Designing a Decade

Here we are again, folks…the end of another year!

Now, before we start sighing “finally,” let’s just take into account that we are still here, and still able to fully appreciate the luxury we have of seeing it come to an end, and the promise of new beginnings (or just upgraded versions of your existing situation).

As we know, not everyone has made it this far.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it has been quite the year. One that has overseen the loss of a romantic relationship, a dear friend/mentor and a first cousin with faulty hearts, my father’s left leg, my patience for pushy real estate brokers and the elder/health care system, a piece of my back tooth, thousands of dollars in moving costs, and occasionally my sanity.

For a moment I was about to say my faith, but that wouldn’t be completely true. Because even when shit got a little too real, I knew it would figure itself out. I just didn’t know when!

But amidst those losses, there were huge gains not only in my faith, but in the power of love, family, friendship and loyalty in its truest form.

These lessons from the school of hard knocks came just in time for my fortieth birthday, which I quietly – and happily – celebrated fifteen days ago with one of my fabulous girlfriends. After treating me to dinner, she then lavished me with ridiculously expensive skincare that I’m afraid to use because I will fall instantly in love with it, and become one of those women who spend the financial equivalent to childcare on preserving her own youth. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Because, even though I look damn good for my age, I can always look better! (She says with tongue placed firmly in her cheek.)

And so, as I sit here…fresh from spending the holiday bouncing from Pennsylvania to Virginia with my crazysexycool family, where I ate a lot, drank even more and laughed when I wasn’t in pain from a recent dental visit…I’m contemplating what I want my new year and my fourth decade to look and feel like.

…and the one word that keeps coming back to me is: “loyalty.”

It’s that feeling of knowing you are loved and supported in your best and especially your worst times. That feeling of knowing help is just a message, a phone call or even just a “look” away. That feeling of not being judged by your mood, your circumstances or your lifestyle. That unconditional love that tells you, “you’re crazy, but I can’t imagine life without you,” or “this isn’t one of our best days, but let’s regroup and make the next round better,” and “we’re not always going to agree on everything, but I’m always going to be here.”

Only that kind of security and confidence comes from loyalty, and this year, I felt it. Breathed it. Bathed in it. Draped it all over my skin, and wove it into the fabric of my being.

It has taken me four decades to fully appreciate that word and its meaning. I’d begun mentioning it in passing when someone asked me what I looked for in a guy, but I’ve since come to understand how much it means to me beyond intimate relationships.

It resonates when I’m rewarded at work with verbal and financial acknowledgements, and when my colleagues tell me to take as much time as I need when my father made an unexpected trip to the emergency room during what was intended to be a short trip to Savannah, and give me more exciting and challenging assignments because they value my work and insights. Or bring me lunch. Or a bottle of wine after a breakup. Or an L.L. Bean fleece jacket. Or kickass tickets to watch tennis and/or “The Peanuts Movie.” (Okay, I love my job.)

It resonates when I see a woman, whose plan was to spend her retiring years traveling the world with the man she loved, spending her days making doctor and medicine runs for him, helping his daughter navigate through the messy process of it all, and taking shifts to feed him in a nursing home…while hoping he remembers her name.

It resonates when his family who live nearby hasn’t visited in the five years of his affliction.

It resonates when I contemplate going an hour out of my way to Harlem to pick up a prescription, because the women at the pharmacy always pleasantly acknowledge me by my name.

It resonates when friends and family spring into action when I have a slight meltdown on Facebook, and help me not only find a place to live, but keep me laughing, liquored up, and thoroughly entertained through some of the hardest months I’ve had in some time. Just because.

It resonates when I consider who’s worthy of my time, energy and my own loyalty going forward.

I’m realizing now that everything has come full circle. Historically, I’ve been drawn to – and spent most of my professional life in – industries that mostly thrive on strong and fruitful relationships and loyalty, so it was only a matter of time before I caught up and realized that I, too, require them to thrive personally.

But seriously…Don’t we ALL?!

So, tomorrow night, when the ball drops into the year 2016, it is my intention to continue loving – and being true to – the skin I’m in from this decade until my last, and reciprocating all the love, support and loyalty that has allowed me and my loved ones to thrive in the chaos of 2015.

Are you with me?




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.

Assume the Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most importantly… I also take less shit.

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

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

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


One Life To Live: In Celebration and Memoriam

It’s only Wednesday morning, and yet the week has already been loaded with life lessons.

When I began this blog, I made a personal declaration to be more open to life and all that it has to offer. While there’s still more to accomplish, the fact that I’ve barely had a moment to write about the many amazing things that have occurred since making that promise to myself is an indication I’m on the right track.

But in the past four days, four people have affected me in four different ways — each inspiring in their own way… three of which in passing and one in living. Their contributions to society perhaps only known to the people in their respective “bubbles”, they’ve given me numerous shots of perspective in such a small space of time.

The first life is that of Andy Rooney, who spent decades sharing his views of the world every Sunday night on “60 Minutes”. At 92, he only retired last month because his life and the news were so intertwined that he couldn’t have one without the other. As someone who’s passionate about writing from the heart about… well… anything, it was an eye-opening revelation to learn that Rooney pioneered that practice which has now become a popular staple for news programs. His honest, humorous, and sometimes provocative commentary changed the way millions of people saw things as complicated as politics and as simple as household products. In his passing, I’ve learned not only to keep speaking from the heart, but also that I should’ve watched that show more.

