All The Things We Leave Behind

Tragedy never strikes when it’s convenient.

That was the hard truth I learned Sunday afternoon while en route to see – of all things – “Amy,” the documentary about Amy Winehouse.

As I stood in my own little world on the platform at Church Avenue, desperately looking at my phone to avoid any interpersonal connection that would distract me from my mission, readying myself to board the incoming Q train…I see a Facebook post that changed (or, dare I say, punctuated) the course of the day.

A woman I’d known through one of my best friends, an esteemed writer and jewel of a person I regret not spending more time with when she lived here, posted a status expressing her heartbreak at the passing of another mutual friend…one who had crossed my mind only moments before during my walk to the train station.

My initial reaction was disbelief. I’d known he was in the process of finishing his novel and he was wrapping up other projects and had a flair for dramatic expression. I thought it was a joke. I texted another friend who’d introduced us, and inquired about his whereabouts and headed into BAM to watch the movie.

I checked Facebook once more, and this time was informed he’d had a heart attack, to which I immediately asked “How could a heart so big just give out?” Then I exhaled, exhaled again, turned off my phone and watched the movie. Numb.

At the time, I didn’t know if watching the story of a troubled and tremendous talent like Winehouse would be better or worse in terms of helping me deal with the reality I would face when the lights came back up. We all know how the story ended there. It just seemed as if I were adding fuel to the fire. Piling on more stories of lives cut too short.

As it turned out, it was the best thing.

Like Amy, my friend Brook was an immensely gifted writer who made a name for himself through his prose and simply being his authentic self. While he didn’t belt out a song the way she did, or possess an obscene amount of demons that would ultimately lead to self-destruction, he did leave his mark on the world indelibly.

Unlike Amy, Brook was the product of a close-knit and nurturing family, one that lauded education and ancestral history, and taught him to embrace and appreciate all things different and new. He developed a sense of adventure, a love for life and good food, and believed in – and cultivated – a world with no boundaries and full of boundless potential.

It was no surprise that those of us drawn into his circle were all of the same mind and spirit. It is also no surprise that when we all learned of his passing, we found it incomprehensible that he was no longer here.

Creatives by nature can be notoriously moody, self-absorbed, reclusive and in the case of the really good ones…absolute assholes. He was neither of these things.

That’s not to say he didn’t have “quirks.” We all do.

But at his core, you would never find another person more generous with his time, and more ready to take on the world. Even when he stumbled.

He was also very passionate about changing the world, and did his part as a writer, a teacher, a mentor, a cultural vessel, a friend, and a man who simply had a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, and knowing exactly how to start – or guide – the conversation.

Although he didn’t have the level of fame Amy had, Brook Stephenson’s name is legend amongst those in the know; a staggering creative collective comprised of artists, writers, music makers, tastemakers and all-around genuine spirits who’ve created the glorious multicultural fabrics that make New York, Detroit, Atlanta and beyond, hotbeds of realized (and soon-to-be-realized) potential.

Reflecting on these lives and the legacies they’ve created in such a short time on this earth forced me to acknowledge not only that I have yet to realize my own potential, but to truly consider exactly what legacy I’m poised to leave behind if, and when, I finally do.

It’s common for death to inspire self-reflection and a more keen sense of our own mortality, but how often do we truly take an account of the footprints we leave on this planet? How have we lived? Have we really lived? How have we treated others? How have we served others? What have we contributed to this life and the lives of others? Have we done so because we were motivated by accolades, acceptance, padded profiles and increased value on the theoretical food chain, or did we do it simply because it was good to do? Have we used our gifts to the best of our ability to be the best with our ability?

Am I waxing poetic because I feel an incredible surge of guilt for not seeing my friend in the last year? Perhaps. Am I being haunted by his constant motivational chant of “If not you, then who?” Abso-fucking-lutely. Am I doing exactly what he told me to do right at this moment…something I haven’t done in the last five months…despite having lots of material to write about? Yep, it sure does look that way.

