J-school, life in New York and everything else

My Five Things, Oct. 17

I’m acting like I definitely don’t have someplace to be in an hour…

1. Sunset/dusk is my favorite time of day. I call it the “Golden Hour” even though it’s not just an hour. I love sunsets. Maybe it’s because I was born at that time of day. Maybe it’s because the sky comes alive at dusk.

2. In my next life, I hope I’m as fearless as a honeybadger and as sexy and regal as a lion. (But only the fearlessness of the honeybadger. Not the foolhardiness.)

3. I love being able to observe animals (domestic and wild) but I hope I get to the place where I can afford to observe them in their natural habitat. Whenever I go to zoos, pet stores, etc. I’m always saddened by watching the animals pace back and forth in enclosures. (Going to the pet store makes me want to buy all the pets and set them free. Except the spiders.)

4. That said, I want to have a number of pets when I get older. I want a huge yard and a space to have some different animals there. I really love nature and animals. (But they can’t eat my plants. Because that’s a no-no.)

5. I guess this ended up being pet centered… I had to watch a preliminary version of a documentary the other day and in it, a dog gets hit by a car. Because of the topic of the documentary, I get why they left the scene in there, but… I’d never heard or seen an animal be hit by a vehicle. The wailing of that dog before he died… all I’ll say is that, if you honestly believe that we are the only life forms that can think and feel… nah b. (I also hope I never see/hear anything like that again.)

Five Things for Oct. 10

1. I had much more planned for this post. But I woke up with a slightly upset stomach, stiff neck, aching sinuses and my head in a vice grip. I’m not sick, but I do feel perturbed at how my health has changed since coming here. I feel like my body is upset with me more days out of the week than I’m used to. It’s as if my body has taken on a life of its own. It still moves to my command, though sometimes, a foot steps in a pattern I didn’t want. Sometimes a finger or two wiggles without my permission. At night, when I lie down, my joints speak to each other in a language I find I no longer understand.

2. I watched Annie Hall today. It was my first Woody Allen movie ever. I don’t know what I took away from the movie, besides my continual love for Diane Keaton and a continued disconnect with the lifestyle the film portrays. (There are some technical and stylistic things I greatly enjoyed, but I’m speaking on the whole about the film’s plot.)

It’s intriguing to me that since moving (essentially) to New York, I find myself even more disconnected from displays of its lifestyle. The afternoon show The View is the easiest example of this. The show is based in New York, though it doesn’t focus solely on NYC issues. I used to watch occasionally and never felt any kind of way toward it.

During this season’s premiere, I remember saying in my head “This is so New York right now.” I found myself thinking it to be even slightly esoteric. I don’t know. Maybe I’m disconnected because I’m here but living a vastly different lifestyle than what’s generally portrayed as the “New York” one? Maybe it’s because seeing NYC from afar affords you the opportunity to dream its streets and experiences, while being here forces your acceptance of what’s real?

3. I don’t know if I can even say there are more racial incidents than normal or whether we are just seeing more of them in real time (thanks Twitter). But I… just don’t know. When I mentioned leaving the country (half in jest) to my father some time ago, he said to me, “you don’t run away from your country. You stay and fight for it.”

I don’t know if I’m willing to fight for a place that has placed an immutable target on my back and the backs of those I love and those I don’t even know. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

4. Where does the internally motivated person gain motivation from when they can’t supply it for themselves?

5. If you were to die today, what would your greatest accomplishment be?

For me, it would be not one single solitary thing on my resume.

Which begs the question: whom am I performing for?

My Five Things, Oct. 3

I’m going to give this a go.

I’ve been reading the five things lists of two gifted writers I don’t personally know, mensahthomas and smashfizzle. I’m going to attempt to write each Friday, which has been unofficially claimed as my writing day. Let’s see how it goes.

1. This, going to grad school and moving to well, New Jersey for now Jesus be a move in 2014 New York is one of the first things I’ve done in a long time that I did because I wanted to. Because it means something to me.-Me, January 2014

See, about that.

I didn’t do this because I wanted to. I didn’t even do it because it meant something to me, in the grandest sense of the word. Honestly, it would take me a long time to sit and think about the number of things I’ve actually done because I wanted to do them, with the exception of simple and obvious pleasures, like seeing Beyoncé in concert with my sister or spending hours at the beach.

I enrolled in graduate school, halfway hoping for an intellectual challenge. I enrolled because I told myself that after years of politely listening to people tell me, “it’s time” and “you’re too smart not to go” and after years of watching friend after friend embark upon their graduate journey, it was time for me.

