Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lies, Lessons and Self-Love: Getting To The Real Of It

Lying is really easy, disgustingly so at times. But even more than it is a fleeting trick, lying is unhealthy. Especially if you're lying to yourself at the same frequency that you're misleading others with the things you say and the way you behave. So, I'm going to be honest with myself for a change. 

My eternal quest is to not just find happiness, but to find it exclusively within myself. You should see all the self-love quotes that decorate all 12 of my journals and occupy the back of my door in Post-It form. My living space literally looks like a scene out of Being Mary Jane. I know that in order to attract love in my life, I must be totally okay and in love with myself first. But honestly, honestly, a huge factor in my self-love quest is my body and loving that. It's... okay. I don't hate it. It could be much worse, but I don't love it. It's functional and, as far as I know, has gotten the technical thumbs up from my doctors, but I don't love it. I have the full activity of my limbs and have no desires to surgically enhance my body (with the exception of a breast reduction if I wasn't so scared I won't be able to breastfeed when motherhood comes knocking). But "love" is not something that comes to mind when I consult my mirror. I'm not blind to my flaws yet. They're right there in neon lights that only I can see. I'm still struggling to take me as I am. 

Unfortunately, the body I envision fashionably and try to dress up and shop for is not reflected back to me. My boobs are the lone victims of gravity (and unnecessary attention) in my friend circles, so no strapless garments and braless days for me ever. No nipple can be freed, sorry. There was no turning back from the dreaded Freshman 15, even four years plus post-graduation. I know when and where my second chin shows up, but I can't seem to master that hiding angle—you know, the one I've previously nailed in selfies—in public or in any other photo not taken by my elevated hand. There are back rolls that did not exist a few years ago, and the persistent skinny-fat fupa always interrupts how my jeans fit at the buckle. I'm tall and lean-looking, meaning curveless except for my chest. No sensual or even mildly switchable hips. No shapely, stallion runner thighs. No tight, naturally cinched waist over here. No phatty, no bubble butt, no nada. A capital P, basically. My feet are big and forever ruined from just a handful of years of tap class (damnit!), so I have to be real selective with sandals. RIP to whatever smooth and spotless skin I had before the stress of 2016 hit me like a billion bricks. I'm still trying to overcome some body hyper-pigmentation and scarring issues. I have this stupid bump on my thumb that came from sucking it up until I got braces in fourth grade. The only things I said I loved about my physical self this year were, oddly enough, my quirky bowed legs—I'm so happy that I didn't notice that they were significantly different from other peoples' legs until right before college, no exaggerations here—and my hair. And I still have my insecurities about certain hair things that I cloak very, very well. Hairstyles I still haven't tried out, and probably won't, because of it. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Basking In Blackness In Bahia With Travel Noire

After the first flight and first layover, I was less anxious and annoyed than I had planned to be. In fact, I was smiling. Subtly, of course. I expected to feel alone, lost, vulnerable, but sitting on that plane from Panama City to Sao Paulo, I was everything but. New York spoiled me, yes, but whether I thought it did or not, it prepared me to look at myself as a global citizen. Sitting on the train and walking down crowded city streets in different boroughs, it’s uncommon to only hear one tongue spoken in passing. There will be conversations that you technically can’t understand or jump into, but you feel it. 

Foreign sentences don’t feel foreign, so sitting in this aisle seat hearing a black man speak in Portuguese—a language my ear was never trained for—to a white Brazilian after being told “Gracias” by an ethnically ambiguous fellow while in Panama’s airport felt like magic. I don’t feel lost even though I don’t fully know what they’re saying; I feel enamored. Inspired. Just because I’m a part of this right now by osmosis. Part of cultured roots and lilty tongues. To witness that gradual transition from gate to gangway was unlike what I’d imagined it to be; it was better.


