From the Heart

From the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ya know…real friend shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.

All Things Considered

All Things Considered

Oh, hey there…thanks for stopping by!

I realize it’s been seven months since my last post. But honestly, I’ve just been trying to keep my shit together; navigating life during a pandemic while the country was reaching extinction under the rule of a wanna-be autocrat and his equally vile sycophants in Congress.

Which means occasionally battling bouts of cabin fever and crippling depression, while finding pockets of joy-inducing moments like zoom meditations, and phone calls with my family and friends and celebrating milestones like being in my apartment for two years and being happily single and celibate for three. And when I wasn’t taking the capabilities of my eyesight and body for granted by spending hours looking at spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks and Word docs on decreasing hours of sleep — powered by granola bars, trail mix and green tea — to keep the aforementioned apartment, I was rage-posting relatable missives on social media and reminding everyone I know about voting in every election happening in 2020. And then Clubhouse happened.

So, for what it’s worth…I’m fucking tired.

Somewhere around December — either just after my birthday or just before Christmas — I crashed like a laptop during mercury retrograde. I’d wrapped all my work projects for the year, and all I wanted, and desperately needed, was a vacation. I wanted to spend Christmas in Philly with my family, and fly someplace warm and ring in the New Year by an ocean or in New Orleans or ANYWHERE.

But the way my bank account and this pandemic is set up, the most exotic place I was going was Trader Joe’s.

So I spent Christmas day doing laundry and wiping down the blinds in my bedroom until a video of my cousin in Philly getting engaged arrived in my phone and prompted me to burst into tears. (Yes, of course I finished the blinds. I just needed a moment!) Days later, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to stand in line — in the freezing rain — at CityMD for an hour to get my nose swabbed so I could adhere to the stringent-yet-practical guidelines my friend had for a small group of us to finally put 2020 to rest, nail the casket shut and shoot it with fire arrows, before welcoming the year 2021 with cautious optimism.

You could imagine the shock and awe that it failed to come in as peacefully as we’d hoped…

On the 6th day of this new year, I watched with bloodshot eyes (the side-effect of constantly refreshing the results of the Georgia runoffs until the wee hours) as a bunch of unhinged, mostly white, mostly bigoted, all grossly misinformed and badly-intentioned people stormed the United States Capitol. Just typing that sentence is surreal to me. And what I saw in those terrifying hours was more punctuated by what I didn’t see.

I didn’t see aggressive cops ramming through crowds with theirs shields or their vehicles. I didn’t see heavy usage of tear gas, rubber bullets, or excessive force with batons. I didn’t see military-grade weapons on the side protecting the elected officials. I saw them on the “rioters,” who also had zip-ties, maps of the building and carried flags bearing allegiance to the confederacy and the man who ostensibly should’ve been removed from the presidency many crimes ago who egged them on.

Then I saw most of them go home…safely. Then I watched over the course of the days and weeks that followed as politicians and pundits who perpetuated the lies that fueled the insurrection played duck-and-cover all over the news cycle and social media and then double-down on their deadly and divisive stances. Then I watched them blame Black Lives Matter and incredulously attempt to equate people protesting the death, brutality and biased treatment of people of color, to people who want to continue that behavior without consequences and profit in the process.

Now, I’m a New Yorker in my mid-forties, so I’ve seen and lived through a lot of shit. But this was next level insane. And I wish that that’s where the crazy ended.

And yet…here we are…three weeks later…and not only did that psychopath get to serve out the remainder of his term, he still has the unwavering support of millions of people — including many members of congress who have no intentions of holding him or themselves accountable for nearly killing their colleagues. EVEN AFTER A YEAR OF LETTING A DEADLY VIRUS RUN AMOK TO THE DETRIMENT OF LOSING NEARLY HALF A MILLION AMERICAN LIVES AND COUNTLESS JOBS, LIVELIHOODS AND A SOLID ECONOMIC STANDING.

More sentences I can’t believe I’m writing.

And while last week’s inauguration and the actions that have followed from the new administration has given me a hope that has sorely been removed these past four years, I’m armed with the trauma of knowing history, and having had personal experience with entitled and abusive narcissists. As long as they have enablers and continue to go without punishment or accountability…history is doomed to repeat itself.

And that gives me a feeling directly in conflict with hope. It gives me the kind of rage that would put me on a watch list just for having these thoughts while Black.

And it makes me think of my ancestors before me, who were forced to accept the terms of terrorists or meet violent fates. And then I think of the people who live in countries ruled by actual dictators in real time, and try to tell myself that we got off easy, for now, and should breathe a sigh of relief that it could’ve been worse.

