That Special Feeling

That Special Feeling

Reality television is a never-ending hell of shameless people with narcissistic tendencies outdoing themselves and each other to prove how far (and low) they’ll go for the instant gratification of widespread recognition and adulation, and the assumed paydays that ostensibly come with said recognition.

…But it does have its merits.

In this instance, it brought me to an epiphany so painfully obvious, that I’m embarrassed it took me so long to put a lens to it.

Let me explain.

Last year, during the “honeymoon stage” of lockdown, I succumbed to the chatter on my social feeds and work Slack channel and watched a show on Netflix called “Love Is Blind,” in which single strangers partake in a social experiment where they “date” by going into rooms (or “pods”), where they can only speak to each other through a wall, and eventually emerge either still single, or engaged to be married in the span of a month. Full disclosure: weeks before, I’d accidentally encountered the couple who became the breakout stars of the show when I was in the throws of a work event, and needed to meet one of our speakers outside and didn’t factor in the temperature when I swung the door open without wearing any protective outerwear and let out an ear-piercing yelp just as they were walking by. They were startled, I was apologetic, and onlookers were amused by the exchange but continued to fawn praise on them for being their favorites. Confused, I asked a woman who they were and figured I’d watch to find out why this couple — and this show — struck a chord and a cultural moment. (Yes, this story is true. And yes, random shit like this happens to me a lot. To the point where my friends make fun of me. Don’t ask me why. I’m only just fessing up to this being a thing.)

An-y-way, I ended up getting sucked into this program, and also falling in love with the couple because they were so damn adorable and pure! Which brings me to present day…because I just watched the extra episodes they added for an anniversary special to celebrate the two year mark of the couples who successfully paired up.

And while those episodes were absolutely as craptastic and contrived as the show itself, there were some standout moments that were, in my opinion, gold.

Most notably, one of the couples that seemed to be on the verge of making it official toward the end of the show’s initial run was now in struggle mode because the man was now entertaining another prospect while the woman was openly declaring her love for him and commitment to working out their issues. And since this is “reality TV,” we get to watch the whole thing play out as this ginger-haired fuckboy with a new midlife Porsche legitimately attempted to gaslight the “girlfriend,” the prospect he kept calling “a friend,” and the audience that he’s justifying his borderline toxic behavior to. It was messy. It was uncomfortable. It was packed with essential relationship takeaways.

Then we were given the ancillary single characters, who maligned their situations, and pleaded their cases for deserving the seemingly “fairytale” outcomes of the married couples, but when given the opportunity to present their best selves on a show that has a bit of a global reach, they consistently blew it in favor of ego and high production drama. One woman in particular thought it would be a good idea to invite a man who was seemingly interested in her to the “anniversary party” as a first date, then proceeded to spend the majority of the evening getting into everyone else’s business and fighting a battle that wasn’t hers while her date was left chatting with his friend who introduced them and everyone else around him until he was over it all and decided to bounce, which then prompted a tearful hissy fit from the woman, who then needed to be comforted and reassured by her girls that she was deserving of love, yadda, yadda. It was messy. It was uncomfortable. And it was also packed with essential relationship takeaways.

But the one key takeaway that I got from both messy AF situations and the show overall (which isn’t so much a takeaway as it’s validation of a running theme in my life these days) — is that any relationship you put effort into will blossom and thrive, while the ones you don’t will wither and cease to exist. The couples that made it did so because they, first as individuals, were wiling to be honest, open, selfless, vulnerable, take on uncomfortable conversations and conflicts, and make sacrifices that ultimately would lead to them collectively becoming stronger. The ones that didn’t unsurprisingly consisted of at least one person in the relationship who was guarded, self-preserved and/or repressed their feelings and desires til the very moment when they left their “mate” at the alter. It was brutal to watch.

In short: Love is a houseplant.

But seriously, people who mutually feel special, valued and appreciated in their relationships will grow into their best selves together. It’s kind of a no-brainer at this point. Yet, here we are.

