Posts filed under Self Image

Happy Loner Life

I write: happy loner life on the top of the page then cover it up with an ink circle curly q tattoo. I'm sitting outside at a table at a local bar, alone. I'm sipping a ginger cocktail watching my quickly changing neighborhood go by. I'm happy, relaxed and content. I love being in the company of my own mind. Solace gives me great comfort. Solace is reminiscent of being a device plugged into it's charger. Solitude energizes me.

The inverse drains me. Interaction with several people at the same time leaves me feeling depleted. I joke around that I like books way more than people (yes, I still read paper books). I never tire of turning pages that reveal more and more about the journey within them. I've curated a world where spend more time being authentic and less time having to code switch(look it up, if you don't know what that means). The landscape society has tended to, sprouted a people who cling to ways of being taught to us in childhood. They cling as if life itself depends on it. There are rules of engagement that are deemed respectable, correct. Typically, that roughly translates into: shut up and be pretty. It creates too much stress for me having to gauge how to operate with the right amount of respectability and pedigree. As someone who makes up her own rules, time spent with strangers is not always fun.  

Because I am a performer, I have to interact with a large number of people. I often quietly listen to the things that strangers say. I wonder if people think about the ways in which they impose their opinions onto others. A Christian zealot talks excitedly expecting me to share in her enthusiasm for the Bible. A random white person compliments me on being so well spoken. After I have stripped onstage, of course that means I want to hear your thoughts on my body! I'm lying. I do not want to hear about what you think about my body. I hear the worry of some family members as I share stories of my latest travel adventures. A lover cycles through the predictable phases: I don't care what you do. I want to be at every show. I'm tired do I have to go to the show? Can you not do what you do? OK, honestly, I do not like what you do but you love it so I put up with you doing what you do. People never seem to tire of believing that their opinion is factual.

Alone, I have my thoughts or the lack there of depending on what I choose. I may make up silly songs that only entertain me. I act spontaneously on my whims & go. I read and read and learn and read. I'm content. There's no committee to check in with. If not alone then I prefer the company of one or two people. There's a thing about actual connection and communication that I prefer. Large groups don't seem to allow for this. By my own design, I exist mostly in a world of people playing by their own rules. Even an introvert like me likes their company. I'm inspired and happy to have connections like this. They dare to stare in the face, everything that someone ELSE ever told them they believe in the face and stick their tongues out at it all. Unmitigated joy is what I derive from these spirits. I can relax and experience joy in their presence.

Still, the ultimate sense of ease for me is when I fly solo. Whether going to have a meal, traveling across the world or catching a show, alone is my preferred way to go. Society has too many people bound and tied. It stresses a weirdo like me out to be around normal people. I've learned how. I can do it. I do it when I need to. It's not like I can't enjoy the company of people. I do, just in small doses at a time.

If you know someone that is sparingly available for large social outings, they may be a loner. If I can't release my shoulders and speak without a filter, I'm likely feeling awkward inside. It's not personal at all. My alone time is an essential piece to my peace. Much in the same way extroverts are fed by being the center of attention, the inverse is true for the introvert loners of the world. Surely, there is an extrovert that lives inside me but she only comes out when I'm on stage. After the show she goes home alone. Loners of the world, I get you because I am you.

 

 

Guess for the Best

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It really is amazing what happens when we focus on what we want instead of what we do not want.  I explained this concept poorly one time to a friend that has held a grudge about this endlessly.  I was on my way to a tour in Europe.  I was anxious about remembering everything.  I was anxious about making the flight because I kept having to look for things I didn't remember to pack.  I was told "Don’t forget your phone."  Then I could not find my phone anywhere.  I live in a studio.  How far could it have gone? 

 

While I’m frantically trying to find my phone, which will be my sole source of communicating while overseas, I think about the “what you focus on expands” concept.  I wish I had been told to remember my phone vs. being told not to FORGET it.  Because I surely did just that, forget that I had rested it in the top dresser drawer while getting out something that I didn't remember to pack.  All of that extra time to get to the airport had been eaten away by my memory lapse.  I run to the car and say filled with anxiety & mad at myself for killing all that time, “I really wish you would have told me to remember my phone instead of not to forget it.”  I have been being told about how mean & ridiculous that it was that I’d said that ever sense.  I’ve apologized for the delivery and poor explanation of what I meant.  However, I stand by the concept.  Somehow, this person can’t understand that rushing is not something that I handle well.  I typically plan so that rushing doesn’t happen.  This time I failed.

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The thing is my entire life I’ve been kept afloat (and in some cases flying) by focusing on what it is I do want.  If not in the clutches of depression’s darkness, I expect the things that I focus on to manifest.  Does this mean that it is full proof and happens all the time?  No not in every instance.  Trust me, there are many areas of my life right now that seems to have lost the manifestation boomerang.  But in many of the instances that make my life fun & fulfilling, yes.  It happens much of the time.  It doesn’t prevent uncertainty from feeling scary as hell but after all these years, I know that worry is just going to attract more unwanted negative blows to my life.  Some days, all I can do is walk around listing to myself all of the things that I am grateful for.  I do this to block out the voices in my head that want to tell me that I’m a failure & should just go apply to a proverbial McDonald’s for steady work.  A regular customer once said to me sometimes things get so rough all you can do is put your head down and just keep working until they’re better.  I always remember that when things get tough.  As a creative person, life is often uncertain & tough.

This both made me giggle & seemed the perfect image.  

This both made me giggle & seemed the perfect image.  

Then it happens.  By focusing on what it is that I desire and/or need the signal is shot out into the universe and boomerangs back in to my life as serendipity.   I put my head down and take as many actions as I can.  I pray that the universe guides me to take the next right action.  Then the something that I need shows up.  I can only explain it as massive action creating magic.  When I was younger, I would spend so much time focusing on the worry and the trying to figure my way out of things.  If the future is just our best guess anyway, why not guess for the best? Why not be careful and deliberate about how we phrase thoughts and the things we utter both out loud but especially to ourselves.  I may not ever get this person to understand that this concept is what I meant.  If people want to cling to perceived transgressions, they will, often for years.  Besides, that’s not my work to do for them.  I wish we would do more guessing the best about each other as a whole.  What IS my work is to focus everyday on experiencing the universal magic of life as much as possible.

