Standards for Living

It has now been nearly two weeks since I’ve entered my forty-first year.

Or, as I’d like to call it, “Forty won.”

In a year marked by so much death – from ones intimately close, to strangers known and unknown, not to mention the brutal murder of democracy – I end my fortieth year with an even stronger zest and appreciation for life. Especially my own.

Because, in spite of all the tragedy and turmoil that 2016 embodied for most of the world – admittedly the first half was brutal for me as well – I somehow managed to ride out the rest of it with one of the strongest years I’ve had in nearly a decade on a personal and professional level. I made uncomfortable choices, found more of my voice, embraced the unknown, and found freedom in letting go of things that weren’t right for me. I’ve knowingly disappointed some, and unknowingly inspired others.

What resulted was the universe opening up a world of opportunity in the form of more love, support and fellowship from new and unexpected sources. Ones that allowed and, at times, insisted on, finding acceptance that I once sought from relationships – both familial and romantic – within myself.

So I took those trips. Went to those shows. Saw those movies. Booked those therapy appointments. And so on.

…and didn’t wait for that call to do any of it. And also didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it.

In the spirit of keeping that momentum going, and in honor of all the fucks I’ve lost during this year, here’s a list of my standard for living for 2017 and beyond:

Stop Hesitating (“Take the trip!” “Buy the shoes!” “Go to the fucking doctor!”) When you have gainful employment, insurance, decent credit, and a shit-ton of people in your life who are in your corner, there are no excuses. Life is too fucking short…and it can all be gone tomorrow. I say this 7 months after my father’s passing, and over a year after the sudden loss of a very dear friend who lived his life fully and generously, so it’s not exactly an epiphany. Death has a way of putting you in “YOLO” mode; forcing you to face your own mortality and, subsequently, your “bucket list.” And the savagery of this year has been the biggest wakeup call of all.

Speak my mind. Anyone who really knows me might be like “When have you NOT?” To them, I say “Hush.” But recently, someone I was once close to, told me that I didn’t communicate with them during the time we spent together. In this instance, I no longer trusted them or had faith in their ability to act in my best interests, but they had a point. It is best to speak one’s mind, for better or worse, that way everyone can move accordingly.

Refuse to spend any of my hard-earned cash on the following: Hip Hop albums from most of this era’s artists (although anderson.Paak might get my money for a live show). Rihanna concert tickets. Anything with the Kardashian name. Poor-quality shoes, clothing and undergarments. Events where most of the demographic is under 35, or frequently uses the word “lit” with more intention than sarcasm, and/or people who like to invite you to functions/dinners/trips/etc. with the expectation that you’ll be bankrolling them or their friend’s portion of it. If we’re not in a long-term partnership, and I have not given birth to you…you’re paying your own way. I am not Angelina Jolie or Mia Farrow. Call Tyrone.

Don’t take anything in life for granted. Not to be mistaken with “not complaining.” While I try to avoid the other c-word, there are gonna be times in life when things aren’t perfect and something needs to be said in order to address and improve it. (See “Speaking my mind.”) That doesn’t mean everything is shit – it just means it’s important enough to me to be made better. But at the end of the day, even the lessons from failures are appreciated.

Do not entertain the idea of a long-term relationship with any man who isn’t equipped to be my best friend. New rule for 2017: “If he doesn’t make plans, doesn’t keep plans, doesn’t respect my time, doesn’t respect what I say, doesn’t respect my gender, doesn’t respect my family or friends (or – as my sister-girl once said after an ex spent two days at her home but never engaged in one-on-one conversation with her – “doesn’t find out who they are to you“), doesn’t show any interest in spending time knowing or building upon mutual interests…I’m not wasting any time with him. My desire for an honest, selfless, interactive and collaborative partnership supersedes my desire to have a proper lay any day. I believe “Stronger Together” isn’t just a nice and sunny political slogan. I’ve seen too many solid relationships where couples travel, party, and make plans and important decisions together. They respect each other’s input and rely on each other for mutually beneficial contentment and growth. They also have each other’s backs when times are hard for either of them. This is what I aspire to be and have in return. And because I’d rather be alone than feel alone…nothing else will do.

