This I Know Thus Far

In two days, I will join several thousand people in Newark for Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, where Madame O herself will preside over a program filled with special guests and exercises geared to awaken, enlighten and embolden the masses.

Basically… I expect to cry and over-share with lots of strangers in the name of self-discovery and empowerment. Sort of like I do here, except on a grander scale and with the prospect of sharing with Oprah!

Snark aside, I’m actually looking forward to it. Something about taking action to improve oneself and the quality of the life you live from an internal standpoint just appeals to me.

So, before I embark on this emotional roller-coaster of a weekend, I’ve decided to list what I’ve learned thus far from this crazy life of mine. Unlike Oprah, who pens her “What I Know for Sure” column every month in “O” magazine, I’m still a work in progress, so speaking definitively on anything before I reach my forties is just asking for trouble.

And… as I’ve learned… things do change. Sometimes quite drastically.

Here’s what I know thus far:

  1. Attitude is everything. It was not that long ago when pessimism was my go-to drug of choice. Convinced that everything was either bad — or bad for me — it was easy to embrace negative thoughts, which begat negative results. When I eventually ditched the habits (and people) who fostered that behavior, a new world opened up. One where setbacks bring new directions, unknown things become adventures and disappointments become lessons. We really do speak life into everything we do, and as Nelson Mandela once said, “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  2. When people show you who they are… believe them. I’ve heard and read this many times before, but it is so true. In my younger years, I ignored the cues; guys who couldn’t be reached during the day, but call at rude hours of the night to see if you’re free, those who consider you coming directly to their house (or any place where there’s a bed or furniture that could accommodate sex) “dates”, people who relish in gossiping about someone in your mutual circle, relatives you hadn’t seen in years who reach out when they see you in a magazine… yadda, yadda. These days, I’m a little quicker on the draw, especially now that I’m of an age where mortality has become a thing. Once you start realizing you only have so many more years left before your mind and body start dictating the scene more, you get a little selective with how much time you wanna devote to BS.
  3. If you don’t value you, then who will? This was my biggest takeaway last year, when I said goodbye to people who didn’t value my friendship or company. It actually started at the end of 2012, when a chance run-in with a woman at a bar gave me one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life. Turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance who — shall we say — “overlapped” his time with us. In that instant, I realized I’d undervalued myself by being an option, as I’d known deep down that I wasn’t the “exclusive”. The moment I gave myself value, I gave myself a life I valued. Things fortunately fell into place from there.
  4. Be good to yourself. It’s always so easy to criticize ourselves, point out our flaws and take ourselves for granted. That’s all well and good, as long as you balance it out by treating yourself to a spa day, a nice dinner, or just some alone time somewhere where you are doing something that makes you happy. I’m a sucker for a massage and anything arts, music and culture related. Added bonus if all of the above are done in a faraway locale.
  5. Sex is exponentially better when you genuinely like the person you’re with. It’s official: my twenties SUCKED. Also — although it’s fared better — a good portion of my thirties too. In fact, I can honestly say that there is NOTHING better than being intimate with someone who you are on the same page with in every way. When you have mutual respect, understanding and… most importantly… trust, everything takes on a whole new mind-blowing level.
  6. Loyalty weeds out the riffraff. There’s a saying that goes “quality over quantity”. I’m fortunate in this lifetime to have been acquainted with and gotten to know so many amazing people. But I’ve come to learn the hard way the difference between people who call themselves your friend and the people who truly are friends. Case in point: There are about 600 or so people listed as my friend on Facebook, but if I’m having a shitty day and need to talk to someone who can give me a good “back in the day” story that makes me laugh til my ribs hurt, or remind me of something we’ve gone through together that tested us much more than said shitty day, then that number decreases by about 590. Even when life takes you in different directions, you always find a way back to a place where time stands still, and you know that person has your back in the event someone wants to stab you in it. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like that, then it’s easy to let go of anyone who thinks you must prove yourself to be their ideal and fit in their peg. Fuck ’em.
  7. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but you also don’t have to be relegated to a label. Although I’m more personally familiar with the term “broke” than I am “rich”, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, working for and with, getting to know and spend enjoyable times with people who are considered rich and famous. I’m not gonna lie, there have been times where I’ve asked myself “How the fuck did I get here?”, but the most important thing was never saying or thinking that I shouldn’t be. Of course, there have been times where the differences were more obvious and palpable (i.e. black girl in a predominantly white community setting), but I learned the only person that can truly make me feel like an outcast is me. Adversely, even with the experiences I’ve had, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
  8. When it’s right, it isn’t hard. I used to think relationships were supposed to be hard, and anything you want in life required some sort of struggle. There was, and is, a popular belief that if you aren’t constantly fighting then you must not care about a person or a cause. While I won’t debate that theory, I’ve come to see that not everything requires — or deserves — a fight. In my later years, it’s become clearer that when something is right for you, it fits seamlessly into the fabric of your being. The perfect career move. The perfect love story. Anything that’s meant to bring you joy and peace of mind should never bring you pain or stress. Childbirth, naturally, is excluded from this conversation.
  9. When it’s wrong, let it go. It’s not complicated. If it hurts you. If it makes you question your judgement. If it takes away your strength or power or joy… Let. It. Go.
  10. Forgive. Life is going to be filled with challenging times and personalities. Not everything is going to go your way. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint them, and even yourself. It’s the cycle of life. Nobody is perfect. We all have bad days, and sometimes they overcome our common sense and ability to have compassion. Holding on to whatever gave us grief is natural, but ultimately unhealthy if we want to function in society in a way that doesn’t scare people away. My greatest lesson in this life — thus far — has been to forgive. Forgive others, and above all forgive myself. It’s the greatest feeling of all.
  11. Find your happy place. For me, it was a mix of yoga, meditation and then finally embracing a Buddhism practice after years of just being curious. Once I began taking account of how my actions and thoughts either navigated or perpetuated something — good or bad — I became clearer on just how much power I have in whether it persists or if it ends. If things become overwhelming, I just breathe or chant. But if that doesn’t work…
  12. Wine is a magical elixir. It makes bad days go away. It makes you sleep better when your mind has been so busy racing that you can’t settle down. It makes Olivia Pope human again after she’s been so caught up saving folks in Washington and sleeping with the president and hot spies while simultaneously holding her own against a spicy first lady and all while looking fabulous in Prada and Max Mara coats. Okay, this last one was clearly my way of expressing excitement in the return of “Scandal” tomorrow (which I’ll be missing because I’ll be watching Audra McDonald slay as Lady Day on Broadway). But seriously, a glass of red can be a girl’s best friend. Two or more can be her worst enemy, if she’s not careful. What I’ve learned thus far is that when you yourself continue to get better with age, you learn to appreciate things that do so as well.