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Self Loathing in Conservative Clothing

I’ve seen a plethora of pieces passing me on the information super highway bashing sexual women, especially women of color - specifically Black women.  Often it’s in the attempt to pump up or encourage the existence of the “good women” who cook, clean and dress conservatively, etc.  You know, because only That is respectable behavior for a woman.  Others mask it in claiming these are the ingredients of a Queen self actualization and autonomy be damned.  I wish I had a nickel for every meme I see shouting down a woman’s choice to twerk.  I mean, we know how detrimental dance styles can be on a woman’s entire complex life (sarcasm intended).  Never have a seen a dance style kick up so much hatred towards Black women while simultaneously popping off a fun, trendy dance craze for white women.

These types of things represent the heights of hypocrisy that make me shake my head at society.   There is a breed of outwardly appearing “respectable” woman that is so desperate for a man; she’ll even knowingly date someone else’s man (and we all know what stellar examples of mates these men turn out to be).  I know, she thinks she'll be the one to change him.  I’ve seen it up close and personal.  There are super successful career women earning multiple six figures who don’t care if a man says he’s in a relationship.  She’ll over look that fact just to have a man appear to be by her side even if it’s just for one night at a big event.  I’ve heard stories of women willing to essentially trick off their children just so she can pretend on social media to be gratified at finding “the one”.  We will act as if a woman with a young child pretending that dating a man that doesn’t want children isn’t borderline child abuse.  Your child and you are a packaged deal.  Perhaps, she deludes herself into believing he'll just fall right on in love with her little one.  I myself work in the realm of sexuality and am naked on worldwide stages, so people assume that I have all types of loose behavior going on.  I don’t.  Clearly these women are reveling in slackness more than I am.  Another difference between women who openly embrace sexuality vs. these women is women who embrace all facets of themselves tend to choose self-respect, self-definition and refuse to settle.  These settling women are not to be hated.  I believe them to be deeply pitiable.  Their up bringing and societal pressures to have a man, any man have done them a great disservice. 

Yet, there is no shortage of beating down Nikki Minaj for her sexual marketing genius (yes borrowed straight from the book of Little Kim whether Nikki wants to admit it or not).  It’s a marketing ploy that sells and Nikki does it well.  I’ve seen Beyoncé berated by men and women alike for being sexual with her own husband who she’s building an empire along side and raising a child with.  Even married women get no pass when it comes to embracing the sexual parts of our beings.  I’ve seen Will Smith and Jada Pinkett given side eye for granting each other the freedom to be authentic and openly be who they are with each other.  It’s as if society wants more couples lying to each other for fear of being judged by one another.  It’s fine for some male hip-hop artists to use being a gangster and illegal activities as a marketing ploy.  Last I checked it was completely legal for a woman to choose to be happy about the sexual aspects of her being.  It is also legal for a woman to have agency over how she displays said sexual aspects of her being.  Yet, we keep persecuting women in the court of public opinion for it.  Stop worrying about what women outside of your household are teaching children and pay closer attention to what the women in the house are teaching the children in their very charge.

Can we talk about the fact that if a successful woman decides to be a sugar mama, the man is praised or left alone for his “come up”?  Yet, if a successful man decides to be a sugar daddy, it is the woman that is beat down for being a gold digger.  If a woman is sexually conservative, she’s bashed for being uptight, stiff and boring.  If she embraces the fact that sexuality is one aspect of her and it’s being worthy of celebration just as is her intellectual, financial, spiritual, familial self she’s degraded at every turn.  It’s as if a woman can’t win for loosing when it comes to being a proud sexual being. 

It’s cool if a woman makes self-loathing decisions as long as she dons a business suit or some other conservative garb.  Extra points will be given if she goes to church many Sundays.  So what if she sits in the pew hand in hand with the man who molested her daughter.  No one will make mention of these types of things.  No memes made, no poems written only silent, blind eyes turned.  I’m really going to need the interwebs to miss me with all this tomfoolery.  There need to be more messages directed towards women desperate to claim any man that comes along.  They need encouragement towards self-love, self-respect and self worth.  They seem to have no grasp of these concepts at all and no one calling them on it to boot.  I know more sexually liberated women with a higher sense of self valuation than many of the church going, conservative appearing, low self-esteem having chicks can ever hope to muster.  No, not all women who are conservative or church going or successful are self-loathing.  I don't think in absolutes.  However, I need to see more of the calling out of the truly self-deprecating women in "proper woman" hiding who are and less of the “if you twerk you hate yourself” crap.  Forget the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  There are self-loathing women in conservative clothing someone needs to write a poem for or make a meme about.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

There does come a point as an adult where one has to make decisions for oneself despite lessons learned in youth about your value being tied to marriage or a man.  Whether one is monogamous or open to an alternative model for relationships, self-love has got to remain job one.  What can a child learn from a mother willing to expose them to a man uninterested in taking part in helping to raise them?  Let's remember children learn by what parents DO not by what they say.  What fulfillment comes from pretending online to be in a whole relationship when one isn’t?  If a committed life partner is the goal, what message to the universe does sneaking around with a cheater actually send?  There are women in hiding willing to debase themselves.  Meanwhile, women who live out loud with all their true colors boldly showing are insulted, mocked and disrespected.  Let’s get it together, world.  Let’s get it together.  We are all beautifully flawed beings trying to do our best to get through life without a playbook.  We all make it up as we go along.  We get blessings, we get lessons, we adjust and we keep it moving.  Stop acting like one kind of journey is more deplorable than another.  It insults my intelligence.  I can’t.

