxing poetic because I feel an incredible surge of guilt for not seeing my friend in the last year? Perhaps. Am I being haunted by his constant motivational chant of “If not you, then who?” Abso-fucking-lutely. Am I doing exactly what he told me to do right at this moment…something I haven’t done in the last five months…despite having lots of material to write about? Yep, it sure does look that way.

Fans. Friends. Family. Foes. Foundations. We all ultimately leave something behind when this life comes to an end.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Now that you’ve answered that…make it happen.

Right now.

Mirror, Mirror

Forgive me for the unusually long hiatus.

It’s not that I’ve been extremely busy (although I kinda was), nor was it the absence of a topic of discussion. I think we all can agree that over the last few months, there’s been nothing but discussions.

Yet, every time I sat down to write about it, I found myself in that unenviable position every one of us has suffered at one point or another, where I just could not.

But now, I’ve been inspired by — of all things — television.

Unlike my younger days, where I sat for hours transfixed to a television with the intensity of a One Direction fan, these days I’m often out of the loop on most things that show up on most-watched lists, and the equivalent of “water-cooler” conversations.

Like a number of people from my generation, I watched TV not only to pass the time, but to transport myself to imaginary worlds where people had money, adventures, superpowers and even cool, talking cars. As a kid in a single parent home, I also got comfort from seeing the family comedies, where there was a mom and a dad who worked together to teach their kids valuable lessons in comedic ways.

As time passed, those shows – “Dynasty” “MacGuyver” “Wonder Woman” “Knight Rider” “Good Times” “The Brady Bunch” “The Cosby Show” “Family Ties” et al – disappeared, and in their place were shows where real people engaged in shameless acts of desperation for attention, exposure and seemingly lucrative payoffs.

That’s when I tuned out. The fantasy of my childhood shows at least gave me hope of a better life than the one I was currently living. The “reality” was just a depressing commentary on the extreme measures people will take to make their own fantasies come true.

And then Shonda Rhimes came on the scene… Making both history, and shows I could somewhat relate to or, at the very least, enjoy.

From “Grey’s Anatomy” to my current addictions “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder”, Rhimes and her team of writers created stories that teetered on both lines of fantasy and reality. In the case of Grey’s and Scandal, the shows would mix raw and genuine human emotions with the fantasy of teasing happily ever after scenarios that often go horribly awry. A couple who pined for each other after parting ways would reunite, only to have one die in a plane crash. A taboo love affair with the President of the United States gets the bizarre blessing from his wife.

I mean, really, how the fuck is that real life?

But this past Thursday, Shonda and her team outdid themselves, when “Scandal” took a much-needed turn from a nonsensical plot line to deliver the most heavy-hitting episode in its history. In it, they tackled a subject that had gripped the country — myself included — for the last six months: The Ferguson incident.

For anyone who’s been living in a self-imposed bubble, the story of unarmed teenager Mike Brown being gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has been widespread news. What had already began as a tragedy with the death of an unarmed youth, escalated further by the police department’s refusal to discuss the case until they had found evidence — which would later reveal to be false — that the victim had committed a criminal act which, in their opinion, justified the shooting. The public’s frustration with the police and media seemingly depicting minority victims as criminals had reached its peak, sparking riots in Ferguson and a wave of protests around the country. Everyone from pundits to presidents in other countries sounded off on what had become a firestorm and a black-eye (literally) for the United States of America.

…So Shonda and her team took every sound bite, every perspective and every character and caricature that has lent a voice to this chapter in American history, and lumped it into one very emotional hour of television drama.

In her version, the father of a slain son becomes his protector by sitting with the body while holding a shotgun until justice has been served to clear his son’s name. The police chief hires a black crisis control consultant to mediate the situation before it escalated to chaos. The president, still reeling from the death of his own son, agonized over the shooting, but is advised not to make any public statements due to the hotbed issue.  The crisis consultant has her team investigate the truth, which revealed the shooting officer’s guilt. The officer is then arrested and the victim is cleared. The father is then taken to the White House by the crisis consultant to meet the president and weep in his arms. Credits roll as the episode is neatly tied up with a bow.

In between all the fantasy, there were bits of reality: The anger of the community over another unjustified physical and character assassination. The charismatic, boisterous and occasionally manipulative black activist who uses rhetoric under the guise of good intentions, which ultimately encourage further destructive and counterproductive crowd behavior. The politician who jumps in to give their two cents in hopes of bolstering their presence and agenda with the fifteen minutes of media fame they’ve been allotted. The police chief who’s more concerned with the image of his department than the situation at hand, or the respect and trust of the people he’s supposed to protect and serve by resolving things peacefully and professionally. A crowd of people who are justifiably angry over their mistreatment, but unaware of how their own actions and reactions further alienate them from the sympathies of society and, sadly, justice. The police officer whose resentment over the attitudes of the community and his own deep-seeded disdain for their ethnicity severely clouds his judgement and makes him a ticking time-bomb in a job he clearly should not have. And a president who’s damned if he does say something, and damned if he doesn’t.

