Mirror, Mirror

Forgive me for the unusually long hiatus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all starts by looking in the mirror…

Lost and Found in Newark

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

I was one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind of a no-brainer which life I choose…

Life Choices

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

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

It was him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things got better from there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish he’d made that one…

Let Freedom Ring

On Monday, the world paid tribute to the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose legacy will forever be linked to his tireless pursuit of equal rights for not only African Americans — but for anyone who suffered injustice and discrimination based on race, gender or social standing.

As a child, I recalled every year in my elementary school being encouraged to read and recite his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and obsessing more on my classmate Yvonne — who, along with her sisters, would always nail the recitation in the grade level school-wide contests — than on the speech’s contents. The rest of us in the class didn’t even try to beat her; we just basked in the bragging rights of having her in our class.

It would take years for me to fully understand and appreciate the sacrifice and struggle of Dr. King and his fellow “freedom fighters”. In retrospect, the work of these incredible men and women didn’t resonate as strongly as the holiday from school. To this day, I’m not certain if it’s a testament to my refusal to digest the horror of history, or if the school system failed to emphasize the importance of the movement that, at the time, was still freshly woven into the fabric of this country.

To be fair, the subject matter calls for complicated — and sometimes uncomfortable — conversation that is tough to grasp at an age where you can barely put sentences together.

In any case, recalling this bit of information helps me understand why the youth of today aren’t fully informed or sympathetic to Dr. King’s fight.

But what I don’t understand, is how in this era — where most kids who don’t have jobs somehow possess expensive smartphones that easily access information, and two year-olds can navigate applications on iPads — is it possible that people choose to not research the story of King and all freedom fighters, and instead use his image to promote “twerking” parties?

This thought came to me while attending Monday’s annual tribute to Dr. King at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which this year included tributes to Nelson Mandela and Amiri Baraka . While standing on line early that morning waiting to be seated, the presence of parents with young children en mass was a welcome and heartwarming sight to my sleepy eyes.

During the tribute, we heard the voices and messages of borough presidents, senators, congressmen, various elected officials and the new mayor and first lady of New York. We also heard the old/new police commissioner — a man clearly out of his comfort zone — who kept gratingly referring to Dr. King as “Mr. King”.

Once the political agendas and awkward moments commenced, we listened to the melodic voices of the Christian Cultural Center Chorus (who unfortunately included an R. Kelly song in their set list) and the jazzy brilliance of José James.

But the high note was the event’s keynote speaker… Angela Davis.

The indomitable fist-hoisting poster child for “Black Power” in the ’60’s and 70’s. She of the famous gap-toothed smile that beams through a face shrouded by a mushroom cloud of an afro (now graying and only slightly tamed), with a razor sharp mind and an undeniable ability to capture a room or gathering crowd with her eloquence.

Decades after being acquitted of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges, and semi-quietly resigned to a life of minimal fanfare, the woman still electrifies an audience. In a packed to capacity venue, the former FBI fugitive stood onstage for several minutes basking humbly in the applause and cheers of an emotional crowd that continued to stand even after she told us her time to speak was limited.

She was the most natural choice to pay tribute to the men who collectively created profound ripples in the seas of change. Having spent years being vilified, persecuted, threatened and incarcerated for her outspoken support of human rights, Davis has emerged as one of the rare survivors and success stories of that era. Following her powerful  — and, not surprisingly, controversial — speech, the crowd made their way to the cinema to view the documentary “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners“. Generations young and old were introduced to Angela the fighter, the woman, the scapegoat and finally the vanquished. Even though we knew how the story ended, there still wasn’t a dry eye or an un-clapped hand in the audience at the film’s conclusion.

With last month’s passing of Mandela (along with the perfectly/eerily timed release of the “Long Walk to Freedom” film depicting his life), and the recent PBS documentary by Henry Louis Gates Jr., “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross“, there’s a resurgence of interest surrounding those who risked their lives and their livelihood in order for future generations to enjoy the freedom and luxury of choice.

Personally, I believe this recognition couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.

Speaking for myself, it is often easy to take for granted the physical and psychological warfare that was endured for centuries prior to this day and age where it has now become okay to publicly demean each other on television, in music and via social media, but cry racism when someone from another ethnicity says or utters anything even in ignorance.