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"Sexuality poorly repressed unsettles some families; well repressed, it unsettles the whole world." - Karl Kraus

 

Hug a Weirdo


I’m a weirdo.  It started at an early age.  There are many aspects that make up my weirdo status.  It’s not so much weird as it is the acceptance that I am a proud walking set of contradictions, perfect imperfections and complexities.  So many of us try to hide from our complexities or shield them from those around us so that they are more comfortable.  One would think after a certain age we become too grown to play “societal charades”.  It is very much not so

I recently found out that, once again, my weirdo status caused someone to make assumptions about me (and even make decisions for me based on the assumptions).  I think about how I came to be the me that I have become.  I suppose it’s been caused by any number of my life experiences.  We all are a product of our particular life files, right?  I started off life by never wanting to get in trouble.  I never wanted my parents to be angry at me.  I never wanted to do the wrong thing.  I never wanted to make mistakes. This then extended to the world.  I only wanted people to like me.  I only wanted to be understood as a good person with a great heart.  It bothered me if I thought that people were interpreting who I was in a way that was different than how I perceived myself.   I had a case of giving too many F%$&s about what other people would think.  I like helping others.  This remains to be true.  However, with maturity comes a self-awareness that shifts the way in which I go about things.  I stopped trying to “get straight A’s” from every single person I met.  I was fresh outta f%$&s to give.  Fresh out!

I had a best friend once that was very forceful when it came to getting her own way.  Me being a person who always wanted things to stay on a happy vibe, I would often just go with her flow.  This worked out amazingly excellent for her.  There were peaceful and fun times had among us.  However, sometimes in the midst of our fun times, I’d be miserable.  There were times where I went along with things that I didn’t feel like going with.   It took quite a bit of work on myself to get to the point of saying no if I wasn’t into doing something.  I spent way too many years doing what would make other people happy.  I spent years and years doing what would keep me likable.  I see myself as a likable human and I wanted other people to see me this way also.  I hid who I really was in favor of favorable facades for the public.  Eventually, what happened though was that I found myself holding in resentments for allowing myself to ignore my own truth.  It was with this best friend that I got my first practice at defending strange little ole me.  I learned through my interactions with her how to push through the uncomfortable feelings I had about causing conflict.  I started speaking honestly and directly to other people as well.  Like anything, it started getting easier the more I did it.

 

At present, it is very easy for me to say in a very clear and direct way what is on my mind.  It drives me a little crazy inside listening to people talk around a topic or hem and haw while they try to get a point across.  It drives me even crazier having to deal with someone who flat out tries to avoid conversations that may be difficult but necessary.  Being a fairly direct person is something that people both appreciate and can’t stand about me.  This depends on the person and the circumstances of the exchange, of course.  Often, I choose silence for the sake of my own peace of mind.  There are times where it serves me better to stand off to the side and observe quietly.  At all times, whether silent or direct, it is a choice coming from inside myself.  We all have to navigate the world that we are in.  Many of us have to navigate numerous worlds.   The joy of working to get to a place where I am able to make choices for myself is that I get to keep feeling peaceful inside either way.   The discomfort that my directness or my silence may cause others is not my work to do. 

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I recently went to a church service that I absolutely under normal circumstances would not choose to be at.  However, my niece wanted me to see her perform as part of the youth day.  I went to church.  Sat quietly and was polite to everyone that I encountered.  I got to see my niece perform.  She saw that I was there like I said I would be.  I was peace filled in my heart, despite my disdain for this place and the people who run it.  I sat in the service sending love vibes out to everyone in the building.  Damn my opinions, ultimately, people come here so they can make it through the week or their lives.  Hey, life is hard, whatever gets you through…  While I make it my business to make choices that are right for myself, I also understand that life isn’t ALL about me.  At that moment, the love I have for my niece outweighed the negative feelings I have about church and the Bible, in general, and this church in particular.  This is the joy of being a thinking human being.  Nothing is black and white.  Communication reveals way more than assumptions ever can.  If only this person had the courage to have honest conversations with me they would understand this and so much more about me.  Honestly, it just felt like a scapegoat, a cowardly way of dealing with the situation.  If someone feels ill will towards me, it will be because of the truth not a lie.  Happiness is being mature enough to pick your battles. 

I am blessed to have found a place as a weirdo among weirdos (I am surrounded by the most talented, quirky and driven creative people ever).  However, we still have to navigate in the world at large.  I end up in different worlds socially and professionally.  I get invited back often, so I must be doing something right.  As frustrating as it gets to be constantly judged and misinterpreted, it’s even greater joy to have enough self love to wave my weirdo flag proudly despite it.  If you’re out there looking for the perfect mate, maybe look outside your self imposed box.  Weirdos can be pretty loveable!  If you’re a weirdo and you know It clap your hands *clap, clap*, if you’re a…  Wait.  Is that weird? Never mind…

Alone is Good

Self Care, Self Love, Sweet Self Talk as much as possible...

Self Care, Self Love, Sweet Self Talk as much as possible...

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” - Dalai Lama

I haven’t blogged much over the past six months.  My personal life has been going through many shifts.  Upheaval sounds like a good descriptor.  The result is not only a lag in blogging.  There are lags in other areas of productivity in my life as well.  I have felt extremely vigilant in preserving my time alone.  Sometimes, the time alone has been for brooding.  Most of the time has been for thinking, nothingness and planning.  Transitions are not very comfortable ever.  Some comfort zones can be breeding grounds for stunted growth.  I like growth unstunted.  I have come to the understanding that self care has always got to be job one.  Believing that I am somehow too busy to take self care moments to stop lead to the devastation of my soul.  I hit one of the darkest times ever in my life.  I’m not trying to sound dramatic.  It was traumatic.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ~ Maya Angelou

What I’ve learned about myself is that I like to hear many different takes on a situation first.  After that I like to go off alone to deliberate and come to my own conclusions.  My close circle is the jury but ultimately it is my courtroom.  I make all the final decisions.  I am very much a loner at heart.  I enjoy keeping company with myself very much.  It is really important for me right now to hunker down and take that time to recharge.  It’s a challenge, especially being a performer.  Also, I’m a worker bee.  I don’t like feeling as if I am not moving forward, closer to goals or simply putting in the full effort it takes to be an independent performer.  However, the universe always takes care of me.  Unexpected helping hands extend toward me in unexpected ways.  It could be friends making sure that I eat (even if it means coming to my door to get me).  It can be long time friends sending me texts just to make sure I’m ok in here by myself.  It can be a residual check from a past gig.  I get sign after sign that I am supported.  I get the message loud and clear that it is OK to be in a space of not knowing.  It is totally acceptable sometimes to just stop.

