Good Mourning

Good Mourning

Yesterday, the body of a 41 year-old woman was found lying motionless in her bed for several hours in a Brooklyn apartment.

Foul play was ruled out because she was breathing, conscious, and simply recovering from coming home at four in the morning after dancing (and sweating profusely) all night at a Prince and Michael Jackson tribute dance party. She was also just happy to be laying there in silence – ears still slightly ringing from the night before – and only realized shortly before arising from the soft sanctuary of that bed, that she still had the top sheet tucked into the mattress, and was sleeping between that and her duvet most of the day.

That moment, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my current mid-life crisis.

Not the one-night stand I had last month in Cuba, mind you. Just the struggle of getting out of bed after a night of dancing, which technically came on the heels of walking through an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and a Target run…but still.

Anyway, I digress.

Time is forcing me to acknowledge certain truths about life. More specifically…that it ends. Last year was a pretty brutal one for mortality, and as I brace for the inevitable acknowledgement next month of the first anniversary of my father’s passing, I’m reflecting on how I’ve handled it, and if there’s anything I would’ve done differently.

But really, how does one handle these things? What’s the right way to deal with loss…or anything?

For me, I chose to do the following:

  • Holed myself up in a luxury hotel for a night in a city that’s home away from home; this time as a tourist and without my family’s knowledge.
  • Began going to therapy again.
  • Saw The Total Bent off-Broadway, and EclipsedThe Color Purple and Hamilton on Broadway. (And yes, I’ve been obsessed with the the latter’s soundtrack ever since.)
  • Traveled to Chicago, Bahamas, and Cuba for the first time, and Washington D.C. – twice in six months.
  • Watched Beyoncé, Alice Smith, Gregory Porter, Angelique Kidjo, Andra Day, Gary Clark Jr., Thundercat, Camp Lo, Leela James, Daley and many more artists perform live. (Shoutout to Michael Olatuja and Greg Osei – two artists of African descent with very different and beautifully unique music. Check them out!)
  • Saw the Cubs win at Wrigley Field, the Knicks lose at the Garden,  and the craziest Super Bowl ever on a television in a place stocked with enough booze to get us all through that second half.
  • Actually saw most of the movies nominated for this year’s Academy Awards, which made that finale all the more satisfying!
  • Discovered the artwork of Kerry James Marshall at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the futuristic brilliance of fashion at the Manus x Machina exhibit at the Met, the impressive collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the stunning and iconic sports photography at the Brooklyn Museum, the historic and life-changing experience that is every inch of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (which I still haven’t cleared after two visits and logging nearly eight hours in), the vibrant and achingly poignant works of art depicting the history and cultures and resilience of the Bahamian and Cuban people, and attended two visually stunning and contrasting fashion shows.
  • Joined two dating sites…and promptly regretted it. But gave it three months before completely disabling and scrubbing them from my phone and inbox. Bliss ensued.

Yes, reader, I went on an epic cultural binge while simultaneously embarking on a journey of self-discovery and opening up to the possibility of new love.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right…it has been expensive AF! In the place of where savings would ostensibly be, there are just awesome memories, and a shell of a bank account that doesn’t get to fully reflect on paper what my 800+ FICO score would have the world believe.

Should I have been monetizing these experiences in the form of paid content? Hell yeah I should’ve! But that’s neither here nor there now. What matters is that I enjoyed every minute of what I did – even if I didn’t necessarily relish in the reality of not having the pleasure of telling my dad about my new adventure, or having a significant other to share them with.

To the outside world, in particular, anyone unfamiliar with me or my thought process, the past year would appear to be escapism at its finest. A fair assessment, and one reached by many (well-intentioned, but often close-minded) people who expressed concern for my well-being; unaware that for the first time in a very long time, I was in my element, and happier than I’d been in some time.

Here’s why: Art in all forms brings out various emotions: Joy, triumph, wonder, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, humor, heartbreak and hope. They can all be elicited from a song, a painting, a film, a photograph and even a destination. And in the last eleven months, I’ve tapped into every emotion imaginable. I’ve even encountered some I didn’t imagine. That’s where the beauty of having a therapist on this journey comes in. It’s been especially helpful given the current state of affairs in this country politically.

We all have our ways of coping with loss, but I’m grateful for the route I chose – even if it’s left me somewhat fiscally anemic for the time being. Death – notably one following a long debilitating illness – teaches you the greatest lesson about life. It teaches you to relish every healthy moment you have left on this earth, and don’t take for granted the things and people who support you and help you get through each day still standing. During this time of exploration, I’ve also managed to catch up with friends and loved ones I haven’t seen in ages, and in my travels I have forged new bonds or strengthened old ones. To me, that’s priceless.

In all…I have no regrets. And now that I have an Amazon fire stick…I now have no desire to leave the house much in the coming months. (I’m kidding. Kinda. No, seriously, this sucker is a game changer!!)

Fin.

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?

All The Things We Leave Behind

Tragedy never strikes when it’s convenient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it turned out, it was the best thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you want your legacy to be?

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

Right now.