Fans. Friends. Family. Foes. Foundations. We all ultimately leave something behind when this life comes to an end.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Now that you’ve answered that…make it happen.

Right now.

Lost and Found in Newark

Last Friday and Saturday, a mass of thousands gathered in Newark, New Jersey, for Oprah’s “Life You Want” weekend.

I was one of them.

Along with Madame O, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell and Iyanla Vanzant united to share insights and stories that were sometimes humorous and oftentimes heart-wrenching — all for the purpose of guiding us to discover our true callings.

Having only watched a handful of her talk show, barely reading my “O” magazine subscription, and catching just a few programs on her OWN network, it would seem utterly confusing as to why I would sign up for this, but that’s precisely why I did.

I had spent a good portion of my life avoiding Oprah’s influence, yet admiring the results of it. That she had reached this status of mogul/actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist from humble and terrifying beginnings made her more of a mythical figure to me as opposed to someone I could relate to, so I never fully invested in seeing her work full on.

Being so averse to seeking or acknowledging a need for help at the time, it never occurred to me to indulge in something that could bring me comfort, joy or at least help me understand that what I’d gone through was not something that was exclusive to my story. Millions of women (and a smattering of men) understood more than I did that Oprah Winfrey hadn’t just built a media empire, but a fellowship of people who all wanted to improve their circumstances, and at least be uplifted and entertained while discovering they weren’t as alone as they thought they were.

And so I joined them… and it turned out to be a pretty damn good decision.

As she took the stage of the Prudential Center on Friday night — resplendent in a royal purple gown that flowed with her every step and voice booming with confidence — this woman, affectionately (and appropriately) called “the queen of all media”, shared with her adoring subjects stories that excited and disturbed us. She peppered her accounts of personal, academic and professional achievements with painful truths of being raped, pregnant, discriminated against, insecure about her body and her desperation to get what turned out to be an Oscar-nominated part in “The Color Purple”. The more she spoke, the more this “mythical” creature became a human being to me — even becoming more so when she admitted to wanting people to think she’s nice while her man, Stedman, reminds her that she is not. (I think I loved that part more than most of her reveals.)

I left that night feeling both energized from her truths… and a little freaked out by seeing my baby picture among the hundreds floating across the screen behind her. In a sea of thousands, that small acknowledgement endeared her — and her team — to me more.

When Saturday morning arrived, Mark was ready to help us clear our racing minds, and guide us through a meditation that left a hush in a room with thousands of women. (Let that sink in… this crowd came to work!!) And while he had our attention that morning, he had our full respect and admiration later, when he was asked to reveal something in his life he will never regret and — without missing a beat — answered “Susan” as he gestured to her in the audience. Yes, there was a collective and audible sigh.

When Elizabeth came to the stage, it was clear she was a rock star to the throngs of screaming women who had read her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, and instantly contemplated leaving everything behind to discover themselves by spending a year globetrotting. It also didn’t hurt that she was played by Julia Roberts in the movie adaptation. Basically, she was the woman everyone wanted to be if they felt Oprah was too high a standard. At least, until they spent the weekend realizing they could be whichever one they wanted to.

Liz shared her journey from being in a “picture-perfect” but unfulfilled marriage, losing everything she had in the divorce, feeling desperate, hopeless, and taking a leap of faith by spending a year finding her passion and purpose and never looking back. Being one of the few who hadn’t read the book or watched her on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday”, I found her story and candor refreshing and oddly familiar, having walked away from something similar to marriage, losing everything and making discoveries of my own… albeit with less stamps in my passport. Or, for that matter, a book deal.

Rob Bell came to the stage using his humble and unorthodox spiritual charm to explain how expansive the universe was and how we each contributed to it, and I found myself wondering if he and Neil DeGrasse Tyson collaborated. When our minds weren’t being blown by the math and science used in comprising the distance and speed of planets, we were putting our lives into perspective after stories about his late grandmother and his family life gave us pause to appreciate the value of each moment and breath… and Montblanc pens.