In the midst of writing this post, I ended up on a (perfectly timed) call with my cousin (aka one of my main heartbeats), in which we were speaking about a family gathering we held exactly eleven years ago, and the life changes that have since happened. One of those things being that I would leave my boyfriend — who was there — weeks later for the final time. What everyone knew was that I’d called in another cousin, who had a truck, and my uncle, who had a licensed gun, to remove me from the situation. What they did not know was that over the course of the nearly six years we were together, I’d been the one financially holding up the relationship; paying half the rent, all of the utilities, all of the dinners out, the spa visits and entertainment on vacations, and putting money into his account when his went into childcare, clothes and shoes, DJ equipment and fixing his used luxury car (aka a money pit on wheels). We made the same salary. I was debt free. He was not. None of this stopped him from blaming me when things continued to go south, taking things out on me physically, telling me I could never do better than him and finally slandering me to our mutual friends when I’d finally had enough. Hurt people hurt people.

If you’re a regular reader, you already know things didn’t improve much on the dating front after that. There was name calling. There was no calling. There was now an understanding that when I heard phrases like “You think you’re so smart,” “Aren’t you popular?” or any iteration of “You talk too much,” I was about to find myself in a situation where I’m in a competition I never asked for that had already determined me the loser because someone needed a win at my expense.

My father was prison counselor, my biological mother was a nurse and my adopted mother was a schoolteacher. By sheer osmosis, I was designed to be someone who always wanted to make people feel special and cared for. It made sense that my professional life mostly found me in roles that catered to the needs of others. It was also, in my mind, the only way I could secure my own safety and presumed care. It backfired. Badly. I fell hard for grand gestures and other red flags indicative of control issues. I was attention-starved, resentful and running on empty. What a time to be alive.

It was messy. It was uncomfortable. It was a time packed with essential relationship takeaways.

The irony in having a father who made convicted (and alleged) criminals feel empowered and human is how he unintentionally failed spectacularly at instilling those same feelings into his daughter. I never got the talks and the words of encouragement that prompted defendants to effusively wave at him in a courtroom (immediately getting him excused from jury duty), procure the latest technological gadgets for members of my family for a literal steal as gifts, or get excited about seeing a photo of me on his desk at work because their niece is a school friend. (Again, true stories. Also: WTF?!) I’d only learned after his death that I was a source of immense pride and a constant topic of discussion for accomplishments never acknowledged out loud. And that discovery, which simultaneously healed and broke my heart, shifted EVERYTHING in my personal and professional relationships.

I no longer stay where I’m not wanted or valued. I no longer entertain transactional people and situations in any form. I’ve gotten really comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations that result in having peace of mind and clarity on where I stand in any situation and how to move accordingly. I’ve become so protective of my energy its almost uncanny, which has made way for more authentic interactions that bring me joy. Disappointments are now seen as the lessons and detours to greater opportunities that they are. I’m proud of me.

When I mentioned earlier about being embarrassed by how long it took me to address the topic, it wasn’t because I wasn’t aware of its impact. Again, I built my professional career around making sure others felt special, at times sacrificing my own personal life and comfort because I never considered for a moment that I was too. I used to joke that I’d either hung out with, dated or been in the presence of enough actors, models, artists, producers, musicians, photographers and entrepreneurs in my lifetime that there should be a handbag named after me. I’m only now realizing not a lot of people could make that joke…or that it’s kinda not a joke. It’s weird. It’s unbelievable. And it’s why I haven’t turned to a life of crime to secure the kind of lifestyle where my travel plans aren’t remotely reliant on how many points I’ve racked up through my Amazon purchases. (Real talk, how many vitamins does a chick need to buy to get to St. Martin?)

Everyone wants — and deserves — to feel special in whatever relationship they’re in and space they take up. I think we can all agree that most problems tend to arise when we either feel unworthy of that feeling, or entitled to be the only ones who do. People will (and have) gone to great lengths for the distinction. Academically-inclined students. People who spend extra money on luxury experiences. Athletes who spend their entire lives training for quickly-fleeting moments of glory on the world stage. Anyone who’s relentlessly pursued the arts in hopes of being world-renown, steadily in demand and lucratively rewarded and awarded in the process. People in marginalized communities fighting to be seen and acknowledged as deserving of all the things they’ve been denied by their more privileged counterparts. People who scaled government buildings for narcissistic psychopaths who gave the word new and ominous meaning. People who use the words “internet famous.” Even people who are so crippled by insecurities and past hurts that they actively push anyone who tries to get close to them out of their lives (after much therapy, soul-searching and healing, natch).

