Friday, April 20, 2007

Untreated Depression & Mental Illness Hurts Us All

How many times have you seen it?

Once? Twice? Too many to count?

People are watching the video rants of Seung-Hui Cho over and over on the TV and Internet.

It's captivating in the same creepy way it was to see the planes hit the Twin Towers over and over, to see the teens flee Columbine High School again and again on CNN.

It's the latest reality TV horror show.

The media have given Cho a platform from the grave where he can flash guns and compare himself to Moses and Jesus.

There's no sense debating whether the media should have released the video. It would have ended up on the Web regardless.

The choice is now ours: Do we watch?

Do we let Cho point guns at us and rant about rich kids?

Do we let him pass the baton to another killer to make the next death count higher?

The message Cho left raised his status. The sad, lonely, weak 23-year-old went out with a bang -- 33 of them.

I wish there were a video of Cho before the guns to see the troubled college student behind the sunglasses and a low hanging baseball cap, the guy described this way by his teacher:

"He seemed to be crying behind his sunglasses."

Was Cho's mind a jumble because he had no friends? Or did he have no friends because his mind was a jumble?

We routinely use words like mental, crazy, nuts and psycho to describe illnesses of the brain. It's still a stigma to be sick when it's your brain that falls ill.

People who struggle with mental illness tell me it's a conversation stopper. One woman finally told her closest circle of girlfriends that she struggled with depression. No one spoke. If she had announced she had cancer, they would have hugged her and baked casseroles.

Another woman shared that her son attempted suicide but the hospital wouldn't keep him long, even though everyone feared for his safety. Insurance doesn't like to cover the mind, doesn't like to shell out for inpatient psychiatric care or long-term outpatient counseling.

People routinely have their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood checked. Ever hear of anyone going in for an annual mental health check-up? I haven't.

The tragedy at Virginia Tech isn't about gun control, rich kids or violent video games.

It's not about the need for metal detectors, armed guards or siren systems on every campus in America.

It's about untreated mental illness, about the strange chemistry and wiring of a brain.

But we're intrigued by the macabre details; Cho chained the doors, stopped to reload and now speaks from the grave.

Instead of examining his video rant for clues, we should examine the schools he attended, the doctors he saw, the insurance coverage he had (or most likely didn't), his family system, the support network that failed him, and ultimately, us.

A court magistrate once pronounced Cho mentally ill. Cho got sicker as time went on.

He couldn't stop the rants, the hate, the rage in his mind that now spew from his video.

His brain was broken.

Ours isn't.

We can, and should, turn it off.

Written By Regina Brett
Cleveland Plain Dealer Columnist
Friday April 20

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Life comes at you fast

Talley and The Bee

I don't know if he knew if he was allergic. But I do know that he gave 200% of his time and energy to the place we both love. Sometimes he was backstage, shouting at us about laundry. The last time I saw him, he was onstage, honoring the theater's founders. This summer he cleaned and organized 2 of the 5 costume rooms. And every time I have seen him since sometime in January, one, if not both of us, quoted La La L'Amazing Grace......"You know you gon' get fired, right?".

In the blink of an eye he was gone.

Princess Grace Goes Home

Before there was a Piscean Princess, there was Princess Grace. Nanny, my maternal grandmother, is the cutest, foxiest, classiest woman I've ever known. Years of exercise and swimming laps gave her legs that rivaled Tina Turner's. She married her high school sweetheart, he became one of the 1st Black gas station owners in the city, and she was the First Lady of Standard Oil. Make no mistake, they were "The Joneses" and keeping up was hard work. If there was a group for young people, black people, female people, democratic people, Christian people, Nanny was probably a member. She and her younger sister were like Frick and Frack. You rarely saw one without the other. If Auntie was going, Nanny was going too. Auntie went first.

And Nanny met her there.

There are other names and stories that I could mention here. But I won't. I do not have a personal story to tell about the Mad Scientist in Cali's Sweet Grandfather in Cleveland, so I won't. And the Billy Dee Williams of Pasadena better not get his name added to this list any time soon. [For real, Dad. If you're not gonna live forever, at least wait till I have some kids or something, geez!]