Given my life lessons thus far, I imagine I’m going to have yet another stupid-epic breakthrough… or a massive headache from all the crying and screaming I may do when Iyanla tries to fix our lives.

Thankfully, there will be meditation and yoga. I think this crowd is gonna need it… especially if they’re anything like me. (Which we all know they are.)

I’m packing lots of tissues…

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!

The Year of Living

It’s November…

It’s that time of the year when you realize it’s coming to an end soon.

For me, it’s the time my month-long introspection leading up to my birthday begins.

In all seriousness, 2013 has been fucking awesome.  

No. I didn’t strike it rich. Nah, I’m still simply infamous within my own circle of friends, former cohorts and occasional acquaintances.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way… although I wouldn’t take issue with having more money.

What made this year so amazing is that it was, in essence, “the year of living”. Not exactly dangerously (although I did almost jump out of a plane yesterday — had those pesky clouds not spoiled it), but truly living and fully appreciating my life and taking big chances.

This year, I rang in the new year at the Barclays Center watching Coldplay and Jay Z sing “Auld Lang Syne” as confetti rained on my head. I resigned from a job considered great for social-climbing, but draining for my soul (and immunity system). Braving bitter cold, I joined the throngs who stood outside the Capital to watch the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. Found a job at a company that feeds my creative passion; where my colleagues treat me with the utmost respect, shower me with praise and encouragement, and give me things like insurance, vacation days and “summer Fridays” — the first time I’ve ever had that in my entire work life.

