In The End

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By now, many, if not all of you, have read about, heard about and talked about the deaths of designer Kate Spade and chef/adventurer/humanitarian extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain. Both were shocking, but none more so to the world than the latter.

As the world grappled to find an explanation as to why two people who were at the top of their respective games and had fame, fortune and influence to boot would end their lives, those of us who’ve actually contemplated taking our own knew the answer: They were simply done.

Both Spade and Bourdain found success bucking the norms. In a sea of sameness when it came to handbags and accessories, the “kate spade” brand was a quirky and colorful breath of fresh air, and her personality was equally as such. For Bourdain, he literally pulled up the rug and exposed all the unsavory critters that embodied the restaurant industry, while still maintaining his passion for good food and the importance of the industry as a whole. He then bolstered his newfound notoriety into an enviable career where he traveled the world, told the stories of its people, and found community and unity in the sharing of a meal. For those of us who still haven’t managed to live following our passions, this would seem like the dream.

But there’s a price for that life, and every day, more and more people who seemingly “have it all” have been paying it.

They call it “mental health issues,” but what it really is is a lack of self care. It’s the instinct of wanting to make sure everyone else is taken care of around you, and that everyone’s needs are being served, while ignoring your own. It’s keeping up appearances so people “don’t think of you as a burden.” It’s empowering others while secretly believing you have no power. It’s listening to assholes who mock people for oversharing on social media, and then wonder why they were the last to know when someone close to them has a breakdown. It’s not acknowledging your self worth.

It’s prioritizing everything else above being authentic with yourself, listening to your heart and body, and  having the courage and good sense to walk away from the noise and take a day, a week, or even a month to devote to what makes you whole. It’s pride. It’s shame. It’s anxiety. It’s isolation. It’s denial. It’s reckless.

And, to quote Linkin’ Park’s Chester Bennington (another famous person who succumbed to suicide), “in the end…it doesn’t even matter.”

Because people will pontificate about what could possibly be so bad about life where you give up on it. There’ll be think pieces and statuses posting the suicide hotline aplenty. But unless those people have genuinely shown an interest in something beyond the glitz and glamour of your exterior life, they’re kinda feeding into the reason it’s become moot. While we are ultimately responsible for our life choices, being surrounded by people who only respond to you when you do something they find appeasing is a shitty way to live.

That’s why I value the small number of women in my life who I can reach out to when things get heavy (and right now, things are heavier than a cargo ship carrying automobiles on concrete slabs). Even though we are all currently embroiled in some form of unpleasantness in our lives, we know the best way to cope and/or get through it is to reach out and have that network of folks who check in, listen to us and call us on our shit when we fall into the default response of “everything’s fine.” Because we all are acutely aware of how freeing vulnerability is, and yet we still struggle to be just that because we were taught to be “strong.”

That’s also why I’m suspect of people who mostly post “hot selfies,” and travel pics talking about how great life is. They aren’t real. That’s also why I’m never surprised when a story about an Instagram influencer or some social media personality that made heaps of money getting graft while promoting perfection, ends up having a spectacular meltdown and revealing how they were “living a lie.” That’s also why I really don’t fuck with people who only comment on my throwback pics and/or semi-glamour shots, and stay radio silent when I speak on subjects like traumas, injustice and how the current political climate feeds into them.

A few weeks ago, there was another suicide that had made the news, and it was too close for comfort. A woman leaped from the balcony of a hotel, carrying her 7 year-old son in tow. As I read the story, it occurred to me that the woman was the ex-wife of my former chiropractor, and the child was his son. My immediate response was shock, anger and heartbreak because there was a child’s life taken involuntarily. But it became clearer that the man I’d found to be extremely pleasant and doting on his wife and child (at the time) as he adjusted my spine, may have had some demons of his own for this woman to see no other option than to end their lives.

I’ve said all this to say that society gets so caught up in the presentation that they miss the work that goes into the final product. We see ducks and swans floating gracefully on the water while they furiously paddle underneath and out of sight. We see pristine works of art in museums and galleries, unaware of the chaos of an artist’s studio (and perhaps even more so in their heads). We celebrate a culture where people get famous for sharing glamorous, opulent illusions of perfection, while shunning those who show the gritty and not-so-aesthetically pleasing parts. We prefer pageantry over process.