What Gilbert is to the dreamers, Iyanla is to those (like me) who live in a “dream-like” state.  Those who fall under that category ignore or fail to grasp reality and/or anything that requires work to create or maintain something of true value. Given that she spoke from experience — having gone deep into debt after refusing to pay her bills and being left by her husband — it only seemed natural and logical to explore some crucial life choices after that talk!

It all brought me back to my last post, where I shared a list born from personal mistakes, and the takeaways that I’ve just recently begun putting into perspective and practice in the last year and a half. The events of this past weekend not only validated the importance of those lessons, it mandated my need to fully embrace them with an open, authentic and uncluttered heart and mind every day.

It helps to know there are people in my corner committed to making sure I do. A lot.

Coming off of seeing Audra McDonald’s heartbreaking portrayal of Billie Holiday during her final days in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”, and looking into a crowd including many older than myself, it was strangely comforting knowing that there’s no statute of limitations on dealing with demons, and conversely, it is never too late to change or improve your life. It’s also okay if you don’t have your shit together by a certain age, as long as you consistently make the effort to actually have it together.

All clever marketing, cool light shows, dance parties, abbreviated exercise classes, crying jags and feel-good missives aside, this experience genuinely renewed my appreciation for life and all its quirks, blessings and benefits. It also reinforced the importance of putting my own happiness and peace of mind first in order to be the kind of person who can ultimately contribute something more helpful than harmful to others.

Kinda like that analogy about putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others during a plane emergency.

Or… you know… becoming a beloved television and movie star who encourages people to read by starting a book club and founding a magazine, build schools and funds scholarships for underprivileged kids, and runs a network and a tour that encourages people to be their best selves.

Kind of a no-brainer which life I choose…

End of Daze

Not sure about you… but I’ve never been happier to see a Monday in quite some time!

In addition to it starting up a mercifully short work week, it also signifies that I made it through last week without incident. With such a busy news week, anything — and I do mean anything — was possible. (Slightly dramatic, but true.)

If you were a minority, female or homosexual, you had a smorgasbord of topics to choose from: The Trayvon Martin murder trial, Paula Deen’s racially charged deposition, the removal of the Voting Rights Act, more Edward Snowden leaks, the abortion law filibuster in Texas and finally the striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.

If you fall under all the aforementioned categories, you were on an emotional roller-coaster, which likely ended with you dancing in the street in something festive while your lesser-clad male counterparts wore either speedos or the clothes your parents wanted you to wear before you came out. (Yes, even the slutty stuff.)

As thrilled as I was for my many LGBT friends, it was still a tough week for me to embrace. The beauty of that moment, when the courts acknowledged that their love is just as real as anyone else’s and deserved to be given the same rights and privileges, was so monumental that it overshadowed a glaring revocation of a law that could potentially set up (or back) the next presidential election.

Yes, it was a particularly sobering week for African-Americans. While many of us were busy calling out Paula Deen for using a word uttered by every hip hop artist, high-profile entertainer, urban and “wanna-be” suburban kid, we totally ignored a little piece of legislature which may decide how and if areas heavily populated by minorities can vote with ease — or at all.

And while many took to the internet to write disparaging commentary about Rachel Jeantel’s physical appearance and speech challenges (much the way they did Gabby Douglas), they completely glazed over the fact that this young girl not only carried the burden of being the last person to hear her friend’s voice before he took his final breath, but she stood her own ground against a legal system ironically trying to justify “stand your ground” as a reason to shoot unarmed kids on their way home.