I’d never heard of a “Brazilian winter” before. When you think of winter, you think of New York at its most unforgiving. Or Canada. Crisp white lawns and slushy brown streets. The hurt of numb, red fingertips and constant reminders that the socks you bought aren’t quite thick enough. Scarves, fuzzy hats, mittens with removable thumbs for struggle texting. Frosted breath and hot cocoa and fire escapes and days off school and work. Not Brazil. Not Salvador da Bahia with its roosters that crow at six in the morning and two thirty in the afternoon without ceasing. With its sudden, heavy rains that wane out into scattering, cool mist twenty minutes after starting. With its hot, hot suns and the relieving shade from wide green palms and extending branches. From the infinite stream of flip-flops slapping and pitter-pattering across uneven, uphill cobblestone. With its moquecas and caipirinhas eaten and sipped plentifully on the airy edges of patios, blending with the tune of American laughter and smoky Portuguese lilts in the kitchen. With its clumped up houses with clothes lines extending out of open doorways, gridiron windows and snaking roads out front. This is not a wintertime I could’ve imagined (nor is it one I wish to leave), yet here I sit on my private balcony passing over sweet memories made as the time passes before my capoeira class.

These past three days have felt like plenty more, and the friends I’ve made within them have felt like long lost family. That’s black people for you. That’s the main reason I was so adamant about test driving a Travel Noire Experiences trip for myself. There’s something so magical about the binding feeling that comes with color. Good ol’ melanin. Browns, beiges, butters and blacks. Even straight out of the gate at the airport they found me, lost-looking and confused and tired and delirious looking for a TN’s taxi driver holding a teeny, tiny sign. I scanned the airport rich with a language I simply couldn’t navigate at the moment and came across a cluster of black people with my eyes. I had a feeling they were my group but I kept to myself to avoid mislabeling and embarrassment on my part. They spotted me spotting them, and with disarming smiles and a crooked finger, beckoned me over to them, confirming my correct association. From there, all discomforts were gone.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Blackness Is A Poetry

Contrary to the current state of the nation and how it tries to tell our story—when "all lives" desperately try to smudge out our melanin like a bad eraser wasting space on a No. 2 pencil, but we go no where—I love my blackness more than anything.

I love the way we have the strength not only to pray, hard and unyielding, but to forgive even when it doesn't feel deserved. When it isn't deserved, point blank period.

I love how we sound when joined together in song, whether organized or by impulse, the natural harmonies that arise and the feelings that permeate from those choral moments onto any ears nearby.

I love how dramatic we are, how we tell stories and our eyes wrinkle and out brows furrow, and the way our hands move when retelling even the simplest of anecdotes. Bodies swaying with narration.

I love our sweetness, our sass, our sarcasm, our wit, our sharp tongues, our sympathy.

I love our skin and how it glistens and glows, not burns and reddens, in the sun. How tints and hues of the darker human spectrum vary slightly, but the sameness is the only color we see. The only one that matters.

I love how our laughs are big and deep, wide and loud, with all of our teeth on display. Diastemata abound, indicative of the wide range of experiences we've endured as a result of where we all come from. Where we were born, bred and multiplied fruitfully, seeds of deeply rooted culture sown and reaped on our own land. Where we were uprooted, relocated, then forced to adapt and thrive.

I love the way our hair, course, coiled or kinked and without effort stretches up to the heavens like the coveted crowns that they indeed are.

And painfully enough, I love my blackness more than white America will allow me to. More that what they feel is safe, permissible, able to control and monitor. Marveling from the outside, while elbowing and stealing to get inside. To dissect and understand something that is ours and ours alone. Itching to sip from our well to quench their thirst for culture, spice, flavor, resilience, Godliness, MAGIC, not caring how, when or if it is replenished. Itching to get a taste of the cane sugar that is blackness, pure and unrefined. A flavor not theirs to grasp.

My blackness is too sweet for you. Too diverse and complex for you. Too potent for you. My blackness, a priceless treasure bestowed upon me from my Father, is a beautiful sonnet not designed for skimming. Not to be read and digested unless you really get it. And trust me, if you're not in it, of it, chances are you'll never get it. Sorry, not sorry.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chance The Rapper Is In The Business Of Saving Souls

For those who are sad, Chance the Rapper's music is the antidote.

I did not watch the ESPYs last night with the rest of the world (namely with Black Twitter). On one part, I don't have cable because I'm cheap, so there's that. But really, instead I was busy being sad. Sulking over personal trivialities that feel like mountains underneath the magnifying glass that comes with living in the swallowing oasis that is New York City. I went to sleep moody and woke up with an annoyance that set it off again. But what I was sad about isn't as important as what pulled me out of it. 