The next life is that of Joe Frazier, the legendary boxer who went by the name “Smokin’ Joe”. Although my appreciation for the sport of boxing only seriously developed over the past five years or so, I can recall as a kid listening to my dad and uncle having conversations with various characters at my grand uncle’s liquor store about boxing matches and would always hear Frazier’s name — usually in tandem with Muhammad Ali — amongst the list including George Foreman, and Sugar Ray Leonard. To these men, his greatness was evident in the power he displayed in the ring, but it would only be known to me later after watching the biopic, “Ali” with Will Smith, that Frazier’s greatness was also in his generosity; something that also contributed to his financial difficulties and was unfortunately payed back by Ali in public ridicule and disrespect. Frazier spent a good part of his life and fortune making sure other boxing hopefuls, including his own son and daughter, had an opportunity to realize their dreams as contenders. In his passing, I’ve learned about the perils of allowing yourself to be so consumed with bitterness about what others do and say about you, and what they have, that you fail to recognize and capitalize on your own value. Frazier reportedly regretted not using his fame the way Ali and Foreman had done so lucratively.

The third life is that of Dwight Errington Myers, who is best known by the name “Heavy D”. Most, if not all, of my high school and college life had been spent in some form or another listening to Heavy D and the Boys. When he came onto the scene, girls were swooning over the “overweight lover” — as he famously called himself, and it was clear in his lyrics that he was a lover… not a fighter. He was also a trendsetter: bringing sex appeal to big men before Biggie, making the switch from artist to executive before Jay-Z, and successfully navigating the acting game before LL Cool J, Common, Ice Cube, Ludacris, and everyone that’s turned up on a CBS network show within the last couple of years. As a recording artist, his songs were never explicit or misogynistic — he even had a song titled “Don’t Curse” — arguably solidifying his role as a gentleman in a genre made up of an increasing number of lotharios. His passing not only saddens me because it was sudden in nature, but it reminds me of a time when music used to make me carefree… and dance. And it reminds me that there are artists out there who won’t sell their soul for fame and are perfectly content doing work they believe in.

The fourth and final life is still in motion… quite literally. Though she’s not as famous as the other three people I’ve just spoken about, my friend Laura is still a pretty big deal. This past Sunday, she completed the New York City Marathon, and while it’s not her first time running, it was her first time running that much. When she’s not making strides to educate the millions of children in the New York City school system, or fundraising for Cancer and other causes… she runs. Whilst I cringe at the concept of running for anything other than the border of Taco Bell, this woman is plotting her next feat of superhuman proportions. In her living, I am simply inspired by her ability to find the strength to endure and complete such a physically grueling task. Of course, she’s also successfully navigated her way through several seasons of Carnival in Trinidad, so perhaps this is just further proof that this chick is pretty bad ass.

As extraordinarily unique as all of these people are, they share one universal truth: they’ve found success in being precisely who they are, and living and acting with such integrity that you can’t help but admire them for that… and even challenge yourself to take a page from their books.

In life, and in death, that’s the greatest lesson of all…

Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Indulge me, if you will…

At this very moment, I’m convinced I’m in the midst of a mid-life crisis.  Had I been born male, there’s a good chance I’d be hooking up with younger women and driving two-seated sports cars (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  That is, if I had a license.  Being a native New Yorker, the only thing I’m capable of driving is people crazy.

Admittedly, my motto through life has been “ignorance is bliss”, which has backfired greatly over the years.  These days I’m realizing the importance and benefits of being informed and open to new things.  That’s the motivation behind this blog.  While I could easily fill a page with hijinks and cautionary tales (I have another blog for that — not to say I won’t include any in this one),  the real mission is to share things that make people smile, or think, or take an action.  

Since joining the ranks of the unemployed a little more than a year ago, I’ve struggled to find my direction in the world.  I’ve taken classes.  Gone to therapy.  Took an empowerment course.  Left my boyfriend of five years (the course worked).  Cut my hair.  Interviewed with companies just to see if perhaps there was a career calling I was missing.  Still… nothing has stuck.  

In the midst of all this I discovered the blessings of life — something I’d been missing for years.  Being in a constant state of worry over things like money and making other people happy, I neglected to stop and smell the roses… which one would think I had the knack of after working in fragrances for years.  This year, my 35th, I finally got my learner’s permit, and briefly got behind the wheel of a car and successfully made it from one destination to another without causing bodily harm to any living creature.  I walked the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in one day (more on that later).  I took a spontaneous trip on a day’s notice and had an amazing time.  I spent more time with my friends and family (for better and worse with the latter), and even organized a reunion — during which I revived dormant cooking skills that also thankfully didn’t kill anyone.  Some things I’ve embraced will remain personal, but overall they’ve given me reasons to smile in otherwise challenging times. 

Most importantly, I learned forgiveness, and how it changes your world and those around you and opens them up to so many wonderful possibilities by allowing you to see the good things that come out of a seemingly bad situation.

When you live in a self-imposed bubble, it never occurs to you what you’re missing until you finally step out into the world and realize how vast and exciting it is and how much you can contribute just by being a part of it.  If you’re willing to take the chance.

Here’s to new discoveries and taking chances… Cheers!