Starting Over

August 5, 2013

ImageI’’ve spent the past ten years – the first years of my adult life between the ages of 20 and 30 living in the United States. One year in New Orleans followed by three in Syracuse, the frigid hinterlands of New York State and the last six years in New York City. The isle of Manhattan, Harlem to be exact – home but not really because it wasn’t where my heart was. When I graduated the plan was to give myself enough time for something to work out –to fall in love and get married (still the easiest way to stay in the US), for my company to sponsor me or for immigration reform to happen.  A year ago the plan changed. I was burnt out to the point of being numb, lonely and tired of waiting for things I had no control over to work out.  

While on vacation in Trinidad I realized for the first time in my life that I didn’t miss New York. Not that Trinidad was a perfect fit but it was the land of my birth. Its food, its music, its very vibe seemed to warm my heart, and it didn’t hurt that I met a young man with whom I had an instant connection. Moving home was still a scary thought but I wasn’t opposed to it. After all New York was starting to feel like a pair of fly shoes that were too high and too tight. It looked great but didn’t quite fit and I was tired of faking it.

An acquaintance recently shared on Facebook that  “this city isn’t the best place in terms of reflecting the realities of what and how to live as a grown up. For all of the excitement that it brings with regards to culture, events, and hustling all the time (which isn’t the best thing if you want the truth) – a lot gets lost on what it means to be responsible, save money, invest wisely, being family oriented, live healthy, staying focused, and knowing who you really are without having to prove your self in the place that supports a Peter Pan mentality.” I didn’t just like her status. I shared it.

A decade in the cold has shaped my outlook and my persona. There are things I will miss about this place, and things that I wont. As I wrapped up my mattress and packed my life into 3 barrels, 4 boxes and three suitcases, I came up with the following shortlist of the things I will and won’t miss about this place.

Things I will Miss About NYC:

  • Anonymity – Having a father as well known as mine was a blessing and a curse growing up. I enjoyed never being asked about his views or judged on his legacy.
  • Independence – Despite my age my mom still demands to know where I am, whom I’m with and what time I’m coming home. Also because it’s her house, boys must leave by a certain time unless she knows them.
  • The Subway & Cabs – Public transportation in Trinidad is not nearly as timely or efficient. The subway runs all the time, goes almost everywhere and it means I’ve never needed a car or had to wait on a ride if I wanted to go out or leave before my friends.
  • Convenience – Who doesn’t want to roll out of bed, walk down the stairs and order a bahama mama in their pajamas? I’ve spent six years living in walking distance from the grocery store, restaurants, bars, the liquor store, the gym and my favourite running trails. What can I say; I’m a spoilt gym rat with a rum habit.
  • Online Shopping & Free Shipping – I hate malls and I don’t like to shop but I do like nice things. I’m working on being able to afford a personal shopper.

Also I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Smithfield NYC, which is, hands down the best sports bar to watch football in New York. 

Things I Won’t Miss About NYC:

  • The Men/Dating – New York has a value system all its own.  Men and women aren’t really friends unless you mean “friends w/benefits.”  My Trini crush decided to date someone else but our eight-month understanding was the closest I’ve coming to feeling like I had a man in my life that cared about me, not just the sex in the past 6 years.
  • The Noise– Nothing ruins my headspace more than getting on a crowded train during rush hour and being stuck in the same car with someone listening to Lil Wayne. Never mind being in earshot of a group of loud teenagers or that woman cussing out her baby daddy at 1:00AM when you’re trying to sleep. New York never sleeps. If like me your idea of unwinding is silence or being able to actually hear nature, not cars or human voices 24/7 – New York will test your sanity.
  • Having to plan – Everyone here is always busy doing something else. Unless you live near to all your friends in New York you have to plan in advance unless weeks and months can go by without you seeing any of your supposed friends. Three weeks ago I suggested to a few of my girlfriends that we hit the beach the next weekend. We ended up picking a date a month later.

For all its good things “New York will suck the life out of you and get your life priorities out of line if you let it.” Nowhere else is it more apparent that there is an opportunity cost for everything. This move is still an incredibly scary thing for me. Heck if you had told me ten years ago that I’d be single and starting over at 30, moving home and now getting around to post graduate studies I would have laughed in your face.

These years in the cold taught me to be in the words of one of my closest friends  “unapologetically myself, opinions and all.” To trust and love myself and to never be afraid to do what’s best for me. If not now; then when? In the words of rapper J. Cole, “I wish somebody made guidelines, on how to get up off the sidelines.” Dreams can be made and lost anywhere. This life is my own. There are few guarantees and there is no better time than the present to live the life you want, and do your best to leave an indelible mark on everyone you meet.