As stated before, I’ve had difficulty putting into words what I’ve been feeling over the last few months. As I’ve listened and watched people sound off on this, the Bill Cosby allegations and even stupid shit like a reality show based on sorority girls, I’ve wondered — sometimes out loud — how African-Americans pick and choose what they’re outraged about.

For instance: Why is it hilarious when women act a damn fool for ratings and lauded for their ambition in one show, but dragged to hell and “read to filth” because they wore letters in another? Why is it funny when Kanye West slut-shames Amber Rose for being an exotic dancer, when his wife had sex on camera with another man and built a fucking family empire from it? Speaking of “Empire,” why are people up in arms over the character depictions on a show that is a fictional scripted drama, when we grew up watching soap operas with absurd and borderline psychotic plot lines? Why is it okay for rap artists to spit lyrics about putting “molly” in a woman’s drink, but when it’s revealed that everyone’s favorite TV dad did it in real life, suddenly the women are liars? Where is that same outrage that prompted the now famous #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, when a video of black people fighting goes viral? Where is the same call for action when another black youth or innocent bystander falls victim to revenge and/or gang violence, or just a kid with anger management issues from being abused at home or school?

Maybe it’s just too hard to see ourselves, or own our hurtful behavior, beliefs and habits when they’re reflected in so-called “art” for public consumption and scrutiny. It’s easier to point fingers and talk about what any other race but our own have done to embarrass or degrade our culture.

We spend a short month reminding ourselves how wonderful and majestic our history is; how many people of color changed the world by inventing groundbreaking medical and scientific techniques and countless household items, and blazed trails that have set legal and human rights precedents. How important it is to recognize and support black achievement. We quickly — and loudly — derided the Academy Awards for “snubbing” the movie “Selma”and its director, Ava DuVernay, citing the monumental impact of the event on which the film is based.

But for all the pomp and circumstance we built around the historical significance of honoring the movie on the fiftieth anniversary of the march itself, upon closer inspection, we failed to notice that the box office take of “Selma” was significantly less than the average Kevin Hart movie. Meaning we also snubbed the movie by not supporting it in the theaters!! In fact, we snubbed it more by not doing so, sending a far more dangerous message about our hypocrisy than an Oscar nod ever could.

As much as it makes people uncomfortable, I’m happy there are now shows that rip the band-aid off of the once taboo subject of talking about race and the issues we all face. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Jewish. African. Arabic. All. Of. Us. Be it discrimination, or even quiet-as-kept subjects like sexual abuse and incest — which was covered in a searing episode of “How To Get Away With Murder” (and may earn Cicely Tyson another award) — we need to see ourselves and our stories so we can maybe… hopefully… start the conversations and actions that create necessary changes.

Understandably, people get rattled when the lines between fantasy and reality get a little blurry, when all they want is to escape to a world where they can be entertained. But more and more, society is showing us that we can no longer look away or tune out when something doesn’t appease us.

If we can hold sports, entertainment and political figures accountable for their “scandals”, surely we can do the same for our own… Can’t we?

It all starts by looking in the mirror…

Lost and Found in Newark

Last Friday and Saturday, a mass of thousands gathered in Newark, New Jersey, for Oprah’s “Life You Want” weekend.

I was one of them.

Along with Madame O, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell and Iyanla Vanzant united to share insights and stories that were sometimes humorous and oftentimes heart-wrenching — all for the purpose of guiding us to discover our true callings.

Having only watched a handful of her talk show, barely reading my “O” magazine subscription, and catching just a few programs on her OWN network, it would seem utterly confusing as to why I would sign up for this, but that’s precisely why I did.

I had spent a good portion of my life avoiding Oprah’s influence, yet admiring the results of it. That she had reached this status of mogul/actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist from humble and terrifying beginnings made her more of a mythical figure to me as opposed to someone I could relate to, so I never fully invested in seeing her work full on.

Being so averse to seeking or acknowledging a need for help at the time, it never occurred to me to indulge in something that could bring me comfort, joy or at least help me understand that what I’d gone through was not something that was exclusive to my story. Millions of women (and a smattering of men) understood more than I did that Oprah Winfrey hadn’t just built a media empire, but a fellowship of people who all wanted to improve their circumstances, and at least be uplifted and entertained while discovering they weren’t as alone as they thought they were.

And so I joined them… and it turned out to be a pretty damn good decision.