Never apologize for being who I am, and take zero shit from any “friend” or family member who has opinions on how I should behave. I’m single, childless, live in a city bursting with culture and vices, and I’ve survived four decades of life that consisted of  events that have broken many. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told.) And for the most part, I’ve done it solo. That I continue to maintain a sense of humor, optimism, desire and enjoyment of intimate connection and only have a marginal social media addiction – I’d say I’m doing okay. Not Oprah okay…but you never know what the future holds.

Stop doubting my abilities and gut. That I still do this on occasion means there’s more room for improvement, but I’d like to think I’m headed in the right direction.

If I’ve taken nothing else from this year, it is that there is no reward for playing it safe. Those who’ve impacted our lives most – in both life and death – have been the most extreme risk takers. The rogues. The controversial ones. The ones who colored outside the lines and bulldozed their comfort zones to fit big dreams (and in some cases even bigger egos). The ones who set a standard for the way they lived, and fulfilled it to the best of their ability, in spite of (or perhaps because of) how others said they were supposed to live.

If we all set standards in our lives, then we’ll do anything to preserve it for our own well-being and joy. Our jobs, relationships, finances, living conditions and even our political leanings are a reflection of those standards. Or lack thereof. I mean, how else can you achieve a “gold standard” without actual standards?

We owe it to ourselves to have them. We owe it to each other to honor them. If, for no other reason, for our own self-respect, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing we did all we could to make the world a better place by being a better person in it while we could.

Those are my standards for 2017 and beyond.

What are yours?

Advertisements

Moving On

It is never easy leaving something or someone you truly love.

Oftentimes, it is unpleasant.

But the time will come when we’ll have to say goodbye to something or someone dear to us for whatever reasons that apply. It’s one of life’s inevitabilities…much like me wrecking a manicure seconds after walking out of the salon.

This week, I had that horrible task. Twice.

The first isn’t theoretically final, but symbolically it is; the apartment my roommate and I have shared for nearly a year is being reclaimed by its lovely owner and her family at the end of the month, so we needed to find a new place quickly. What stung the most was having to leave the beautiful neighborhood we’ve grown to adore, due to lack of affordable housing options. Never mind the fact that the apartment itself is a unicorn in terms of space and affordability. Both were ideal.

Alas, it was never truly ours…and so we had to face facts and move on.

Fortunately, we found an affordable gem in a decent neighborhood that suited all our needs, and wouldn’t force any major and/or uncomfortable adjustments.

The part I’m most grateful for, tho – aside from having a relatively painless search process in comparison to last year (woo hoo!) – is having my name on a legal document holding me responsible for the payment and upkeep of a place that I reside in…for the first time in SIX years.

While that concept seems scary AF, I’m elated, because circumstances over these last years haven’t supported this moment. A layoff in 2010 – followed by an unexpectedly lengthy stretch of un/underemployment mixed with drastic pay decreases throughout the years that followed – proved challenging. Signing a lease wasn’t only risky…it was impossible.

All this to say: As much as I’ve dreaded moves in the past, this one I look forward to, because it means I’ve finally reached the point where I can start over on my terms. It’s bittersweet, yet empowering, all at the same time.

The next goodbye is final and painful, because there’s still a great deal of love, and there was a tremendous emotional investment. The demise of a relationship always impacts me because the failure is personal and, at times, I’d like to think avoidable.

But that’s just wishful thinking.

Over the years, I’ve struggled and occasionally succeeded at being mindful of things in my past life that could – and have – segued into fatal relationship flaws: Let’s just say the list isn’t pretty. Or short. Let’s also say not living with my parents after twelve was the best thing that ever happened to me. Let’s also say that it’s because very early on, life played out more like a Lifetime Network movie written by Alice Walker.

Basically, I was a powder keg with a laundry list of issues ranging from trust, abandonment, intimacy, anger, jealousy, people-pleasing, self-esteem, selfishness and withdrawn (this one’s tough to shake).

Truth be told, I’ll always be a work in progress. But time, meditation, faith, introspection, healing, much-needed therapy and an outpouring of unconditional love and support from friends and family has allowed me to develop into a woman who is now open and optimistic about life, love and all its possibilities. I find joy in authentic relationships and experiences, and I’m quicker to listen to and embrace different perspectives. Most of all, I’ve learned to forgive, let go, and just let shit be.

Which brings us here.