But none of that thinking sits right.

I think, no, I know, from experience that this all just feels like one day you’ll show up to a family gathering and be urged to “be nice” to the cousin who raped you when you were four. Or your friend’s party, where the ex who nearly strangled the life out of you wants to chat about your dead father and the whereabouts of the military jacket he was hoping to get from him. Or the other ex who also raped you, ignored your needs and called you names insisting on being friends. (Obviously, “you” is me, and all of these things actually happened in real life, so I’m absolutely projecting because there is literally no fucking difference between these scenarios and what’s being asked of us right now by the folks calling for “unity.”)

And I get it: It’s not easy unlearning beliefs you’ve been ingrained with since birth. It must feel like something is being stripped away from your identity, your legacy and your personal capital when people you don’t identify with insist they are entitled to the same benefits you’ve enjoyed for centuries. It must be confusing when those same people ask to be treated with respect, but other actors from their group berate your culture, assume you’re lacking in various skill-sets and emotional intelligence based on the color of your skin and/or because of how and where you were raised, instead of getting to know you and take an opportunity to learn that you have shared values. It must be even more frustrating when those same cultures are so brazenly proud of their own history and achievements to the point where you feel threatened their traditions and accomplishments will outshine yours and push them to the brink of obscurity. It’s scary stuff.

See what I did there?

As much as I’d love for Joe and Kamala and their beautiful rainbow administration to save us, I’m all too painfully aware that it ain’t gonna happen until we’re ready to save ourselves. That we’re all firmly ensconced in both physical and metaphorical bubbles makes the task just a skosh more difficult to take on. We can’t even agree to collectively wear masks and keep each other out of harm’s way for the sake of our loved ones. Asking us to give up our way of life and step — no, leap — out of our comfort zones to establish collective understanding, compassion and healthy, mutually beneficial outcomes is a bridge too far.

…Or is it?

All I know right now is I miss hugs, my family, live music, losing my breath and myself in beautiful art and moments, dancing with friends and strangers and getting plastered after drinking fruity cocktails all day at all-inclusive resorts in the caribbean and chatting up folks from all over the globe. Perhaps it’s selfish of me to think like this in the grand scheme of things, but I really have lost all the fucks and a number of family members along the way to this cruel and unnecessary plague.

So forgive me if I don’t harp on the gratitude I have for the time I’ve had to dabble in recipes, introspection, self-employment and horticulture.

I’ve been doing that for 10 months.

Let me have this.

Please.

The Year of Magical Negro Thinking

The Year of Magical Negro Thinking

My first cognizant brush with racism happened when I was fifteen years old.

And it was traumatic AF.

I was visiting my father in Pennsylvania that summer, where he’d been living the past few years after taking a job at the federal prison in Wayne County.

We’d driven to a local supermarket to pick up groceries and supplies. Dad had already entered the store, and began darting through the aisles on his mission by the time I’d left the car and walked inside. It was at that moment that a hush suddenly fell over the checkout area, all activity at all of the counters had ceased, and everyone on the lines along with the cashiers were now staring in my direction. Because this was a new sensation, it took some seconds to register what was happening. Once it did, I ran to find my father, begged him to give me the keys to the car so I could sit in it while he shopped, and urged him to hurry out of the store.

Having grown up in the segregated south, dad’s first instinct was to brush off my nervous pleas and continue on his business as if nothing was amiss. But I knew differently. I’d felt it in those tense few seconds of cold stares that things wouldn’t be okay.

In the weeks and months that followed, my father, a man who was thought to be hispanic by his white colleagues and neighbors because of his fair skin and dark, curly, slicked-back hair, began to have his house vandalized. He’d casually reveal this during our phone calls, and without missing a beat would assure me everything was alright to ease my panic.

Eventually, graffiti on his house and debris on his land escalated to shots fired through his windows, and he finally relented and transferred to the prison at Fort Dix in New Jersey, once it became clear that he couldn’t ignore the very real fact that he was in danger.

In short: My father lived for years hiding his true ethnicity so he could live and work in peace to advance his career as a federal employee. Until one day, his brown-skinned child walked into a store and nearly got him killed for existing.

I thought about that yesterday, as I listened in on a conversation with black executives who spoke about the pressure of having to “be on” at a time when black people as a collective are hurting. And it struck a nerve.