And, of course, people who go on reality television shows to find and vie for love after getting to a point where they felt invisible in the real world.

The reality is…life is messy. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s packed with essential relationship takeaways. But when you find that special someone —or, even better, become them — it gets so much easier to navigate.

Trust.

Xo

Identity Heft

Identity Heft

Etymologically speaking, “a walk in the park” is supposedly an easy thing to do.

Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to me yesterday, when I could barely make my first lap around the nearby park before needing to retreat to the nearest bench in an attempt to shake off a sudden pain that hit me on the right side of my back.

Initially, my first thoughts turned to aging, as it tends to do these days because perimenopause is menacingly real and unsexy. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and understood that even though I walked out of my apartment with nothing but my keys and photo ID in case the cops need to identify my body…I was carrying something heavy.

The week started awful, with me learning as I sat in an airport on my way home from a bittersweet but much-needed getaway that one of my elder cousins lost both her daughter and grandson (who was a father of six) within days of each other at the same hospital in their hometown. Instantly, a wave of guilt rushed in because I’d lost touch with that portion of my family, and didn’t know how to respond…or if I should. Learning the circumstances of both deaths from another cousin only exacerbated the feeling.

My father had always been the family connector; the one who called and drove or flew to every state and family member, and this was his first cousin and her immediate family who had now suffered two devastating back-to-back losses I could never imagine. By contrast, I’ve lived and operated as an only child with limited family engagement for most of my life — gravitating only to specific family members I spent the most time with due to our proximity to each other in age and/or geographical location, and used Facebook to monitor the rest (hence how I learned of the tragedies). It’s moments like these that remind me just how isolated I’ve been to the point of being my own island, and it’s honestly something I’ve begun taking stock of as I grow older and less likely to have a family of my own.

So when I entered the park on that gorgeous sunny day, and saw multiple family gatherings taking place…it didn’t just remind me that I didn’t have a life filled with many of those moments and connections, it became clear to me just how defining those moments are in shaping the people we become.

I’ve always been in awe of and envied people who had solid family and community foundations that encouraged and motivated them to become highly functioning members of society. I get weepy when I watch movies like “In The Heights,” with its message of pride in family, community and cultural heritage. (Same with assorted Asian movies where the young protagonist grapples with coming of age and walking the fine line between self-actualization and preserving constrictive traditions for parental and elder approval.) I grew up in a Queens suburb where my predominantly Black and Caribbean neighbors were more interested in what you had for their own gain, than in collectively thriving as a community. As a child, I’d spend summers in Georgia being ridiculed for my New York accent, and often singled-out for my “big city” behavior. (Interestingly, I now slip into a twang when I touch down in the south, or am speaking to certain members of my family — something I’ve also done unconsciously when speaking to British and Hasidic clients in my past work life when, in retrospect, I wanted them to feel at ease.)

For the longest time, I’ve had trouble identifying and defining who I truly am and what I want in this life. Having no one around to help me figure it out only made me feel more aimless and alone. I often joke about being “raised by wolves,” because unlike my peers, I wasn’t taught how to cook traditional meals (or any – I wing it), how to drive, the importance of investing in things like stocks and real estate, or any particular set of life skills that might’ve made me more of a (human) force, and less of a person who happens to have a shit ton of life experiences that equate to zero tangible assets to show for any of them but a lot of interesting stories and billable hours in therapy. I’ve also never spent any of my formative years being schooled on my family heritage, being exposed to long-term healthy relationships or celebrating holidays like Kwanzaa and Juneteenth…and am only playing catchup on the significance of it all.

Which is why it surprised me that I’d become more protective of my Blackness — and the culture in general — in recent years, considering the bulk of my traumatic experiences came from my own people. That I’ve taken up advocating for people of color to take up spaces in the corporate world when I go mostly ignored by them in the real world unless I have something that benefits them is…something I’m working through. That, and being violently triggered when someone makes decisions on my behalf without my input and/or consent.

These thoughts are too heavy.

One of the many things I’ve learned in this life is that hurt people hurt people…until they do the work to become healed people. And there are gonna be days when it’s hard to not take shit personally, but I cannot and will not continue to let the actions of a few keep me from opening my heart to being and doing better for others and myself. Especially when the end result is authentic love, connection and peace. It’s a lesson I’ll be taking into consideration as I attempt to find the words to comfort grieving relatives and, eventually, find something more.