If I’ve learned anything in these forty years and eight months of life, it is that as much as I love the idea of being in love, there’s much more to a relationship than that. It’s work, and sometimes I don’t want to do it, but I will if I know the end result is having someone to grow with, who has your back in times both good and bad and inspires you to do the same. Someone who takes interest in your interests, and includes you in theirs. Someone who relishes in your quirks, and can talk and listen for as long as it takes as you both learn something new and/or rediscover something not so new about each other (instead of using social media or discussing with an audience that doesn’t include either of you). Someone who understands that conflicts and anger should be addressed and resolved in minutes and (if really serious) hours…not days and weeks. Someone who has longterm plans and knows where you fit in them. Someone unafraid to take a leap of faith and land wherever your lives together may take you. Someone whose actions speak louder than their words.

For all our intents…we both failed spectacularly in making that happen. Twice.

And for what it’s worth, I wanted our relationship to work so badly, that I was willing to accept it as it was…even as it left me wanting more.

But it occurred to me that – much like the apartment hunting experience – I began the process desperate to compromise at the risk of losing a part of me. In the end, it took venturing out of my comfort zone on a road less traveled in order to find the place that feels like home, and nothing is lost except the expectations of how things should be.

Not only is that worth moving on to…it’s worth moving mountains for.

I’m scared and excited to find out what the future holds, but right now, I’m just gonna relish in the freedom of the present moment, and go wherever the day takes me.

Which, right about now…is the kitchen. I’m starving.

Taking Care

It can be said with great certainty that 2016 is likely going down in history as one of the shittiest years on record, and there are still 4 1/2 more months to go before it’s officially over.

Full disclosure: I’m making this declaration while laying on one of the softest beds, donning a terry-cloth robe etched with the majestic “lion head” logo of the Ritz-Carlton, following a nice hot bath taken upon returning to a sexy room – with its stunning view of Philadelphia’s City Hall – after an amazing scallop dinner at one of the most charming and kitschy restaurants I’ve seen in some time. Bottom line is: I’m not exactly suffering at this moment.

And yet here I am bitching about this shitty year.

Why is it so shitty, you ask? Where do I come off making such statements when I’m in a position not many folks will have an opportunity to experience? What’s made me take such a strong stance so prematurely?

To put it “Blountly,” this year has seen more death, more injustice, more ignorance and more animosity among the human race, and that has shaken my comfort level to its core and threatens the peace I’ve strived to maintain in my later years. Prior to holing myself up in this luxurious abode for a self-care timeout, I was angry with everyone; white people, black people, police, pundits, politicians and Pokémon players.

I’m sure there are many of you, who share similar frustrations with some – or all – of the above, and have reeled from the passings of notable, iconic and influential people such as Prince, David Bowie, Elie Wiesel and Muhammad Ali amongst so many others. Each were heroes in their own right, who weren’t afraid to stick up for themselves and for those who didn’t have the privilege of their platforms. They took care of us – even though we couldn’t take care of them.

But one loss that has affected me the most is one in which the care was mutual and reciprocal. Two months ago today…I lost my father.

While this loss wasn’t unexpected…it still fucking hurts.

Sure, I can say that he’s not suffering anymore. That Alzheimer’s took him long before the day his body lost its desire to fight. That I no longer have to suppress the urge to burst into tears in front of him when he couldn’t remember who I was. It’s what I’m supposed to say, right?

But for every vacant gaze, there’s a moment of recollection that brought an unbreakable smile and a glimmer of hope. And that’s why it hurts. Because that hope is now gone…along with my very first love.

And, in spite of everything, I’m just here trying to get that hope back within the realm of reason. That lust for life and “joie de vie” that’ll get me through the rest of what’s turning out to be an absolute shit-show of a year. Because, with everything that’s happening – and I do mean everything – it is now more important than ever that we all find our joy and our strength to get through the rough waters of violence, racial and global tensions and divisive banter across all party lines. Because, hopefully, at some point, the love and care we have for ourselves and others will drown out the hate.

Sooo…whatever your method: Vacation…staycation…meditation…medication (kidding) – remember that self-care is essential for the duration. Roads can be bumpy, and trips can take longer than we expect. But if we’re trying to navigate in a broken-down vessel, our destinations become damn-near impossible to reach.

Take care.

 

This I Know Thus Far

In two days, I will join several thousand people in Newark for Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, where Madame O herself will preside over a program filled with special guests and exercises geared to awaken, enlighten and embolden the masses.

Basically… I expect to cry and over-share with lots of strangers in the name of self-discovery and empowerment. Sort of like I do here, except on a grander scale and with the prospect of sharing with Oprah!