As she took the stage of the Prudential Center on Friday night — resplendent in a royal purple gown that flowed with her every step and voice booming with confidence — this woman, affectionately (and appropriately) called “the queen of all media”, shared with her adoring subjects stories that excited and disturbed us. She peppered her accounts of personal, academic and professional achievements with painful truths of being raped, pregnant, discriminated against, insecure about her body and her desperation to get what turned out to be an Oscar-nominated part in “The Color Purple”. The more she spoke, the more this “mythical” creature became a human being to me — even becoming more so when she admitted to wanting people to think she’s nice while her man, Stedman, reminds her that she is not. (I think I loved that part more than most of her reveals.)

I left that night feeling both energized from her truths… and a little freaked out by seeing my baby picture among the hundreds floating across the screen behind her. In a sea of thousands, that small acknowledgement endeared her — and her team — to me more.

When Saturday morning arrived, Mark was ready to help us clear our racing minds, and guide us through a meditation that left a hush in a room with thousands of women. (Let that sink in… this crowd came to work!!) And while he had our attention that morning, he had our full respect and admiration later, when he was asked to reveal something in his life he will never regret and — without missing a beat — answered “Susan” as he gestured to her in the audience. Yes, there was a collective and audible sigh.

When Elizabeth came to the stage, it was clear she was a rock star to the throngs of screaming women who had read her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, and instantly contemplated leaving everything behind to discover themselves by spending a year globetrotting. It also didn’t hurt that she was played by Julia Roberts in the movie adaptation. Basically, she was the woman everyone wanted to be if they felt Oprah was too high a standard. At least, until they spent the weekend realizing they could be whichever one they wanted to.

Liz shared her journey from being in a “picture-perfect” but unfulfilled marriage, losing everything she had in the divorce, feeling desperate, hopeless, and taking a leap of faith by spending a year finding her passion and purpose and never looking back. Being one of the few who hadn’t read the book or watched her on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday”, I found her story and candor refreshing and oddly familiar, having walked away from something similar to marriage, losing everything and making discoveries of my own… albeit with less stamps in my passport. Or, for that matter, a book deal.

Rob Bell came to the stage using his humble and unorthodox spiritual charm to explain how expansive the universe was and how we each contributed to it, and I found myself wondering if he and Neil DeGrasse Tyson collaborated. When our minds weren’t being blown by the math and science used in comprising the distance and speed of planets, we were putting our lives into perspective after stories about his late grandmother and his family life gave us pause to appreciate the value of each moment and breath… and Montblanc pens.

What Gilbert is to the dreamers, Iyanla is to those (like me) who live in a “dream-like” state.  Those who fall under that category ignore or fail to grasp reality and/or anything that requires work to create or maintain something of true value. Given that she spoke from experience — having gone deep into debt after refusing to pay her bills and being left by her husband — it only seemed natural and logical to explore some crucial life choices after that talk!

It all brought me back to my last post, where I shared a list born from personal mistakes, and the takeaways that I’ve just recently begun putting into perspective and practice in the last year and a half. The events of this past weekend not only validated the importance of those lessons, it mandated my need to fully embrace them with an open, authentic and uncluttered heart and mind every day.

It helps to know there are people in my corner committed to making sure I do. A lot.

Coming off of seeing Audra McDonald’s heartbreaking portrayal of Billie Holiday during her final days in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”, and looking into a crowd including many older than myself, it was strangely comforting knowing that there’s no statute of limitations on dealing with demons, and conversely, it is never too late to change or improve your life. It’s also okay if you don’t have your shit together by a certain age, as long as you consistently make the effort to actually have it together.

All clever marketing, cool light shows, dance parties, abbreviated exercise classes, crying jags and feel-good missives aside, this experience genuinely renewed my appreciation for life and all its quirks, blessings and benefits. It also reinforced the importance of putting my own happiness and peace of mind first in order to be the kind of person who can ultimately contribute something more helpful than harmful to others.

Kinda like that analogy about putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others during a plane emergency.

Or… you know… becoming a beloved television and movie star who encourages people to read by starting a book club and founding a magazine, build schools and funds scholarships for underprivileged kids, and runs a network and a tour that encourages people to be their best selves.

Kind of a no-brainer which life I choose…

Life Choices

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Robin Williams, but when news spread yesterday of his death, I — like millions of other people around the world — felt the loss.

In an age where increased celebrity access give admirers a false sense of connection, it was never a tabloid magazine, countless gossip items, or a reality program that ingratiated Robin to fans young and old.

It was him.

For decades, his body of work was only eclipsed by his larger-than-life personality and generous, childlike and lightning-quick spirit. His energy and ability to transform from one character to another in the blink of an eye was not only mind-blowing, it was at times daunting. One was always left with a sense of wonder after watching him perform. Not to mention a hurting stomach from laughing so hard.

He was an alien, a sailor, a struggling dad reinventing himself as a beloved nanny, a teacher, a poet, a soldier’s reminder of home away from home, an aspiring doctor with a humorous bedside manner, a refugee from Neverland, a comic reliever who raised money for the homeless and others in need, and an all-around stand-up guy.

