In Slave

It’s February already.

The shortest month of the year, and the only one where you could run into timekeeping issues with your age if you were born at the very end of it during a Leap one. Thankfully, my dad dodged that bullet by a day… although sometimes I felt it would’ve explained a lot of his behavior.

It is also most notably Black History Month, which used to mean reports and special school plays in honor of famous people of color during my childhood.

Today, it means I spend the weekend watching the NAACP awards, frying shrimp the way my grandmother taught me in Savannah, catching “Django Unchained” finally, and taking to Twitter to read and review commentary on the performances and ads during the Super Bowl while simultaneously trying to watch the game and contain my audible reactions to the game. All in that order.

Like most New Yorkers, I went into watching this game more for the ads and Beyonce’s halftime show because the Giants weren’t in it and could therefore care less who won. I moderately appreciate football as a sport, but fully enjoy the uniforms and the use of words like “tight end”. I’m crass. Get over it.

That said, it turned out to be an awesome game.

But the NFL went full-on “Sista-girl power” with a line up that began with Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, and ended with that fem-bot Sasha Fierce leaving no questions about live performances… or why she now performs without the other members of Destiny’s Child. It was like a precursor to the Essence Music Festival.

Anyway, back to the point of this story…

The NAACP awards turned out to be emotionally overwhelming. After tearing up from the story of Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, I was then struck by the iconic moment of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte standing on stage together, as the former presented the latter with the Spingarin award in recognition of his tireless charity work. That’s when the cosmic shift in the room occurred.

Mr. Belafonte is no stranger to calling out black celebrities for not taking a more active role in enriching the lives and opportunities of the black youth. But on this particular night, he used his moment in the spotlight to challenge all of them to use their influence to make and be the change needed in the communities to ensure kids today are educated instead of incarcerated. His speech was so moving, it jarred Jamie Foxx to the point of getting him to stray from his rehearsed speech of the season (only briefly, unfortunately).

For me, it sparked thoughts of the days when black actors were “actorvists”, and entertainers were outspoken in their community and in turn the community responded. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Poitier and Belafonte, Paul Robeson. All walked alongside the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Today, the number of celebrities willing to get their hands dirty are few, with exceptions such as Don Cheadle, who after making “Hotel Rwanda”, began campaigning and co-authored a book in efforts to end genocide in Darfur. The going trend is now to sign large tax-deductible checks or make photo-scripted appearances to boost one’s PR.

His speech stayed with me as I watched “Django”, which, when one isn’t focused on the graphic and gratuitous violence or the use of the N-word, you can appreciate for what it is: a good — no, great — revenge fantasy. Just like “Inglorious Basterds” before it, this movie takes a very real and very traumatic page in history for a race of people and asks the question “what if the tables were turned?” If you go looking for inaccuracies or expecting to be offended, you completely miss the true story buried within; the one where slaves were whipped, torn apart by dogs, put in “hot boxes”, and subjected to numerous atrocities — least of which is being called an N-word — worst of all being conditioned to betray and mistrust each other for their own survival.

And there it is… centuries later, we’ve become our worst enemies .

As Mr. Belafonte calls for an end to the penitentiary mindset that has been steadily crippling our communities over the last few decades, the city of Chicago has just tallied over forty homicides just in the month of January. Before the ball dropped to mark the end of 2012, they had notched over 500 murders in total for the year. Crime in minority neighborhoods have risen with the desperation of those who see more opportunity in guns, drugs, and professional sports than with degrees or specialized training for careers that can’t be outsourced.

It’s become customary to point the finger of blame at our lighter-hued counterparts for the lack of progression in our community, but we are squarely to blame for it. When we fail our children by denying them basic things such as quality education, stable and healthy home environments and just a strong sense of pride and self, we set up the future generations to follow suit.  When we put programs on where our women fight over men and money, put out songs that glorify violence and misogyny, and teach our kids at a young age to value expensive, high-tech and designer items they can’t possibly afford  — we are mixing a recipe for disaster. We are enslaving ourselves.

I’m sure they’d be remiss to admit it, but if Spike Lee had done that movie instead of Quentin Tarantino, they would be hailing him as a genius for sparking a conversation about slavery that hasn’t been explored since “Roots”. Personally, I think Spike should have done the film, so more people would be talking about it instead of fixating on a word.