“Let your heart guide you.  It whispers, so listen carefully.”  ~ Littlefoot’s mother, Land Before Time

I’m enjoying the slower pace.  I’m enjoying getting eight hours of sleep whenever possible.  I’m happy that I have been working out several times a week.  I feel much better making healthier food choices more days than not.  I even gave up sugar for 30 days.  I chose not to beat myself up for the times I slipped.  I’m letting myself have the space to cry it all out.  I have been very careful about who I share what with.  I’ve been accepting of the support I get offered from friends.  It’s been an interesting space to exist in.  I’m slowly becoming comfortable with it.  It’s not an easy space for me to feel comfortable in.  Despite the discomfort, I know that it’s the best place for me to be in at this moment.

“[G]rowing into your future with health and grace and beauty doesn’t have to take all your time. It rather requires a dedication to caring for yourself as if you were rare and precious, which you are, and regarding all life around you as equally so, which it is.” 
― Victoria Moran, Younger by the Day: 365 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body and Revitalize Your Spirit

Sugar Can Unsweeten: My Kara Walker Exhibit Experience

My family comes from Barbados, a place that thrived for years from the mid 1600’s through the 1900's on the sugar industry.  Our carnival type celebration is called Crop Over and happens at the end of the sugar harvest season.  I’ve passed cane fields with people working in them since I was a child.  My mother bringing home stalks of sugar cane would incite excitement in my sister and I as if we were getting birthday presents for no reason.  My mother would hack the stalks into three to four inch pieces.  She would cut a T-shape into the top so that they could be separated into four pieces.  My sister and I would chew on each section sucking the sweet sugar juice out until each piece was dry.  We’d bop around with our pieces then go running back to my mother for refills.  My mother and father would both also take part in the sweet treat until the long stalk was gone.  As an adult, I have sipped on Barbados’ good sugar cane brandy.  Yet, behind all the joy of my memories of sugar is the history.  Barbados’ thriving sugar industry was run from plantations & slave labor.  The island at one point had about twelve plantations.  This is a tiny island which has a modern day population of only about two hundred and seventy-five hundred thousand people.

 

It is with all of this that I walked into the Kara Walker exhibit on June 22nd at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn.  A group organized a “We Are Here” event on that day for women of color to experience the art installation as a majority in the space.  I’d seen the articles filled with disrespectful selfies and group pictures that white people took of the sculpture’s body parts.  They took the time to get precise placement to look as if they were holding, groping or poking fun at the sphinx’s nakedness.  “We Are Here” served as a support for the myriad of feelings and experiences we may have in the space.  Art moves us. 

 

Once inside, the pungent smell of an old sugar factory seeps into my nostrils.  Then I started to see the little boys, made of candy, carrying baskets.  The exhibit has been open since May 10th.  Some of the boys were melting.  Some had collapsed and lay in shattered piles.  The decay of the candy sculptures was difficult for me to see.  It made me so sad to see them shattered on the floor in pieces and piles.  At one point I looked up and there it was, the huge sugar sphinx.  The sun was shining on her creating a glare.  She was a massive presence, wide and tall.  Still, I slowly made my way to visit many of the little boys first before getting to her.  I have to admit visual art often makes me feel like I’m not smart enough to discuss what the artist intended through the creation of it.  I mentioned this to some friends that I came with then decided to not worry about that and just experience it.

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I peeked into their baskets.  I imagined them bringing her sweet treats.  I imagined them working for her in reverence.  I wondered about the babies that may have been strapped to their mothers as she worked the cane fields.  I marveled at the details and textures in the baskets themselves.  Something about the brown sugar sprinkled on the little boys heads made me smile at their sweet heads.  Then I end up in front of the massive white sugar sculpture.  I stared at the sugar and melting molasses like substance on the walls of the factory & thought about the way in which the past can endure.

 

I eventually end up right in front of her.  Her head wrap doesn’t make me thing of Mammy.  I think of the women I’ve passed working in cane fields with their heads wrapped much the same way to protect from the heat of the sun and catch their sweat.  I want to touch it.  I always want to touch art.  It’s always so textured and tempting.  This is no different.  But I don’t even want to get close enough to walk on the sugar at the ground spreading out from her.  I see the evidence of footprints telling me others did not feel this same deference.  I stay at the front and the side of her for quite some time.  I chatted with strangers and greeted friends as we took it all in.  Finally, I feel ready to walk to the back.

 

I’m standing back watching the crowd watch her.  I’m brought out of my people watching when a Black man announces loudly that before people take disrespectful pictures at the vulva of the sculpture they think about the very ideas that this installation are looking to make commentary about.  There was a group of people snapping pictures as he spoke.  They finished snapping quickly, awkwardly and scurried away.  But they made sure to get the picture of them by the sugar vulva.  Some people (of all colors) found his loud announcement to be disruptive to people having an individual experience of the art.  I felt better by him stating it out loud, myself.  Discussions started happening.  I think discussion is the point and is good.  

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It is right around this point that a woman with a name tag that said Arden starts telling the man who made that announcement to make sure that people knew that he wasn’t connected to the company Creative Time.  He had on no badge, isn’t carrying a clipboard or anything else that identifies him to me to be an employee or even a volunteer at the event.  A woman starts recording Arden telling him this.  Arden doesn’t want to be recorded.  She grabs the woman who is recording her to stop her.  Arden then sends over two security guards (one of which isn’t even on duty in the space) to remove the woman for causing a “ruckus”.  There was no ruckus besides the one Arden caused by trying to have a woman of color removed from the exhibit.  Arden physically grabbed her.  The woman was talking.  She said she was going to file a police report.  Was that the ruckus Arden meant?  Several women of color, myself included, wanted clarity on what exactly was the ruckus because we had all been there and hadn’t seen any ruckus besides a woman of color being grabbed by a white woman at an exhibit about a part of brown history.  Arden became flustered and could not answer the questions well.