Meanwhile, the outrage stemming from the discovery that the government is invading the privacy of millions hasn’t quite reached the sector where they also invade the private parts and reproductive rights of millions of women. The mettle and relentlessness of Wendy Davis should be applauded instead of being subjected to vilification. But in a world where it’s a fun fact that a man has fathered twenty-two children with fourteen different women, it just seems like a good idea to attack anyone trying to make sure no child is brought into this world without the love and stability they need to thrive in what’s increasingly becoming a cruel world for anyone not meeting the societal standard.

It’s no secret; I am angry. Angered by politicians voted into office to protect the rights of the people, only to vote against gun laws and healthcare. Angered by religious zealots who preach about the love and sacrifice that lead to dying for sinners, but condemn people based on their lifestyle and right to choose. Angered by a society that reveres well-known adulterers and creates examples of marriage and relationships in highly rated reality programs where the subjects are polygamists or former sex-tape veterans who have expensive short-lived marriages and sire strangely named children with self-absorbed megalomaniacs, but wants to throw out words like “sanctity” when it’s convenient. Angered by my own race who continue to point the finger of blame everywhere but at ourselves — much like Miss Deen and, dare I say, our current President — instead of simply sucking it up and taking accountability and saying “Okay, let me fix this… starting with me.” Angered by a mass of people whose origin is mostly based in the European continent who keep trying to define immigration, while Native Americans fight to be heard and lose their land, and later, their children, in custody battles with white adoptive parents. Angered by the amount of young black men in prison for possession of marijuana when there are a growing number of free men in possession of abducted women and children and people’s life savings. Angered by the amount of money we spend protecting our “interests” in other parts of the world while our own citizens struggle to find jobs and means of supporting their families.

The list goes on and on.

We spend our days sleepwalking through life obsessing over mundane things like Angry Cat photos, Facebook posts, Twitter rants and celebrity baby news and deaths. I almost wonder when was the precise moment I decided to pay more attention to the escapades of people who contribute nothing but sensationalism over people like Nelson Mandela, who contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Naturally, I’m embarrassed.

With all the greatness — and potential for greatness — this country has, it seems like now is as good a time as any to ensure our future generations are more caught up on current events than Taylor Swift’s love life and viral videos about “twerking.”

Education and an awareness of world news and changes should be the gold standard of our society. Not the option that falls by the wayside when budgets are cut. That a heavily tattooed man-child athlete makes more than a teacher is criminal. That, nine times out of ten, he’s broke by the time he retires from his respective league after spending it all on extravagant and excessive things and people (that is, if they haven’t gone to jail for murder, rape, weapons assault, dog fighting, etc…), before the rest is taken by the IRS indicates the need for better teachers (preferably ones not having sex with students or making porn). 

As I step down from my soapbox for the night, I realize the challenges of this world are so much bigger than me. It’s a sobering thing… and an even more frightening truth when you haven’t been drinking.

On that note, it’s waaayyy past my bed time.

And now… it’s Tuesday.

Sigh…

In Slave

It’s February already.

The shortest month of the year, and the only one where you could run into timekeeping issues with your age if you were born at the very end of it during a Leap one. Thankfully, my dad dodged that bullet by a day… although sometimes I felt it would’ve explained a lot of his behavior.

It is also most notably Black History Month, which used to mean reports and special school plays in honor of famous people of color during my childhood.

Today, it means I spend the weekend watching the NAACP awards, frying shrimp the way my grandmother taught me in Savannah, catching “Django Unchained” finally, and taking to Twitter to read and review commentary on the performances and ads during the Super Bowl while simultaneously trying to watch the game and contain my audible reactions to the game. All in that order.

Like most New Yorkers, I went into watching this game more for the ads and Beyonce’s halftime show because the Giants weren’t in it and could therefore care less who won. I moderately appreciate football as a sport, but fully enjoy the uniforms and the use of words like “tight end”. I’m crass. Get over it.

That said, it turned out to be an awesome game.

But the NFL went full-on “Sista-girl power” with a line up that began with Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, and ended with that fem-bot Sasha Fierce leaving no questions about live performances… or why she now performs without the other members of Destiny’s Child. It was like a precursor to the Essence Music Festival.

