Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

I’m not big on New Year resolutions, but I recently came across this Lifestyle Map exercise at one of my favorite websites, Carrie & Danielle, and it seems a bit more intrinsic in assisting me in becoming the person I aspire to be.

Carrie & Danielle assist women in identifying their Style Statement. Your style statement captures the essence of your true self. My style statement is vivid ease and for those of you intimately familiar with mango mama, I think you’d agree that this suites me quite fine. Now, let’s be clear, I couldn’t afford Carrie & Danielle’s $500 consultation fee, but one of my best buds, is totally into what they do and with a bit of research, she’s collected their questions and with her incredible intellect and insight, she’s sort of appropriated their process, but that’s a whole other story.

Now, back to the Lifestyle Map exercise. Unlike New Year resolutions, the Lifestyle Map is a great tool for examining what’s working and not working in each area of your life, and in identifying what you want, they ask you to detail how meeting each goal will make you feel. It’s an interesting and challenging prospect, because oftentimes, it’s the sense of accomplishment, contentment, etc., we’re searching for in the first place. I also can’t believe, Carrie & Danielle are offering this process for free, so hop on over to their site, download your map and let the dreaming begin.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Let There Be Light!

When I was younger; before I met and married Loverman, I was always looking for those large, grand gestures from whatever man I was dating at the moment to indicate the depth of his affections for me. Since I’ve matured, I’ve come to learn that real love is demonstrated in simple, yet thoughtful ways. Case in point, when we first moved into this house nine months ago, the motion detector light in the driveway wasn’t working. This is just one of a dozen small things that’s needed to be addressed. A few days ago, when I got home after 9pm, I noticed the light was activated and I made my way to the front door with no problem.

Way to go Loverman, I love you too!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Cheesecake Factory

I recently had lunch at The Cheesecake Factory for the first time. My lunch was great, but it was way too much food for one person and as I looked around at the other folks at my table and at the patrons at the surrounding tables, I noticed no one completely finished their meals. Sure, it’s a great bang for your buck, but it’s also systemic of American culture, extreme excess and wastefulness.

hello stranger

Yesterday, my girl, Alexis, and I drove up to North Jersey to spend the afternoon with one of our line sisters, Lisa. It’s been almost 15 years since we’ve all been together and we had a ball catching up. In fact, yesterday’s activities fit quite well with one of my intentions for the new year----- make a sincere effort to spend more time with friends.

I’ve always had a tight group of gal pals, and infrequently ventured outside of this core nucleus of friends, but while in college I met and enjoyed many folks that I’ve simply loss touch with over the years and since I’ve had the kids, forgetaboutit! It’s time for this to change. I think it’s especially crucial since both Loverman and I are only children, neither of us have a large extended family. It’s really easy for us to become insulated, like we’re on our own little island and that’s not the type of environment I want for our family. You need to have other energies around as a sort of barometer, to let you know if you’re balanced or veering a bit off course.

Touching base with Alexis and Lisa yesterday really helped me feel a little less like just mom to Olivia and Yannick or wife to Loverman, and more like my old self. It was nice to reconnect with both them and me. I see now, that I’ve missed us all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I am a sandwich

I am a sandwich or better yet, I am of the sandwich generation. I am in my early forties and I’m sandwiched between my two younger children and parents in their mid-sixties. My experience with my father this week has made this painfully clear.

For the last year or so, my dad has been in extreme discomfort from his right knee and earlier this week he had knee replacement surgery. When Dad mentioned he was planning to have this surgery, I was really happy, because of course, if something could be done to alleviate his pain, I wanted it done. I was also concerned as to how we could manage his recovery because my dad lives alone. I’m an only child, and since my parent’s break-up about 4 years ago, my dad and I have been forced to deal with each other in a more production way, as we’ve tried to heal our challenged relationship.