It’s great that we celebrate the achievements of accomplished people of color. It would be even greater if we didn’t just allot a month out of an entire year to make them feel special. It’s almost akin to picking one day out of the other 364 to express your love for someone (hmmm… coincidence that it’s the same month?). It would be fantastic if we could make a habit out of excellence, instead of pointing people out like zoo animals, but I guess in some way it inspires one to aspire to something more.

But enough about this.

How about those Super Bowl commercials?

Assume the Position

In life, it would appear role play isn’t simply relegated to the bedroom.

This thought came to me as I considered the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. Normally, I detest this practice because it sets me up to make promises that I have zero intention of keeping, which then creates a domino effect of self-effacing for the remainder of the year; what begins as a noble introspective attempt at creating a better me suddenly morphed into an analysis of how and why we seek certain changes in our lives. I then began thinking about how in so many aspects of our being, people adjust or conform to whatever societal norm to either fit in or survive.

After it occurred to me that I’ve been steadily drinking my way through the month of December, I realized I was thinking way too much… but by then my mind locked onto the concept that — whether consciously or subconsciously — men and women desire “titles” or “positions” for status. Manager. Director. Boss. Girlfriend. Boyfriend. Wife. Husband. Mother. Father. Best Friend.

Which finally brings me to the point: It’s all well and good to be that person… if you really want to be that person. Unfortunately, we willingly demand these positions while being unwilling to do the work required of them.

Many of us have encountered a situation or two where our workplace has had less than effective management, so it’s easy to relate when we hear someone isn’t doing the job they pushed, pleaded and schemed to get (hell, politicians are providing some of the finest examples right now). But rarely do we acknowledge how we do that in relationships with people… and even ourselves.

Recently, it occurred to me just how dishonest I’d been with myself when it came to the “positions” I’ve (allegedly) wanted. For the majority of my years, I’ve accepted jobs, boyfriends, and other things simply based on the fact that they were options presented at that moment… instead of taking the time to assess whether mutual needs and desires were being met. I always hated disappointing people, and in my twisted logic felt compelled to remain in unpleasant situations despite the stress it would ultimately incur. Needless to say, I remain unfulfilled, but these days I’m more at peace with disappointments and find them to be fantastic lessons as I pursue my true position in this world.

Most importantly… I also take less shit.

As this year — with all its trials, tribulations, tragedies and transitions — comes to a close, my hope is that 2013 brings about an awakening of our minds, bodies and souls… allowing people to become more accepting of themselves and others for who they are. The tolerance of intolerance has produced disastrous results in the form of racism, bullying, homophobia, political unrest, and overall disparity between genders, class and even the mental and physically disabled. The new year requires a new perspective, to say the least.

It all starts with being true to ourselves and others… because the simple truth is, what we receive in this life is intrinsically connected to the effort we put into it. And if we’re not giving our best in any role — be it in work, play, and general existence — we set ourselves up to not just fail as an individual, but also those we affect through our actions.

Besides, there isn’t a more gratifying feeling than a job well done.

 

As Time Goes By…

I’m not sure why… but years ago, I used to give decorative wall clocks as wedding gifts. Ironic, seeing I was often “punctually challenged” when it came to being places by force.

Anyway, these large timepieces would always be accompanied with poems I’d written about time being spent together… or something or another.

To this day, I’m not sure if the intent was to be clever and thoughtful about getting them to cherish every moment in each other’s company, or if I was just giving them a very large stopwatch to count the minutes before they decided they made an error in judgement.

In any case, my gifts these days tend to veer toward monetary contributions and an occasional “honeymoon accessory”.

For some reason, back then, I was more obsessed with how other people used their time on this earth, and less focused and ultimately more wasteful of my own time on this planet. As people grew up, grew stronger, grew apart, grew to know more and grew to care less… I grew jaded, fearful, and distant from everything I wanted in life.

Not to say a whole hell of a lot has changed — I’m still a work in progress — but I’m chipping away new things every day. There is a certain freedom and pleasure in knowing and being true to ones self, and not being afraid to go against the grain to become the masterpiece you always knew you could be. I’m just more cognizant of the fact that there is, in fact, a timetable to make it happen. Whether we like it or not. We all have a deadline.