Snark aside, I’m actually looking forward to it. Something about taking action to improve oneself and the quality of the life you live from an internal standpoint just appeals to me.

So, before I embark on this emotional roller-coaster of a weekend, I’ve decided to list what I’ve learned thus far from this crazy life of mine. Unlike Oprah, who pens her “What I Know for Sure” column every month in “O” magazine, I’m still a work in progress, so speaking definitively on anything before I reach my forties is just asking for trouble.

And… as I’ve learned… things do change. Sometimes quite drastically.

Here’s what I know thus far:

  1. Attitude is everything. It was not that long ago when pessimism was my go-to drug of choice. Convinced that everything was either bad — or bad for me — it was easy to embrace negative thoughts, which begat negative results. When I eventually ditched the habits (and people) who fostered that behavior, a new world opened up. One where setbacks bring new directions, unknown things become adventures and disappointments become lessons. We really do speak life into everything we do, and as Nelson Mandela once said, “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  2. When people show you who they are… believe them. I’ve heard and read this many times before, but it is so true. In my younger years, I ignored the cues; guys who couldn’t be reached during the day, but call at rude hours of the night to see if you’re free, those who consider you coming directly to their house (or any place where there’s a bed or furniture that could accommodate sex) “dates”, people who relish in gossiping about someone in your mutual circle, relatives you hadn’t seen in years who reach out when they see you in a magazine… yadda, yadda. These days, I’m a little quicker on the draw, especially now that I’m of an age where mortality has become a thing. Once you start realizing you only have so many more years left before your mind and body start dictating the scene more, you get a little selective with how much time you wanna devote to BS.
  3. If you don’t value you, then who will? This was my biggest takeaway last year, when I said goodbye to people who didn’t value my friendship or company. It actually started at the end of 2012, when a chance run-in with a woman at a bar gave me one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life. Turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance who — shall we say — “overlapped” his time with us. In that instant, I realized I’d undervalued myself by being an option, as I’d known deep down that I wasn’t the “exclusive”. The moment I gave myself value, I gave myself a life I valued. Things fortunately fell into place from there.
  4. Be good to yourself. It’s always so easy to criticize ourselves, point out our flaws and take ourselves for granted. That’s all well and good, as long as you balance it out by treating yourself to a spa day, a nice dinner, or just some alone time somewhere where you are doing something that makes you happy. I’m a sucker for a massage and anything arts, music and culture related. Added bonus if all of the above are done in a faraway locale.
  5. Sex is exponentially better when you genuinely like the person you’re with. It’s official: my twenties SUCKED. Also — although it’s fared better — a good portion of my thirties too. In fact, I can honestly say that there is NOTHING better than being intimate with someone who you are on the same page with in every way. When you have mutual respect, understanding and… most importantly… trust, everything takes on a whole new mind-blowing level.
  6. Loyalty weeds out the riffraff. There’s a saying that goes “quality over quantity”. I’m fortunate in this lifetime to have been acquainted with and gotten to know so many amazing people. But I’ve come to learn the hard way the difference between people who call themselves your friend and the people who truly are friends. Case in point: There are about 600 or so people listed as my friend on Facebook, but if I’m having a shitty day and need to talk to someone who can give me a good “back in the day” story that makes me laugh til my ribs hurt, or remind me of something we’ve gone through together that tested us much more than said shitty day, then that number decreases by about 590. Even when life takes you in different directions, you always find a way back to a place where time stands still, and you know that person has your back in the event someone wants to stab you in it. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like that, then it’s easy to let go of anyone who thinks you must prove yourself to be their ideal and fit in their peg. Fuck ’em.
  7. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but you also don’t have to be relegated to a label. Although I’m more personally familiar with the term “broke” than I am “rich”, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, working for and with, getting to know and spend enjoyable times with people who are considered rich and famous. I’m not gonna lie, there have been times where I’ve asked myself “How the fuck did I get here?”, but the most important thing was never saying or thinking that I shouldn’t be. Of course, there have been times where the differences were more obvious and palpable (i.e. black girl in a predominantly white community setting), but I learned the only person that can truly make me feel like an outcast is me. Adversely, even with the experiences I’ve had, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
  8. When it’s right, it isn’t hard. I used to think relationships were supposed to be hard, and anything you want in life required some sort of struggle. There was, and is, a popular belief that if you aren’t constantly fighting then you must not care about a person or a cause. While I won’t debate that theory, I’ve come to see that not everything requires — or deserves — a fight. In my later years, it’s become clearer that when something is right for you, it fits seamlessly into the fabric of your being. The perfect career move. The perfect love story. Anything that’s meant to bring you joy and peace of mind should never bring you pain or stress. Childbirth, naturally, is excluded from this conversation.
  9. When it’s wrong, let it go. It’s not complicated. If it hurts you. If it makes you question your judgement. If it takes away your strength or power or joy… Let. It. Go.
  10. Forgive. Life is going to be filled with challenging times and personalities. Not everything is going to go your way. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint them, and even yourself. It’s the cycle of life. Nobody is perfect. We all have bad days, and sometimes they overcome our common sense and ability to have compassion. Holding on to whatever gave us grief is natural, but ultimately unhealthy if we want to function in society in a way that doesn’t scare people away. My greatest lesson in this life — thus far — has been to forgive. Forgive others, and above all forgive myself. It’s the greatest feeling of all.
  11. Find your happy place. For me, it was a mix of yoga, meditation and then finally embracing a Buddhism practice after years of just being curious. Once I began taking account of how my actions and thoughts either navigated or perpetuated something — good or bad — I became clearer on just how much power I have in whether it persists or if it ends. If things become overwhelming, I just breathe or chant. But if that doesn’t work…
  12. Wine is a magical elixir. It makes bad days go away. It makes you sleep better when your mind has been so busy racing that you can’t settle down. It makes Olivia Pope human again after she’s been so caught up saving folks in Washington and sleeping with the president and hot spies while simultaneously holding her own against a spicy first lady and all while looking fabulous in Prada and Max Mara coats. Okay, this last one was clearly my way of expressing excitement in the return of “Scandal” tomorrow (which I’ll be missing because I’ll be watching Audra McDonald slay as Lady Day on Broadway). But seriously, a glass of red can be a girl’s best friend. Two or more can be her worst enemy, if she’s not careful. What I’ve learned thus far is that when you yourself continue to get better with age, you learn to appreciate things that do so as well.