When discussing his operation, my dad assured me he had everything covered and really wouldn’t need my assistance. In fact, he said he didn’t need me to come to the hospital during the surgery. Well, I explained nothing would keep me from being with him at the hospital or as he weathered this ordeal, but I needed to have some idea of what I’d be in for. I mean, what about getting him up and down the stairs in his house? How much weight will he be able to put on his right leg by the time he goes home? My dad’s 6’1” and about 250lbs, he’s not a small man and I didn’t know if he should really be managing in his house alone for the first few days after the surgery. I’d already planned to go to his house each morning to fix his breakfast for at least the first week following the operation. I’m off for the holidays until January 3rd, so it really isn’t a big deal. Again, my dad’s assured me this isn’t necessary.

Well, yesterday I learned my dad has no idea of what he’s in for and the few things he does have in place are woefully inadequate and will not address his immediate needs once he’s discharged. When I went to the hospital yesterday afternoon, my dad’s nurse, Marsha, introduced me to Tracey, my dad’s caseworker. Tracey peppered me with at least a half dozen questions, which I wasn’t prepared to answer. She told me I’d have to buy a portable toilet and walker. For at least the next three weeks, a physical therapist and homecare nurse will come to Dad’s home to assist him, but someone should probably be staying with him for the first week at least. Once Tracy gave me a more comprehensive picture of my dad’s situation, I was pretty mad and disgusted with my dad.

I’m angry because this is a lot more than I anticipated and because I’ve been asking my dad for weeks to sit down with me and devise a plan to make this work. Now I find myself having to rework my plans to accommodate his needs. I’m not proud that I feel this way, but I would be more amiable about helping him out if my dad asked, or at least, sat me down to explain what the recovery was realistically going to look like. At this point, I’ve found myself in this position by default.

I’m also realizing that as my parents' age, I will probably find myself in this position a lot more often, sandwiched between their needs, and my responsibilities as a wife and mother. But, if this were my mom, the circumstances would be a lot different because my mother and I have a much better relationship. We communicate and work well together. This current situation with my dad reflects our ongoing struggle, one in which in his mind, I’m still a 12-year-old child, who has to do things his way, without question, and to a certain extent, I guess I’ve played into this scenario, but if I value my sanity and that of my family, things are definitely going to have to change.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A New Superhero's On the Scene

First, let me contextualize the set-up for you. Loverman is a vegetarian, only seafood, vegetables and soy products for him. The kids and I do all of the above, plus chicken and turkey, but no pork or beef.

The Set-Up-- Yannick is sitting at the kitchen table and I’m at the sink putting dishes in the dishwasher.

Yannick: Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a mental-vegetarian.

Me: A what?

Yannick: A mental-vegetarian

Me: Baby, what’s a mental-vegetarian?

Yannick: It’s a superhero that squashes all beef!


True story

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What's my real story?

I just finished reading One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life--- A Story of Race and Family Secrets, a memoir by Bliss Broyard. One Drop details Bliss’ search for self after learning her father, Anatole Broyard, who lived all of his adult life as a White man, is indeed Black. Bliss and her brother, Todd, are told this family secret only days before their father’s impending death.

I first learned of One Drop while reading a review on My American Melting Pot. It peaked my interest because of the history of passablanc (passing for White) in my own family. Both sides of my mother’s family are extremely light and on my mother’s maternal side, my mom has a first cousin who simply walked off one day and never looked back. Within our family lore, it’s pretty much common knowledge he went on and lived his life as a White man, with a White wife, and with seemingly White children.

I remember family stories my grandmother told me of how she and her four sisters would pass for White now and then as they were growing up. It all seemed impossible to me, because most Black folks can spot their own, no matter how fair, with straight hair, they may be. I used to ask my grandmother about her grandmother, but she explained that she didn’t know her grandmother because her mother married a dark skin man (my great-grandfather), and my great-great grandmother didn’t approve. She didn’t want anybody darkening up the family.

When I was younger, I found these stories amusing and these assumptions of “if you’re White, you’re alright, but if you’re Black, step back,” outdated. As a small child, I remember my Aunt Pam bopping to James Brown’s anthem, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud,” but as I got older, I realized that I, too, needed to come to terms with my own color struck issues.

Away at college, I became acutely aware of the intra-racial assumptions Black folks make solely due to the color of one’s skin and the texture of hair. I remember a heated exchange with another girl, who told me; I thought I was cute because I had light skin and green eyes. At the time, this was all news to me because as light as my mom’s family is, but dad’s crew has a lot of deep mocha brown throughout and in my immediate family it just wasn’t an issue, but, if you had “good” or "nappy" hair, now that was an issue, and I was one nappy-headed chile.