As I stare down the barrel of the shotgun that is my impending 37th birthday, it’s becoming clearer to me why elders are often more ornery and impatient; the older you get, the more precious time becomes. Why would you want to waste any minute of your life doing things you don’t want to do or be around people who don’t respect you, share your views, or make your life easier and more pleasant to endure?

This past Thanksgiving was special for me in the realization of just how fortunate I am, and how valuable each moment is. To commemorate this re-devotion to making every moment count, I’ve been opening my mind to new things once again. I signed up for a race with some girlfriends, and thanks to the good people at LivingSocial, I’m going to shoot a gun and take an aerial circus class. I’m also trying to recruit my cousin in Philly to jump out of a plane with me, but if she chickens out, I’ll have an extra photographer for when I do it (or someone who can immediately contact our relatives from the scene to alert them of my demise).

The point is, as I get older, life get shorter. Perhaps I may live a long healthy existence well into my golden years, but each passing day is one less (and more) opportunity to do something different and new to create fabulous memories. Granted, I’ve already amassed some great moments in my lifetime thus far, but there’s always room for another.

After reading “Grace: A Memoir” by Grace Coddington, I realized that I’ve got another thirty years before I can become the comfortably settled woman the fiery Ms. Coddington has become. Which means I have plenty of time to spend many nights at crazy parties with a cast of characters in the fashion, art and entertainment industry and shack up with dubious men of foreign descent.

Oh wait… I’ve already done these things.

Let’s just start with the race, the plane dive, the air twirling and the gun, and see where the rest of the new year takes me…

Either way, I’ll embrace every minute as if it were my last.

Stormy Weathered

“In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire… hurricanes hardly happen!” – Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady”

Yesterday at work, I found myself wishing I was in one of those places… but instead I was catering to the needs and calming the nerves of displaced hotel guests who were either stranded by a cancelled flight, evacuated from their homes or having their luxury experience interrupted by mother nature’s wrath in the form of Sandy.

It all began innocently enough. Throughout most of the day it was just windy with a little rain. Locals spent the day typing productively away on their laptops, playing board and card games, and indulging in a cocktail or four. As the day progressed, the energy took a very different direction. The jovial, yet cautious vibe soon became more frustrated and frightened.

This is of course when things truly got interesting…

All the disaster movies and TV dramas in the world don’t prepare you for the range of emotions you go through when you’re in a situation where you are completely powerless. When you have to turn away frantic people who need a place for the night because they can’t stay in their own homes because you have no room. When you are expected to remain calm and overall pleasant when a demanding mother makes numerous outrageous requests. When you find yourself sleeping in a room full of strangers, and someone who shared theirs with one they know asks for their room to be cleaned. When you must find a way to keep children entertained and calm and unaware of the destruction and chaos occurring outside. When you find yourself walking through a hallway and staircase that’s pitch black and using the last of your battery life to illuminate your path. When you must endure an increasingly unpleasant odor that you can still detect in spite of blowing your nose until the skin is raw. When you watch someone attempt to plug an iPad into a generator, as a number of people just want to charge their phones enough to make or take a phone call once service resumes… It makes you wonder.

There came a point in the night — amongst the emergency generated light and candles — when an impromptu piano performance by one of the servers made me unexpectedly weepy. (It could have also been the two and a half hours of sleep I’d gotten prior to working twelve hours with almost no break.)

In any event, I began thinking of the reality of the moment more than the severity; I’d once again found myself working in an industry where myself and my colleagues forgo normal existences where we could be passing those stressful hours in the company of loved ones, to essentially babysit the privileged. Hearing one housekeeper use her colleague’s phone to assure her family in Mandarin that she was fine, and another get an early morning call from her relatives updating her on the news she couldn’t access while the power was out (I need their service carriers) — it was all too clear what sacrifices were made for the needs to support their families. That there were people who took that for granted with absurd requests made me march to the bar, request a “Dark and Stormy”, and retire straight to bed.

It is in moments like those you realize just how fleeting life is. How lonely you are. How important it is to have people who appreciate and enrich you instead of use and take advantage of you.