Sadly, he had demons he couldn’t conquer, and this is where he became more familiar and connected to the world. This is when he became a human being… and just like us.

The tragedy struck me not only as a fan of his work, but also as someone who is familiar with what it’s like to struggle with depression.

From a confused and angry youth peppered with abuse and abandonment, to a confused and simply frustrated adulthood, my most recent bout was a little over three years ago. At the time, I was struggling to find steady work and income — having been part of a massive layoff one year prior — and a permanent place to live after ending a toxic long-term live-in relationship months before. My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after losing both his and my late grandmother’s house, and I was now responsible for his financial affairs and welfare in addition to my own — using what was left of my savings to pay his debts since he had no money left to pay them. As my savings dried out, I was forced to use my retirement fund to supplement my income when temp jobs weren’t enough, and was subsequently hit with a massive tax bill.

An incredible sister-friend generously gave me her room to stay in while I got back on my feet, and it would be where you could find me on any given day… sobbing uncontrollably and contemplating taking my own life.

In spite of those circumstances, I chose to continue my life, and became more curious to find out where it would all lead. Eventually, leads from friends led me to more consistent, and permanent, work — which allowed me to afford a room in a great apartment in Harlem, where I live to this day with a few spirited women. Over time, I’ve settled into my role as my father’s “caretaker”, but every now and then his disease finds ways to remind me of the inevitable. I consciously took action to create a life that had value beyond the tangible kind; one where I had more control of — and accountability for — my personal joy. 

Things got better from there.

We now return to the year 2014, where I’ve now discovered a fulfilling career that feeds my passion, a relationship that’s beyond anything I’d imagined, and a new and improved lease on life. 

In the last month and a half, I’ve experienced my first cruise, my first trip to New Orleans (and introduction to its cuisine), my first Essence Music Festival (which is where I had my first live Prince experience), and this past weekend I finally went skydiving for the first — and only — time. I also got a promotion at work, which led to my first bouquet of roses — ever — via my boyfriend.

In a way, this Summer of “firsts” signifies the beginning of a new life… a “rebirth” in a sense… one that never would have been possible had I chosen to end it only a few short years ago.

Which brings me back to Robin. While I cannot imagine what he was going through (or maybe I can) when he chose to take his life, it is my hope that in doing so, he has saved the lives of others who live in silence… dangerously close to making the same choice.

The sad truth is, it usually takes a tragedy to spark a necessary conversation. Amongst the tremendous outpour of emotion over the past 24 hours from those still grappling to understand how someone who brought so much joy could be in so much pain, there have also been an increasing number of those speaking out about their own demons.

If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is that there is always another choice. A better one.

I wish he’d made that one…

Strong Feelings

A few days ago, life took a turn at an unexpected moment.

As I was waking up, I literally woke up.

Laying in bed — resisting the call of the morning and its wicked accomplice, the snooze alarm — I noticed in the mirror on my closet door the image of brightly painted toenails on a narrow and feminine foot. Inching further down, I saw a relatively defined calf attached to a meaty thigh and a softer body than the one that got me into so much trouble years ago. This prompted me to sit up and slowly observe the face lined with dark circles gained from loss of sleep taken by an active mind. (Well, more so than usual.)

This renewed look at my frame wasn’t like the others. It wasn’t critical of my lack of a washboard stomach, my tired eyes or my ongoing battle to save my breasts from the grasp of gravity. It wasn’t to admire any yoga results in my slightly muscular arms, or lament my small-but-strong childlike fingers.

It simply dawned on me that I was alive and healthy, and all the things I just mentioned — which have either determined my diet or my insecurities — didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

In the last few days, I’ve gotten a promotion at work, begun steps to finally unravel the mess of my finances from the last three-and-a-half years, and discovered an amazing support group of like-minded individuals.

This comes on the heels of my continuing education in a course that supports my chosen career path (finally!) and the ongoing encouragement from a village of loved ones and a smattering of determined Buddhists.

In the wake of the passing of Maya Angelou and, most recently, Ruby Dee, it occurred to me that the impact of these women resounded not only because their gifts could be seen and heard around the world via innumerable resources and platforms. It is because they never allowed themselves to be pigeonholed or undermined by their physical attributes, and instead rose to reverence through their versatility, intelligence, indomitable strength of character and resounding faith in themselves and the potential of generations of others to be greater.

This week I saw more than what I could physically “see”. I saw the fruits of finally speaking up for what I wanted in my career and life and seeing them become possibilities rather than dreams and wishes. I saw an emboldened woman, who acknowledged she had more to offer the world than a smile and witty banter. I saw futures where fantasy once played.

I saw… me.

Only stronger.

Let the greatness begin…

Pins and Needles

Today is the last day of 2013.

Normally, the thing to do is to reflect on the year that was — but I’ve pretty much done that already.