During my sophomore year, I read Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and The Bluest Eye and thus began my uninformed attempts to level my privileged light-skinned playing field. These efforts included cutting the perm out of my hair and letting my natural nap to take hold of my head; dismissing light-skin brothers for no reason, other than the color of their skin; and adopting an Afro-centric veneer. To this day, when it comes to re-upping on my make-up, I gravitate to the very berry or chocolate drop lip colors, all of which are way too dark for my skin tone. Thank God for good, honest girlfriends, they let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I can’t rock these darker shades.

I readily admit part of my attraction to Loverman is his undeniable African features, his full lips and darker hue. I’ve always wanted Black babies and one of my most potent memories is minutes after laboring Olivia into the world, my mother commented that Olivia had absolutely no color and she looked directly at Loverman and in her sassy fashion taunted, “Well son, what do we need you for, if you’re not going to add a bit of color to the line?”

Earlier today, when I discussing One Drop with my mom, she admitted to understanding why Anatole Broyard did what he did. I cautioned mom to remember that all of our lives we’ve benefited from our light skin status, by being identified as “a little bit better,” because we’re not dark skinned. For me, I’ve often joked the sins of my grandfathers are written all over my face--- meaning my lighter skin, light eyes, are a result of White misogynist domination of my female ancestors, but I don’t know if this is really the truth or not. It’s simply romanticized reasoning I’ve made up. For me, I think I’m at a juncture where it’s time to find my truth, so I can pass concrete facts onto my babies and finally put the speculations to rest.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is what you see, all you get?

One of the reasons I headed to NOLA last week was to check out a bunch of performance work. A big part of my job is to identify artists/projects/work to bring to the Painted Bride Art Center, a multidisciplinary presenting arts organization here in Philly.

So, in addition to networking with colleagues, eating way too much fried food and checking out the recovery in New Orleans, I also saw A LOT of performance work. In fact, Saturday I spent nine entire hours watching performance after performance. Now, before Saturday, I’d imagine an entire day of watching new, thought-provoking work, without my kids or any other distractions, would sound like heaven, but in actuality, it was hell. It was just too much and by the end of the day, I was ready to run from the theater. My senses were on overload and I was outdone, because there was a lot of nudity, I’m talking butt-naked, or artists in various stages of undress and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I’m completely over nudity for shock value. Don’t waste my time; find a more creative way to provoke me or turn me on.

I did dig Miguel Gutierrez’s Retrospective Exhibitionist and Difficult Bodies. The hour-long excerpt Miguel presented was fun and engaging, but my boss would argue that he wasn’t completely nude because he wore funky red Converse throughout the piece--- whatever!

The night before this daylong festival of performances, I checked out a cabaret featuring Louisiana-based artists. The State of the Nation Art & Performance Series was hosted by the Ashe Cultural Arts Center. It was a fun night and included local artists of all ages and disciplines. Two spoken word artists in particular blew me away, Sunni Patterson and R. Moose Jackson. Sunni reminded me of my girl, Ursula Rucker. Sunni’s work is dense and should be studied by high school students everywhere, and I’ve been haunted all week by one of Moose’s lines--- “I’m not alright, but I’m upright.” This country boy is BADDDD! Moose remained in New Orleans throughout the storm and its aftermath. You can tell he’s seen some things. Too often, I find spoken word performance passĂ©, but these two artists are the real-deal Holyfield.

Finally, Sunday night I found myself in the middle of Guillermo Gomez Pena’s Mapa-Corpo 2. Listen folks, this shit was deep. The piece included a man wrapped from head-to-toe in plastic wrap, a burka-clad woman who birthed a pork loin, then took a huge bite of the raw meet and ate it, at this point I headed out to the theater and right for the bar, because I knew I need more of a buzz to experience the rest of this piece. Other elements of this interactive performance included the burka babe completely disrobing and laying on a table while an acupuncturist sticks acupuncture pins, featuring flags from nations around the globe. While all of this is going on, Guillermo is walking around adding bi-lingual commentary on the colonized body politic--- like I said--- DEEP. I ended up videotaping a lot of this piece because I knew I wouldn’t have the words to explain it to Loverman. Words don’t do it justice, and I have to admit, I left the theater wondering…WHAT THE HELL?!?!