Given my life lessons thus far, I imagine I’m going to have yet another stupid-epic breakthrough… or a massive headache from all the crying and screaming I may do when Iyanla tries to fix our lives.

Thankfully, there will be meditation and yoga. I think this crowd is gonna need it… especially if they’re anything like me. (Which we all know they are.)

I’m packing lots of tissues…

Where the Heart Is

When it comes to the subject of love, I’d developed a fairly warped perspective over the years.

Some may have used the word “cynical” or perhaps “jaded”, even.

Like most people (with a vagina, whose estrogen levels are only slightly bested by oxygen), I had bought into the belief over time that all the Disney fairy tales, Harlequin novels and anything that wreaked of romance was the definition of true love. In other words, it didn’t exist unless there were grand gestures (preferably without “Jazz hands”).

To be fair, like many many disillusioned people out there, I’d come from a broken home and didn’t know better. Unfortunately, sex ed only taught you what things were and where they go, but glossed over the part about what emotions and actions should accompany any of it. Recipe for disaster…

Undoubtedly, it was by sheer fortune that two amazing women came into my life and provided me with one of the greatest examples of the truest, most unconditional love I’d ever witnessed. It was through watching them on their journey from courtship, to friendship, to relationship, to hardship (with acceptance) and finally partnership that I realized the true meaning of what it’s like to find your soul mate.

Much to the excitement of myself and a few dozen friends and family — and after nearly ten years, countless gatherings, and a couple of freshly passed laws — my friends El and Chris decided to make it official. When they asked me to officiate their ceremony, I didn’t think twice (well, once I found out it would be the second, non-traditional “symbolic” version, I didn’t).

During our consultation with the minister, I was asked why I’d agreed to do the ceremony, to which my response was simply “Because it’s them“. What had been unsaid, was that after observing them over the years, I learned the very thing that was missing from my education during my upbringing…

Through them I learned that beyond passion, there has to be compassion. That patience and tolerance are nonexistent terms when you’re with someone who “gets” you. That the right person will not try to “make you better”, but will instead bring out the best in who you already are, as you ideally would for them. That friendship takes any relationship to a higher level, and if you don’t like the person you’re with, loving them — authentically — is an uphill battle.