If you’re anything like me (God help you), you find yourself wishing for someone to weather the storm with. A plus one for all occasions. Someone willing to fight for you like they would their own spawn when you can’t stand up for yourself.

…You also find yourself thinking you’re in a scene out of “Titanic”, which may have precipitated your hasty exit more than the drink and disgust fueled by anxiety and exhaustion.

In a matter of hours… trees and buildings fell, homes and possessions were submerged under water, and people sat in darkness literally and figuratively waiting to learn their fates.

As the daylight began to clear the dark skies and thoughts, I found myself aching to make a call I couldn’t. In the midst of attempting to place guests in other hotels that had power and hot water, my desire to go to my own home grew stronger. When the clouds finally provided an opportunity, I made my escape with pained eyelids, an unforgiving sinus headache, and overworked legs to begin a very long walk home to rest, recover — and start over.

Of course, in that moment of clarity, it struck me around mile three of the six required of my journey, that my African/Native/Scottish migrant lineage was too far removed for me to complete that walk with two bags on my shoulders… and immediately hailed a cab. On my way home, I chatted with the driver — who assured me he was going to be home by nightfall, and made sure to tip him extra.

We don’t all have the power to save trees, buildings or lives — nor can we make people behave in such a way that there’s never disparity toward their fellow human being. But we can control what we build or break with our own words and actions. While observing the hotel manager calmly diffuse an irate guest, that gem of a life lesson was my final takeaway after a very introspective experience.

Some people just get cabin fever. I get philosophical and a fever.

Would rather have Nyquil or Mucinex.

Winner Take All

The Closing Ceremonies have now ended, signifying the completion of the London 2012 Olympic games.

With that, a range of thoughts and emotions run through my head…

Things like: “Am I really that old where I recognize about 90% of the music and artists (dead and almost) they’re featuring?”, “Did Victoria Beckham just model her designer duds while the rest of the Spice Girls actually sang for their supper?”, “Should the guys who did the ‘McKayla is Not Impressed’ web sensation add one with her next to the Queen looking equally unimpressed during Opening Ceremony?”, “If I eat Chobani yogurt on a regular basis and use my Visa card more, will it make me feel better about myself after sitting on my ass for two weeks looking at the most chiseled humans on the planet?”, “When Oprah has the inevitable sit-down with Gabrielle Douglas, will there be a verbal smack-down somewhere in the interview for the ‘haters’ who were so vocal about her hair and mother’s financial situation?”, and “Did anyone else find themselves talking about the Beijing ceremonies because they were so bored with London’s?”

But in all seriousness, my main thought was how amazing and ridiculously stressful it must be to be an Olympian… especially an American one.

With the entire world watching, over 200 countries and 10,000 athletes came to London to compete for the privilege of being declared the best in their respective sporting events. Having already predetermined a number of bankable, marquee athletes to keep the cameras on, the daunting task for those competing against a Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or Sanya Richards-Ross is how to stay motivated and not be intimidated by their star power.

We watched in awe as the men and women of the United States and beyond showed superhuman strength and endurance in some of the most grueling sporting events. We shared in their joys as they achieved their ultimate goal of being recognized as the greatest ambassadors for their respective homelands. We felt their pain when a lifetime of training for that moment are dashed in a matter of seconds. We witnessed historic achievements, personal triumphs and tragedies, and incredible sportsmanship that moved us to tears.

To be honest, this was the first Olympics that I’d been fully engrossed in since Atlanta hosted the games in 1996. That year was particularly special for me, as I had scored the honor of actually working in the Olympic Village. That Summer, I walked amongst the gladiators, so their stories and achievements felt almost personal. Ironically, this year’s games have been compared to that year because it was the last time Team USA had dominated events such as Women’s Gymnastics and Track and Field. For the first time in sixteen years, the memories of seven petite young women walking as one even when they weren’t on the national stage, and a bunch of good-nature guys who happen to run really fast when they’re not joking around and stock-piling fruit flashed through my head. Perhaps there’s always something about London that sparks a fire within me — although it sure as hell wasn’t either of the ceremonies.