I told myself after years of watching people move away to “greener” pastures; after the transgressions of a Florida murderer of a young Black man holding Skittles and tea played out for a national audience; after having visited New York City and writing in a journal I think I’d be endlessly fascinated with this city but I don’t think I could ever live here and after applying to Teach for America in New York City and being relieved when I wasn’t accepted, since I knew I just wanted to move because it seemed like that’s what everyone else was doing—

even after all of that, I told myself that it was time for me, that all writers end up in New York, which had to be true because James Baldwin had been here. (Even though whenever I think of Baldwin, I think of France.)

I graduate two months and 16 days from today. As I sit on the floor, trying to collect what I once believed (or convinced myself of), I know only this: that I feel a deep, writhing way that I bought into ideas as solid as smoke, something I am deeply against.


2. I saw one of my good friends last week, someone I hadn’t seen in years. It’s strange that I’ve reached a place in life where I can say “I haven’t seen them in years.” Life changes without announcement; it seems dangerous to not see someone for years. Who knows what will happen in the interim?

Anyway, we worked together in an afterschool program. I’d spend my days sitting at long lunchroom tables daydreaming about my unfortunate off-and-on lover and my friend would daydream about New York City. It seemed to be his end-all, be-all goal; the city he most desired to live in. Florida was too pedestrian for him, it seemed. I hadn’t yet moved to Miami, though I was already starting to feel the post-college graduation itch of okay, is this where life begins? But I’d been to NYC, and while I was impressed, I wasn’t impressed enough to pack up my shit and go. And I definitely wasn’t meh about Florida.

I left first and went South before moving to the NYC area three years later. My friend moved here over the summer. Finally, I thought to myself when he said he was moving, he’s going to get the chance to live in the city he’d wanted to be in for so long. I was happy that a dream would be realized for him, but when we agreed to meet up for dinner, worry gnawed at my insides. How would we converse, two sides of a New York City coin? How could I express my distaste for life up here without stepping on his excitement for finally being in the place of his dreams? How could I say I want to go home without sounding defeated; like a tired, pigtailed three-year-old at the end of a long day?

I can’t remember who asked first. I explained my gripes about existing in NYC and how le beau and I are prayerfully on the first thing smoking back to Florida post-graduation. I recited the lines I’ve created for myself—you know, I think if I was younger, or at a different place in life, then maybe I’d be willing to stick it out or maybe it’d seem worth it—because, of course, there has to be a reason you don’t want to be here. Preferring someplace else over New York City is going against the grain, because, of course, it’s “the greatest city in the world.” So, to prefer anything else is defeat. Pedestrian, even.

And then my friend said: New York is okay. You know, once you get here, it’s not as great as you thought it was.

Relief flooded my body.

Relief that someone else in the world shared the same “unpopular” opinion as me.


3. The summer of 2006 I turned 19. And I decided that if I didn’t like who I was, I would create who I wanted to be.

For whatever reason, I settled on the idea of becoming a bohemian, free of convention and rules. A true writer-type. Somehow this involved buying a typewriter from a thrift store (it never worked) and learning to wear red lipstick, I think. (That didn’t really work either.) Most of all, I remember the idea of wanting to be free sexually.

Anyway, I don’t remember it working much that summer. But when I joined Twitter three or four years later, I eventually included “bohemian” in my handle. Same for other social media accounts. I never really gave it much thought. As I’ve aged, I’ve found that with each passing year, it seems, I evolve more and more into that bohemian I wanted so badly to be. One of the things I value most is freedom. Actual freedom, not the illusion of freedom within boundaries.

Maybe my 19-year-old self was onto something.


4. I have an unresolved situation. It’s something I’ve been to therapy for, albeit briefly, something I thought I’d made strides away from, until I found myself outside on the phone with someone unrelated to the situation, pacing. Walking in circles, pounding my fist into my hand to illustrate my point, though the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t see it. Anger.

I am angry. I am angry the person still contacts me and says “hey stranger.” I’m angry the person is living what I consider to be a sham of a life. I’m angry the person is doing “God’s work” when they haven’t been absolved of their own transgressions. I’m angry the logical voice in me says you can’t judge people, you don’t know whether the person has asked for forgiveness and you need to work on forgiving that person as well. I’m angry because after years of thinking I’d done my part, I realize I haven’t forgiven that person at all. And I don’t want to. I want them to disappear from my life. I wish I could never see them again.

Hatred clouds my heart, which sucks because although I say I hate things all the time, it’s mostly in jest; a hyperbolic function of my vernacular. My hate is reserved for this person and this situation. Hatred that the person I am today could not exist without this experience. Hatred that my life will, in that small way, always be inextricable from that person.

I hate that I can’t tie this situation up with a neat bow and chuck it into the bottom of the ocean. I hate that deleting that person’s name from my phone doesn’t delete their existence. I hate that you exist.


5. I am ready to go home.

“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.