Of course, I also became more cognizant of these things while experiencing my own ups and downs in dating. The past year alone had been an invaluable awakening, as it found me coming to terms with my genuine feelings, and determining that settling was no longer an option. After coming off of two long-term pairings (the bulk of which were both miserable), I’d made a choice to go with my gut and walk away from anything that made me unhappy or uncomfortable.

Very often, men and women stay in relationships they should long have ended for the sake of “making things work,” because that’s what we’ve been told throughout history by people who, in retrospect, probably had numerous affairs and whose vested interest likely had monetary motivation. Or religious connotations. Or Tyler Perry.

Not only did the union I’d be a part of show me differently, but I’d come to see and feel it for myself thanks to a smart, confident, funny, wickedly charming and all-around beautiful man who has helped me make sense of it all in just a short period of time.

Tonight, while listening to a Deepak Chopra meditation about “Finding Love”, it felt as if — for the first time in my life — I was ahead of the class. As Deepak explained how having love within allows you to have a greater love for others, it resonated in ways I couldn’t imagine just a couple of years ago, but was keenly aware of now. Once I stopped fighting my heart and following it instead, it led me to a place that has been so effortless and pleasure-filled, that I’ve decided to allow it to guide all my other moves going forward. (Although asking it to choose winning Lotto numbers might be a stretch.)

Thirty-eight years later, all the intake of books, movies, songs, articles, blog and social media posts, soap operas and “reality TV” simply left me with an overstuffed — yet strangely malnourished — perception of something that comes quite naturally when you don’t force yourself to feel it.

When you think about it, most of the greatest love songs and stories are written by people who, in real life, suck at maintaining relationships. I imagine it’s because they write what they want love to be and what they think love should be, and the rest of us are drawn in by the semi-mutual feeling, and/or the “misery loves company/you’re not alone” aesthetic that comes with a particularly tear-inducing piece of work. Matchmakers and love experts are often single themselves, yet we look to them for guidance with our “happily ever after”.

(I’m reminded of a saying: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”)

This occurred to me when I found myself at an event having a conversation with two women; one was a lovely older woman in her fifties, whose husband was on the event’s committee, and would occasionally pop over to chat with his wife of over 30 years. The other was a self-proclaimed “relationship expert” in her late twenties, who had a blog touting many followers, and was — you guessed it — single. At some point, as the younger woman spoke about her relationship theories, the two of us gave each other knowing looks, and waited for her to get bored with us in order for her to move on and allow us to have the conversation we were meant to. It was that moment, when the decision was made never to take relationship advice from anyone who has not been happily married longer than two decades.

Life changing decision… trust.

And although I’ve stopped taking advice, I remain a constant pupil when it comes to the study of relationships. I understand that when you think you have nothing else to learn, that’s usually when you make the most egregious mistakes because you’ve taken something and/or someone for granted. (Clearly, I’ve dated a few “experts”.)

As I end this post at an ungodly hour, I do so with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to El and Chris, and to my “Jersey Boy” for showing this woman — whose vivid imagination often leads her astray — what it’s like to be part of something very real.

They’ve inspired me, in ways they may never know, to instead follow my own heart…

Until it stops beating.

All The Rage

Like almost every African American in my social network timeline, I went to see “The Best Man Holiday” on its opening weekend.

While my reaction wasn’t as effusive as my peers, I did enjoyed it for what it was: an entertaining film that brought back the days when movies that featured a predominantly black cast didn’t play up to any stereotypes. The days when movies like “Boomerang”, “Love Jones”, “Soul Food”, “Brown Sugar”, “Love & Basketball” and the first “Best Man” gave us a view of educated professionals, creative people following their passions, and families that were achieving middle and upper middle class success.

That was an era when great and sometimes compelling storytelling and positive and realistic imagery — ushered in by “The Cosby Show” — promoted the renaissance of black entertainment… a time when neo-soul music was coming up, hip hop was socially conscious and infusing jazz in their sound, and both were being incorporated into legendary soundtracks.

For whatever reason, it appeared this era was too brief for that genre. The films that brought career success to Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, and Morris Chestnut –to name a few — faded into obscurity, and made way for a new brand of movies that often went straight to video or played for a certain type of audience who were content with watered down characters who were more caricatures than three dimensional.

Today, nearly fifteen years later, what should be a simple celebration of an entertaining movie and a revival of that craft, has now escalated into heated debates and unnecessary comparisons.