For the past two weeks, I have been contacted by a number of non-black friends and former colleagues, who’ve either expressed concern for my state of mind, regret for their lack of awareness pertaining to racism in America, or sought my counsel on ways they could help while unpacking their own guilt for not doing more sooner. While I appreciated their sentiments and gestures, it wasn’t until that talk that I finally was able to feel truly heard, ironically, by people who weren’t even aware I was in the (digital) room.

Throughout my life, I’ve been seated at tables that didn’t get served water as I watched every other one get service. I’ve been at receptions in country clubs where I was the only person of color NOT serving the guests. A man once told me my afro reminded him of his poodle. I’ve gone on dates with men who fetishized me. I’ve been called an “angry black woman” (admittedly, it hurt more when it came from a black man).

And in my professional life, I’ve been the person who got paid four dollars an hour less than my white counterpart while I had significantly more experience and responsibility. I’ve had my hair touched by total strangers in my place of business without consent multiple times. When my mom passed away, my team contacted me during my bereavement time to inquire about calling my clients for an event, and weeks later took up a collection to send food and a card signed by the department to another member of the team when her mother died. Another time, it was suggested that for the company Grimm’s Fairytale-themed Halloween party, I should dress up as “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

Fun times. Certainly not the kind anyone who isn’t black has experienced on the regular.

In all of those times, I did as I was expected to do and likely what my father did before me: I sucked it up and continued to be professional. I made my sales goals. I helped fellow members of my team get what they needed in whatever form that took. I sacrificed nights, weekends and holidays with my family to be of service to my company and clients. I was the silent contributor whose work was claimed by others in the spirit of collective wins. I was the go-to cheerleader, promoting the successes and putting positive spins on the losses. I went to the happy hours and feigned amusement at the inappropriate jokes.

Now…something has snapped.

In all my efforts to practice self care in so-called “stressful” times, I missed the mark completely when it came to times like this; when I instinctively want to heal the world and tell everyone it’s going to be okay, when truthfully I’m only hanging on by a thread. I’m trying to put a smile on my face and “breathe through it,” while simultaneously suppressing the urge to cry, scream and break shit. And it’s only slightly comforting to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

The world has suddenly come to the disappointing realization that black people don’t want to be magical negroes; the soothing, sensible voices of reason who keep things in order and come to the rescue when things go awry. (That’s not to say we won’t be because we don’t want the world going to shit on our watch because we live here too.) We just want to be human beings allowed to exist, thrive and feel and process our feelings without judgement, denigration or expectations. Hell, right now we need to be rescued, and we’re just hoping the current wave of compassion isn’t just a trend that seems fitting because everything else has been cancelled by the quarantine!

I’m tired of brands using “Black Lives Matter” to score cool points. I’m tired of predominantly white media narratives putting our stories in fishbowls to attract more eyeballs. I’m tired of black bodies and talent being used to make others look good while being relegated to perfunctory roles and dismissed as afterthoughts. I’m tired of being considered a threat instead of an asset when I shine. I’m tired of our pain being ignored, mocked and glorified by monsters. And I’m tired of being the source of “strength” when I barely have any left to lift my head off my occasionally tear-soaked pillow.

There are things that I am oddly grateful for at this moment: The first being that my father wasn’t murdered by racists in Pennsylvania or his home state of Georgia, and lived long enough to forget the horrors he’d seen in his seventy-four years. The second is that the world stopped just long enough to make everyone take notice of a sickness that has killed far more innocent black people than the coronavirus. And lastly, that fourteen of some of the most powerful black people in business collectively gathered on a zoom call to pray, choke back tears, and tell the world they have no intention of going back to the way things were.

This may not have been our 2020 vision, but things sure as hell look pretty clear from this point on. Hopefully, this clarity allows us to see the path leading to the end of this current nightmare.

Unmasked

Unmasked

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

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

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

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

But that’s neither here nor there.

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

Before perception goes way left, I’ll explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The End

Picture2-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end…that matters.

 

 

My Sister’s Keeper

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

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

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

It all began when I posted the following status:

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

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

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

And I’m not alone.

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

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

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

Just saying.”

What happened after that was magical.

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

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

This is the world we live in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’…

 

 

 

Pull The Trigger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I did there?

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

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

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

And I’m still here.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year.

 

Standards for Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are my standards for 2017 and beyond.

What are yours?

Taking Care

It can be said with great certainty that 2016 is likely going down in history as one of the shittiest years on record, and there are still 4 1/2 more months to go before it’s officially over.