 

Everyone that I saw speaking to Arden were clearly upset but talking in calm tones with their inside voices and best vocabulary words.  I know that I have long since learned that no matter how rightfully upset that I am as a woman of color if I scream or yell, I automatically become in the wrong.  I automatically become to blame for being an “angry Black woman with attitude”.  Arden even completed the exchange with what I’ve seen called elsewhere as the “white girl Waaaaaaaaambulance”.  Yep, this is a part of racial discussions I know all too well: the white woman who starts crying and bemoaning her victimhood.  “I believe in this work more than anyone, I am here every single day,” says Arden.  She also wailed something to the affect of us all coming at her. 

 

Yes, Arden, we are coming at you with words, questions, and requests for clarity that you became way to flustered to give.  Sorry Arden, but you being at an art exhibit each day of it’s installation & run does not trump the reality I live everyday as a Black woman in this world.  You cannot and don’t have to care more than the women of color standing before you hurt at the wrongful ruckus you are orchestrating in this space.  Here we are now watching you exert the very privilege, which proves how little you have to care as a white woman.  You physically touched someone, and then called security to have THEM removed for causing a ruckus.  You work for Creative Time so security seemed very willing to take your word over hers.  Were there not a slew of women questioning you, you would have gotten away with it no questions asked.  I was so saddened to see this happening in this space at all but especially on the “We Are Here” day.  I am so very proud of the grace, intelligence and power that the women of color took in speaking up for each other.  We Are Here. 

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I Don't Identify as Feminist, I Identify as Me

Not only am I one of the only Black women that doesn't watch Scandal (but to be fair, the only TV I watch is The View because I love Whoopi) but I also have not listened to or watched Beyonce’s new album.  I like Bey.  Don’t worry this isn’t about the her or the album.  However, conversations about the album have caused me to have to clarify repeatedly that I don’t identify as feminist.  I was also asked if I identify as a womanist.  Nope, I don’t identify as that either.  I don’t even know the rules of these clubs.  However, I see clearly what happens to people who do identify as such when they break the rules.  YIKES!  These rules change depending on the beliefs of the person who is defining the term for you.  Ask ten feminists for a definition and well, you know.  I suck at rules.  I do.  So, I simply identify as me.

I have a difficult time fitting into neatly shaped labels.  In regards to feminism, I lose already because I choose to celebrate my sexual energy.  Then, again, depending on what feminist you speak to, I may also be a champion of feminism because of that same very fact.  Confusing, right?  I choose to move through the world from a space of being power filled despite, no, in spite of all of the isms I get hit with.  These isms are restrictive labels that someone else put on me.  I did not choose or make them.  They are not mine.  I do have to move through a world where they exist.  I do not, however, have to give them power over me.  They are not welcomed to live in the part of my being that defines me for me.

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Life is so much more peace filled this way.  I make up the rules for myself as I go along.  I don’t get pissed off at myself for not playing the game right.  I don’t have to get into debates about what anything means in terms of my identity because it’s all my own.  I don’t need anyone to convert to my way of being.  I don’t feel the need to label myself as narcissist for liking selfies.  Heck, I like other people’s selfies too.  I made up the rules to live my life by all by myself (well with many life experiences and experiments for flavoring).  I checked out the things I learned growing up to see if they were, indeed, a good fit for me.  I promise I didn't even need a conference call with myself to discuss the meaning of it all for the greater good of the world or anything.  I suffer from severe suffocation when it comes to being one of the cool kids or doing things the “right way”.  I simply believe that everyone gets to have their own ways of being on their life journey.  Like one of my favorite cousins always says, “It’s your journey.  It’s not my journey.”

Life is clearly a journey.  Living a life on the road of self definition is not always a smooth and easy ride.  Some days, by my estimation, I just do it all horribly wrong.  I still prefer where this self definition road seems to be leading.  Guess why?  On my best days, I accept this and everything else about myself.  On those days, I don’t need to go on passion filled rages about how, why and what I did was wrong for all womankind (well, cuz it isn’t).  On those days, I’m at a place of simple acceptance of my perfectly imperfect self and life.  Can we make up another label like unicornist or butterflyist where the rules are that you make up your own rules & no one gets to way in on your choice to live life by your own design?  In this new term, you prefer not be contained and held to someone else’s rules or standards.  I can make up my own standards and I won’t even care if I change my mind.  I allow me to do that.  

 

I’m endlessly fascinated by how invested in the life choices of others people can be.  Please know that I have quite a firm grip on what many of the isms are just by virtue of living life as me.  I am a part of several marginalized and stigmatized cultures and communities.  Furthermore, because I suck at rules, I am a further marginalized part within many of those same marginalized groups.  Did I mention that I have never been down with the cool kids?  Simply living life has shown me a myriad of ways those with power & access will attempt to diminish my existence and value.  Yet, I choose to move through the world with the idea that I am not less than anyone.  I do not think that I am better than anyone either.  I believe that we all are one.  Call me a hippie if you want, I choose love. 

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I choose not to have the actions of those outside of myself throw my mood off.  I can throw my own mood off.  I do not need to outsource annoyance.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I say your life choices are for you to make.  If I am moved to feel  strongly averse to your ways, I can simply choose not to engage you.  Sorted :-)!  I am more than happy to only worry about what I believe to be true of me.  I’m content to work on making choices that make the world a place I like to exist in.  I accept that those I enter relationships with (friendly or otherwise) will work with me to define what it looks like for us by us.  Clear communication with each other will be our key.  It’s no one else’s business anyway.  I choose to value life's little moments of joy:  like this weekend when I shared a moment of laughter about sucking the juicy pulp out of a mango from a small hole bitten into the skin with people from different parts of the African Diaspora.  There was joy for all of us in mangoes from home.  Joy can be a cuddle.  It can be learning something new.  It can be in doing the work I love.  I don’t personally find joy in being bound up by ever changing rules unless I make them up for myself. 