Sometimes a wound needs to be reopened in order to heal properly. The recent spate of racially themed movies in the past year, while garnering some vitriol from African Americans tiring of seeing “another film about slavery, etc.”, are necessary reminders of the struggles of ancestors past. If nothing else, they should embolden generations that now have more opportunities and resources than ever to make even greater strides and more groundbreaking accomplishments that unite and rebuild broken communities.

Because what’s the point of people fighting and dying for freedom, if we end up allowing anger, resentment and fear to imprison our thoughts and actions and keep us from ultimately living Dr. King’s dream? Or for that matter… simply living our own dreams?

Let freedom ring… indeed.

Pins and Needles

Today is the last day of 2013.

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

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

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

Acupuncture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All A Twitter…

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

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

“That girl can be such a twitter!”

“He’s a son of a twitter.”

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

Twitter was our heckling paradise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nearly twittered my pants.

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

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

Validation ensued.

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

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

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

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

Lost In Translation

There’s something to be said about a “stay-cation”.

I mean, besides the obvious “I’m trying to save money.”

It’s an opportunity to discover new things in your hometown that you may not have had the time or inclination to, had you not had the luxury of unused vacation days at your disposal.

For me, it was a chance to catch up with some friends and family, get in touch with my silly side dressing up for a Halloween party, and watching people undress during a jazz/burlesque show.

But it was the final day of “stay-cay” that would bring the most discovery, and ultimately affect me more than any afro-wig sporting, or semi-nude debauchery could.

With my newly found block of time, I was able to re-awaken my dormant relationship with NY Cares and volunteer for a new program. Having already worked with children, the idea of working with women of Arab descent was a new challenge I was game for. As a volunteer, we were required to have “empowering conversations with the women in English”, which seemed more like a cake-walk upon first glance.

For the most part… it was.

As my fellow volunteers and I entered the room of women who were fresh off their English language teachings, we were initially taken aback by the large number of them that had gathered. With four of us to their twenty-plus number, it was daunting at first trying to figure out how to incorporate all the women into our conversations. One of the veterans of the program — clearly a pro — began by getting all the women to say their name and tell us where they’re from and if they had children and how many. It turned out to be a great ice breaker, as the women revealed their children’s genders and numbers, which segued into jokes about the boy/girl ratio in the room and how they perhaps chose their seats in the room based on the gender of the kids.

As class progressed, we discussed the Arab holiday that had recently passed, for which they brought in a feast of dishes to celebrate amongst each other following the class. They asked us about our religious holidays and what they mean to us, and a poignant moment occurred when the women learned that Christians attend mass on Christmas Eve. Apparently, they were stunned to find out that much the way they attend mosque prayers leading into their holidays, Americans partake in a similar ritual. One of the women, who spoke perfect English, declared “so we are all the same.”

If that had been how our session concluded, I would have been content in what could easily be called a “kumbaya” moment. But there was more time left. And eventually we had to break out into groups to have more in-depth chats.

So it was here where the real education happened.

In a room filled with women hailing from Yemen, Sudan and Sri Lanka, we were adeptly maneuvering through small talk about family, favorite foods and parks in New York when the women excitedly volunteered to read their assigned paragraphs to me and looked for guidance when they had difficulty with words. Honored by the gesture and happy to be instrumental in improving their grasp of the language, I listened and gently ushered them through their selected paragraphs — even after realizing every one of them were negative.

As I listened to stories of friendships being endangered by one’s lack of reliability and phone etiquette, of a girl who thought she told funny stories until her mother informed her she’s not always funny, and of a man who will never be fat because he’s a light eater who prefers fish sandwiches and vegetables — the part of me that wasn’t coaching them through pronunciation and complimenting them on completing their paragraphs was horrified!

The idea of being there to have “empowering” conversations with women who are being taught to speak with condescension was troubling, but the fact that most — if not all — of the women there to learn the native tongue of their new adopted home had no idea they were being taught this was even more troubling. I’d probably be standing on a soapbox if the people responsible for this were American by birth… but they’re not.

As I looked at these smiling women, who spoke with pride of their families, prodded me about my own (non)marital status, offered me food and laughed with shyness and perhaps a little spirit, it became clearer that a lot of what we perceive about each other is simply based on what we are taught or told by those we consider “experts”. It would give me the greatest pleasure if one of the women became so adept at understanding the language that she realizes and corrects the well-intended but slightly offensive “curriculum” being shared with her fellow classmates.