It’s sometimes easy to forget what these athletes go through to get to these games. The sacrifices of time, money, and other opportunities they make for that one shot of making their countrymen proud and potentially earning millions in endorsements to compliment their newfound national recognition are unimaginable. Add the pressure of having the hopes of an entire population of people you aren’t related to resting on your shoulders, and you have an unbearable situation. One athlete had been told that she couldn’t run for the country her husband was from — which she now called home — and had her passport taken in a show of force to run for her native country. As we muse about Ryan Lochte’s grill and unsanitary pool habits, or the ungrateful scowls of people with Silver and Bronze medals, we rarely give thought to the men and women in lesser developed regions whose dream of a better life often fall flat when they come in fourth.  

While my admiration goes out to all the athletes who competed, I am especially proud of Team USA for coming out on top. Their dedication, selflessness, and inability to accept defeat provided the world and the younger generations not only valuable life lessons, but it embodied what we stand for as a country. My only lament is that during these two weeks where we should be focused on the unity and sportsmanship of our team and country, we get distracted and caught up in the diversity that accompanies an election year and subsequent campaign season.

And so, this closing ceremony saddened me not because it lacked any spectacle, but because it essentially sends us back to the harsh reality of what the country has become, as opposed to what it is perceived to be to the rest of the world.

To the world… we are winners. We are a team that is united and willing to take stands for each other in order for us all to collectively win.

But internally, we are a nation divided in class and beliefs who constantly judge and bicker and indulge our own personal interests and goals at the risk of others’ suffering and loss. For a brief moment, the world caught a glimpse of our weakness in the form of the “black eye” that was Ralph Lauren’s Team USA uniforms, which were manufactured in China. But it was quickly forgotten once our swimming team began their show.

The thought makes me long for another two weeks of watching our gladiators run, flip and swim to golden glory.

…Or at least another opportunity to see Annie Lennox give another legendary performance, and watch a stunt double for the Queen jump out of a helicopter with James Bond again.

Now those were winning moments to me!

News to Me

There are days when I’m truly concerned for the direction of the American heritage. This morning, when I scoped the covers of the morning papers in my local deli, it became clear that this was going to be one of those days.

During an election year where gun control has just resurfaced as an issue with scores of people succumbing to gun violence over the last few weeks — the most notable being a midnight massacre in a movie theater — the biggest story of the day was that Kristen Stewart cheated on her boyfriend.

Hours from now, the world will convene for the Olympic games in London — sans the Greek athlete who was expelled for her racist comments on Twitter (as if Greece didn’t have enough trouble) — but let’s take a moment to ponder on the indiscretion of a wooden actress who rose to fame for playing in a vampire movie.

In the course of a few days, we lost Sylvia Woods, a trailblazing restaurateur who put Harlem on the map for politicians hoping to get a slice of the African-American vote with their serving of soul food, and Sherman Hemsley, an actor who made every black family believe they could make it like scrappy George Jefferson before the Huxtables showed us the beauty of educated affluence.  

While the rest of the country was focused on the psychotic musings of a man who opened fire on innocent people watching the latest Batman installment, very little focus was put on the fact that Christian Bale, the actor who played Batman, visited the victims and the memorial in honor of the dead. Those victims, many of whom are young and uninsured, have just been given a reprieve by having most — and possibly in some cases all — of their medical expenses taken care of.  

Newspaper publishers muse about the decline of their industry and blame the wealth of access to information available through the internet and virtually any smartphone, tablet or other gadget. While it’s certainly a factor in a society being weened on instant gratification, those of us who still value the touch of paper and the occasional practice of clipping or highlighting things still like the idea of a newspaper giving us real news.

But it doesn’t just stop with the papers. American media overall chooses more sensational and occasionally mindless things to report as so-called news. Before stories of the “Vamp Tramp” broke (I must admit I love the caption writing sometimes), we could not escape the “news” of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing. It would seem that the only way of getting real news is to tune into a cable channel like CNN (or even The Daily Show), wait for a designated hard news program, or go online.

Meanwhile our counterparts in the rest of the world have BBC, Al Jazeera, et al informing them of international news stories that prepare them for interaction with the global population and markets on a continual basis. They are more versed on the ongoing events that have changed the commercial and financial climate of each nation, and are adapting accordingly.