I often myself in this place, seeing and experiencing new work and not fully understanding it’s meaning or purpose. Ultimately, it’s an exercise of letting my judgments and expectations go and allowing myself to just feel or go with the experience. When I’m evaluating whether or not I’m interested in bringing the work to my center, I just look for the humanity in the work presented. Does it transcend the specifics and touch your soul, and for me, its got to do more than show a little bit of skin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's a girl gotta do?

This afternoon I caught the last half hour of the rebroadcast of Oprah’s Favorite Things. Now, all I want to know is how can I be down? I mean, DAMN! What’s a woman got to do to get on that show? Do you know anyone who’s ever participated in this gift fest? Is there some secret society? Shoot, it must be good, because I get goose bumps just watching the gift getting, and if I’m ever granted an invite to that particular party, all of us will benefit, cause Lord knows, I can’t keep the entire booty for myself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Collective Black Guilt Syndrome

With all of my 42 years, I still cannot seem to shake Collective Black Guilt Syndrome (CBGS). For those of you not familiar with CBGS, it’s the misplaced sense of “one bad apple ruins the whole bunch.” An example is when I’m lying in bed, watching TV and the news breaks in with a developing story of a deadly shooting, and the first thing that comes to my mind is, “Oh Lord, I hope the shooter isn’t Black.”

I got to thinking about this after checking out a recent post on the blog, Mes Deaux Cents (MDC). The post detailed the vacuous nature of Sherri Shepherd on The View. According to MDC, Sherri’s a disgrace to Black women everywhere and I tend to agree with her. When Miss Shepherd admitted to not knowing if the world was round or flat, I wanted to reach through my TV set and shake some sense into her. But, why do I feel like Sherri’s representing Black folks/women everywhere? She surely doesn’t represent me.

Earlier today, Loverman caught a promo for today’s Oprah and the topic was a man who videotaped himself physically abusing his wife and before they showed a picture of the abuser, the first thing out of Loveman’s mouth was, “I hope it isn’t a brother?” Unfortunately, it was. A few years ago, when the D.C. area was terrorized by a series of seemingly random sniper shootings, I remember feeling pretty confident that a crazed White man would be identified as the shooter and I, along with many others, were shocked to find out how wrong we were.

The flip side of this syndrome is collective pride folks feel when we bask in the glory of the likes of Oprah, Obama, Malcolm and Martin, but somehow, it’s just never enough, and many of us feel saddled with the vestiges of Willie Horton, welfare moms and video hoes.

I’m sure this syndrome has something to do with how Black folks are represented historically, as well as in mainstream media, but for me, it’s an area where I need to do some personal work. I definitely don’t want to pass this tendency onto my kids. I/we cannot carry the burden for an entire race of people on a daily basis. It’s just too heavy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

NOLA Update

Well folks, I’m back and happy to report my sojourn to NOLA was not for naught. I think I caught a glimpse of change. A day or so before I departed, Brad Pitt announced his Make It Right initiative which will focus its attention and resources on rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward.

Last Thursday, I traveled to the Ninth Ward and I saw the deep pink tarp structures indicating where the Make It Right homes will be built. When I toured the Ninth Ward in March, I was stunned by the absence of energy, but this visit I saw a few people and work crews and I felt the conjuring of energy, movement, maybe even progress.

I recently learned that historically, the Black folks and Creole of New Orleans are known for their expert craftsmanship, with longstanding participation in the building trades and as with most folks, they aren’t looking for a hand out, but a hand up. Will Brad & Company simply step up to the table to build these quirky looking green homes, or will this innovative initiative offer real opportunities for folks to get back on their feet by providing jobs and job training, while contracting with homegrown minority contractors ensuring sustainable change for members of this devastated community?

Time will tell, people. Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bearing Witness

Tomorrow I’m off to NOLA for the National Performance Network’s (NPN) Annual Meeting. Despite the fact that I’ll miss the mango tribe terribly, I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and seeing new performance work. I wish I could say the same about visiting New Orleans.

