J-school, life in New York and everything else

“Yeah, there are some titties outside the building…”

—   A construction worker on the phone, staring impassively at a young, topless woman participating in what seemed to be some kind of public display/demonstration in Lower Manhattan. There were only two other people with her and I had an interview to get to, so, yeah. (And, it’s legal to be topless here. I glanced at her and walked by, impassive as is the custom in New York City.)

Observations on a funeral home

It’s my favorite kind of day.

It’s hot; steaming, really. It’s Friday. A summer Friday in the south. The kind of days I was brought up on. Life in Florida often feels, in memory, like one, eternal summer.

I look up from my clandestine double cheeseburger; hot, salty, fresh fries and coke (ah, the first coke after a long season of no coke) and see people across the street leaving their cars and heading inside a building.

A glance at the signage reveals it to be a funeral home.

The parking lot fills up as people in various stage of dress continue to head inside. Out of one car, in older couple dressed in casual Sunday attire. From another car, a mother and three kids, all in school uniforms.

Is it a wake? Is that what happens in funeral homes? I realize that I thankfully have little experience with death—just my father’s auntie and my mother’s grandmother. Old from the moment I entered the world, they lived long lives and their passings were mostly celebrations of life lived; blessings for moving on to the believed eternal land of no struggle. I still remember my great-grandmother’s wake; her waxy, chilled skin. She looked nothing of my memories of her; her silence and stillness odd. My mother, a nurse who sees death all the time, remarked on how good of a job they did on my Granny. I refused to go to up to the casket during her service, something I only did once, at my great-auntie’s funeral. Or did I? I remember it in pieces: my cousin hollering out and falling to the floor in grief. The inexplicable pang in my heart at seeing my grown men cousins, my great-auntie’s children, sobbing openly and audibly. Trying to understand the fact that life, once in her, was gone away.

What about the person across the street? Is this a celebration of life or a lament of life extinguished too soon? Was he a man or was she a woman? Did they plan to die in this city of 21,000 people? Was it cancer or a stray bullet or an intended bullet or were they just tired and decided, “now, that’s enough”?

Did all these people filing out of their cars and heading inside where I cannot see, did they know the deceased? Like, know what they liked to eat for lunch and what made them laugh until tears streamed from their eyes or they snorted? Did they know their fears and greatest triumphs?

Were they loved?

The cars in the parking lot would suggest yes, but life has taught me that often obligation speaks loudest.

Writing, now (Or: writing in 2014, amidst social media)

I’m writing this on social media, for social media consumption. 
What does it mean, to sit down and write, now?
To write three words before pausing, fingers hovering over the keys
like wasps you do not hear
just above the rim of the chair
floating in mid-air as though waiting
for something.

What does it mean, to sit down and write, now?
To write a sentence before the phone buzzes
to push words out faster than they are ready to come
because you know silence will be broken at any moment
by people, needing everything and nothing at all
by questions that could wait
by a world that just doesn’t get
that you just need one moment
one more word
one more sentence
before it’s gone to the wind
floating along like a wayward feather,
going to the place where lost thoughts settle.

Writing, now, goes hand in hand with
emails demanding your attention
and saying nothing,
deadlines
when true art has no timeline,
the latest scandal on Twitter
another disagreement on Facebook
lunchtime—
wait, let me take a picture for Instagram.

I drive daily
on highways above great rivers and huge lakes,
by trees that hide secrets in their overgrowth,
sunrises and sunsets
resplendent with hues of yellow, blue, orange, pink
I try to match with words I have
and fail

as words curl up in my brain
like wisps of incense smoke,
faint, lines and swirls
until they disappear in mid-air.

(Click on photos to enlarge + see captions.)

My Louisiana nature tour. Being in the South for the summer is something I didn’t know I needed, but I will be eternally grateful for it.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

The beginnings of my culinary tour of Louisiana.

Top: Pink Lady roll (avocado, crawfish, crab, rice, spicy mayo) = delicious. Too big to finish in one sitting. Also wrapped in a pink soy something which made it quite dainty and pretty looking.

Second row, L to R: *Popeyes shrimp and biscuits. I’ve always been told Popeyes in Louisiana tastes mad different than anywhere else. I’ve never had the Popeyes shrimp before, but they tasted pretty damn good to come from a fast food joint. (The biscuits are always heavenly, will always be heavenly. I hope they’re waiting on me when I go on to glory.)

*Crawfish. Was told I had to try them when at someone’s house for a pool party. For those uninformed, you break the head off and eat the meat from there. The body is pretty useless, with the exception sometimes of meat in the claws. I was told you can just suck the meat out but they were spicy/hot as all get out and I never really got over the fact that they look like large bugs to me. The meat’s texture reminds me of lobster. (For the record, I only had two.)