In the event you need a refresher, it goes like this: attended a few awesome concerts, quit my job and got a better one, clocked in some mileage with two trips each to Savannah and Florida, three trips to Toronto, and one to Panama, had a couple of brief but fun romances, spent more time with family and true friends, found my spiritual center with Buddhism and meditation, and stepped up my active side with a bit of running and yoga. And overall had a great damn time living my best life. 

So I’d like to take this moment to discuss something that will likely become my new favorite ritual at the closing of every year… 

Acupuncture.

Yes, that centuries-old practice of Chinese medicine in which needles are placed into your skin at specific pressure points in your body to relieve ailments and release tension.

For the uninitiated, the question “How can sticking needles in your flesh make you feel better?” is probably running through your mind the same way it did mine. I’ve never been a fan of needles of any kind. Usually, I need to be distracted by a speck on the wall or something of interest when I’m getting medical tests done or donating blood, so the prospect of being stuck rather leisurely and frequently never registered on my list of things to do — even when one of my best girlfriends sang the praises of it years ago.

But one company health fair, a charismatic and slightly aggressive woman named Helen, and a fully covered insurance plan all conspired to spark my curiosity. It might have also been her explanation of another ritual called “cupping” which was said to remove toxins and — here’s the kicker, inches — from your body.

Hey, anything that gives Gwyneth Paltrow embarrassing circular marks that look like she was probed by aliens must be worth a try, right? 

Nearly two months after my first session, and I’m hooked. Considering I resemble some variation of a human cactus for about forty minutes a day three times a week, it is surprisingly relaxing, and very often knocks me the hell out. I’m also convinced the cupping has indeed slimmed my torso a bit, and possibly removed all traces of any drink-infused holiday revelry. Double score.

I suppose the main takeaway from this experience — besides Diana is always right — would be to face your fears  — especially the ones that truly scare you — and embrace things that cause you pain.

As it turned out, those momentary pricks don’t hurt when you don’t think about them, and the trade-off is long-term relief of a greater ailment.  

Which brings me to a conversation I had last night with a friend. We were talking about our past relationships, and after speaking about how unhealthy they had become, it was then that I realized the impact of this year in particular, and what really made it so wonderful: This was the first in which anyone whose actions or otherwise were either harmful or didn’t fit my best interests were, for the most part, left to their own devices. 

Men with stories about needing breaks or more attention, being “wild”, or being lost, were left alone and encouraged do what makes them happy. Women who relied on me to do their jobs while they sat on beaches, and repaid me in poor treatment (forgetting their days of unemployment when they were treated to dinners), and those who had mocking fun at my expense (on occasions with the aforementioned), were no longer worthy of the time I’ve grown to value exponentially. Generally, anyone who had the benefit of receiving a job referral or a housewarming, wedding, child’s birthday or christening gift in the last four years (three of which were otherwise known as my underemployed years) got “time outs” if complaints were made regarding my attention span.

In short: This year I lived for me, and pursued peace of mind over being a “piece” in someone else’s game.

That unconscious purging turned out to be the best medicine I could ever hope for; when one’s life is filled with so many positive, generous, funny, creative, intelligent and just downright amazing people, it’s counterintuitive to hold on to a few who make you feel anyway other than appreciated.

My issue will never be how other’s choose to live their lives… it will be how they think I should live mine in a way that pleases them.

It is at this very moment while writing this, that I considered on my next acupuncture session to give each needle the name of someone who’s “gotten under my skin” metaphorically. I’m sure it would be some great symbolic moment to name the pins protruding from my neck after folks I consider to be pains in the neck.

But I can’t… cause that’s just stupid.

Also, for starters, all I can think about is the fact that I’m half-naked on a massage table looking like a mash-up of a voodoo doll, the bride of Frankenstein, and Pinhead from the “Hellraiser” movies. My next area of focus tends to veer toward my lack of Chinese language skills, which would serve me well for the intention of eavesdropping on the conversation of the ladies in the office.

And then… everything goes dark… as tranquility and slumber take over, and any stress or discomfort is all but forgotten. Once I’m done, I walk out into the world feeling shiny and new with an extra pep in my step (and a need to hydrate).

Now if that isn’t the perfect way to start the New Year, I don’t know what is. I’ll take that over a resolution any day!

All A Twitter…

In what is probably one of the more ridiculous admissions made in this lifetime, I must fully acknowledge that I have a bizarre love/hate relationship with Twitter.

Sometimes just using the word makes me feel like just I substituted a dirty word in the presence of children.

“That girl can be such a twitter!”

“He’s a son of a twitter.”

“That gymnast just cracked their twitter on the balance beam. Ouch!”

But I digress.

My initial reaction to the invention of this game-changing app was blatant disregard. The purist in me thought it was a further nail in the coffin of human interaction, which would enable my already half-hearted desire to be in a room with people on a regular basis. Then it morphed into semi-hatred when it became clear that in order to satisfy the 140-character limit, you end up decimating the English language with barely translatable text. (Sometimes I think my brother learned his entire vocabulary through this method.) Prior to people realizing they could simply send multiple messages to convey a thought, ppl tlkd lk no1 wnt 2 skool.