Anyway, back to the point of this story…

The NAACP awards turned out to be emotionally overwhelming. After tearing up from the story of Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, I was then struck by the iconic moment of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte standing on stage together, as the former presented the latter with the Spingarin award in recognition of his tireless charity work. That’s when the cosmic shift in the room occurred.

Mr. Belafonte is no stranger to calling out black celebrities for not taking a more active role in enriching the lives and opportunities of the black youth. But on this particular night, he used his moment in the spotlight to challenge all of them to use their influence to make and be the change needed in the communities to ensure kids today are educated instead of incarcerated. His speech was so moving, it jarred Jamie Foxx to the point of getting him to stray from his rehearsed speech of the season (only briefly, unfortunately).

For me, it sparked thoughts of the days when black actors were “actorvists”, and entertainers were outspoken in their community and in turn the community responded. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Poitier and Belafonte, Paul Robeson. All walked alongside the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Today, the number of celebrities willing to get their hands dirty are few, with exceptions such as Don Cheadle, who after making “Hotel Rwanda”, began campaigning and co-authored a book in efforts to end genocide in Darfur. The going trend is now to sign large tax-deductible checks or make photo-scripted appearances to boost one’s PR.

His speech stayed with me as I watched “Django”, which, when one isn’t focused on the graphic and gratuitous violence or the use of the N-word, you can appreciate for what it is: a good — no, great — revenge fantasy. Just like “Inglorious Basterds” before it, this movie takes a very real and very traumatic page in history for a race of people and asks the question “what if the tables were turned?” If you go looking for inaccuracies or expecting to be offended, you completely miss the true story buried within; the one where slaves were whipped, torn apart by dogs, put in “hot boxes”, and subjected to numerous atrocities — least of which is being called an N-word — worst of all being conditioned to betray and mistrust each other for their own survival.

And there it is… centuries later, we’ve become our worst enemies .

As Mr. Belafonte calls for an end to the penitentiary mindset that has been steadily crippling our communities over the last few decades, the city of Chicago has just tallied over forty homicides just in the month of January. Before the ball dropped to mark the end of 2012, they had notched over 500 murders in total for the year. Crime in minority neighborhoods have risen with the desperation of those who see more opportunity in guns, drugs, and professional sports than with degrees or specialized training for careers that can’t be outsourced.

It’s become customary to point the finger of blame at our lighter-hued counterparts for the lack of progression in our community, but we are squarely to blame for it. When we fail our children by denying them basic things such as quality education, stable and healthy home environments and just a strong sense of pride and self, we set up the future generations to follow suit.  When we put programs on where our women fight over men and money, put out songs that glorify violence and misogyny, and teach our kids at a young age to value expensive, high-tech and designer items they can’t possibly afford  — we are mixing a recipe for disaster. We are enslaving ourselves.

I’m sure they’d be remiss to admit it, but if Spike Lee had done that movie instead of Quentin Tarantino, they would be hailing him as a genius for sparking a conversation about slavery that hasn’t been explored since “Roots”. Personally, I think Spike should have done the film, so more people would be talking about it instead of fixating on a word.

It’s great that we celebrate the achievements of accomplished people of color. It would be even greater if we didn’t just allot a month out of an entire year to make them feel special. It’s almost akin to picking one day out of the other 364 to express your love for someone (hmmm… coincidence that it’s the same month?). It would be fantastic if we could make a habit out of excellence, instead of pointing people out like zoo animals, but I guess in some way it inspires one to aspire to something more.

But enough about this.

How about those Super Bowl commercials?

Winner Take All

The Closing Ceremonies have now ended, signifying the completion of the London 2012 Olympic games.