Remember when you were a kid and you didn't have to think about obituaries and funerals and last minute plane tickets? There were no bills to pay or credit scores to maintain. You didn't have to go through any changes to nurture friendships.

And you thought everybody was going to live forever....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Things That I Have Done

Two of my favorite gals did this already, so I'm getting on the bandwagon too.

Life's TO DO List
*BOLD means yes, I have done this

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone (can 2 people really comfortably fit in a bathtub?)
08. Said 'I love you' and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game (depends on the definition of "huge")
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby's diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen an eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day (For most of the day, though, back when I was playing LaLa L'Amazing Grace in "The Colored Museum")
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment (almost every day)
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 10 provinces or all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your cds
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day (substitute couch for bed, and I do this almost every weekend)
60. Posed nude in front of strangers
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days (um, have we met??? that'll never happen)
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake Dead River
82. Been on television news programs as an "expert"
83. Got flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Had a one-night stand
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in aisles at Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
98. Created and named your own constellation of stars
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking (The singing was always accompanied by some very energetic dancing, too. I got no shame.)
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an illness that you shouldn't have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Petted a stingray
110. Broken someone's heart (I am genuinely sorry.)
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a T.V. game show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a body part of yours below the neck pierced
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Petted a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes (As often as possible)
134. Read The Iliad
135. Selected one "important" author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146: Dyed your hair
147: Been a DJ
148: Shaved your head
149: Caused a car accident
150: Saved someone's life

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

when baggage is a good thing

bag lady, you gone hurt your back dragging all them bags like that
i guess nobody ever told you, all you must hold on to is you
one day all them bags gone get in your way, so pack light

bag lady, you gone miss your bus / you can’t hurry up ‘cause you got too much stuff
when they see you comin’ niggas take off runnin’ from you
one day he gone say you crowdin’ my space, so pack light

Erykah, Dr. Phil and potential suitors have all cautioned me (and others) against holding on to relationship baggage. The warnings are strong.

“If the last guy cheated on you, don’t assume that the next one will. Give him a chance.”

On the surface, this is good advice. Each person is different and it’s true, the new dude shouldn’t be penalized for the last guy’s infidelity.

But is it wise to forget the last relationship entirely? Of course not. People who are older & less dumb revisit past relationships. We examine them. And in turn we examine ourselves.

So, if the last guy cheated, he was probably a jerk. If the last three guys cheated, this situation may deserve further analysis. (Note: At no time should that analysis include any “all men are dogs” nonsense.) The hard kind of analysis that involves getting real with one’s self, fully examining the places within where we’d just as soon not go.

Baggage often causes us to operate in extremes. I had a long term relationship with a man who wanted nothing more than to sit around getting high, drinking & playing video games with his friends. Seriously, he didn’t want for anything else. Nothing. Except maybe, like a sandwich or something. But otherwise he was just content to pretend he was 14 instead of 34. When that relationship ended, I immediately got involved with someone who had no interest in games or sitting still for any extended period of time. At first it was a nice change of pace. After a year or so, it became a recurring argument.

Turns out, honoring the baggage of the 1st relationship didn’t mean that the opposite circumstance would be inherently better. No, sir, it meant that I had some self examination to do. Why did I get involved with “Sit-Around-Guy”? Why did that suddenly become unacceptable? Why wasn’t “Let’s-Kick-It-Guy” just what the doctor ordered? Trust me, I have had four years to answer these questions and deal with myself. And the baggage of these past relationships has the potential to be the crippling type that Erykah sings of – making me unable to see myself and the people I choose to partner with. This baggage also has the potential to be a perfect springboard for self-awareness. So much so, that it almost seems unfair to call it “baggage”.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Year of the Reunion continues...

Seven months ago, I took the liberty of renaming 2006 "The Year of the Reunion". At the time, most of the reunions were happening online or on the phone. Well, as the months have progressed, that has taken quite a turn.