This will be my second trip to New Orleans this year and as with my previous trip, I’m heading to the Big Easy with lots of trepidation. I’d visited the city years earlier, but Katrina and its aftermath completely ruined my charmed view of the city. Another sad reminder of this country’s disdain for people of color, but of course, that’s a whole ‘nother post.

When I arrived in New Orleans for a business meeting last March, I grabbed a shuttle to my hotel in the French Quarter and during the ride I silently surveyed hundreds of homes in various stages of rebuilding. I saw hundreds more that appeared to be completely abandoned in all types of neighborhoods.

While meeting with my colleagues, I tried to find the right moment to request a tour of the 9th Ward. As I hemmed and hauled looking for the right words, the Louisiana natives I was meeting with, looked at me plainly and asked, “Do you want to go on a disaster tour?” “Uh, yes,” I stammered and went on to explain I wasn’t looking to see the devastation just for a sensational thrill and my colleagues explained that they want as many folks as possible to see what's really going on because they feel as if most people in the country have no idea of how slowly, and in some instances, nonexistent the recovery is. They needed folks from the outside to be a witness.

About five of us went along for the tour and it was unbelievable. As I mentioned, our hotel was in the French Quarter, which appears as if Katrina never happened or at least is a distant memory. Folks were partying up and down Bourbon Street like all’s well with the world.

During our disaster tour (I still can’t believe that’s what they call it) we visited a number of neighborhoods in addition to the 9th Ward. In all of the neighborhoods, except the 9th Ward, I saw dozens of FEMA trailers parked in front yards and driveways. The woman taking us on the tour explained that she was having trouble getting her bearings because so many street signs have been swept away and whole streets are actually missing. She also explained how to read the markings on every house. Each home is marked with a big X and in the Xs four quadrants are numbers indicating what authorities found when investigating the property after the storm. This info included the number of dead bodies found in the house, the date of the inspection, if any pet carcasses were found and so on. Each house also had a line that wrapped around the entire structure and was usually found close to the roof. These are water lines and indicate the water at its highest level. I remember thinking these Xs, numbers, and lines are post-Katrina hieroglyphics.

By this time I was totally bummed, but nothing could prepare me for the absolute bareness of the 9th Ward. At least in the other neighborhoods there were signs of life, activity, things were happening. Here in the 9th Ward--- nada. The silence was deadening. There was an absence of energy, life. We drove for maybe two miles and all I could think of was that at one time, this place was home for thousands of people and now no one is home. It actually looked like a movie set designed to look like a disaster zone. I thought of all of the people who want to return to their home, their city, but can’t because there’s no infrastructure to provide their most basic services, gas, electric, water…etc.

It took hours for me to find words to describe what I’d just seen. I bought back photos and shared them with everyone and anyone who would listen. I relayed stories I’d been told, the generosity and grace I’d witnessed. I was touched by the human spirit’s ability to forgive and heal. I learned that residents of the Gulf Coast no longer trust or depend on the federal government for shit, but their faith lies in their fellow man, their neighbors.

On Thursday, I’m going on another disaster tour, with a busload of people and this time, I’m hoping to witness change.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Finding Your THING?

When I was pregnant with Olivia, Loverman used to spend hour after hour wondering what our little girl’s THING would be as she grew up. He did the same while we were expecting Yannick, too. I listened and dreamed, praying only for their safe passage from the womb to the world.

As the children grow, the two of us catch glimpses of what we think may be their THING, maybe more like leanings toward their THING, but today when Olivia came home with a partial scholarship to an intensive Saturday art program at a local university, our hunches were confirmed. Olivia is an artist.

It’s really not a surprise. Our lives are surrounded by art and artists. My mom is an incredible jewelry designer, my husband’s a filmmaker, I program for a multidisciplinary presenting arts organization. In fact, years ago, I curated an exhibition which included shadowboxes made with found materials and this exhibit included some of Olivia’s early work. I think she may have been three at the time.