You, rock on with your bad self!  Choose your choices, ist your ists.  I’ll be over here outside of the boxes, not coloring between the lines, twerking to the beat of my own drum if you need me.  I swear if I could, I would thoroughly suck the juices out of my right to be self defined.  I’d deep throat it to epic orgasms & be sure to swallow so as not to waste the energy of those precious journey juices.  Purple unicorn, heart & butterfly coochie sprinkles for one and all! *throws it toward you from blog post*

Black Female Bodies on the Street

I’m standing at the Goddess Walk (anti street harassment rally) next to its creator, Sweet Lorraine.  There were several Black female bodies on the street.  Actually, we were standing in a park at first.  An eight year old boy walked up and read the sign she was holding.  “I try to tell my Dad not to say those things to women.  You have to be a gentleman.  I told him if he keeps doing it, I’m writing him off my list!”  Moments later, his father walked up without knowing we had that conversation with his son.  He was bemoaning the plight of men “like him” who only say polite things as compliments to women on the street.  He refused to hear what the women at the walk were saying (as women who deal with it).  He cut us off and he wasn't listening.  Finally, I said, “You know what?  You’re a pretty man, I’d like to put you in a dress and wig and have you walk once around the block like that.”  He stormed off, arms in the air, exasperated that I’d even suggest such a thing.  “Come on, brother!  I’m just giving you a compliment.  Look at your face, it’s precious!”  He came back later and said with a serious face, “You turned the tables on me.  It hit like a boomerang.  I didn't like that.”  Yeah? Well, neither do we.  Point went to team woman.

Unfortunately, this was one of the few points earned.  On most days, I’m just trying to get to all of my appointments on time.  I’m really good at being over scheduled so it’s not personal if I don’t stop to engage everyone that makes a comment to me on the street.  Oh, and by the way, I don’t owe you any engagement.  This summer has been off the charts with street harassment.  Honestly, I feel a bit lucky, as if I have a remote control on street harassment.  For me, when I dress down, I don’t get harassed much.  However, I hear many women say that this makes no difference.  I am around two such women very often.  I’ve heard stories from these two women that are beyond anything that I have ever had to personally encounter on the streets.  Then just last week I bore witness to a similar such horrible incident of harassment.

Sweet Lorraine is another burlesque performer and also one of my closest friends.  She tends to dress up often.  I tend to dress down when not on stage.  It’s safe to say that I've watched many a human loose it in her presence.  I've watched people struggle to keep their eyes off her breasts as they speak to her.  I've also experienced walking with her when she is dressed down.  Clearly we don’t have the same remote control.  The comments and reactions from people on the street can be non-stop.  In fact, I believe she was dressed down on the day that her being harassed on the street ending with her being pushed by the cat callers.  These and experiences like these led her to create The Goddess Walk.

 

 

 

After watching her video promo for the walk, I had to admit to myself that dressing down is mostly about my being comfortable.  However, a big part of my dressing down is also to take a break from crazy comments like, “I’d bend that over and be all up in it,” while I’m trying to get where I’m going.  The walk has already happened but the conversation continues.

Toy!!! is my laptop buddy.  A fellow entrepreneur and primarily a vocalist, she uses her voice for many of her life’s passions.  She is one of the most passionate people I know.  In addition to using her voice for work and creative expression, she also does a great deal of charity work for the homeless and children.  She’s also a voluptuous red head.  When I say red head, I mean Crayola crayon, currently cut into a fly faux hawk, red.  When I walk down the street with her, I often hear people compliment her for how funky her whole style is.  If I hadn't actually had conversations with her, I’d never know about all the insults and street harassment that also come with that same packaging.  From a very young age, she’s had to deal with extra attention because of having full breasts.  For example, she’s long been given unsolicited advice as to what she should and should not wear.  She’s been coached strongly around how she should and should not act.  Often, it can be a challenge to grow into who we authentically are when others have taught us to believe how they think we should be.

She recently made her voice very heard in this Ladies Remix of the Robin Thicke & Pharell's Blurred Lines.

 

Just last week, I was headed back to Brooklyn with Perle Noire, who had just performed in a benefit show honoring the memory of burlesque legend, Dixie Evans.  We decided to grab a slice before getting into a cab home.  Many people in the pizza shop stopped her to compliment her performance.  There was a drunken white couple who stopped her as she passed their table.  The woman hugged Perle while she sang the praises of her performance.  The woman then decided to take a nibble of Perle’s nipple.  I was shocked and disgusted.  Perle handled it with way more grace than I could have mustered.  Clearly upset by it when she came back to where we were sitting she said, “I don’t know what it is.  My whole life, people just feel like they can just touch my breasts.”  I imagine that one reaction to this would be to try to hide her breasts at all costs.  However, just the inverse, she has won awards like Most Dazzling Dancer at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend Miss Exotic World Festival.  For many performers, the pasties are a reveal at the very end of an act.  Not for the Black Perle of Burlesque.  See her here performing a piece that is a tribute to the Nigerian Goddess of sensuality, intelligence and abundance - Oshun.

Soon after witnessing that incident with Perle Noire, I read When Your Brown Body is A White Wonderland by Tressie McMillan Cottom.  Please read it.  The three women I mention are beautiful by anyone's standards, so that element of the article didn't resonate.  It was the lack of reverence and value of her body that did.  It (and the comments of those who are trying to invalidate her particular experience) made me think about the ways in which women’s bodies are often removed from their humanity as a whole.  No, this is not limited to Black bodies but these are the bodies that I am speaking about in this post.  I, myself, have dealt with people in dressing rooms of strip clubs and burlesque shows grabbing at my behind.  It’s usually followed by a giggle and an “I just can’t help it…”  These are, however, women that I have a working relationship with (a working relationship that involves us being nude or near nude in dressing rooms together while enjoying the break from societies demands on how we should use our own bodies), not strangers on the street.