*People at the party breaking and sucking all the meat out of multiple crawfish. This went on for a couple hours.

Third row: *Nola Snow Snoballs. For those who don’t know, snoballs are a treat in Louisiana. Describing them as shaved ice or sno-cones wouldn’t be right, as they are a different thing all their own. They vary based on location—this shop is near the University of New Orleans and when I arrived there was about an eight person line in front of me. Took me a good 20 minutes to get to the window. It’s right on the corner of a neighborhood street. I’m determined to try as many shops and flavors as I can.

*The snoball from Nola Snow. The texture of this one reminded me more of gelato. The ice was powdery and packed in like snow. (Hence, Nola Snow.) This flavor was “Nectar” and tasted sweet, clearly. I can’t put my finger on quite what it tasted like but it was delicious. On top, I asked for condensed milk. There are many ways to get your snoball, and one is with condensed milk. It was actually pretty damned delicious.

*Another snoball adventure, this one from Eddie’s Custard. Like the gelato stand in my hometown, you can get ice cream mixed in with your snoball. (A stuffed snoball you would ask for.) At Eddie’s however, you don’t just get soft-serve ice cream, but custard. My aunt told me how delicious the custard was, but I didn’t try it the first couple of times I went. This time I wanted to try a stuffed snoball. (This flavor was watermelon.) Custard apparently was created in Coney Island, NY, so hopefully when I get back I’ll be able to find some custard on the coast. This stuffed snoball was amazing, the best one I’ve had since I’ve been here. (I’ve had at least four different styles of snoball already.) I’ve been craving it ever since. This texture reminded me more of Hawaiian ice/shaved ice back home. Next time I get it I’m going to ask for condensed milk on top. 

Fourth row: *Beignets. I’d heard about beignets from before I ever got to Louisiana, and it took me a couple weeks to get them. Any kind of bread concoction that can be fried = heaven.

*The beignets. We had strawberry, cinnamon roll, praline and Bavarian cream flavors. They were all delicious and hot and sweet and soft and bready and perfect and covered in powdered sugar and there was a dollop of whipped cream in the middle for you to dip them in. I ate these before I ate lunch, which was a poor idea. However, I did consume these with a sweet tea. #thesouthlives #sweettea #noonelooksatmefunnylikeinNY

*The praline I found in Walgreens. Pralines are usually, to my understanding, brown sugar and butter and pecans and deliciousness. The other week featured a National Praline Day, but it was storming so badly I didn’t want to venture into downtown to search for a praline shop. Too bad I didn’t know I could find some in Walgreens. This one was of course not as fresh as the one I remember having a decade ago when I visited Louisiana for the first time, but it will suffice for now.

I’ll be hitting more spots throughout the summer so expect more photos, descriptions and pics of snoballs.

"This is only the beginning": on Robin Thicke and bad decisions

Originally, I’d decided that I wasn’t going to add anything to the collection of voices calling for the white-boy-cute head of Robin Thicke. I have been conflicted about the general pariah that he’s considered to be these days.

He sings well and has a silky, soulful voice that shouldn’t elicit comparison to J. Timberlake, sorry Justin. I’ve seen him in concert with my mom. I have listened to his pre-haircut (when he looked like the white Jesus on y’all’s church walls) material like once (really only like one song). I know “Lost Without U” was quite the hit, but I never really heard any serious discussion about him. 

Until that one song. You know which one I’m talking about. 

The first time I heard it, I knew it was going to be played the hell out and I enjoyed its bounce while I still could. I watched the video and listened to the lyrics. I shrugged. I just wasn’t offended. (More like underwhelmed and lost, like always.) The repetition of “I know you want it” is no more offensive to me than anything else I hear on the radio. In fact, it sounds  better to me—relatively speaking—than lyrics like None of my bitches can stay over | Both of my bitches look good as fuck | Your bitch look like a boogawolf from the song about paranoia by some guy with a dollar sign in his name I’d never heard of until Hot 97 played the song repeatedly.

In short: I’m not offended by much because everything is offensive. Songs chosen for airplay tend to be losing their value faster than Robin Thicke composed “Paula.”

Also, what does being offended really do? Who really cares about whether I am personally offended by something? Is that the best use of my energy? A man used the term “boogawolf” on an album and nobody questioned anything. I have more important things to worry about.  

So, here we are. To “Paula.” To this new song, “Get Her Back.” 

I have no idea what happened between Robin Thicke and his wife, and I honestly don’t care. Yes, I find it troubling that he seems to not be able to accept “no” for an answer, but I also feel like people are taking the offense they felt for “Blurred Lines” and its lyrics/message and applying that frustration here. (Re: snowball effect.) Sure, he can’t take “no” for an answer, but who in love (making what I hope is a safe assumption here, since they were married and all) has? I know once upon a time I completely violated the wishes of one ex and continued to contact him like a bat out of crazy batshit hell even while he was dating someone new.