From day one, Yannick has been musical. I’d be surprised if music isn’t his THING. It’s in every pore of his little body. His nickname is Be-bop, because even as an infant, he’d bop back and forth to any rhythm within earshot. As a baby, his favorite book was Charlie Parker Played Be-bop. As he’s gotten older, his musical tastes seem to be gravitating towards world traditions including the polyrhythmic North Indian tabla and all things Beatles.

What a gift Miss Olivia has been given! To be affirmed of her talents at such a young age. I think knowing your THING helps to ground you. I know so many folks who are still looking for their THING, or haven’t been given the space and time to really develop what they think their THING may be.

Now, the challenge for Loverman and I will be to strike the right balance between providing support and encouragement, while not allowing this revelation to limit this child as she explores her other talents and interests. We’ve got to know when to step aside and allow nature to run its course, because who says that you can only have one THING?

Score 1 for the little guy!

Yesterday, my entire mango tribe was heading home after the usual Sunday-get-ready-for-Monday errands and Yannick was trying to tell us a story. He's a little chatterbox and as usual, Olivia was butting in and tramping all over the details he was working so hard to provide. When they took a breath, I jumped in and scolded Miss Olivia for never letting her little brother tell the story all by himself. I’m going on and on, blah… blah… blah… blah, about letting the little guy speak and the importance of active listening, when Yannick quips in and says…. “Yeah, like you’re doing right now Mommy.”

We all fell out laughing and afterwards mango mommy just zipped her lips. Point well taken, little guy.

Yannick: 1
Olivia & Mango Mama: 0

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Forget the Boogeyman

Condolezza Rice scares me, she always has. Condi is the embodiment of the Ice Princess, with only ice running through her veins.

I guess you’re wondering what got me thinking about this? Well, this morning I learned there’s going to be a new Condi biography dropping on Dec. 11, Condolezza Rice: An American Life and while I listened to the interview with the book’s author, NY Times reporter, Elizabeth Bumiller, I tried to separate the personal from the political and of course, that’s totally impossible. It made me wonder how as a child this woman, who lost a friend in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, could feel at peace with waging such horrors upon others.

Now, I’m not one of those women who thinks every woman needs a man (or another woman), or have children, to be happy and fulfilled, but if Ms. Rice had babies of her own, she wouldn’t be so keen on sending someone else’s into harms way.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I didn't see it comin'

It just snuck up on me. I haven’t felt this way in years, maybe decades. In fact, it wasn’t until this morning that I was even ready to admit it, but I’ve decided there’s nothing wrong with it, so I might as well own it. So here goes… I’ve got the Christmas spirit.

I don’t mean I’m rushing out buying ooo-gobbs of sense less gifts for everybody or I’m running around wearing those tacky holiday sweaters, but I am feeling full of good will and cheer towards my fellow man and (wo) man. I’m not cringing every time I hear a Christmas carol and this morning I even convinced Loverman to get the Christmas lights out so we could dress up the house a bit. I headed out to TargĂ© this afternoon and bought a really great wreath for the door and the cutest holiday cards.

I’m not sure where all of this is coming from, especially because today’s only Dec. 1, but I’m o.k. with it. It sure beats my usual emotional state when the holidays roll around. For as long as I can remember I ducked my head and moved through the holidays with as little fanfare as possible. Since the kids have come on the scene, I’ve tried my best to get with the program, but beyond getting them presents, throwing a tree up in a corner of the living room and baking a few sweet potato pies, I haven’t done much. I’m not proud of my former bah-hum-bug attitude, but it is what it is, and I just haven’t seemed to have the energy to do better.

What’s different this year? Is it simply my attitude, or better yet, my sense of gratitude? Maybe, I’ve been doing a lot of work on trying to focus on what’s going right, as opposed to dwelling on what’s not just the way I want it at that very moment.

The kind of Christmas spirit I’m feeling is the kind where I’m looking forward to everyone losing their edge for a few weeks and instead of running around like chickens with our heads cut off, we’re encouraged to take time to be with family and friends. We eat good food and savor our blessings, or if we’ve had a particularly crappy year, we can look forward to better times and better fortune in the coming new year.

So, it might feel a little foreign, but I’m prepared to go with the flow and ride this holiday spirit wave to wherever it takes me.