I am grateful that I have not experienced strangers on the street feeling at liberty to touch me.  So many people are asking why a white woman can’t do a particular dance. Beyond the historical African roots of our dances being ignored by many, it isn't just about that.  Google mapouka, soukous, soca and reggae dances. As a proud stripper, I’m here to tell you that no strippers or New Orleans didn't invent the moves.  What's really troublesome is that "Miley Gate’s" message is that my brown body is OK to be smacked and used as a prop devoid of full human value, yet again, for the sake of pop culture's gain and amusement.  Miley Gate be damned... Goddess bless the fool that now thinks they can grab my ass as if it's their own.

It just is not OK, period.

 

 

Sweet Lorraine Talks Goddess Walk

I got to sit down with Sweet Lorraine, Shades of burlesque producer and Brown Girls Burlesque troupe sister to talk about her up-coming event The Goddess Walk.  The Goddess Walk is an anti-street harassment rally happening Aug 24th in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn.  It is another part of her project called The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns.

I've been to a few events done under the umbrella of The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns.  What was your favorite one/why? What is the inspiration behind the festival?

This is hard to narrow down!  All of the events pushed me to a level of growth creatively, spiritually, personally that I am grateful for.  They are all my favorites in that regard.

But I’ll tell you 2 favorites J

1) Oshun Returns sessions are gatherings for women that incorporate yoga, discussion, meditation & creative activities that encouraged women to make time to appreciate themselves.  Topics range from how to enjoy pleasure to releasing painful memories from street harassment.  It was a space where women could be open with each other, share our experiences & celebrate ourselves.  At the end of the session I have the women walk around the space envisioning themselves as Goddesses, confident and loved.  During this, I drop rose petals at their feet.  This is something I think every person should experience!  This is where the Goddess Walk was born.  It’s a reminder that we are all worthy of the goodness life has to offer simply because we exist.  We should be treated as such!

I started this as a practice to be more caring to myself vs. being overly judgmental.  As women we’re taught that everyone else’s needs take precedent over our own.  I had to unlearn that way of being.  These sessions gave me and other women a space to do so.

2) Shades of Burlesque shows are also a favorite.  These shows feature Black burlesque performers in NYC.  There are a great variety in the performances presented, proving that there is no one “black woman experience.”  This show allows us all to define our sexuality while expressing it freely.  I even decorated the space with images of Black Pin-Ups.   Seeing yourself reflected in different mediums whether on stage or in the media in relation to beauty is important to me.  I wanted folks to know that Black women were there during the golden age of burlesque & pin-ups even though our images are rarely shown in historic documentation. 

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When was the first time you experienced street harassment?  What went through your mind?

The first time I was harassed as an openly queer adult was a few years ago when I was walking with my partner at the time.  A man threatened to rape me.  Another man threatened to kill me.  I had never experienced threats of violence associated with street harassment until after coming out.  The incident that prompted me to organize the Goddess walk was when I was harassed by a group of guys & eventually pushed.  I was on my way to the city and hadn’t even made it off of my own Block when a guy says “hey baby…”  I turned & said “My name is not ‘baby’ if you want to speak to me just say hello Miss.”  Then he and the rest of his group cursed me out.  I wasn’t afraid even though there were about 6 guys yelling at me, threatening to steal my phone. Probably because they were teenagers, I have a teenage nephew & 2 younger brothers so that’s why I wasn’t too concerned until one of them decided to push me. It was the first time I was physically assaulted in relation to street harassment.

So many things went through my head: Did someone really just push me, I’m going to call the cops, the cops won’t do anything because I’m dressed non gender specific today, would these young black men treat the white women who moved onto my block like this, Don’t cry, Don’t curse at them, I’ve been meditating twice a day for months, but I have zero compassion to show these kids right now, regroup you still have an engagement in the city… 

I was angry but more saddened than anything.  They were so young and had no respect for me as another human being, especially not me as a black woman.  This experience of lack of respect seemed to be a common experience in my community for Black women & queer folk.

Wow.  That’s pretty horrible.  I’ve had plenty said to me but I’ve not had anyone on the street touch me.  So, the Goddess Walk is approaching.  What do you hope to achieve?

The Goddess walk is an anti-street harassment rally specifically for black women, LGBTQ folk and our allies.  I make the distinction because, in my experience, negative stereotypes associated with Black women in terms of our sexuality influence how we are harassed on the street as well as one’s sexual orientation. 

I feel compelled to organize this event because I don’t want to be afraid in my own neighborhood.  I don’t want to hide who I am. I don’t deserve to be harassed because I am Black, a woman or queer.  I want to be the change. 

 

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Is there anything that you've ever wanted to say to men on the street as they comment when you walk past them?  

YES!  I usually say, “Respect me and respect yourself,” if they say something inappropriate.  I would also like to add please stop assuming things about me as to why I refuse to respond.  I don’t have to respond. Period dot, end of story.

And if I had their attention for 5 minutes I would say this & listen to their response: 

Are you familiar with Stop & Frisk?  Have you ever been stopped & frisked by the cops when you were on your way to work, or the gym, or a night out with your friends?  Did you feel angry that they imposed themselves on you with no explanation simply because they had a badge and a gun?  Can you recall how your body tenses up when you see a cop & you just hope they’ll pass by, but you know they won’t because you fit the description for those who they are supposed to stop & frisk?  Do you think this is unacceptable behavior?

Well that’s how I feel when you harass me on the street.  I hope you think about this before you catcall.

Huh, never thought about it that way, but you’re right about the parallel of imposition.  What advice would you give to "the good peeps" who may want to approach a woman but doesn't want to be thought of as just another cat caller?  I feel like the good folks end up quiet for fear of being disrespectful.  And the disrespectful people shout out loud. 

I think being respectful is always the way to go.  If you say hello and you want to continue the conversation, ask her if she’s willing to do the same if not let it go & move on. 