Once it became clear that it wasn’t going away, and had, in fact, grown in popularity as even politicians began using it, my intrigue set in. As staunchly against abbreviated thoughts as I’d been, there was no denying that the influence of Twitter was evident. Hell, Corey Booker’s entire political career might exist because of it. For celebrities and other influencers, the number of followers they had were equated to human currency.

So I created an account… and quickly got bored with it. I was more interested in the real-time news and confirming rumored deaths and other gossip than anything. The idea of sharing random thoughts to the “Twitterverse” disturbed me… although one of my girlfriends in D.C. and I made a regular habit of doing award show commentaries on it as if we were the two old puppets on “The Muppet Show”.

Twitter was our heckling paradise.

While some would say it’s the same as writing a Facebook status, or possibly even blogging, one can at least control the level of exposure and/or response to some extent via those platforms. Whereas on the flip side, I inexplicably found myself being “followed” by people with porn star names, and getting spam messages about checking out sites that probably lead to viruses.

Then one day it became clear to me why this newfangled social media thingy was so damn popular…

While flipping through the timeline, I saw a “tweet” from Vanity Fair in which they quoted the rapper Chamillionaire. Instantly, my thought was two things: the first was that their account was being tasked by someone likely born in the ’90’s, and the second was how awesome it was that a magazine typically associated with covering socialites and the scandalous misdeeds of the rich and famous from the “old-money” set was mentioning a man made famous by a song called “Ridin’ Dirty”.

In fact, it struck me so oddly fantastic that I wrote a tweet about it, in which I said “Whenever I wonder why I’m on Twitter, I see something random like @VanityFair quoting @Chamillionaire.” And promptly signed off.

Hours later, while checking my email, there was a message telling me Chamillionaire re-tweeted my message. Apparently, he was just as amused as I was.

It was then that I realized that as much of a bitchfest as Twitter can be, the draw is that the “Average Joe” has an opportunity to be acknowledged by people they normally only see in the media. Very often, you’ll see re-tweets from celebrities where the initial sender literally begs for one. They also have the perfect platform to publicly stalk, scold, and shame people with minimal risk of an arrest or being slapped with a restraining order.

Even after getting a direct message from a rap artist asking about an artwork I posted a photo of, ribbing an actor friend — who I’d later date — about an ill-fated picture, and exchanging occasionally humorous dialogue with notable personalities, my feelings about Twitter were still teetering on ambivalent.

Until this morning… when I got an email informing me that Amel Larrieux was now following me. A significant upgrade from wannabe porn stars. It’s one thing for them to respond to you, it’s another thing for them to follow you.

I nearly twittered my pants.

Suddenly, the pressure to write better abbreviated thoughts become tenfold when you learn an artist of her caliber might be reading them.

And just when I thought I had reached my crazy zenith for the week, a photo taken by a well-known entertainment reporter I used to work with popped up on Instagram (another stalker hotbed). It was of Grace Jones re-tweeting him, with the caption: “This. Just. Happened. I Die.” (I fear should Liza Minelli or Dolly Parton ever do the same, he really will die from the excitement.)

Validation ensued.

At first, I contemplated ending this post with a pledge to tweet responsibly and encourage you all to do the same. But who are we kidding? Some of the best and/or most memorable stuff are the off-the-cuff epic meltdowns of legend, i.e. Weiner, Bynes, Baldwin, Cyrus, and the queen of ’em all… Rihanna (as hot as that girl may be, she is a whole bag of crazy — and we love her for it).

Instead, my PSA for the day is more in the lines of don’t drink and tweet, mind your grammar, and resist the urge to post “selfies” of any nature.

It’s all fun and games til something goes viral…

So follow me @lrbnyc and let’s see how much fun — or trouble — we can get into…

End of Daze

Not sure about you… but I’ve never been happier to see a Monday in quite some time!

In addition to it starting up a mercifully short work week, it also signifies that I made it through last week without incident. With such a busy news week, anything — and I do mean anything — was possible. (Slightly dramatic, but true.)

If you were a minority, female or homosexual, you had a smorgasbord of topics to choose from: The Trayvon Martin murder trial, Paula Deen’s racially charged deposition, the removal of the Voting Rights Act, more Edward Snowden leaks, the abortion law filibuster in Texas and finally the striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.

If you fall under all the aforementioned categories, you were on an emotional roller-coaster, which likely ended with you dancing in the street in something festive while your lesser-clad male counterparts wore either speedos or the clothes your parents wanted you to wear before you came out. (Yes, even the slutty stuff.)