My terrible digital-based-job-having-self habit is waking up, rolling out of bed and into the glow of my iPhone screen, scanning through both work and personal inboxes, texts and social feeds to see what I missed in those hours I was seeing black. As I scrolled past Carmelo Anthony and friends standing in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, Devon Still posing with his cancer-free daughter and new wife, and the Currys and Wilsons bonding over marital bliss, I landed on a link nestled on top of a picture of Chance the Rapper's signature "3" cap and a neatly fitting tux. "Chance The Rapper Honors Muhammad Ali with an Original Song." Instant click. I knew it was going to be something I needed.

My relationship with Chano's music as a healing mechanism stems back to Surf, the Social Experiment album starring Chance. Every time I'd hear "Sunday Candy"—which played in repetitions of at least three times—had struck me straight through the heart like an arrow and stayed with me afterwords. The churchiness of it, feeling like I was sitting in the same pew as the Bennetts on a Sunday morning, sandwiched between Chance and his late grandma, famous for her storied peppermints, fancy hats and cocoa butter kisses. The organs, pans, horns and voices of Jamila Woods and the choir ricocheting off each other, in a crescendo of celebration of family and the Lord, sweet as candy. It was ridiculous how much I played the damn thing to brighten my mood.

Then along came Coloring Book, the Acid Rap follow-up we all thirsted for. It took me a long time to finally hear the damn thing because I don't have Apple Music (remember: cheap), it hadn't hit Spotify (I have the free version, still cheap) and it wasn't available for purchase or download in the Apple Store like Surf was. But the internet has a way of coming through for the kid, and I found out he planted the tape on random download sites for us to find. Bless you, Chance, because the "Blessings" reprise at the end of the album was the answer to it all. Let me just say right now that the entire tape was a spiritual journey, but it came to a peak at the final "Blessings" (the first one is a sweet little ditty assisted by Jamila Woods again). The first time I played it, the tears snuck up and fell from from my eyes without warning. I simply could not stop. Are you ready for your blessing? Are you ready for your miracle? Chance, Ty Dolla Sign, Raury, Anderson .Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, Nico and more were all asking me a question I couldn't answer beyond a blubbering "yes." 

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Short Story I Wish I'd Finished

Maybe one day I will...


I'm truly not a fan of nature. The last two weeks have confirmed this to me. The itch and sting of swelling bites and blisters on my skin have confirmed this to me. The crack of dawn chorus of distressed howler monkeys, plummeting coconuts on my thatched roof and the roar of jungle rain each and every morning have confirmed this. Yet here I am surrounded by trees on all sides in a bungalow without air conditioning and flimsy mosquito nets feeling my skin become oily with sweat and humidity, sticking to the pillows of this bed, and Ted isn't even here. He's the whole reason I flew down here to Puerto Viejo. "Sam, let's take a different kind of vacation, you and me. Less party, more peaceful." We don't need a trip, we need a counselor, I'd thought at the time, but instead I nodded wearily and headed back to the bedroom to await details on the trip he just KNEW I'd love, because there's no "no" for Ted. And of course, I hate it here.

We've been here for five days already, and Ted's been out on the town for four of them, filling his soon to be beer belly with fish tacos and cervesas at Salsa Brava. Coming back smelling like salty ocean and "outside." My nana used that term often for us when we were little and used to visit her in Kingston. Scrunching up her nose as we sat on her good sofa (you know, the plastic covered one). "Get off my couch smelling like outside!" she'd say. She would've hated Ted if she lived long enough to meet him. He carried that smell with him always. Sweat and stink of 85 degrees but not quite enough deodorant. When he hops in bed with me, I pretend to be asleep. He snuggles under the sheets —without showering, a habit I wish would die a slow and painful death—and kisses my nose sweetly as if he loves me. I hold my breath in increments for as long as I can, then once I hear his breath slow down, I flip over as if struck by a fit of jitters mid sleep, haphazardly as if experiencing a bad dream. And I exhale.