Phone calls leaving crazy, half-weeping messages.
Sending flowers for graduation.
A present for Christmas. To his home address.
Asking to meet for lunch and then having nothing to say.
Phone calls leaving crazy, fully-weeping messages. 
While he was seeing someone else.

I refused to accept no for an answer, something that almost ten years later makes me cringe. Hard. But, I was convinced I was doing the right thing and I was in love and young and dumb. And wrong. (And thankfully not in the public eye.)

I think Robin Thicke is dumb and wrong and (maybe?) in love with the wife who currently wants no parts of him. Extra wrong for doing all this in the public eye and for creating a commercial product under the guise of trying to get his wife back. Do I think he’s supporting rape culture or stalker culture or other such things? Eh. That’s for a longer discussion that would have to be had in person.

By the way, I’ve listened to much better albums or songs about failed relationships from much better artists. Check out well-known albums from Marvin Gaye and Frank Sinatra for starters. If you’ve never heard this Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes song, do yourself a favor and listen now. 

On being a woman in 2014, part II

The weather in the New York area is beautiful right now. Trees shine lush and green in the midday sun; roses and tulips and beautiful flowers I’ve never seen before bloom in various shades of purple, pink, yellow and the like.

This weather is made for walking, letting the sun warm parts of the skin that haven’t seen sunlight in literal months. This amalgamation of spring and summer is made for maxi dresses, sandals, short skirts and no sleeves.

Theoretically.

Before meeting yesterday with a girlfriend in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, we quickly debated the virtues of driving versus taking the subway. She told me traffic would likely be a mess. My response:

I’ll chance it. My legs are out, don’t feel like being bothered by men.

To which she replied with a simple amen. 

A few weeks prior to yesterday, I went on a midday walk. It was one of the first days it was actually pretty hot outside, and I wanted to feel the sun on my skin. I had on a dress, to which the description isn’t important because I hate that women must always describe what they are wearing, how they were behaving, what made them be harassed. 

No less than four men either turned and stared at my ass as I walked by (I know what it looks like, fellas), or opened up their mouths to say how sexy I was (I owe you no thanks for pointing out something I know), or to call me “baby,” (gross) or to talk about how good my body looked (Again: no thanks). No, “how are you today?” or “I hope you’re having a good day,” or even the dreaded “girl, smile! Why you looking so upset?” which at that point, I would have taken over the salacious glances at my body.

I felt naked. Exposed. Fucking angry.

This is nothing that hasn’t happened before, though I don’t ever recall it happening so many times in one day. I’ve been getting talked to out of turn by men, known and unknown my entire life. Literally, my entire life. (I still remember the terror of being separated from my mother in a store when I was maybe 15, maybe younger, and watching a grown man stare me down from across some racks of clothing.)

Yesterday, as my girlfriend and I were walking back to her car, we turned onto a side street and saw five black men ahead of us, playing cards or something on a stoop. My body tensed without permission, ready for some sort of interaction. At the last second before we passed them, my girlfriend turned her head to me and asked me what I was doing the next day, even though we’d already talked about it. I explained again as we walked by; simultaneously listening to see whether anything was said by the guys. Surprisingly, there was nothing.

I just wanted to make up something to talk about as we passed by, my girlfriend said in a low voice as we were safely beyond the stoop of men.

As we turned the corner, three guys, two black and one white, were hanging out in front of a business. This time, I didn’t tense up, honestly hoping that the presence of the white guy + less men would diffuse whatever might be said. (I’ve never had a street harassment experience with white men—not to say it’s not possible, but probably just hasn’t happened yet.) My girlfriend and I barely made it by when the comments began.

Heyyyyy thickness!

Mmm, looking good ladies.

We rolled our eyes as we moved away quickly. They really don’t get it, I said. My girlfriend mentioned that possibly worse than the commentary is the feeling of men’s eyes following you as you walk away.

We shared techniques and tips for how we deal with the harassment of men:

1. Do not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with said men.
2. Do not respond to anything said.
3. Travel in groups or at least twosomes.
4. Do not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with said men.
5. Do not respond to anything said.

Which leads me then, to this: I wonder what it feels like to move through life, effortless as the breeze, without feeling like there’s a target on your back at all times.

As a woman, and particularly as a Black woman, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever know.

Differences

I’m in Target, literally as I write this.

I was standing in line five minutes ago when I heard commotion. Sounded like someone crying. I looked over and an older black cashier was praising God.