Perhaps we’ve become so closed off in our own beliefs and subscribers to the “too big to fail” hubris that we find it acceptable to push frivolous pop culture and reality television into the forefront of conversations. That our schools are underperforming, our workforce is shrinking and our GDP is teetering on nonexistent doesn’t concern us as much as whether Kanye and Kim will really get married and who the next American Idol judge will be.

But please, let’s not concern ourselves with the 17-year-old boy who gunned down a 4-year-old because he was retaliating gunfire… let’s pontificate on the future of whether the actors who played Edward and Bella will survive her dalliance with a married father of two.

Yeah, that’s a real news story… no one’s ever heard that one before.

Parental Guidance Suggested

Some people have all the luck, in which they never experience or understand a desire to have what constitutes in society as a “normal” life.

They grow up in loving homes — not necessarily nuclear ones — with families that support them and teach them valuable life lessons to prepare them to be thriving and successful adults in society. They live life fearlessly and ready to take on the world because they were told throughout their lives that they could do and be anything they wanted to be. Their complaints vary from having the option of two family homes and not getting what they wanted for Christmas. Or something of that nature.

But then, there are the other people… the ones whose innocence and youth were lost very early in life through various methods ranging emotional, physical and sexual abuse, abandonment and just overall circumstances. They grew up afraid to speak their minds and hearts, mistrusting of adults — especially whichever gender caused the most trauma — and resentful or very angry with anyone they felt had a better deal. They have difficulties in relationships friendly and romantic, and often hurt people both intentionally in retaliation or unintentionally through subconsciousness.

Unfortunately, if the media reports and case studies are correct, there are a lot of the latter in the world. As scary as the reality of abuse cases are, scarier still are the ones that never see the light of day. These days the commonality of people (many high-profile) revealing their ordeals have sparked more discussions and openness about the subject, which allows the possibility of healing and coming from a place of despair, to one of hope. But the truth is these people function in our society and in one form or another, their demons affect how they do so. Our understanding, or lack thereof, can sometimes put us in uncomfortable and presumably unfair life or death situations.

Why am I going down this slippery and awkward slope… again?

Yesterday, I read a story about a father in Texas who discovered someone sexually assaulting his four year-old daughter and punched him continuously in the head until he died. As tragic as the death of someone by the hands of another may be, shamefully in retrospect, the emotion that came over me was anything but grief.

My first thought was that the father should not be charged with a crime. My second thought was about what that little girl is going to have to endure emotionally. Surprisingly, my third thought was that I envied her future.

For the rest of her life, that little girl will always know that her dad literally killed someone to protect her. He will most likely never let her out of his sight for the rest of his life. She will never have to live with a soul-crushing secret, or believe that somehow she was responsible for what happened to her, because her family will give her all the support she needs to be a strong, confident woman.

When people become parents, they sometimes forget there’s more to having a child than feeding, changing and clothing them. They’re not accessories to be paraded like the latest “It” bag, and you can’t give them away if you grow tired or bored with maintaining them. Some people have children for many reasons that don’t include the most important reason: having a legacy.

Adults forget that children are the ones who build on the foundations we create. When we break everything in their paths, they go through life thinking everything should be broken. When we neglect them, they neglect others — and worse — seek the acceptance of those who don’t have their best interests at heart. When we create entertainment such as music, movies, books and video games that glorify sex and violence, they embrace them in place of love and compassion. When we speak and act disrespectfully to and around them, they replicate the same behavior. Everything we do impacts their futures… and ours.

But I’m no expert.

My own story is not a new one, so I don’t need to elaborate. But when one has spent the last six-plus years in long-term relationships with men so similar to her absentee father that she could only tell them apart physically… you can gauge someone dropped the ball during my formative years. With that, I’m taking a much-needed break from it all for a while to re-draft that blueprint.

You don’t need to be a parent to determine the future of a child, but it helps to be a parent to your child for the sake of their future. This especially rings true now that we can no longer rely on teachers, nor the church — or even our communities — to protect them.

Perhaps the moral of the story is if you choose to bring a child into this world, be prepared to have a watchful eye, impeccable time management skills, the willingness to sacrifice some of your life’s comforts for them… and potentially take a life for them.

Only the last one I don’t advocate, but if the “stand your ground” law can enable psychotic provocateurs to murder innocent people, one would think exceptions can be made for the most innocent of all.