What are you up to when you're not helping women be able to move freely about the streets? Where can we find out what you're up to?

Performing burlesque, go-go dancing, making pasties, revamping a wig, styling a shoot, writing my solo show, ya know the usualJ  You can check out my comings & goings at sweetlorraineburlesque.weebly.com or find me on www.faceook.com/Lorraine.sweetlorraine 

  Speaking of Facebook here is the Goddess Walk Facebook Event Invite.  Are there future plans for The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns? 

Yes, besides the solo show, my goal is to make Shades of Burlesque a regular monthly show here in NYC.  Consistent visibility for Black women freely expressing their sexuality in their terms, from their many different perspectives is one of my greatest passions.  I can fulfill this desire & my love of performing simultaneously by producing this show :-)!

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A Human, Being

I’m a human, being.  A human being the best way I can figure how day to day.  I've been thinking a great deal about the imperfection that it is to be human.  Yet, here we all are human, being.  Our spirits are housed in these bodies as we have our individual human experiences.  We are all that - spirit.  Somehow, there are those among us that refuse to accept or see that we are all one.  It boggles my particular mind why the people who most likely to miss these facts seem to be wielding the most control, resources and access.  Do they also hold the most power?

Some days, more recently than I care to admit, I truly do think so.  I wake up not wanting to do another day.  A world that can allow Trayvon Martin to be murdered and George Zimmerman to walk free surely has an imbalance of power.  This imbalance seems to be bearing down on our backs in such unbearable, sadness and awe inducing ways.  However, when I really stop and consider it, perhaps they see too much power in us.  Is it possible that the need to control and hoard come from the fact that they can see that we are powerful beyond our own recognition?  I think about a fraction of the humans I know personally.  I especially think of the ones I call friend.  Many of them are creative and caring to a degree way higher than I've ever experienced from people I've encountered with control, resources, access.

In New York one can be privy to experiencing numerous worlds at once.  I know I have. Sometimes, it happens all in the same night.  I remember one night being in a bar uptown that was filled to the brim with people who had big titles in big companies, their own or internationally recognizable brands.  I sat quietly listening to them talk at each other about the things these types go on about: material possessions, vacations in the trendy places, clothing from labels I know nothing about, real estate locations, etc.  A woman I was sitting next to exchanged cards with me saying that we should meet up for lunch or drinks soon.  That never happened.  She LA’d (a term I coined for when people flake) me every time I followed up.  We would all know the brand she helms if I named it.  Anyway, off I went to a poetry open mic downtown.  This was also filled to the brim but with people happy to have a space to share the words they’d written.  People talked to each other about ideas, current events, and plans for future creative projects small & large.

That lady from uptown did not see me fit for her level of human after a quick Google search, I’m guessing.  Strippers are not human at all as far society is concerned.  If we are human, we certainly aren't respectable ones.  People who are involved in any kind of sex work or sex education work are for sure hugely flawed humans.  Add to the equation all of the things that these people with control, access, resources deem value-less.  I personally can add quite a few marginalized communities into my own human basket – person of color, queer, female, 1st generation (I guess I would be what they call an “anchor baby”) for example.  So what if we are all skeletons beneath it all?

Yet, I exist among a great big wide network of people creating beautiful things despite.  It is one of the reasons that I lend my talent, time and abilities to projects like The Red Umbrella Project.  I’ve certainly benefitted from being a part of the memoir writing class that they offer to current and former sex workers.  It is an amazing experience to sit in a room full of people who can see each other for the spirits we all are as opposed to the flawed human experience we exist as a part of.  This experience has led to two literary journals which tell the stories of sex workers (Prose & Lore).  Prose & Lore 2 was recently launched on July 10, 2013.  It is my hope that through sharing our stories (sad, happy, shocking or fun) all work toward the end of educating the world of sex worker’s humanity.  I think about the world before the internet where sex workers only knew the sex workers at their club or on their stroll or with their agency or, worse, in hiding going it all alone.

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I am grateful to be a part of different communities which strive to share with the world the stories of our humanity despite and in spite of our flaws (women, people of color, queer, managing mental illness, survivors, I could go on.  You get the point.).  They are not perfect worlds.  Even within this world, issues of marginalization breed ignorance and callousness.  There is an unwillingness to simply empathize without feeling threatened or becoming needlessly defensive.  I personally find myself in a space that is never enough for anyone.  I’m not militant or loud enough for the activists or feminists.  I’m not gay enough for the queer community.  “How dare you say you’re a sex worker,” say the strippers.  “How dare you say you’re a stripper,” say the burlesque performers.  Daggers for being thin though I’ve worked out like an athlete since the age of twelve (for years with trainers).  Mind you, I’d also get daggers were I overweight.  “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  There’s no such thing as depression,” say the "positive" thinkers.  It never ends.

At least, however, even with that, we are able to harness true power by creating, community building and bringing awareness to society at large.  This tribe which is not cut from mainstream cloth has issues.  It is surely not utopia.  But every merry band of misfits I know finds their own chosen family within which they can build no matter what lack of control, resources or access society at large imposes.  It’s because the things we do, we do because we HAVE TO for our own survival and peace of mind.  Those of you in the tribe know exactly what I mean.  To those of you not in this tribe it probably makes no sense.  Yet, when we serve it to you as only our creatively unique selves can, you get it a little more each time.  I hope.  I have to believe that these are the things that change the world.  This is the power within us that is feared and attempting to be extinguished.

  ESSENCE REVEALED - Essence Revealed is first generation Bajan born & raised in Boston.  She got her BFA at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and MA at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education.  Her writing has appeared places such as $pread Magazine, Corset Magazine, BurlesqueBible.com and 21st Century Burlesque.  She's been published in two anthologies: Pros(e)Prose & Lore 2,  &  Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chicken Hawks.  She now performs & teaches nationally and internationally both solo and as a member of Brown Girls Burlesque.  Her favorite thing to do besides reading is to lay on the beach in Barbados to rest up for a night of calypso dancing.