From a poorly worded USA Today article — where the author was dumfounded by the film’s ability to nearly keep pace with “Thor” despite being in a thousand fewer theaters and called it “race themed” — to a cavalcade of online militants who’ve grown tired of the crop of “slave genre” movies, Malcom D. Lee’s movie found itself with the unwanted and unwarranted baggage of other people’s expectations.

Although the film’s second half took an emotional turn, the overall romantic comedy was suddenly pitted against a juggernaut of a comic franchise that is Marvel (one that, it should be noted, had two black lead actors in the cast), and unfairly dubbed the antidote to more somber flicks such as “Fruitvale Station”, “The Butler”, and “12 Years a Slave”. Message boards still reeling from “Django Unchained” urged people to support the movie for reasons beyond its feel-good nature. Deep sighs of relief from people suffering “Tyler Perry backlash” could be heard across the nation. The shade being thrown was enough to blind you from the beautiful and seemingly ageless cast that just set out to make a warmhearted Christmas-themed sequel with friendship, love and forgiveness at its core.

I suppose these days, when movie-going has become a fairly expensive pastime, one tends to be a bit more selective and discerning when it comes to how and what your hard earned money is spent on. And when the caliber of entertainment being ladled down your throat on a regular basis comprises mostly of train-wreck reality programs where positive messages are severely lacking, then it’s no wonder when smartly written shows like “Scandal”, and anything where the lead characters are prominent African Americans in non-submissive roles conjure up the kind of emotion mostly felt on graduation day.

But the rage is just overwhelming. My fear is that our propensity to get fired up about everything is just going to end up burning bridges of opportunity time and again.

Granted, the onslaught of material tackling the disturbing subjects of slavery and racial discrimination appear excessive when you’ve been inundated by it in the past couple of years. It would also seem that the timing couldn’t be more unfortunate, as ignorant actions and statements appears to be on the rise. But where “Django” was a cartoonish revenge fantasy (much like “Inglorious Basterds”, which ironically didn’t fire up as much outrage in the Jewish community), this year’s crop of stories were either based on factual events and people, or derived from a true story. It’s an interesting commentary, given that decades ago Alex Haley was once heralded for sharing the story of his ancestors in his epic novel, which became the historic TV movie, “Roots”.

One would think at a time when Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team of historians launched the spectacular documentary series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” on PBS, the time would be ripe for embracing and appreciating true stories that shine light and perspective on the hardships and triumphs faced by black people in general, and open up dialogue in communities starving for respect and recognition while struggling with identity and self-esteem in a continually shifting social and economic climate.

Which is probably why “TBMH” was such a breath of fresh air. Like its predecessors, it allowed the audience to view a world where the black people had success in their careers and relationships (or saw any challenges with them neatly resolved by the time the credits rolled), and were treated equally — and even adoringly in one case — by the white cast members.

Most importantly, race never had a starring role in this movie… Love did.

Perhaps the painful reminders of a flawed and tragic history and reality is still too much of a jagged pill to swallow, and we prefer our entertainment more diluted and, yes, a bit melodramatic as a means of escape.

It is, after all, entertainment. Maybe we do need to see a crying (and shirtless!) Morris Chestnut, a snarky Terrence Howard, and a New Edition tribute to make it all better… at least for two solid hours.

Given the sheer joy it’s brought millions of people thus far… I’m gonna go with a resounding “Yes.”

 

The Year of Living

It’s November…

It’s that time of the year when you realize it’s coming to an end soon.

For me, it’s the time my month-long introspection leading up to my birthday begins.

In all seriousness, 2013 has been fucking awesome.  

No. I didn’t strike it rich. Nah, I’m still simply infamous within my own circle of friends, former cohorts and occasional acquaintances.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way… although I wouldn’t take issue with having more money.

What made this year so amazing is that it was, in essence, “the year of living”. Not exactly dangerously (although I did almost jump out of a plane yesterday — had those pesky clouds not spoiled it), but truly living and fully appreciating my life and taking big chances.

This year, I rang in the new year at the Barclays Center watching Coldplay and Jay Z sing “Auld Lang Syne” as confetti rained on my head. I resigned from a job considered great for social-climbing, but draining for my soul (and immunity system). Braving bitter cold, I joined the throngs who stood outside the Capital to watch the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. Found a job at a company that feeds my creative passion; where my colleagues treat me with the utmost respect, shower me with praise and encouragement, and give me things like insurance, vacation days and “summer Fridays” — the first time I’ve ever had that in my entire work life.