With that, a range of thoughts and emotions run through my head…

Things like: “Am I really that old where I recognize about 90% of the music and artists (dead and almost) they’re featuring?”, “Did Victoria Beckham just model her designer duds while the rest of the Spice Girls actually sang for their supper?”, “Should the guys who did the ‘McKayla is Not Impressed’ web sensation add one with her next to the Queen looking equally unimpressed during Opening Ceremony?”, “If I eat Chobani yogurt on a regular basis and use my Visa card more, will it make me feel better about myself after sitting on my ass for two weeks looking at the most chiseled humans on the planet?”, “When Oprah has the inevitable sit-down with Gabrielle Douglas, will there be a verbal smack-down somewhere in the interview for the ‘haters’ who were so vocal about her hair and mother’s financial situation?”, and “Did anyone else find themselves talking about the Beijing ceremonies because they were so bored with London’s?”

But in all seriousness, my main thought was how amazing and ridiculously stressful it must be to be an Olympian… especially an American one.

With the entire world watching, over 200 countries and 10,000 athletes came to London to compete for the privilege of being declared the best in their respective sporting events. Having already predetermined a number of bankable, marquee athletes to keep the cameras on, the daunting task for those competing against a Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or Sanya Richards-Ross is how to stay motivated and not be intimidated by their star power.

We watched in awe as the men and women of the United States and beyond showed superhuman strength and endurance in some of the most grueling sporting events. We shared in their joys as they achieved their ultimate goal of being recognized as the greatest ambassadors for their respective homelands. We felt their pain when a lifetime of training for that moment are dashed in a matter of seconds. We witnessed historic achievements, personal triumphs and tragedies, and incredible sportsmanship that moved us to tears.

To be honest, this was the first Olympics that I’d been fully engrossed in since Atlanta hosted the games in 1996. That year was particularly special for me, as I had scored the honor of actually working in the Olympic Village. That Summer, I walked amongst the gladiators, so their stories and achievements felt almost personal. Ironically, this year’s games have been compared to that year because it was the last time Team USA had dominated events such as Women’s Gymnastics and Track and Field. For the first time in sixteen years, the memories of seven petite young women walking as one even when they weren’t on the national stage, and a bunch of good-nature guys who happen to run really fast when they’re not joking around and stock-piling fruit flashed through my head. Perhaps there’s always something about London that sparks a fire within me — although it sure as hell wasn’t either of the ceremonies.

It’s sometimes easy to forget what these athletes go through to get to these games. The sacrifices of time, money, and other opportunities they make for that one shot of making their countrymen proud and potentially earning millions in endorsements to compliment their newfound national recognition are unimaginable. Add the pressure of having the hopes of an entire population of people you aren’t related to resting on your shoulders, and you have an unbearable situation. One athlete had been told that she couldn’t run for the country her husband was from — which she now called home — and had her passport taken in a show of force to run for her native country. As we muse about Ryan Lochte’s grill and unsanitary pool habits, or the ungrateful scowls of people with Silver and Bronze medals, we rarely give thought to the men and women in lesser developed regions whose dream of a better life often fall flat when they come in fourth.  

While my admiration goes out to all the athletes who competed, I am especially proud of Team USA for coming out on top. Their dedication, selflessness, and inability to accept defeat provided the world and the younger generations not only valuable life lessons, but it embodied what we stand for as a country. My only lament is that during these two weeks where we should be focused on the unity and sportsmanship of our team and country, we get distracted and caught up in the diversity that accompanies an election year and subsequent campaign season.

And so, this closing ceremony saddened me not because it lacked any spectacle, but because it essentially sends us back to the harsh reality of what the country has become, as opposed to what it is perceived to be to the rest of the world.

To the world… we are winners. We are a team that is united and willing to take stands for each other in order for us all to collectively win.

But internally, we are a nation divided in class and beliefs who constantly judge and bicker and indulge our own personal interests and goals at the risk of others’ suffering and loss. For a brief moment, the world caught a glimpse of our weakness in the form of the “black eye” that was Ralph Lauren’s Team USA uniforms, which were manufactured in China. But it was quickly forgotten once our swimming team began their show.