I’m still insecure when it comes to knowing my true purpose and direction in life (note: I know what it is, the imposter syndrome just hits different), but I’m confident that I’ve built enough of a foundation over the last few years with a circle who genuinely want the best for me and will quickly jump in to make sure I stay out of my own way. I’m blessed to have a support system that celebrates my wins, comfort me through my losses and give me strength on days when I falter and think I can’t make it. They remind me who I am when I tend to forget. Nothing fills me more than being able to do the same for them in return.

I guess, in a way, that does make me my father’s daughter. That’s a good place to start…

I’m rambling…but my back feels better now.

Braking Hearts

Braking Hearts

The last 36 hours have been…different. Slightly weird even. But in the best way possible.

In addition to it consisting of me embarking on plane travel for the first time in twenty (20) months (!), it’s also the first time in seven years that I’ve been in a room with a man who — at several points in time over the course of two decades — I would’ve (and have) given anything to breathe his air…and the first time I didn’t lose my senses during the experience.

That’s not to say the thought didn’t cross my mind…a few times. And not just because it’s been a while since a human other than myself was responsible for my orgasms. It’s because his smile, his laugh, his skin, his voice and his entire brilliant being lights me on fire. Every. Fucking. Time. Because we can talk endlessly about everything from stocks and politics to the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe for the uninitiated). Because I’ve never felt more seen, more smart or more safe with a man who wasn’t my father. Because he’s genuinely one of my favorite people, even though I honestly never thought I’d see him again.

I know, I know…none of this makes sense. How can I describe someone this way and not consummate?

Clearly, I love him. Truth be told, I loved him before I knew I loved him. And none of that will change.

But…I have changed.

In the past, I’ve done most, if not all, of the heavy lifting when it came to relationships. The list of things I’ve done to make shit work is long, exhaustive, mentally taxing and fucking humiliating. It’s easy to buy dinners and offer open invitations to stay in beautiful waterfront apartments. It’s something else to communicate your feelings and intentions and make efforts to check in with someone for no other reason than you’re thinking about them and want to make sure they’re okay mentally and emotionally because their wellbeing matters to you.

Now…I want — no, I require — someone who will do the work with me. Someone who makes me a priority. Someone who wants a life with me and not a life that includes me only at specific intervals. I want someone who wants to show me the world because in his eyes and heart…I’m his world.

That’s not to say he isn’t capable of that. Truthfully, I’ve never given him a chance because I legitimately wasn’t in the right headspace during whatever window of opportunity might’ve existed to be a true partner for anybody. I spent years and copious amounts of resources jumping through hoops of fire when I just needed to chill the fuck out, pump the brakes on being boo’d up (see what I did there?), and be by myself for a while to learn what made me happy and whole…and recognize that I bring a hell of a lot to a table just as I am.

All that to say…my brain has officially demoted my lady parts to a supporting role in this thing called life, and it’s no longer running affairs of the heart. And I couldn’t be more relieved.

That said, I’m still eternally grateful for my rechargeable vibrator, which has come through like a champ during a slate of unfortunate dating app encounters, a merciless pandemic and an epic journey of self-discovery that’s now entering its fourth year.

But that’s another story.

From the Heart

From the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ya know…real friend shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Unmasked

Unmasked

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

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

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

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

But that’s neither here nor there.

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

Before perception goes way left, I’ll explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Stories

Love Stories

Sometimes our truths aren’t always the truth.

This is the thought I’ve landed on after a few days of thinking about relationships. More specifically my own past ones.

It all started this past Sunday, when news of the untimely death of artist Nipsey Hussle spread across my timeline. While I wasn’t too familiar with his music, and only came to learn of his other extremely impressive endeavors upon his death, I knew he was in a longterm relationship with the actress Lauren London, with whom they shared a child and a blended family. The news was tragic for so many reasons, but my immediate thought was how awful it was for her to lose the love of her life. Especially after making sacrifices in her career for their family.

To spend years building a life with someone, only to have it destroyed it in an instant because of a broken individual, is my nightmare.