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Keeping Up With The Beckhams: The Outliers of Celebrity Endorsement

An article I co-wrote with a colleague on celebrity endorsements for Commpro Biz.

To my unborn so…

April 6, 2013

To my unborn son on women and relationships

There are trifling women who waffle, but if you find a woman who stands by you, even when you don’t ask, she is one of the good ones. If you don’t choose her, she will hurt. She may not defame your character, slash your tires or throw a brick through your windshield but she will hurt. You should never expect any small kindness from her ever again. The old people didn’t say “hell hath no fury than a woman scorned” because it sounds good, it’s true. Choose wisely….

To my unborn da…

April 6, 2013

To my unborn daughter on men and relationships

If I ever have a daughter I will tell her, if the man she desires isn’t ready don’t just walk away, RUN away. Don’t stay and hope because when he’s finally ready he still might choose someone else and she’ll be left with nothing but dashed hopes, and memories of “what if” because men get to choose.

On Losing Hope

April 4, 2013

One minute you’re walking on fairly solid sand, with the waves lapping gently around you, the sun bathing your skin in her warmth, the sea breeze tickling your face; and all of a sudden you’re caught in a riptide that came out of nowhere. Panic sets in and you don’t know if you’ll make it back to shore.

For the past eight months I’ve held onto hope. To his honesty, openness and tender strength even when it was really hard. Soon after we first met I wrote:

His companionship reminded me that just being me was enough

Enough to inspire laughter and fierce debate without fear or judgment

A reminder that I wasn’t too broken to fall into the kind of like,

That someday could be love

That real hope doesn’t kill

But like life it doesn’t offer any guarantees either”

Today that last line haunts me. Life made me walk away from him and to be honest he wasn’t ready, so I tamped down my fears, fought to control my impatience and focused on building a friendship.  As he healed we grew closer. We talked all the time, flirted with each other, fought with each other – but we always made up, and as we made plans to meet in a foreign land I thought maybe, just maybe we would finally get another chance. I was wrong.

Time waits for no man or woman. The investments we make physically, emotionally and financially with people do not always count for the things we want them too. If ever there was an ugly truth about life, and love I think that is it. It is something no one ever prepares us for with platitudes like “it will happen,” “you’re beautiful, smart and so much fun to be around. You’ve done so much with your life” and “you have to kiss plenty of frogs before you find a prince.”

Career accomplishments, come fk me heels and copious amounts of rum do not quench the thirst or provide warmth when you’re walking through the “red waste” of singleness. At best they are a mirage. The older I get, the longer I’m single, the harder it is to shake these things off.  I’ve lost friends unexpectedly and cheated death, I know it doesn’t happen for everyone.

I also realize that I don’t know how to date without getting attached. It’s something that women struggle with, especially when the sex is good, perhaps more so than men. We are the bearers of life. Our ability to form bonds, to stay when men leave is what has kept the world populated.

I am the first to admit that I function better when I get to choose, but the reality is men choose, women settle. Perhaps I should have settled a long time ago. As I write this he is exploring the possibility with someone else, and I am again the one not chosen. I do not begrudge him the opportunity, but it makes me sad.

 “Cancel your date. You’re not going to like him anyway. You’re not ready yet and that’s ok. You’re angry,” said one of my guy friends recently as he enquired about my weekend plans. I laughed off his assessment but his words stuck with me. Did I really come across as the proverbial “angry black woman”?  I had strong opinions about dating, sex and relationships that I often share on this blog; and never think twice about “mouthing off” on Facebook about the shortcomings of the men I meet, but I never considered myself to be angry. Was brutal honesty, clarity and yes even a little frustration from a female about what she desired so unexpected, that the only way a man could bring himself to understand it was to label any woman acting in this manner, angry?

There is a distinct difference between existing in a constant state of anger, and being angered by specific acts. As a single woman why am I expected to be amiable at all times, showing little to no displeasure about being treated as little more than a sex object. Like Litsa Dremousis author of the article “I’m Mad at You Because You’re an Idiot, Not Because I’m a Woman”, I wondered if men were “so conditioned by notions of women as the gentler sex they didn’t understand that I wouldn’t put up with their crap,” anyone’s crap for that matter.

Is a little anger not justified when the guy you were dating breaks things off and goes off the grid; only to show up a month later offering to be your friend with benefits with a text saying, “I’ll get you off whenever you want.” Clearly all those deep conversations you had about relationships went over his head, as if you needed another reminder that some men will say and do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to get the “nookie.”