New York… State of Mine

Lately, I’ve been seeing a pattern amongst my friends and some of their friends.

Many intelligent and amazing people have been exiting New York en masse to find new and improved quality lives beyond the Big Apple. The challenges of finding a home and work balance and true love in a city where millions are doing the same become increasingly more complex with high costs of living and scarcity of negotiable options all around.

Admittedly, as a native New Yorker, I have contemplated leaving my beloved home state. There have been days when I consider the uncertainty of many things in my life, and wonder if perhaps a change in scenery would be the kind of jolt I need to be inspired and motivated to successfully kickstart the next chapter of it. Admittedly, I would have to finally get that darn driver’s license I’ve felt little desire to get in my 30-plus years of life. When you are spoiled by public transportation and healthy strong legs, the idea of being confined to a vehicle and held hostage by traffic and the notion of paying as much for gas as one does for groceries is absurd.See, native New Yorker mentality (emphasis on “mental”).

Yes, I dream of a life where I have a fulfilling career, a doting husband and maybe a child or two (if it’s a twin — keeping it real). In a perfect world, I’d be spending my nights on the couch getting a foot massage after a home cooked meal, as opposed to watching basketball, eating take-out and perusing social networking sites… alone.

…But a girlfriend said that no matter where you go, you are taking you with you.

As difficult as living in the city has become over the last few years, I feel it’s every New Yorker’s duty to face it and endure — or risk betraying the strength and resilience the city and its people have become best known for.

Maybe in some cases, there truly is a better life beyond those bridges, but I’m personally not willing to give up on this place just yet to find it. This city is both cruel and good to me, and my love for it is strong to the point of unwavering at times.

Either I’m a glutton for punishment, or a hopeless romantic. One thing’s for sure: I am a New Yorker.

 

Fashion Weakened and Legends of the Fallen

For all its glitz and glamour, Fashion Week can be a pretty ugly scene for those seasoned in the process. 

Beautiful clothes, gorgeous models, endless parties, celebrity-filled front rows and flamboyant personalities are what the world has come to know when they hear the words fashion week. The pageantry that takes place twice a year gives New Yorkers a shot of decadent escapism, as many flock to Lincoln Center and other venues around the city just to get a glimpse of the famously fashionable — some hoping to be photographed and discovered themselves.

What people don’t see are the moments that just aren’t pretty. The fights for invites and seating. The show crashers. The falling models. The plethora of unbalanced personalities with an obscene amount of self-importance. The freebie-scavengers who descend on goodie bags and open bars with the speed and lazer focus of a hawk snapping up a field mouse. The obvious look of desperation from someone hoping to be photographed or filmed in their most revealing outfit — which they’ve worn on a day baring 30 degree temperatures and snowfall. For some people, fashion week is the adult version of prom, and many are still waiting for their dance.

Overall, the week was a boring mix of lackluster collections and D-list celebrities making the rounds because everyone worth seeing was in California for the Grammy Awards. It did, however, take an unusually dark turn when this particular week was marred by not one, but two major deaths. The death of Zelda Kaplan, a woman who went from being a suburban housewife to a champion of women’s rights in African countries was jarring not only because she was a seemingly ageless 95-year old woman who outlasted 20-somethings on the club scene — but the fact that she literally checked out in the front row of Joanna Mastroianni’s fashion show. My colleague and I watched with curiosity and later with horror as we witnessed the guards race across the live streaming screen and seconds later return with the hoisted body of Ms. Kaplan. We’d only learn later her condition was fatal. It was a fitting exit for someone whose life was devoted to fashion and fanfare.

While Kaplan’s passing certainly was tragic, it was the death of Whitney Houston that sent ripples around not just the fashion community, but the world over. When I first heard of her death, I was hoping it was one of the many false deaths posted on Twitter. But once CNN and the Associated Press confirmed it, my heart sank and all hopes were effectively dashed.

In a way very similar to Michael Jackson, Whitney’s life had become more scrutinized from a flawed human perspective over the years, and she was often spoken about as a punchline more than as the incredible artist that she was. Admittedly, my thoughts as of late had mostly been her unfortunate public appearances — the damning interviews, the awful reality show, and the unflattering shots of her looking too thin or sickly — but at the core, we all wanted Whitney to make a comeback.