This is why Bourdain’s death was so hard to grasp; he showed us both the beauty and the grit of this world, and he called bullshit on those who only wanted to keep the ruse going for their personal gains. Sadly, those people far outnumbered people like him.

In the end…that matters.

 

 

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My Sister’s Keeper

When they aren’t selling your information to the highest bidding megalomaniac, or creeping you out with hyper-targeted ads of something you maybe mentioned in a text message five minutes before, Facebook is actually not too awful a place to be sometimes.

For me, it’s a place where I can keep up with relatives I haven’t seen in years, and/or live in places that I’m sociopolitically allergic to. A place where I’m privy to the success or struggles of classmates I promised I’d keep in touch with in our yearbooks, but realized that required actual work to do so. (Shoutout to my college sister-friends for occasionally restoring my sanity and faith in humans in the group chat!) And, most importantly, a place that keeps me informed about birthdays and stances that either deepen my connection with someone, or validate any suspicions I had as to why I never quite connected with them.

Yesterday, it became a place where a pretty big “Aha” moment in my life transpired, and it started an unexpected wellspring of emotion, and hopefully something much bigger.

It all began when I posted the following status:

“Just saw a video in which a group of female 45 voters expressed their opinion on the Stormy Daniels affair. Not surprisingly, they doubled-down on their support for their man, and lambasted Daniels, saying she was in it for the money and degrading her.

Just as I was about to post that video, I paused. I was ready to say “What kind of woman would still support this man after all that he’s said and done, and then drag and ridicule a woman for speaking her truth?”

I stopped because I realized that these women aren’t anomalies. I, too, have defended and forgiven men who I knew to be absolute trash in their behavior towards women – including myself – but was kinder in my thoughts and actions toward them, than I’ve been with women who simply gave me the minutest attitude. (I deemed a former female friend “dead to me” for disparaging me behind my back, but have had cordial interactions with a man who nearly choked the life out of me. That’s just crazy!)

And I’m not alone.

This has brought me to the very horrifying discovery that there are SO many of us who’ve accepted that men are entitled to behave badly, and women are expected to just shut up about it. We’ve been conditioned to forgive, laugh it off, and look the other way. That’s kinda effed up when you think about it. The possibility that WE are OUR OWN worst enemies.

There are monstrous men out here wrecking lives and legislation because there are women in their circle doing the absolute least to check them, and instead are cheering them on. The chants tend to be louder when the woman being punished is a free-thinker.

That’s a real sobering takeaway during this Women’s History Month.

Just saying.”

What happened after that was magical.

While it didn’t “go viral” or bring me internet fame, it did spark a conversation that we’ve sorta been having during the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but haven’t really had until Stormy Daniels admitted on national television to having sex with someone she didn’t really want to have sex with because she felt she’d placed herself in that situation and therefore must follow through. It’s the same awkward discussion we had when Aziz Ansari was placed in the spotlight for essentially being a bad lay.

But I digress. The point is, women were attacking Daniels’ character, instead of considering the character of a man who had unprotected sex with a person whose profession is literally having sex with people she barely knows on camera, while his wife was nursing their newborn child. A man who has a history of infidelity, misogyny and questionable and unethical decisions, yet still was elected President of the United States. A man who makes cringe-worthy comments about his daughter, normalizes racism and discrimination and comments about grabbing women by their vaginas gets a moral pass, but a woman looking to set the record straight and fight for her family’s safety gets lambasted.

This is the world we live in.

A world where boys will be boys, and the shit they say is just “locker room talk.” Where they can knock a woman unconscious in an elevator, but still get signed to a team before the guy who takes a knee to protest injustice and police brutality. Where they can beat a woman til she’s unrecognizable, or record themselves urinating on a minor, and still sell out venues and have countless female fans and collaborators in the years since. Where they can force their mistresses to have abortions, while simultaneously structuring laws to keep other women from terminating an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Where they can shack up with their stepdaughters and still have actors clamoring to star in their films. Where they can play fast and loose with the rules that govern and protect, but get you ejected from the game for your emails. Fucking emails.