In spite of the lesson, it was an amazing experience to see so many women, young and old, unafraid of taking on a new challenge in their lives… lives which in their respective parts of the world could have been limited to simply being wives and mothers.

At the end of the day, I may have taught them how to pronounce a few words and phrases, but they taught me a lesson or two.

Sure, that kind of story doesn’t have the shock value of chicks with strategically placed tassels, but it’s less likely to give me panic attacks in the event I miss yoga class.

Who needs to get on a plane, when Brooklyn is just a train ride away and has just as many adventures? A metrocard can give you all the excitement of Vegas, and the international intrigue of a UN mission.

Needless to say, the Tuesday recap at the office was interesting…

Jurist’s Diction

Like many others before me, the thought of serving Jury Duty was ranked in the company of things like root canal surgery when it came to experiences you’d prefer to avoid as long as humanly possible.

But strangely, once that document with the red line arrived in my mailbox, a slight sense of relief came over me.

I think it had something to do with my fear of being arrested for avoiding it for as long as I had. There was genuine concern that someone would find me and put me in a holding cell for not performing my civic duty.

So here I was, slightly annoyed, relieved, frightened and intrigued by the idea of serving.

The intrigue was to be blamed on Dick Wolf.

He’s the man who brought all 700 versions of “Law & Order” to the television-watching masses. He and his crafty bunch of writers made the idea of sitting in a courtroom witnessing someone break down and confess to grisly crimes at the behest of sharp cross-examining tactics seem like a crazy way to spend the day.

Surely, if you can withstand getting sucked into a week-long, nonstop marathon of L&W episodes on basic cable, then this should be a cake-walk, right?

Well… truth is… it’s not the same.

At all.

The gut check of being thrust into a real-life jury duty experience is similar to finding out your parents are Santa and the Tooth Fairy.

Once you’ve gotten past the not exactly unpleasant hump of being in a room with other people utilizing the downtime to catch up on books and get some uninterrupted work accomplished, you get selected and sent like cattle to slaughter into a courtroom that reveals the reality; the one where cops don’t look like Chris Noth and Jeremy Sisto, nor do they have the personality of Richard Belzer. And lawyers could only aspire to have Angie Harmon or Elizabeth Rohm’s hair.

It quickly becomes clear that the depictions you logged hours of your life absorbing may perhaps be slightly glorified.

Beyond the slick physical presentation and delivery of various laws and “objections”, the courtroom itself is portrayed as a magical place where justice — or at least high drama — is served.

What it really is, is a quiet place that feels cold and almost soul draining; that consumes you in a sea of sullen faces, dozing court officers and audience members who spend five minutes opening a very loud candy wrapper (everything is noticeably pronounced when you’re sitting in perpetual silence for hours). It’s a room where you can feel as if you are on trial, given the number and personal nature of the questions asked before you are either selected for or excused from deciding the fate of another human being.

It was in a room like this that myself and eleven other strangers spent several days getting acquainted with laws, lackluster attorneys and a feisty female judge. It was in a room like this where I realized that not everything is an open and shut case, and the truth doesn’t always reconcile with the law.

…It is in that room where I now understood why some of the most controversial verdicts in history were made.

In a case where the most excitement occurred when a defense attorney got into a brief shouting match with a police officer he was cross-examining (finally… drama!), there was very little mystery (or evidence) that would permit any of us to have bragging rights or a profound anecdote as takeaways from the experience.

What we did get… unexpectedly of course… was much more.

Upon reaching a unanimous — and speedy — verdict of “not guilty”, twelve strangers piled into a courthouse elevator for the last time to go home. This time, we were joined by a man we set free. Almost conditionally, we reacted with slight panic and hesitation, because here… next to us… was still a man who had been charged with a crime. As we nervously sought each other’s eyes to validate our decision and seek to feel at ease, this man — who had only moments before been portrayed as a heartless thug — turned to us, thanked us, and then proceeded to cry.

And just like that… with men giving him assuring pats on the back, and women wiping away tears of their own, we disbursed into the unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon and watched a man begin his new life and bask in his freedom.

So while I didn’t witness any grand speeches and mind-blowing arguments or reveals on the level of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, or even Reese Witherspoon in”Legally Blonde” (a movie that I do believe may have influenced the career choice of one of our jurists), witnessing the system at work was indeed something to behold.