She looked like she was having her own personal praise and worship service: crying out, voice weak, hands in the air, walking back and forth behind her register, continually saying, “Thank you God for all you’ve done!” and various other things.

The tension in the store grew by leaps and bounds, silently. The white people looked alarmed—the woman in front of me asked our cashier if the lady was alright. Everyone stared. The black people had the look—you know, the one we get when we feel perplexed by our Blackness in non-Black safe spaces. (By safe, I don’t mean in the literal sense of “safe” but emotionally safe. To be oneself and know that you will be unequivocally understood. We do not live in safe spaces generally, I’m willing to bet. The masks we wear daily are a testament to this.)

If this had been a Black church, Black event, Black place, I’m sure even those of us who aren’t religious (like myself) would feel no threat by this woman’s praise and worship session in the middle of the day. We would welcome it, encourage it, understand it openly and vocally.

But, in the middle of Target, surrounded by white people who look like the roof just caved in, we understand silently. Some of us laugh to deflect. (Like my cashier, though her youth may have had more to do with that.) Most of us look away, myself included. To somehow demonstrate separation, an otherness, an “I’m not one of those Blacks; I’m not going to break out into song or praise at any moment. I’m okay to be around. I’m okay.”

The woman kept crying out to God. I never looked back at her. Eventually, her cries grew fainter. I’m not sure if she was lead away or whether she walked away of her own volition.

Until we acknowledge the silent tension in our differences, we will never gain understanding. Toleration will never be the answer. We tolerate cultural differences but never seek to understand. “Why does this scene make you uncomfortable? Why doesn’t it? Is it your race, your age, your gender, your lifestyle, your beliefs, your nation of origin, etc. that makes you feel the way you do? Why do you feel you must demonstrate otherness? Did you even realize you did?”

We never have these conversations. We feel the silent tension and we let it pass, hoping for the reprieve of normality.

We aren’t truly interested in understanding. Just in continuing to exist in our bubble.

“Just because you have a Master’s doesn’t mean you get a job right away. It’s actually pretty rare.”

—   

-someone chatting while making coffee

I didn’t come into this trying to necessarily get a job right away after graduation. I’ve already had a “good” job and I know that having a “good” job that pays “good” money doesn’t mean anything if your soul ain’t satisfied. 

I didn’t come into this looking for a title. I know people who have Master’s degrees who put their letters up behind their name but are working jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees and it just seems so… humble brag-ish. I mean, degrees mean different things to different people. And there’s nothing wrong with displaying your letters behind your name if that’s what gets your goat. (I’m just saying that I doubt I’ll be ending my salutations with “M.A.” For why?)

I came into this because I was bored. I was bored with my job; very dissatisfied with my job. I was very dissatisfied with my surroundings, though I loved my apartment and the life I was creating inside of it. I wasn’t satisfied with South Florida and I wasn’t sure how else to get away from everything I was dissatisfied with. I felt I wasn’t being challenged; felt like I was losing the very sharp edges of my intellect while managing adults who couldn’t remember how to fill out their time sheets from week to week and watching kids pee/poop/vomit on themselves repeatedly. (This is not I repeat NOT an exaggeration.)

So, I decided to go to grad school because I wanted to be challenged. Not even, necessarily because I want to be a reporter. (I don’t.) I wanted to do something I technically wasn’t familiar with—I know how to write, but had never made videos or audio recordings before—and be challenged.

Well, I’m two-thirds of the way done with this Master’s degree and unfortunately, I’m starting to feel the familiar ennui set in again. I’m too old to be bored. And if I can be near because you know my ass still lives in Jersey City in “the greatest city in the world” and still be bored… then that means there’s a problem inside me that I need to figure out.

It’s a weird feeling, one I think arises from being able to hold contradictory ideas at the same time. I don’t regret any of this, not for a second. (I don’t believe in regret.) But when I was in undergrad, I remember feeling disenchanted with the process of college and feeling completely overwhelmed time-wise, but severely underwhelmed intellectually. I decided I wasn’t going back to school possibly ever, but certainly not until I was ready.

Fast forward five years: I’m still underwhelmed intellectually, and decide maybe school will fix it. *enrolls in grad school*

Fast forward almost a year: I’m still underwhelmed intellectually and am thinking maybe school will fix it. *looks at Ph.D. programs*

I mean… the last time I felt intellectually stimulated as a whole was when I was in the I.B. Program. When I was in high school. That was almost ten years ago.

That’s a problem.

Almost there

The semester is ending. I’m procrastinating. Internship = check. Living arrangements = not so much.

I have two-thirds of a Master’s degree. Before Christmas, I’ll be done.

And then, I guess, ready to re-enter the real world. Again.

That escalated quickly.