The thought makes me long for another two weeks of watching our gladiators run, flip and swim to golden glory.

…Or at least another opportunity to see Annie Lennox give another legendary performance, and watch a stunt double for the Queen jump out of a helicopter with James Bond again.

Now those were winning moments to me!

News to Me

There are days when I’m truly concerned for the direction of the American heritage. This morning, when I scoped the covers of the morning papers in my local deli, it became clear that this was going to be one of those days.

During an election year where gun control has just resurfaced as an issue with scores of people succumbing to gun violence over the last few weeks — the most notable being a midnight massacre in a movie theater — the biggest story of the day was that Kristen Stewart cheated on her boyfriend.

Hours from now, the world will convene for the Olympic games in London — sans the Greek athlete who was expelled for her racist comments on Twitter (as if Greece didn’t have enough trouble) — but let’s take a moment to ponder on the indiscretion of a wooden actress who rose to fame for playing in a vampire movie.

In the course of a few days, we lost Sylvia Woods, a trailblazing restaurateur who put Harlem on the map for politicians hoping to get a slice of the African-American vote with their serving of soul food, and Sherman Hemsley, an actor who made every black family believe they could make it like scrappy George Jefferson before the Huxtables showed us the beauty of educated affluence.  

While the rest of the country was focused on the psychotic musings of a man who opened fire on innocent people watching the latest Batman installment, very little focus was put on the fact that Christian Bale, the actor who played Batman, visited the victims and the memorial in honor of the dead. Those victims, many of whom are young and uninsured, have just been given a reprieve by having most — and possibly in some cases all — of their medical expenses taken care of.  

Newspaper publishers muse about the decline of their industry and blame the wealth of access to information available through the internet and virtually any smartphone, tablet or other gadget. While it’s certainly a factor in a society being weened on instant gratification, those of us who still value the touch of paper and the occasional practice of clipping or highlighting things still like the idea of a newspaper giving us real news.

But it doesn’t just stop with the papers. American media overall chooses more sensational and occasionally mindless things to report as so-called news. Before stories of the “Vamp Tramp” broke (I must admit I love the caption writing sometimes), we could not escape the “news” of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing. It would seem that the only way of getting real news is to tune into a cable channel like CNN (or even The Daily Show), wait for a designated hard news program, or go online.

Meanwhile our counterparts in the rest of the world have BBC, Al Jazeera, et al informing them of international news stories that prepare them for interaction with the global population and markets on a continual basis. They are more versed on the ongoing events that have changed the commercial and financial climate of each nation, and are adapting accordingly.

Perhaps we’ve become so closed off in our own beliefs and subscribers to the “too big to fail” hubris that we find it acceptable to push frivolous pop culture and reality television into the forefront of conversations. That our schools are underperforming, our workforce is shrinking and our GDP is teetering on nonexistent doesn’t concern us as much as whether Kanye and Kim will really get married and who the next American Idol judge will be.

But please, let’s not concern ourselves with the 17-year-old boy who gunned down a 4-year-old because he was retaliating gunfire… let’s pontificate on the future of whether the actors who played Edward and Bella will survive her dalliance with a married father of two.

Yeah, that’s a real news story… no one’s ever heard that one before.

Fashion Weakened and Legends of the Fallen

For all its glitz and glamour, Fashion Week can be a pretty ugly scene for those seasoned in the process. 

Beautiful clothes, gorgeous models, endless parties, celebrity-filled front rows and flamboyant personalities are what the world has come to know when they hear the words fashion week. The pageantry that takes place twice a year gives New Yorkers a shot of decadent escapism, as many flock to Lincoln Center and other venues around the city just to get a glimpse of the famously fashionable — some hoping to be photographed and discovered themselves.