This was just the first three months…

The following months would see me spending quality time with incredible people taking in great art, music, sporting events, movies and important teaching moments where rage and emotion ran deep. The spring and summer months saw me boarding planes to Miami, Savannah, Panama and Toronto (a few times).

Truth be told, that was fucking exhausting. Fun. Exhilarating even… but exhausting.

This year I learned to let go of things and people who weren’t healthy for me. It wasn’t as deliberate as it was natural. At some point, you realize whose around for the party, and who’s with you when there’s no music (or other methods of escape) playing the role of artificial bond. And you just let things be.

This is the year of self restoration, where my body and soul discovered the joys and benefits of yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. Nothing brings me back to a place of calm and resolve like a good “Om” and chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. I’ve found it lifts my inhibitions the way alcohol or weed would, except I don’t get a headache, nausea or slight remorse afterwards.

This year has been unprecedented when it comes to physical activity that doesn’t involve sex (well, exclusively anyway). Aside from yoga, I’ve also completed my first 5K race, my first Breast Cancer walk in years, and my first indoor rock climbing experience. Also, a special shout-out to aerial silk class, for simultaneously making me look and feel like a graceful acrobat and temporarily cutting off the circulation in my hands and feet. Pink makes that shit look so easy — and she sings while she does it! I’m pretty sure her stage name also stands for the color of her fingers and toes as she belts out those songs.

Speaking of sex, I gladly took a break from it until I committed to dating someone who connected with me beyond physical chemistry. As I’ve come to value the role communication and friendship plays in building a worthwhile relationship, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced the pleasure of being intimate with someone who makes me laugh, makes me think, and recognizes and encourages me to value all that I have to offer. In turn, I’ve found how quickly and easily things flow when you mutually have that kind of connection as opposed to forcing one based on a desire to not be alone.

The best part of this year by far has been my father. Two years ago, there would have been expletives in correlation with that word. Today, my father provides me with some of the happiest moments in the simplest form. When he answers the phone “Hey baby!” after hearing my voice. When he continuously hugs and kisses me during my visits. When he lets me cut his ridiculously long fingernails. When he remembers a detail without me having to repeat it about six times in one conversation (a rarity). When I hear he doesn’t need as much insulin because his sugar levels are good. When I hear he’s recognized an old classmate before they got a chance to approach him at a 50-plus year reunion. When I hear he’s gone outside for a walk. And finally, when he looks me in the eye after widening his own after a long pause, and randomly reveals that while I didn’t grow up in the way he had hoped, he was proud of the way I had, and of the woman I’d become as a result.

Nothing could really top that…

While the remaining two months of this epic year have plenty of opportunities for equally memorable moments, the past ten have been nothing short of a sensational dream. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but that’s made it all the more perfectly balanced.

It takes a year like this to restore your faith in the beauty of life when just a few years ago you momentarily considered ending it.

When I think of the lovely beaches and people of Panama… The majesty of the Falls and the lush vineyards of Niagara Lake a drive away from the clean and beautiful city of Toronto… Being so close to Chris Martin you could literally touch him as he and the band head back to the stage during an encore… Cheering, booing and crying with a million strangers on a chilly D.C. morning… Crossing a finish line as a crowd cheers you on… And even getting close enough to jumping out the plane… How could I not value every minute and every breath of air spent this year having these experiences, and not look forward to more to come?

The last year that had this kind of impact on me was 1996. That was the year I made my first trip to London, Paris and Versailles, experienced the Olympics firsthand while working in the Olympic Village during the Atlanta games, and had an internship with a magazine that ended up putting me in two of the editorial stories and spent my days playing dress up in sample closets, taking Polaroids of ugly prom dresses and making showroom appointments for a beloved market editor who now goes by the name of Rachel Zoe.

I doubt my appreciation for years will lapse as drastically going forward.

I drink far too much wine now to let that happen again.

Looking forward to picking up a bottle of a 2013 vintage. Even if the wine itself is crap (seeing as there’s a crop crisis — thanks global warming), when I say “it was a good year”, it’ll be with the utmost sincerity… and maybe a bit of nostalgia.

So… what’s your year been like so far?