What about if a passing acquaintance whose advances you’ve rejected in the past traps you in a bear hug, and proceeds to plant kisses all over your face while he runs his hands over your body. Is the appropriate response to these acts a polite smile and shy giggle before issuing a “cease and desist” request? I really wonder what my male readers think is the ideal response to circumstances like these.

All men are not guilty of these things but some are, so you can wipe the shocked expression of your face now. Asking a woman to stay silent about her negative experiences with the opposite sex would do little to lessen her anger. Neither would it guarantee that she would never take out the anger she was feeling about a guy or situation on you. The latter of course is not ideal; but life isn’t ideal, emotions can be messy and neither sex is immune from taking out the pain of a previous experience on someone else.

Dremousis is right to insist, “Legitimate female anger isn’t the hallmark of a bitch, cunt, ballbuster, or drama queen… women are multi-faceted humans with a full range of ambitions and emotional needs.”

It should go without saying but to be sure that we’re on the same page, any attempt to reduce me and I’m sure there’s a few women out there who are with me on this, to a perfectly made up, one-dimensional image of grace, poise and charm will be forcefully shut down. If a man takes issue with this, and or finds it remotely intimidating we probably shouldn’t be friends or dating anyway. I’m just saying…. *Kanye Shrug*

Shout out to my sister Nzingha Job for writing this post which resonated on so many levels. Highlighted in bold and italics is the section that resonated most with me. 

It’s interesting how the FRIENDS part in a “Friends With Benefits” ends up disappearing. Khalil Gibran wrote in The Prophet that a friend is ‘your needs answered’, ‘your board and your fireside’, someone about whom it is said ‘you seek him for peace’.

Sex sells; it also binds. So you try to stop yourselves from becoming MORE than friends while you’ve pledged to satisfy each other’s sexual desires, by stopping yourselves from doing things friends do: call each other randomly, cry on each other’s shoulders, ask and express about your feelings and his. But what this does is have the effect of KEEPING you from being friends. So the friendship becomes something else.

In my last FWB note I mentioned that for me, sexual intercourse was a kind of breath of fresh air for my mind-body unit, an inhalation a la the whale after long time underwater. But it seems to me a friends-with-benefits arrangement as previously described  is like breathing with one of your nostrils closed tight: doesn’t quite do it for me. They say don’t bite the hand that feeds you; what should you do to a hand that feeds you and then duct-tapes your mouth closed, so you can’t ask him whatever you want whenever you want and tell him whatever you feel, or forces you to spit out the food you have so gratefully chewed and savoured? Smh.

It seems to me friendship is the only symmetrical power relationship. Friendship cannot be sustained without mutual help and two-way communication. And once friendship is not there, all complex relationships become simply a naked or thinly veiled deadly power struggle with an emergent winner and an emergent loser. Every good relationship is at core a friendship– whether it is parent-child, employer-employee, producer-consumer, or teacher-student. If the relationship is good it is because there is friendship at its heart; if not, there is no friendship there.

Friendship is a relationship where you mirror yourself in the friend. The way you think of yourself, you think of the person; you consider them as deeply, as seriously, as importantly as you consider yourself. You know that your friend is not you, but whatever your needs and capacities are you project them onto your friend and treat them as seriously as you would your own. In this way you are capable of empathy, courtesy, kindness, thoughtfulness, love; in this way you allow them to participate in your very being, not just your doings.

I was raped in December 1998,  a seventeen year old virgin who had never even been kissed. In December 2011, thirteen years later, I realized the difference between rape and sex is exactly this core participation/core friendship. I saw that after my rape, I engaged in sexual encounters as experiments, to recreate the conditions of the rape, and to prove that most men are not rapists, but gentlemen. It was hard to accept, but I was wrong. Most men are not gentlemen. They willingly impose their ‘tustiness’ on any women they greatly desire or find desirable, once she has shown herself to be charming and pleasant company. They do not wait for her to say yes to anything before they assume she is willing. They often do not wait for explicit permission to enter her, which shows their recognition that she is the owner of her body and reserves the right to refuse entry at any time, regardless of her prior actions or words. In this way there is little difference between them and rapists, except that they are more likely to be unaware of the ways in which they can let her participate more than they do, whereas the rapist consciously limits her participation. A rapist denies the existence of his victim’s free will and preferences; an ordinary man (and bad lover) thinks he doesn’t need to think about it much.