But any longer than a week, and you might end up on the other side of the law for harming a fellow juror.

I’m kidding.

Sort of.

Paris Is Burning

Her name is Paris.

I observed her as we walked out of Jackie Robinson Park. Even though the sun had long set past the clouds, she was noticeable.

Without seeing her face, I felt her presence. Nearly a foot ahead of me, she stormed down the stairs with determination, while simultaneously undoing the bun of hair on her head; whipping it from side to side like models and actresses do when they’re in front of a camera. As it fell into place, it almost seemed as if the ghost of Whitney Houston came down and styled it as she walked. Her white eyelet mini-dress revealed her strong legs which towered a good four inches over mine (more with her ankle boots), along with toned and delicate arms attached to broad shoulders which reveal her past life.

This woman was born a boy.

As she began to speak to her girlfriends, I scurried to keep their pace. It was unusual for me to physically “body” my way into a conversation — especially between people I don’t even know — but it happened. And I listened…

To back track a bit, we had all just come from the vigil for Islan Nettles; the transgendered woman whose violent assault on a Harlem street last week resulted in her death, and sent shock waves into the LGBT community. Although I’d missed several speeches, I managed to catch a couple of gospel songs, an angry vow for justice by Nettles’ mother who looked far older than myself despite being the same age at 37, a grandstanding family member who used the platform as her moment to shine, a poetic younger sister and a few words by people who repeatedly mispronounced her name (it’s “E-lan“, not “Ees-lan“). At the end of the vigil, a group of transgendered women began to angrily confront one of the organizers, screaming “Lesbians know nothing about what we go through!” after being told they could not take the stage.

What I had missed, which Paris and her friends — and later other transgendered women I encountered further on my walk home — alerted me to, was that Islan was constantly referred to as “he”.  To most people and the media, it just seems like the natural way to address her, because there’s still such a lack of understanding with such a delicate, controversial, and perhaps unsavory topic. But to her community it was the greatest insult beyond her senseless death.

Yes, she may have been born with different parts, but Islan was a woman.

She dressed, spoke and loved as a woman. As one of her actual friends took the stage to speak of her, he was joined by a small crowd in the audience echoing his sentiment as he expressed how she would say “hello” to people she didn’t know. To those who knew her, she was kind and full of life… until it was taken away by someone filled with ignorance, fear and contempt for something and someone so special.

What do I, as a “straight girl”, know about this person or any in the LGBT community? Honestly, not one damn thing that makes me an expert. Despite going to fashion schools, working within the fashion industry for several years, having many gay friends, attending a few gay bars and being privy to some of the lingo  — I’m still about as much of an expert as the douchebags who go into notoriously LGBT neighborhoods and pick fights. Okay, maybe I do know a little more than them, but I’m about as prepared to do a dissertation or panel discussion on being a member of their community as I am on “Catholic guilt” or what it’s like to be part of the one percent.

As a straight, single, African-American woman, I do know the struggles of relationships, and finding people who’ll accept me for who I am and love me in spite of or because of it. As a teenager, I walked into a store in rural Pennsylvania with my lighter-hued father and witnessed the entire store go quiet as the customers and cashiers watched my every move because of my skin tone. So I can only imagine Islan and others like her being discomforted on a much grander scale when the entire world is staring at you while you’re discovering an entirely new skin.

The timing of the news that Bradley “Chelsea” Manning requested to have hormone therapy while serving his sentence in military prison for serving up government secrets was unfortunate in a sense that it overshadowed news about Nettles’ death, but it raised awareness about the transgender community. While folks like Chaz Bono have brought the topic into the spotlight with appearances on “Dancing with the Stars” and having Cher as a mother, the popular consensus is that they’re confused or even… wait for it… gay. (Can be explained in one word: Convert. As the “gays” say: “Look it up.”)

Unbeknownst to a majority of the population, there are many wealthy, famous and powerful men who are happily (albeit secretly) attached to transgendered women. Some even trek to exotic Pan-Asian locales to pay for their attention.

Personally, from my own experiences, I’ve found transgendered women to be very much the way Islan was described. They have consistently been some of the sweetest people I’ve encountered, but also very outspoken and passionate. Possibly because it takes a great amount of courage to be a part of that community. To acknowledge your truth and take very drastic action to make it your reality takes — forgive me — a lot of balls. Clearly they have extra, and are happier in the long run for not living a lie.