Coming to terms with my own permissive history was the breakthrough I needed not just to comprehend the mindset of the women who looked the other way, but to understand that there is a disturbing pervasiveness of double-standards globally that has shaped societies for centuries, and we are still woefully compliant to them.

When I think of all the shit I let slide, it’s really disturbing, and yet it makes perfect sense why I’m single. The insults. The verbal abuse. The physical abuse. The unannounced children. The unannounced live-in girlfriend. The unannounced wife. The unannounced move to other cities. The unannounced resentment, and my new favorite: The unannounced intent to punish women stemming from maternal neglect and/or conflict. Until fairly recently, this all seemed normal…until one day it didn’t.

But for many women, it is still normal. It makes more sense for us to say “He’s just going through some things,” or “That’s just the way men are,” instead of “What the fuck is your trigger, and why can’t you handle your shit in a way that doesn’t punish everyone else around you?”

And it’s because of our desire to keep the peace where men are concerned, we end up doing more damage to our fellow sex, and future generations of boys who will grow up thinking it’s okay to disrespect women, and girls who won’t be able to identify the disrespect until it’s too late. We break our necks coddling male egos, while simultaneously ignoring the very people who need guidance and encouragement the most.

That’s probably why the swift justice bestowed to Harvey Weinstein, and the movements that followed, were initially so confusing to process. We’d just voted in a man who admitted on-camera to sexual assault, but somehow found outrage that brought down one of the most powerful men in entertainment. We still treat Bill Clinton as a rock star, while Monica Lewinsky still can’t have a career without ridicule, and Hillary is still being dragged for everything she says and does despite losing to a man who — once again — admitted on-camera to sexual assault. Let that sink in.

So how do we break the cycle of condoning the transgressions of men, while simultaneously holding a safe space for women to tell their stories and heal from their experiences?  How do we come to that place where we own our shit and say “Hey, maybe we are much harder on women than we are on men because we live in a society constructed by men?” How do we come to terms with the very real fact that the men we revere as fathers, brothers, friends, mentors, lovers, legends, etc., are capable of committing unspeakably evil things against other women, children and just people in general that they don’t deem on their level?

Maybe the first step is admitting that we aren’t perfect, and to own and accept that we can be biased, frightened people who do what we can to survive, and it’s much easier to sweep things under a rug, than do a deep-clean and start fresh sometimes. The problem with that, is there are people breathing in the residual filth we leave behind…and it can be toxic.

I’m heartened by the recent cultural shifts that have seen more women in the forefront as heroes, warriors and leaders in activism and slowly but surely on the political spectrum. I celebrate the voices of a young generation that basically just told us that they’re fed up with our nonsense, and “since we’re not old enough to drink beer, keep holding yours while we figure out how to get these assholes you blindly voted into office out.”

And I appreciate the men out there who embrace, support and encourage all of this necessary change without taking it as an affront to their existence.

That said, being my sister’s keeper doesn’t mean Stacy Dash and her ilk get a pass.

Just sayin’…

 

 

 

Pull The Trigger

There is no greater buzz kill than returning to New York on Christmas Day.

This was my takeaway after leaving my family in Philadelphia, as they were preparing to host Christmas dinner. In the midst of the Cavalier/Warriors basketball game.  I knew then that I’d regret that decision. I was correct.

Heart already heavy from the realization that I’d spent less than 24 hours with them before heading back, the lateness of the train to Trenton, the loneliness of sitting and walking in silence for four hours, and the return to a city awash in people just trying to find their place in it, stole whatever joy I managed to muster in those brief moments filled with laughter, long tight hugs, deep conversations and an unexpectedly fun game involving a shit-ton of saran wrap.

It has taken me hours to place the source of my sadness: Everything feels unstable in my life right now.

On the surface, things look great. I’m in the most ideal job, home and relationship that I’ve ever been in throughout all of my forty-two years. And it scares me to death to think that it’s all too good to be true. But the last few weeks have me bracing for a future in which I’m about to find out how much I’m capable of handling on my own…again.

Which brings me to my parents. Because everything ultimately leads back to the people who made you.