What people don’t see are the moments that just aren’t pretty. The fights for invites and seating. The show crashers. The falling models. The plethora of unbalanced personalities with an obscene amount of self-importance. The freebie-scavengers who descend on goodie bags and open bars with the speed and lazer focus of a hawk snapping up a field mouse. The obvious look of desperation from someone hoping to be photographed or filmed in their most revealing outfit — which they’ve worn on a day baring 30 degree temperatures and snowfall. For some people, fashion week is the adult version of prom, and many are still waiting for their dance.

Overall, the week was a boring mix of lackluster collections and D-list celebrities making the rounds because everyone worth seeing was in California for the Grammy Awards. It did, however, take an unusually dark turn when this particular week was marred by not one, but two major deaths. The death of Zelda Kaplan, a woman who went from being a suburban housewife to a champion of women’s rights in African countries was jarring not only because she was a seemingly ageless 95-year old woman who outlasted 20-somethings on the club scene — but the fact that she literally checked out in the front row of Joanna Mastroianni’s fashion show. My colleague and I watched with curiosity and later with horror as we witnessed the guards race across the live streaming screen and seconds later return with the hoisted body of Ms. Kaplan. We’d only learn later her condition was fatal. It was a fitting exit for someone whose life was devoted to fashion and fanfare.

While Kaplan’s passing certainly was tragic, it was the death of Whitney Houston that sent ripples around not just the fashion community, but the world over. When I first heard of her death, I was hoping it was one of the many false deaths posted on Twitter. But once CNN and the Associated Press confirmed it, my heart sank and all hopes were effectively dashed.

In a way very similar to Michael Jackson, Whitney’s life had become more scrutinized from a flawed human perspective over the years, and she was often spoken about as a punchline more than as the incredible artist that she was. Admittedly, my thoughts as of late had mostly been her unfortunate public appearances — the damning interviews, the awful reality show, and the unflattering shots of her looking too thin or sickly — but at the core, we all wanted Whitney to make a comeback.

Like every little black girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I’d do my best Whitney impression, belting her hits from the top of my lungs and singing “The Greatest Love of All” with my school chorus. When “The Bodyguard” came out, you couldn’t escape the song “I Will Always Love You”, or resist the temptation of trying to hit that note the way she did… as only she could. We couldn’t wait to exhale with her and Angela Bassett in “Waiting To Exhale” or stop playing that soundtrack. She was that spiritual sister who brought church to every performance and we were her devoted followers. We grew up with her. Her songs were the soundtrack to our lives.

Like a lot of people, I felt so connected to Whitney through her music that we blurred the fantasy of the ingenue songbird with the grown woman facing personal demons, who ultimately made extraordinarily self-destructive decisions. When she chose to marry Bobby Brown, the world collectively gasped and hoped she’d come to her senses. Years of drugs, domestic abuse, fidelity issues, and publicly embarrassing episodes would ensue before she finally parted ways with Brown, but as much as we’d like to point the finger at him for steering her in the wrong direction, the awful truth is Whitney made the choice to stay with him. We can all say she deserved better, and should have been with someone who elevated her as opposed to bringing her down, but how many of us actually practice what we preach? I’m sure those who did say it was likely met with a strong and possibly expletive-laden response.

Her death still doesn’t feel real, but if anything the last week has taught us is to be grateful for the life we have and never take our blessings for granted. Her voice was a gift from God that was ravaged by drug use, and her determination to stand by her decision to be with Brown overshadowed the amazing career and reputation she had built before doing so. I cried for Whitney, but now I pray for her daughter and mother, who must now face the devastating loss of a mother and child gone too soon.

For the rest of the world, we have lost a true artist who didn’t rely on theatrics or barely there outfits to keep the audience enraptured. She simply sang like the angel that she has now become.

It’s ironic that a week in which the main goal is to focus on newness… mostly championed and honored retro looks, artists whose style favors said retro period (Adele), ageless doyennes and a diva who showed us the greatest love of all.

Clearly some things never go out of style…