As thrilled as I was for my many LGBT friends, it was still a tough week for me to embrace. The beauty of that moment, when the courts acknowledged that their love is just as real as anyone else’s and deserved to be given the same rights and privileges, was so monumental that it overshadowed a glaring revocation of a law that could potentially set up (or back) the next presidential election.

Yes, it was a particularly sobering week for African-Americans. While many of us were busy calling out Paula Deen for using a word uttered by every hip hop artist, high-profile entertainer, urban and “wanna-be” suburban kid, we totally ignored a little piece of legislature which may decide how and if areas heavily populated by minorities can vote with ease — or at all.

And while many took to the internet to write disparaging commentary about Rachel Jeantel’s physical appearance and speech challenges (much the way they did Gabby Douglas), they completely glazed over the fact that this young girl not only carried the burden of being the last person to hear her friend’s voice before he took his final breath, but she stood her own ground against a legal system ironically trying to justify “stand your ground” as a reason to shoot unarmed kids on their way home.

Meanwhile, the outrage stemming from the discovery that the government is invading the privacy of millions hasn’t quite reached the sector where they also invade the private parts and reproductive rights of millions of women. The mettle and relentlessness of Wendy Davis should be applauded instead of being subjected to vilification. But in a world where it’s a fun fact that a man has fathered twenty-two children with fourteen different women, it just seems like a good idea to attack anyone trying to make sure no child is brought into this world without the love and stability they need to thrive in what’s increasingly becoming a cruel world for anyone not meeting the societal standard.

It’s no secret; I am angry. Angered by politicians voted into office to protect the rights of the people, only to vote against gun laws and healthcare. Angered by religious zealots who preach about the love and sacrifice that lead to dying for sinners, but condemn people based on their lifestyle and right to choose. Angered by a society that reveres well-known adulterers and creates examples of marriage and relationships in highly rated reality programs where the subjects are polygamists or former sex-tape veterans who have expensive short-lived marriages and sire strangely named children with self-absorbed megalomaniacs, but wants to throw out words like “sanctity” when it’s convenient. Angered by my own race who continue to point the finger of blame everywhere but at ourselves — much like Miss Deen and, dare I say, our current President — instead of simply sucking it up and taking accountability and saying “Okay, let me fix this… starting with me.” Angered by a mass of people whose origin is mostly based in the European continent who keep trying to define immigration, while Native Americans fight to be heard and lose their land, and later, their children, in custody battles with white adoptive parents. Angered by the amount of young black men in prison for possession of marijuana when there are a growing number of free men in possession of abducted women and children and people’s life savings. Angered by the amount of money we spend protecting our “interests” in other parts of the world while our own citizens struggle to find jobs and means of supporting their families.

The list goes on and on.

We spend our days sleepwalking through life obsessing over mundane things like Angry Cat photos, Facebook posts, Twitter rants and celebrity baby news and deaths. I almost wonder when was the precise moment I decided to pay more attention to the escapades of people who contribute nothing but sensationalism over people like Nelson Mandela, who contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Naturally, I’m embarrassed.

With all the greatness — and potential for greatness — this country has, it seems like now is as good a time as any to ensure our future generations are more caught up on current events than Taylor Swift’s love life and viral videos about “twerking.”

Education and an awareness of world news and changes should be the gold standard of our society. Not the option that falls by the wayside when budgets are cut. That a heavily tattooed man-child athlete makes more than a teacher is criminal. That, nine times out of ten, he’s broke by the time he retires from his respective league after spending it all on extravagant and excessive things and people (that is, if they haven’t gone to jail for murder, rape, weapons assault, dog fighting, etc…), before the rest is taken by the IRS indicates the need for better teachers (preferably ones not having sex with students or making porn). 

As I step down from my soapbox for the night, I realize the challenges of this world are so much bigger than me. It’s a sobering thing… and an even more frightening truth when you haven’t been drinking.

On that note, it’s waaayyy past my bed time.

And now… it’s Tuesday.

Sigh…

Celebrity Skin (Reborn)

[The following is a “cleaned up” version of a post that required “tweaking”. Much like the subjects involved.]

After seven days, one harrowing family emergency, one pretty promising work week, two NBA Finals games, one emotional Amel Larrieux concert, one hour and a half walk, one Central Park run, one Yoga class, one appropriately titled dark comedy mocking celeb culture and hours of chanting/meditation… I finally cried.

But strangely, not for the reasons I used to.

While dating a celebrity is the dream of many, it’s never been my life goal. I’d spent years working around actors, models and entertainers in some capacity, and understood the caveats of that world. So much, in fact, that I ran screaming from it in pursuit of a “normal” life in the form of a retail career and a buttoned-up architect boyfriend.

Both lasted eight and five years, respectively… an eternity in my world, and the benchmarks that validate my ability to be committed to some-thing/one when I begin to wonder.

Alas, like the Mafia, the universe has always found a way to bring me back to that environment.