There are days when I resented them. There are days I pitied them. There are days when I try to understand where their heads were at when they thought it was okay to leave me with strangers, neighbors and members of their families who turned out to be child molesters. There have been days where I’ve felt personally affronted when they’d get credit for my accomplishments in life, when neither had been in it full time since I was twelve. And there are days when I accept the fact that they had no idea what they were doing and – in the case of my father – eventually did the best he could, considering he didn’t have the most nurturing parents.

Last year after my father’s passing, I unexpectedly found myself digesting story after story about how involved my father was in the lives of so many people. Normally, that would cause a swelling of pride to know how beloved your dad was, and how many lives he touched and impacted. The thing is…he was being other people’s hero during the years I struggled to pay tuition, find a job that paid a livable wage and compensate for his absence with remarkably insecure and occasionally abusive partners after deeming myself unloveable (the thought you have when your parents are alive and well, but not involved in your life).

And while years of tough conversations in our later lives healed that wound enough to compel me to assume the role of his caregiver in his final years, the pain of the time and moments lost will never fully go away.

In my adult life, it has manifested itself into someone who is fiercely independent, but constantly seeking connection. Terrified of becoming her mother, no longer interested in becoming mother, but strangely aware that her ability to listen to and comprehend children would’ve made her a great mother. Someone who now knows that words unspoken lead to opportunities unrealized…for better or worse. Someone who somehow managed to take decades of trauma, fear, anger and resentment, and turn it into the fuel that keeps her going in her daily journeys to a place where she finds peace, love and acceptance in who she is…and who she isn’t.

Someone who is still struggling to understand what’s become of this world in the past year; where it seems everyone is reminding her of her parents, — in the sense that they willingly chose roles in which they have a responsibility to take care of people, but everything goes to shit because they’re too busy serving their own interests and enriching their own lives while those who need help suffer from neglect.

See what I did there?

This whole year has been a trigger of near catastrophic levels. As vocal as I’ve been over the past year and change to friends, family and the social media world, the words somehow escaped me to truly express how I feel about all this chaos.

To be reminded on a daily basis that there are people in power whose mission in life is to take away my power takes me to places only this blog and my therapist can pull me out of.

With that, I’m going into 2018 absolutely terrified, yet still acutely aware that I’ve done this before.

And I’m still here.

I have to believe there’s something good about that.

Even if it’s to testify that things can – and will – get better.

Also: If they haven’t already, your parents will fuck you up in some way, shape or form. I cannot stress the importance of having a fantastic support system, an openness to look into your self to clean and mend the wounds properly, and let go of the things you thought you knew so you can learn something new.

The past can be our anchor, or it can be our teacher.

We still have the power to choose which it will be.

Happy New Year.

 

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?

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.

 

Beggars and Choosers

A tale of 3 beggars:
Beggar #1 holds the door outside the local Chinese restaurant’s take-out extension; greeting and holding out their hand for tips from exiting patrons who have just bought a meal or accessed their money from the ATM. After securing a satisfactory amount of money for themselves, they then stroll over to the restaurant’s dine-in portion, where they order take-out…and then jump into a cab with a friend. At first it seems outrageous, but then you realize they’ve just redistributed the handouts from others hard-earned cash to the restaurant and the cab driver. (But they still didn’t work for anything – they just subsist on a principle akin to “the circle of life.”)

This person has created an opportunity for themselves and others by seeking handouts for their survival.

Beggar #2 is holding a cardboard sign that says “Need money for weed.”

This person isn’t pretending their situation is bleak, but their addiction is dire (to them), and they feel entitled to your assistance. They’re telling you up front that you’re financially supporting their end goal. They don’t want to harm anyone, they just want everyone to be happy, and they’re giving you the power of choice at all times – as good salespeople do. Emboldened by this empowerment, you approve their self-serving and occasionally counterintuitive desires, with the understanding that they’ll be nice to you…but will ultimately do what’s in their best interests.

Beggar #3 is offensive and aggressive; loudly rattling a cup of change they already had in pursuit of more from others to build their wealth. They slam subway doors, pushing or frightening people as they make their way through the car, make snide and/or threatening comments if you haven’t given them anything, and shamelessly impose on your commute, peace of mind and loose coins. 