Full disclosure: I’m making this declaration while laying on one of the softest beds, donning a terry-cloth robe etched with the majestic “lion head” logo of the Ritz-Carlton, following a nice hot bath taken upon returning to a sexy room – with its stunning view of Philadelphia’s City Hall – after an amazing scallop dinner at one of the most charming and kitschy restaurants I’ve seen in some time. Bottom line is: I’m not exactly suffering at this moment.

And yet here I am bitching about this shitty year.

Why is it so shitty, you ask? Where do I come off making such statements when I’m in a position not many folks will have an opportunity to experience? What’s made me take such a strong stance so prematurely?

To put it “Blountly,” this year has seen more death, more injustice, more ignorance and more animosity among the human race, and that has shaken my comfort level to its core and threatens the peace I’ve strived to maintain in my later years. Prior to holing myself up in this luxurious abode for a self-care timeout, I was angry with everyone; white people, black people, police, pundits, politicians and Pokémon players.

I’m sure there are many of you, who share similar frustrations with some – or all – of the above, and have reeled from the passings of notable, iconic and influential people such as Prince, David Bowie, Elie Wiesel and Muhammad Ali amongst so many others. Each were heroes in their own right, who weren’t afraid to stick up for themselves and for those who didn’t have the privilege of their platforms. They took care of us – even though we couldn’t take care of them.

But one loss that has affected me the most is one in which the care was mutual and reciprocal. Two months ago today…I lost my father.

While this loss wasn’t unexpected…it still fucking hurts.

Sure, I can say that he’s not suffering anymore. That Alzheimer’s took him long before the day his body lost its desire to fight. That I no longer have to suppress the urge to burst into tears in front of him when he couldn’t remember who I was. It’s what I’m supposed to say, right?

But for every vacant gaze, there’s a moment of recollection that brought an unbreakable smile and a glimmer of hope. And that’s why it hurts. Because that hope is now gone…along with my very first love.

And, in spite of everything, I’m just here trying to get that hope back within the realm of reason. That lust for life and “joie de vie” that’ll get me through the rest of what’s turning out to be an absolute shit-show of a year. Because, with everything that’s happening – and I do mean everything – it is now more important than ever that we all find our joy and our strength to get through the rough waters of violence, racial and global tensions and divisive banter across all party lines. Because, hopefully, at some point, the love and care we have for ourselves and others will drown out the hate.

Sooo…whatever your method: Vacation…staycation…meditation…medication (kidding) – remember that self-care is essential for the duration. Roads can be bumpy, and trips can take longer than we expect. But if we’re trying to navigate in a broken-down vessel, our destinations become damn-near impossible to reach.

Take care.

 

Beggars and Choosers

A tale of 3 beggars:
Beggar #1 holds the door outside the local Chinese restaurant’s take-out extension; greeting and holding out their hand for tips from exiting patrons who have just bought a meal or accessed their money from the ATM. After securing a satisfactory amount of money for themselves, they then stroll over to the restaurant’s dine-in portion, where they order take-out…and then jump into a cab with a friend. At first it seems outrageous, but then you realize they’ve just redistributed the handouts from others hard-earned cash to the restaurant and the cab driver. (But they still didn’t work for anything – they just subsist on a principle akin to “the circle of life.”)

This person has created an opportunity for themselves and others by seeking handouts for their survival.

Beggar #2 is holding a cardboard sign that says “Need money for weed.”

This person isn’t pretending their situation is bleak, but their addiction is dire (to them), and they feel entitled to your assistance. They’re telling you up front that you’re financially supporting their end goal. They don’t want to harm anyone, they just want everyone to be happy, and they’re giving you the power of choice at all times – as good salespeople do. Emboldened by this empowerment, you approve their self-serving and occasionally counterintuitive desires, with the understanding that they’ll be nice to you…but will ultimately do what’s in their best interests.

Beggar #3 is offensive and aggressive; loudly rattling a cup of change they already had in pursuit of more from others to build their wealth. They slam subway doors, pushing or frightening people as they make their way through the car, make snide and/or threatening comments if you haven’t given them anything, and shamelessly impose on your commute, peace of mind and loose coins. 

Although you fear this person a little, you give them what they want in hopes they’ll make good, leave you and your loved ones in peace and you can say you supported a winner. It’s also simultaneously off-putting and mesmerizing how brazen this person is in their quest to get what they want. You’d have some respect for them…if they weren’t stinking up the place and giving your hometown a bad reputation with the rest of the world.

In the end, they all just want to win at life – and run your life – on your dime. Either way…your gonna lose something in the process of giving them what they want.

Question is, what are you gaining in the process?

Ladies and gentlemen…

The current state of our election year.

Huzzah.