As I processed that news, and the tributes and images and videos that followed, I did what I now know to be the worst possible thing to do to distract myself: I binge-watched the episodes of “This Is Us” that I’d missed over the past few weeks.

If you’re familiar with this show, then you know that a lot of crying ensued as I watched the Beth and Randall storyline send me on an emotional rollercoaster wondering if they were going to make it, and momentarily understanding why they might possibly not. Honestly, the only thing missing at that point was a bottle of red wine and someone playing “Sometimes It Snows In April” followed up with a montage of Prince footage. I was a wreck.

When I thought about the love story of Nipsey and Lauren, two young lovers just getting started, and the fictional one of “R&B,” where twenty years of sacrifices and compromise had reached a breaking point, I looked deeper into my own stories, and saw just how one-sided they were.

It has been well over a year since the last relationship I embarked on came to an end. Unlike all of my previous ones, this one was amicable, and included an actual verbal conversation that never changed in pitch or volume because growth (and therapy).

But even armed with the full knowledge of signs he wasn’t in the relationship for the long haul, I still spent months afterward asking myself what was it about me that was undesirable. I negotiated in my head that if I had just been more of the fantasy girl than the practical one, perhaps I’d be wearing a ring or something close to being committed.

The scariest realization when I do an inventory of the men who were either considered boyfriends, lovers or sexual partners, is the glaring commonality of how I romanticized the situations (and their ends), knowing full well I’d made horrible judgement calls just to say I was with someone or at least feel like I was with someone.

I took back an ex who broke up with me via text after I confronted him about a non mutually consensual sexual encounter (read: rape); and ultimately decided I’d had enough of him only after he spent weeks dodging me after my father’s death, during which time he’d call me “angry black woman,” went on a weeklong vacation without me and told me his friends would always be more important than me (his actual statement was so vile my therapy group – which consists of a few men – responded angrily). My reasoning was he was charming and made me laugh, he apologized and he was making an effort. My takeaway was learning that true love speaks life into you at times when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, and doesn’t abandon you because your circumstances are inconvenient or “a buzz kill.”

I stayed in an off-and-on relationship for nearly six years despite mental, physical and financial abuse, because I had grown close to his family, and he with mine. I was afraid of upsetting that dynamic, was invested in his daughter’s upbringing, and it felt like failure to leave a man that everyone thought was perfect for me (although my uncle did pick up on his controlling persona, but never told me until after it ended). And back then I thought love was struggle. My takeaway from that was the travel bug I developed, a couple of cool girlfriends (and one terrible one, who took advantage of my post-breakup situation for her own gain…twice), and an appreciation for what I bring to the table when I find myself in a healthy relationship.

I’ve been a mistress (knowingly and unknowingly), the booty call, and the friend with benefits. I’ve been the submissive and occasionally the aggressor. I’ve been the accommodating and the one who won’t bend. I’ve left jobs, paid money I didn’t have to spare for flights I shouldn’t have taken, and placed myself in embarrassing and awkward situations where I’ve known I was not the only one because I was hopeful and desperate for a win. Each time, I’d speak of these men and moments as if they were normal ups and downs; not registering that the look I’d get from some of my friends and family was one of genuine concern for my sense of reality and self.

Yes, I’ve misrepresented many epic fails, but one of the worst by far was thinking that a man who’d moved multiple times out of the state we both lived in without ever telling me, was my soul mate. That was pretty stupid.

Almost as stupid as missing a friend’s party because I was sitting in a car for several hours, while the guy I was seeing had a meeting with a contractor in a town out-of-state that wasn’t easily accessible to public transportation.

…Or being so averse to traveling by myself that I spent an unnecessary small fortune on a weekend at a cute bed and breakfast in Boston with a man I’d later walk in on during his “self-love session” after he refused to leave the room with me to go explore the city. (I’ve gotten over my fear of solo travel, but haven’t gone back to Boston since that trip well over a decade and a half ago.)

Sure, you can look at this and say “Damn, girl…you definitely have had bad luck in the relationship department, but these celebrity and television relationships shouldn’t be #goals!” And you’d be absolutely right.

To be clear, I don’t want to be any of them. I don’t even want to be the Michelle to someone else’s Barack Obama. I don’t have that kind of ambition.