Although you fear this person a little, you give them what they want in hopes they’ll make good, leave you and your loved ones in peace and you can say you supported a winner. It’s also simultaneously off-putting and mesmerizing how brazen this person is in their quest to get what they want. You’d have some respect for them…if they weren’t stinking up the place and giving your hometown a bad reputation with the rest of the world.

In the end, they all just want to win at life – and run your life – on your dime. Either way…your gonna lose something in the process of giving them what they want.

Question is, what are you gaining in the process?

Ladies and gentlemen…

The current state of our election year.

Huzzah.

Mirror, Mirror

Forgive me for the unusually long hiatus.

It’s not that I’ve been extremely busy (although I kinda was), nor was it the absence of a topic of discussion. I think we all can agree that over the last few months, there’s been nothing but discussions.

Yet, every time I sat down to write about it, I found myself in that unenviable position every one of us has suffered at one point or another, where I just could not.

But now, I’ve been inspired by — of all things — television.

Unlike my younger days, where I sat for hours transfixed to a television with the intensity of a One Direction fan, these days I’m often out of the loop on most things that show up on most-watched lists, and the equivalent of “water-cooler” conversations.

Like a number of people from my generation, I watched TV not only to pass the time, but to transport myself to imaginary worlds where people had money, adventures, superpowers and even cool, talking cars. As a kid in a single parent home, I also got comfort from seeing the family comedies, where there was a mom and a dad who worked together to teach their kids valuable lessons in comedic ways.

As time passed, those shows – “Dynasty” “MacGuyver” “Wonder Woman” “Knight Rider” “Good Times” “The Brady Bunch” “The Cosby Show” “Family Ties” et al – disappeared, and in their place were shows where real people engaged in shameless acts of desperation for attention, exposure and seemingly lucrative payoffs.

That’s when I tuned out. The fantasy of my childhood shows at least gave me hope of a better life than the one I was currently living. The “reality” was just a depressing commentary on the extreme measures people will take to make their own fantasies come true.

And then Shonda Rhimes came on the scene… Making both history, and shows I could somewhat relate to or, at the very least, enjoy.

From “Grey’s Anatomy” to my current addictions “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder”, Rhimes and her team of writers created stories that teetered on both lines of fantasy and reality. In the case of Grey’s and Scandal, the shows would mix raw and genuine human emotions with the fantasy of teasing happily ever after scenarios that often go horribly awry. A couple who pined for each other after parting ways would reunite, only to have one die in a plane crash. A taboo love affair with the President of the United States gets the bizarre blessing from his wife.

I mean, really, how the fuck is that real life?

But this past Thursday, Shonda and her team outdid themselves, when “Scandal” took a much-needed turn from a nonsensical plot line to deliver the most heavy-hitting episode in its history. In it, they tackled a subject that had gripped the country — myself included — for the last six months: The Ferguson incident.

For anyone who’s been living in a self-imposed bubble, the story of unarmed teenager Mike Brown being gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has been widespread news. What had already began as a tragedy with the death of an unarmed youth, escalated further by the police department’s refusal to discuss the case until they had found evidence — which would later reveal to be false — that the victim had committed a criminal act which, in their opinion, justified the shooting. The public’s frustration with the police and media seemingly depicting minority victims as criminals had reached its peak, sparking riots in Ferguson and a wave of protests around the country. Everyone from pundits to presidents in other countries sounded off on what had become a firestorm and a black-eye (literally) for the United States of America.

…So Shonda and her team took every sound bite, every perspective and every character and caricature that has lent a voice to this chapter in American history, and lumped it into one very emotional hour of television drama.

In her version, the father of a slain son becomes his protector by sitting with the body while holding a shotgun until justice has been served to clear his son’s name. The police chief hires a black crisis control consultant to mediate the situation before it escalated to chaos. The president, still reeling from the death of his own son, agonized over the shooting, but is advised not to make any public statements due to the hotbed issue.  The crisis consultant has her team investigate the truth, which revealed the shooting officer’s guilt. The officer is then arrested and the victim is cleared. The father is then taken to the White House by the crisis consultant to meet the president and weep in his arms. Credits roll as the episode is neatly tied up with a bow.