Like every little black girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I’d do my best Whitney impression, belting her hits from the top of my lungs and singing “The Greatest Love of All” with my school chorus. When “The Bodyguard” came out, you couldn’t escape the song “I Will Always Love You”, or resist the temptation of trying to hit that note the way she did… as only she could. We couldn’t wait to exhale with her and Angela Bassett in “Waiting To Exhale” or stop playing that soundtrack. She was that spiritual sister who brought church to every performance and we were her devoted followers. We grew up with her. Her songs were the soundtrack to our lives.

Like a lot of people, I felt so connected to Whitney through her music that we blurred the fantasy of the ingenue songbird with the grown woman facing personal demons, who ultimately made extraordinarily self-destructive decisions. When she chose to marry Bobby Brown, the world collectively gasped and hoped she’d come to her senses. Years of drugs, domestic abuse, fidelity issues, and publicly embarrassing episodes would ensue before she finally parted ways with Brown, but as much as we’d like to point the finger at him for steering her in the wrong direction, the awful truth is Whitney made the choice to stay with him. We can all say she deserved better, and should have been with someone who elevated her as opposed to bringing her down, but how many of us actually practice what we preach? I’m sure those who did say it was likely met with a strong and possibly expletive-laden response.

Her death still doesn’t feel real, but if anything the last week has taught us is to be grateful for the life we have and never take our blessings for granted. Her voice was a gift from God that was ravaged by drug use, and her determination to stand by her decision to be with Brown overshadowed the amazing career and reputation she had built before doing so. I cried for Whitney, but now I pray for her daughter and mother, who must now face the devastating loss of a mother and child gone too soon.

For the rest of the world, we have lost a true artist who didn’t rely on theatrics or barely there outfits to keep the audience enraptured. She simply sang like the angel that she has now become.

It’s ironic that a week in which the main goal is to focus on newness… mostly championed and honored retro looks, artists whose style favors said retro period (Adele), ageless doyennes and a diva who showed us the greatest love of all.

Clearly some things never go out of style…

Shade of “The Grey”

First, let me begin by saying I have a great deal of respect for Liam Neeson and enjoy his movies immensely. Anytime “Taken” or “Love Actually” is on television, I’m locked in for the duration.  Which is why I was looking forward to seeing his latest movie, “The Grey”.

The trailer promised an exciting man-vs.-wild story, complete with heart-stopping action scenes. Unfortunately, it felt more like I’d wandered into one of those man retreats where they learn how to be “real men”, coupled with survival instincts during an ill-fated orientation.

Granted, Neeson held up his end of the bargain by once again being the rugged yet sensitive character that keeps me watching his films, but if I want to spend a couple of hours watching a bunch of men cry, talk about their feelings and challenge each other’s manhood… I’d go to a sports bar. At least it’s slightly more entertaining when they’re drunk.

With that said, although the film fell short of my expectations, it was interesting to see a movie where the male leads all reveal a vulnerability and compassion towards each other — even while surviving fiery plane crashes, facing the threats of starvation, sickness, brutal cold and ultimately a vicious pack of wolves. Even the men with obvious personality flaws somehow became redeemed when it became evident they were on their way to becoming dog food.

The premise of “The Grey” may appeal to a male audience (and dialogue referring to “alpha” and “omega” and “dominance” seem to bolster that theory), but the fact that most of the characters expressed such a strong determination to return to their families — including Neeson’s character whose own longing for the woman he loves is repeatedly viewed in dream sequences — appeals more to a female audience.  Women also sympathize with Neeson’s personal story (he lost his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, after a tragic ski accident in 2009).

Overall, in an attempt to flesh out the characters and make the audience care about their fates, the filmmakers missed an opportunity to make a truly interesting movie. The action was scarce and almost predictable at points, which became a little unbearable when a movie starts to clock in at almost two hours. When the end finally does come, the audience is unsure of it being a payoff or a ripoff.

While the film, and especially Neeson’s performance, is engaging at times… audiences looking for the fast-paced action of “Taken” will likely think the latter.

I left thinking travel to the Alaskan wilderness is definitely not on my bucket list, and Sarah Palin can have it.