But these examples – as tragic, fantastical or exceptional as they may seem – have given me a blueprint that ideally won’t send me down the same path I’d been traveling the last couple of decades as someone who was just trying to fill the void left by absent parents and a childhood marred by sexual abuse.

To be in a committed, communicative, mutually respectful and supportive partnership where I feel valued in the present (because most folks see your value only after you’re gone), should always be the goal. To have someone want to be with you not because of what you do for them as far as appearances, status or reciprocity, but because you find joy in their presence and purpose in your connection. To see better versions of you in each other and have it motivate you each day to be and do better. That wouldn’t suck.

And that’s what I want. No exceptions. No bullshit.

In the meantime, my current truth is that I sleep in the middle of my bed, and indulge in the luxury of long hot baths, weekends blasting everything from jazz to girl power anthems, and revel in the quiet time in my own apartment doing whatever the hell I want because I’ve found true love…right here.

That also doesn’t suck.

Tough Breaks

Tough Breaks

Injuries are as humbling as they are incredibly painful.

In a sick way, they’re the tangible versions of time, or the physical embodiment of ending a relationship of some sorts. (In this instance, your relationship with your body changes — in some ways irrevocably.)

It has been four weeks since I fractured my ankle roller skating, and — needless to say — I’ve had some time to think about this and many other things. Of some of the more profound revelations I’ve come to, my top takeaways are:

  1.  Optimism is cute, but realism is necessary in the long-term. When you actually hear the snap of your bone, chances are it’s worse than a sprain. Let the X-rays guide you to the promise land of true (and proper) healing.
  2. Speaking of things that are “cute” until it’s not…pretending to be old and crippled when you’re a kid (i.e., using the “big adult umbrellas with the handles” as fake canes, and/or borrowing an elder’s “equipment”) isn’t so much adorable as it is being an asshole who will eventually get theirs. Also, those umbrellas aren’t very sturdy numerous decades (and pounds) later. The more you know…
  3. Be the kind of person whose friends will voluntarily help you pack for a move, transfer stuff from one apartment to another using a granny cart, make grocery runs for you, drop off food, pills and orthopedic boots, periodically check on your vitals with calls and texts, and do your laundry and cook for you. I literally get by with a LOT of help from my friends. And I’m judging any and every one who wants to be in my life based on these people. Be advised.
  4. “Jane the Virgin” is the best thing to watch when you want to forget you’re relegated to laying motionless with your leg in the air and not getting any pleasure out of it. Real talk.
  5. Never underestimate the power of a pedicure. I had my first pedicure in months done just days before I’d end up with a mummified foot that practically screams “Nevermind the swollen, multicolored mess under these bandages…look at how cute my toes are!” Timing — and self-care — is everything.
  6. Mercury Retrograde is a very real, and very scary, thing. Just sayin’.
  7. When something in your life isn’t for you, the universe has a way of eliminating it…no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves we can make it work, or force ourselves to “just go with it until something better comes along.” Trust.
  8. The experience of moving around on crutches for several weeks will inevitably give you the arms of Angela Bassett, but the overall dexterity of a muppet. In other news: Atrophy is the fucking worst!
  9. I’ve lived through a lot of shit, but there are few images in my life as traumatic as having an Über driver cancel a ride on me, and speed away as I wave to him in the pouring rain while mouthing “I need help!” after one of my crutches loses a screw while I’m attempting to climb the three baby steps outside of my apartment building. That stings more than the rejection of a lover.
  10. People will remark on how positive you are, how you’re managing to take it all in stride and even find moments to laugh, and wonder why. And the answer is…you know it’s only temporary.

There’s always a running joke or meme about how we thought it’d be so great getting older, until we realize that we didn’t have to pay bills or taxes, and struggle day-to-day in unfulfilling jobs and relationships. Then the subject of our mortality becomes a little too real. At forty-two, I’ve already experienced the loss of loved ones; family, friends, classmates and more and more people who shaped my upbringing culturally, politically and in some cases spiritually.

I’m here to tell you, there ain’t a multivitamin or homeopathic cure that’ll keep you from fretting about getting older. Sure, we may embrace it differently at different stages, but we still dread the process. I attribute my fear to the effective advertising back in the day that warned of the dangers of osteoporosis. And Life-Alert. (We were all emotionally scarred by the lady who’d “fallen…and couldn’t get up.” Admit it.)