In between all the fantasy, there were bits of reality: The anger of the community over another unjustified physical and character assassination. The charismatic, boisterous and occasionally manipulative black activist who uses rhetoric under the guise of good intentions, which ultimately encourage further destructive and counterproductive crowd behavior. The politician who jumps in to give their two cents in hopes of bolstering their presence and agenda with the fifteen minutes of media fame they’ve been allotted. The police chief who’s more concerned with the image of his department than the situation at hand, or the respect and trust of the people he’s supposed to protect and serve by resolving things peacefully and professionally. A crowd of people who are justifiably angry over their mistreatment, but unaware of how their own actions and reactions further alienate them from the sympathies of society and, sadly, justice. The police officer whose resentment over the attitudes of the community and his own deep-seeded disdain for their ethnicity severely clouds his judgement and makes him a ticking time-bomb in a job he clearly should not have. And a president who’s damned if he does say something, and damned if he doesn’t.

As stated before, I’ve had difficulty putting into words what I’ve been feeling over the last few months. As I’ve listened and watched people sound off on this, the Bill Cosby allegations and even stupid shit like a reality show based on sorority girls, I’ve wondered — sometimes out loud — how African-Americans pick and choose what they’re outraged about.

For instance: Why is it hilarious when women act a damn fool for ratings and lauded for their ambition in one show, but dragged to hell and “read to filth” because they wore letters in another? Why is it funny when Kanye West slut-shames Amber Rose for being an exotic dancer, when his wife had sex on camera with another man and built a fucking family empire from it? Speaking of “Empire,” why are people up in arms over the character depictions on a show that is a fictional scripted drama, when we grew up watching soap operas with absurd and borderline psychotic plot lines? Why is it okay for rap artists to spit lyrics about putting “molly” in a woman’s drink, but when it’s revealed that everyone’s favorite TV dad did it in real life, suddenly the women are liars? Where is that same outrage that prompted the now famous #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, when a video of black people fighting goes viral? Where is the same call for action when another black youth or innocent bystander falls victim to revenge and/or gang violence, or just a kid with anger management issues from being abused at home or school?

Maybe it’s just too hard to see ourselves, or own our hurtful behavior, beliefs and habits when they’re reflected in so-called “art” for public consumption and scrutiny. It’s easier to point fingers and talk about what any other race but our own have done to embarrass or degrade our culture.

We spend a short month reminding ourselves how wonderful and majestic our history is; how many people of color changed the world by inventing groundbreaking medical and scientific techniques and countless household items, and blazed trails that have set legal and human rights precedents. How important it is to recognize and support black achievement. We quickly — and loudly — derided the Academy Awards for “snubbing” the movie “Selma”and its director, Ava DuVernay, citing the monumental impact of the event on which the film is based.

But for all the pomp and circumstance we built around the historical significance of honoring the movie on the fiftieth anniversary of the march itself, upon closer inspection, we failed to notice that the box office take of “Selma” was significantly less than the average Kevin Hart movie. Meaning we also snubbed the movie by not supporting it in the theaters!! In fact, we snubbed it more by not doing so, sending a far more dangerous message about our hypocrisy than an Oscar nod ever could.

As much as it makes people uncomfortable, I’m happy there are now shows that rip the band-aid off of the once taboo subject of talking about race and the issues we all face. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Jewish. African. Arabic. All. Of. Us. Be it discrimination, or even quiet-as-kept subjects like sexual abuse and incest — which was covered in a searing episode of “How To Get Away With Murder” (and may earn Cicely Tyson another award) — we need to see ourselves and our stories so we can maybe… hopefully… start the conversations and actions that create necessary changes.

Understandably, people get rattled when the lines between fantasy and reality get a little blurry, when all they want is to escape to a world where they can be entertained. But more and more, society is showing us that we can no longer look away or tune out when something doesn’t appease us.

If we can hold sports, entertainment and political figures accountable for their “scandals”, surely we can do the same for our own… Can’t we?

It all starts by looking in the mirror…