And if anyone questions if it’s natural, consider this: Manning is going to prison for providing Wikileaks with hundreds of thousands of classified government documents. Now, really, who else but a woman would spill that many secrets?

While Paris, Christina (her somewhat shy friend) and their other sister in the struggle were hoping that tonight’s vigil would be the breakthrough they were looking for in gaining acceptance, I’m not entirely confident that it will succeed. In a society that has become more brazen with its intolerance and insensitivity, the possibility of them being treated as equals may still find resistance.

But at least the conversation has begun.

Sadly, the taking of another innocent life once again had to start it.

[Author’s note: After the original publishing, I’ve since been educated that the use of the word “transgendered” is incorrect, and that Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) should be addressed as such going forward. We’re all learning something new!]  

Tea and Empathy

Every now and then, my Anglophilia kicks in with a vengeance.

In the past, it has served me well when it comes to some of my career choices, music, fashion and entertainment interests and a few friends who are always solid sources of good times.

Adversely, it has also served me two of my last three significant love interests…

Ummm… yeah… how ’bout this year’s Wimbledon tournament? Well done, Andy Murray!

Anyway, this week it was tickled blue with the news of the Royal baby being born. Although I did not personally deliver this child, his arrival was exciting because I can briefly obsess about a Kate other than Moss, and be confident that his parents won’t name him something stupid like “Knot” Windsor. (For the record, I’m having difficulty with his birth name, George, because it always reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the “abominable snowman”. Yes, I’m different.)  

Coming down from that high could only be done one way: by watching Idris Elba in “Pacific Rim”. While the crush I once had on him has gone the way of my days of wearing long hair, he’s still a great actor, and that movie restored the joy in sci-fi fantasy that “Iron Man 3” briefly snatched away (effectively nullifying my other crush, Don Cheadle — they’re dropping like flies).

What made this picture so great, you ask?

Besides it feeling like a sick mash-up of a live-action “Voltron vs. Godzilla and Friends”, the overall theme of the characters being “connected” mentally and emotionally is always a topic that resonates in my book.

“Drifting”, as they called it, was the concept of being in your partner’s thoughts and memories to enable a cohesive — and stronger — team. In other words, understanding and working with someone’s strengths and weaknesses can mean the difference between overcoming an enormous life-altering obstacle, or watching in horror as your brother gets snatched and eaten. (That last part is totally changeable to fit your own life story, by the way.)

It’s funny to me that I should come to watch a film that incites putting oneself in other’s minds when, just two days ago, a discussion with a guy friend about my writing “voice” prompted him to advise me to “be angrier” about my subjects. My first reaction was to laugh, as anyone who has irritated — or dated — me in this lifetime can attest that I have “hulk-like” abilities when it comes to temperament. That is, when I care to even feel any kind of way about something.  

These days, I feel the only thing worth fighting for is make-up sex. Watching the world get pissed off about everything from race to real-estate is more exhausting than empowering. Frankly, it’s all counter-productive. When people spend more time thinking about how they feel about something instead of actually finding a solution to the challenge, what, exactly, gets accomplished?

As much as I’d love to say I’ve conquered my anger, and have made great strides for the better in the last few years, there are of course moments that can’t be denied. It usually occurs when someone hurts women or children, or when someone close to me has shown me great inconsideration, betrayal or disrespect. When you have a history of childhood molestation and parental abandonment, it tends to come gift-wrapped with trust issues and an occasional desire to be a vigilante. Nowadays, I would prefer any baggage of mine to be by Samsonite or Tumi.

Of course, there’s never a easy transition. People often feel a lack of passion about their plight equates to dissidence. Perhaps choosing peace over war is a confusing concept, because historically “war” has always come before “peace” in sentences and titles of books and songs.

And that’s why it’s ironic that I’m drawn to British culture, given it’s history of wars and colonization… now known as the American way. It’s like watching “All About Eve” starring the Queen as Bette Davis’ character. (If you’ve never seen this movie, now’s the time.)

I’m not sure if I can attest this to my love of tea, or my sadomasochistic idolization of Naomi Campbell.

Just to play it safe, I’ll say it was a mix of things like Corinne Baily Rae, Laura M’vula, Adele, Burberry and all things Virgin.

Okay… and Idris. “Pacific Rim” was that good.