The moment my ankle snapped, something inside me did the same. At the time, I’d been burning both ends of the candle maintaining two gigs to pay the bills and having a pretty stressful Summer contemplating and processing all the changes the year had brought. I’d use my free time to escape to an outdoor concert or movie theater in hopes of forgetting how miserable and increasingly lonely I was feeling because I’d mapped out a completely different plan for myself, and it somehow had gone awry.

Then, an unfortunate twist in the realest sense reminded me  — no, demanded of me — to stop, take time to take stock and heal, and start over anew on a healthier path.  And I did.

It also forced me to be more vulnerable, and to cease the practice of being too proud to ask for help. I’ve always been independent by nature, so having to rely on others to do things for me has been a huge adjustment. One that I’m not always comfortable with. But the connections that have transpired over the past few weeks has been soul-filling in ways I didn’t know I needed. It’s a feeling that can’t be achieved by cool events, online dating or social media validation. Someone standing on a Trader Joe’s line — I repeat, a Trader Joe’s line! — for you, is worth a million “Hey stranger” texts from some dude who was never invested in you when you were dating, but suddenly thinks you’d be a cool person to chat up and/or hang out with.

And finally, it increased my awareness and respect for people whose physical struggles are not temporary, and reminded me of very intimate examples in my travels. As my right leg has shrunken, I was reminded of the days following my father’s leg amputation, and the hours I spent in his nursing home observing once-vibrant people who could no longer perform seemingly basic everyday functions like walk unaided or lift a utensil. As I amble awkwardly through my kitchen, burning myself with a pan because I was distracted by a falling crutch, I’m reminded that there are people with no limbs competing in high-performance sporting events, cutting hair, and doing some incredible things without so much as a scratch.

Of course I cannot, and will not, compare myself to those extraordinary people, but when I put that in perspective, it’s why I can’t help but smile and feel fortunate that in time, I will be back on my feet.

And honestly…I injured myself roller skating. I absolutely should laugh at myself!

In any case, it’s been a wild ride, and while I could sit here and lament all the quantifiable losses, I’m choosing instead to recognize that I’ve gained much, much more from this experience than even my best laid plans.

Also, I’ll be more careful with my words in the future. This definitely wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a break.

 

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…

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…

These days, the art of reflection has become a constant source of amusement to me.

We’ve all had them… those “WTF?” moments where we questioned our judgement and motivation in retrospect post incident, or two… or fifty.

The night of tequila-based drinks that ended in the ruin of both your purse and dignity in the eyes of a unknowing cab driver.

The time you tried desperately to fit in and divulged your deepest personal secrets to a bunch of women with superiority complexes.

That guy you met outside The Strand.

That chunk of time fondly referred to as “my Twenties”.

Okay, those are my moments of reckoning, but as long as you were able to fill in your own blanks with equally humiliating and regrettable tidbits, then my work is done.

But the key is to recall them with a lightness of heart that can only be matched with the feeling of your feet dangling in the air — because you’ve fallen off your chair laughing at how stupid they are now.

There are so many things that hold such importance in our lives to the point where we feel lost without it; material things, status, relationships, appearances. If we lost any of these things tomorrow, would it really be that big of a deal?

Is it that important for you to have that lifestyle at the risk of breaking your bank?

Do you actually give a shit if people don’t accept you for who you are, or support what you do if they don’t consider you on “their level”?

Would life really end if that person didn’t love you back?

When we read it, it seems absurd to even contemplate any of these notions. But in the heat of a moment, when phrased differently in our minds, we answer a resounding “yes” more times than we care to admit.

If we didn’t, it would be a perfect world where people didn’t go deeply into debt, succumb to insecurities to be part of a group, or feel like a breakup is proof we don’t deserve loving and respectful partners and friends.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t take anything seriously. In fact, when we reflect on how badly we cocked up a situation in our past, it should ideally give us pause and perspective on how we can get it right in life the next time.

These days, I find reason to smile even when my thoughts turn to tragic things. If I’m unable to find a funny instance in the moment, then I find comfort in knowing that whatever it was… it’s over and I survived it.

This frame of thinking might have made high school and college significantly smoother transitions, but hey, better late than never.

Happily, my relationship with tequila has since improved… vastly.

Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.