I have been accused of a similar denial as a performer. In the act of performing I have been accused of blocking out the audience by closing my eyes and locking up my body language, blocking my body from the audience with my guitar, and so on. To some extent those accusations are correct. It is difficult to let an audience participate in my deepest feelings when I do not have faith in them that they will be able to grasp how important they are to me, or that they will extend that core friendship to me when I have extended it to them. It takes faith to ask a woman if she is ready for you to enter her when you are more than ready and may not have adequately prepared her for your entrance; and it takes faith to let an audience see your soul naked  through your eyes and your face and your body, when they may have never seen a performer like you before and therefore may not be prepared adequately for you either. You have to believe in the best qualities of people you do not know– it is real faith and the only kind I think I need, because it’s impossible for me to get to know every person I perform to or for– in order to perform at your best. If you imagine your audience to be full of Philistines, persons who are inconsiderate and discourteous and unable to grasp the sublime, you simply cannot perform with a naked heart.

It is not easy to perform a very good monologue, but it takes a lot more to engage an entire cast in addition to doing your own brilliant soliloquy. I think rapists and bad lovers are really monologist’s who try to ignore the reality of the cast and the audience; they are working out all by themselves, a personal issue, a personal hurt or fear that leads them to abuse power or neglect to respect the self-directing power of others. What is more they do not have faith that any other person can help them if they reach out in any other way to work it out.

Of late, I have been finding myself completely terrified at the idea of having sexual intercourse for its own sake, because I personally like the idea of doing it with a certain someone, enough, and not to re-create any rape conditions and prove a man a gentleman or not, or reward him for being one or not. I realize that for me, it is very difficult to trust a man I find myself attracted to, to respect my right of ownership over my body; I am biased and inclined to think him either a rapist or a non-gentleman. And while I ought not to be naive, I ought not to be unfairly biased against the possibility of him actually being a gentleman. And Khalil Gibran also said in The Prophet that And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed” and that if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.”

There is a part of me that believes it is my fault if I should have to tell a man he is no longer welcome in my body; it will not admit that the man can be at fault, that he can be ignorant, negligent, inattentive, and otherwise repulsive to my libido. It wants to keep the responsibility for any appalling sexual experience firmly in my camp, where it has influence, because it knows it has no control over the man, and that he must want to learn to be a gentleman and a good lover– and it is afraid that he does not, for whatever reason: perhaps he does not think me worthy of the effort; perhaps he is as ugly on the inside as he is beautiful on the outside and I was too blind to see it in spite of my intelligence and attention to detail, or he took pains to deceive me, which is possible. There is a part of me that refuses to accept the reality that I am not omniscient, and can be deceived, and victimized, and that I can learn some self-defense skills, but I cannot make any man see myself the way I see myself; he must do that on his own.

But all my fears notwithstanding, and my individual responsibility notwithstanding, sexual intercourse is a joint endeavour, and I must learn to separate my responsibilities and my rights from his while still having reasonable faith in the possibility of his nobility….by articulating clearly those boundaries and rights he may not be fully aware of through conditioning and socialization, and then watching how he manages the new information. My mistake in the past was imagining that I should have faith in his nobility regardless of how limited his conditioning and socialization…no one is free of the influence of those two, it doesn’t matter who you are; and no one is omniscient or telepathic. It is irrevocably human to be ignorant and limited by those two. So I should not have done that.

To my fellow gals who don’t know it: Men are not socialized to be good lovers generally. They think it is enough to have a big penis, kiss a little, rub your genitals until they seem a little moist, and then penetrate. They think it is enough to be attractive and to be alone with you. They are not socialized to understand that the meeting of the minds is the source of the fire that ignites the meeting of the bodies. They do not yet grasp that the mind is the true sexual organ…or else they use that understanding just to use women whose bodies they wish to experience with the least possible friction and commitment, perhaps as friends with benefits. This last is also a form of denying the woman participation in his being, because she cannot be both a friend AND a sex toy. 

This year, let’s all get on with the business of performance– participatory performance– in our lives. This year, work on your monologues: your creative works, your personal goals. But in doing so, remember there’s an abundance of people and therefore an abundance of help around, if you articulate your rights as clearly as a matter of fact, and set yourself the task of adequately handling the responsibilities that you must acknowledge along with your rights to enjoy them fully. You have a right to express yourself– but express yourself taking care to observe the universal protocols and be careful about how you use poetic license or artistic license– you have the responsibility to learn how to communicate clearly however you choose to express yourself. And you have a right to sexual engagement, but you must protect yourself not only from disease or unwanted pregnancy with condoms or pills but with the mental preparation of your partner (however you choose to do it best), and yourself. This last I’m going to do by really thinking through the issues of what’s my fault and what’s not, and by learning self-defense skills to eliminate the fear in me that I may again fail to protect myself when I need to, and thus break the first law of living things, self-preservation. (It is hard to forgive yourself for breaking that first law. I know.) I hope you do it too.

Break a leg. 😀

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