So when I met a cocky-but-charming actor last summer, I chalked it up to a fun encounter that wouldn’t amount to anything more. That he didn’t live in the same city made dating him even less of a possibility.

Nonetheless, we kept in touch, and a new friendship began.

Months of only speaking by way of the internet and mobile apps segued into hours-long phone conversations in which we’d get lost in thought and time while discovering striking similarities in our experiences and beliefs. Alas, we were so similar, that the conclusion to this story came as no surprise. In him, I found a kindred spirit who, like myself, found our “happy place” despite hardscrabble upbringings through spirituality. His passion and driven nature inspired me, and — slowly — I began to imagine a scenario that seemed initially absurd.

But, also like myself, that same upbringing which forced us to be so profoundly independent minded and welcoming of the unknown, harbors insecurities and defense mechanisms that can kill burgeoning romances. Especially ones with difficult and virtually impossible challenges at its inception.

So, what happened? Many things. A man whose words are softer than his touch and a woman whose touch is softer than her words equates to a lit match near kerosene. Accusations and assumptions based on previous experiences. (The majority of which surprisingly not coming from my camp. No, really, I’m shocked.) Mutual feelings of being taken for granted combined with scheduling challenges, unfulfilled personal goals that require more attention, fatigue, poor communication and unfortunate circumstances.

You know… the usual cocktail for disaster.

Which is sad, because in another life with less anxiety, we could have been a dynamic family… if people like us believed we could be a family, as opposed to broken people seeking redemption through blind faith and kind words we can’t (or won’t) support with action.

In spite of things, there are no regrets. Only love and admiration for him and what he has given me: a renewed value in my time, and appreciation for how little of it I have to spend giving up my own dreams and desires for someone who hasn’t made a vow to do the same, or at least share our loads equally as partners.

Yes, it is an absolutely selfish stance to take on. But at this point if I’m gonna be a failure at relationships, I should at least be successful in other aspects. If you can’t beat ’em… join ’em.

The only exception — natch — is if you’ve come out of my vagina. Then all bets are off.

Until then… it’s all good. Broken hearts lead to thicker skins.

Although he, by far, has the more superior moisturizer.

Keep the Faith

People who know exactly what they want to do and be in life terrify me.

Not because they are conceivably exceptional at planning and achieving set goals and make me feel like the brilliant-but-lazy under-achiever that I am.

It’s because when they don’t get what they want, their disappointments somehow become epic problems for a number of people who may or may not be involved with them.

Yes, this sounds extreme. Hell, it could sound like I’m licking a wound. Truth be told, I’m not 100% sure that I’m not.

But one sweep of the world news could very well confirm this theory; people often justify unspeakable acts in the name of their religious, political or personal beliefs or faith. Random bombings claiming innocent lives. Hacking human beings in broad daylight. Raping, torturing, or kidnapping women and children. Committing crimes of hate and bias based on another persons ethnicity or sexual preference. Denying rights and opportunities because you feel someone who does not share your beliefs are therefore beneath you and don’t deserve a chance to be counted.

On the lighter side, we also exhibit this behavior in the most basic of forms in our relationships with those around us. Something as simple as a lack of empathy can irreparably damage bonds or even the chance of forging one. Rejection (or even the idea of it) sometimes send people into an emotional tailspin that lead to poor and sometimes dangerous choices. When we stick so fiercely to what we want that we can’t see a way to coexist with others, we do a disservice to everyone involved — especially ourselves.

Think about it: how can we accept and give unconditional love if we can’t accept and give of each other unconditionally?

Today, CNN.com had a slide show of notable atheists. My first reaction was curiosity, but then it quickly segued into apathy. As I wondered why it was considered news if someone chose not to believe in God, it occurred to me just how important society has made it to believe in something. 

Admittedly, I spent a great deal of years hating the idea of God. As my childhood went from one unstable and abusive situation to the next, I wondered how — if there were a God — could he allow me to suffer. As I got older, my views became more of an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” kind of lifestyle, asking my father to get me a cross (in retrospect, a manipulation that ultimately — as desired — began the repair of our relationship). Nearly twenty years later, I wear it not for its “intended” meaning, but more as a symbol of forgiving my father and keeping his spirit close to my heart. While I respect that most people need something to believe in, I find the most vital person/thing we must believe in is ourselves and our ability to make the best choices.

It’s only when people embrace their own greatness and beauty that they can see the same in others without feeling threatened. As expansive as this world is, it is almost criminal how divisive we are to serve our own interests… be it in the name of God, Allah, Buddha, or the almighty dollar.

It was Anne Frank who said “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart”. Some of us will take a little longer than others to come to that realization.

But I have faith that someday it will happen… as soon as we stop taking ourselves so damn seriously.

Personally, I blame dieting. In fact, the world would be a better place if everyone just ate bacon. (Sure, I made that up, but seriously… have you ever seen an unhappy person eating bacon?)