This was just the first three months…

The following months would see me spending quality time with incredible people taking in great art, music, sporting events, movies and important teaching moments where rage and emotion ran deep. The spring and summer months saw me boarding planes to Miami, Savannah, Panama and Toronto (a few times).

Truth be told, that was fucking exhausting. Fun. Exhilarating even… but exhausting.

This year I learned to let go of things and people who weren’t healthy for me. It wasn’t as deliberate as it was natural. At some point, you realize whose around for the party, and who’s with you when there’s no music (or other methods of escape) playing the role of artificial bond. And you just let things be.

This is the year of self restoration, where my body and soul discovered the joys and benefits of yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. Nothing brings me back to a place of calm and resolve like a good “Om” and chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. I’ve found it lifts my inhibitions the way alcohol or weed would, except I don’t get a headache, nausea or slight remorse afterwards.

This year has been unprecedented when it comes to physical activity that doesn’t involve sex (well, exclusively anyway). Aside from yoga, I’ve also completed my first 5K race, my first Breast Cancer walk in years, and my first indoor rock climbing experience. Also, a special shout-out to aerial silk class, for simultaneously making me look and feel like a graceful acrobat and temporarily cutting off the circulation in my hands and feet. Pink makes that shit look so easy — and she sings while she does it! I’m pretty sure her stage name also stands for the color of her fingers and toes as she belts out those songs.

Speaking of sex, I gladly took a break from it until I committed to dating someone who connected with me beyond physical chemistry. As I’ve come to value the role communication and friendship plays in building a worthwhile relationship, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced the pleasure of being intimate with someone who makes me laugh, makes me think, and recognizes and encourages me to value all that I have to offer. In turn, I’ve found how quickly and easily things flow when you mutually have that kind of connection as opposed to forcing one based on a desire to not be alone.

The best part of this year by far has been my father. Two years ago, there would have been expletives in correlation with that word. Today, my father provides me with some of the happiest moments in the simplest form. When he answers the phone “Hey baby!” after hearing my voice. When he continuously hugs and kisses me during my visits. When he lets me cut his ridiculously long fingernails. When he remembers a detail without me having to repeat it about six times in one conversation (a rarity). When I hear he doesn’t need as much insulin because his sugar levels are good. When I hear he’s recognized an old classmate before they got a chance to approach him at a 50-plus year reunion. When I hear he’s gone outside for a walk. And finally, when he looks me in the eye after widening his own after a long pause, and randomly reveals that while I didn’t grow up in the way he had hoped, he was proud of the way I had, and of the woman I’d become as a result.

Nothing could really top that…

While the remaining two months of this epic year have plenty of opportunities for equally memorable moments, the past ten have been nothing short of a sensational dream. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but that’s made it all the more perfectly balanced.

It takes a year like this to restore your faith in the beauty of life when just a few years ago you momentarily considered ending it.

When I think of the lovely beaches and people of Panama… The majesty of the Falls and the lush vineyards of Niagara Lake a drive away from the clean and beautiful city of Toronto… Being so close to Chris Martin you could literally touch him as he and the band head back to the stage during an encore… Cheering, booing and crying with a million strangers on a chilly D.C. morning… Crossing a finish line as a crowd cheers you on… And even getting close enough to jumping out the plane… How could I not value every minute and every breath of air spent this year having these experiences, and not look forward to more to come?

The last year that had this kind of impact on me was 1996. That was the year I made my first trip to London, Paris and Versailles, experienced the Olympics firsthand while working in the Olympic Village during the Atlanta games, and had an internship with a magazine that ended up putting me in two of the editorial stories and spent my days playing dress up in sample closets, taking Polaroids of ugly prom dresses and making showroom appointments for a beloved market editor who now goes by the name of Rachel Zoe.

I doubt my appreciation for years will lapse as drastically going forward.

I drink far too much wine now to let that happen again.

Looking forward to picking up a bottle of a 2013 vintage. Even if the wine itself is crap (seeing as there’s a crop crisis — thanks global warming), when I say “it was a good year”, it’ll be with the utmost sincerity… and maybe a bit of nostalgia.

So… what’s your year been like so far?