Without even meaning to, I have reunited with Jesus. Not in a "born again/saved" kind of way, but in the people keep asking me to come to church with them kind of way. For the most part, this has not been an entirely unpleasant reunion. Each time I had someone there to shield me from that typical "Oh, are you visiting? Do you have a church home? We have 8 zillion ministries here that you would be perfect for - I'll look for you next week..." spiel. Except for the funeral I went to last week that turned into a "If you're not saved you're going to hell" sermon. Like many of the other reunions I've had this year, this one has been at the same time familiar and awkward. I have fond memories of my Charlie-Church days, and I am very happy with my current non-religious status.

The reunion continues at the theater. It's the strangest thing, but I am constantly running into someone from a past life at the theater. In the spring it was a guy I went to high school with - who I absolutely, positively would never have expected to see anywhere near anything arts-related. And I ran into the aunty of one of oldest & dearest the theater. And I was on a theater related committee with a guy that grew up down the street from me, who has made weird little cameo appearances in my life every few years since the late 80's.

I won't go into tons of detail, but I have recently started dating a pretty groovy guy. If my life were loosely based on a movie, I would be Sanaa Lathan and my date would be that extra-cute white guy that she fell in love with in "Something New". So on our 2nd "official" date last Friday, we're sitting at the bar in a local young & hip establishment, enjoying wine, people-watching and giggling.....and in walks my most recent ex-boyfriend. And he's with a young lady. And she's "Something New" too! I am not the person who remains "friends" with ex's. I see no purpose in that and have never had a breakup that I thought should be the exception. However, I'm also not the person who holds on to negative feelings after a breakup, either. I have often thought of this guy and hoped that he has found what he was searching for in life. Sincerely. 'Cause there was no way we were gonna find it together. So there wasn't any awkward feeling or anything - I mostly wanted both of our dates to disappear for a minute so I could run over to him and laugh at the irony of it all.

Lastly, I have reunited with my blog. Obviously I took the month of September off. There wasn't any particular drama or any good reason - I just couldn't ever figure out what to say. It all started when I watched "When The Levees Broke". I was simply unable to get it together to put my feelings down on "paper". And all the other amusing annoyances in life just didn't seem worthy of the blog when I had not addressed how I was feeling about the largely abandoned Black citizenry of New Orleans. And I kept going to blogs and folks were talking about it. And I was still stuck. So I stopped going to other blogs. Mostly I just kind of disappeared. (Perhaps my super-cute date and my ex's not-all-that-cute date made us disappear so they could talk about how funny it is that they're dating Black people!) But now I'm back, with plenty to say. I think.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Time is running out...

I told you a while back about my girl C. Coolstein training for the October 22nd Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco.

She has spent most of her summer running and lifting weights and running in circles and running up hills and running on concrete and running on the beach and running in dirt and running..........

...and time is running out!

She has met 50% of her fundraising goal and needs to have the rest of the dough by the first of September (yikes!). So if you wanna donate to the cause, or see how her training is coming, you can check her out at

Thursday, August 17, 2006

the randomest ever

I don't think I could be any more random than I am right now. (Ok, I probably could, but I'm dramatic. Work with me.)

It has taken me this long (it'll be 4 weeks on Saturday) to physically & mentally recover from Hawaii. The first week I had to constantly remind myself that not only do I have a job, but they expect me to show up at 8:00am, Eastern Time and they usually like it when I do some actual work. That was a tough sell during week 1, to say the least.

So I got the whole
(1) get up,
(2) get it together,
(3) go to work,
(4) work
thing down pat and then I had to deal with being physically exhausted. I mean pooped. Sleep at 8pm. Knocked out. And still tired in the morning.

At the same time I was battling constant fatigue, I was embracing the reality that my most recent (not-so) imaginary boyfriend does not have what it takes to be my future husband. And for the first time in roughly a year, I got really sad about my alone-ness. My frequent, confident talks to self suddenly weren't so effective.

Telling myself (and others) that "my man is out there, he just hasn't found me yet" suddenly made me want to scream to myself (and others) "well why the fuck not?? All he has to do is Google me. I'm right here. And I am fabulous. Is his MapQuest broke? Jeez!"

When I remind myself (and others) that "I am more interested in being in a healthy relationship than just being part of a couple for the sake of not being alone", I find that I am questioning my list. "Is it unreasonable to want my man to make at least $30k a year? I mean, is it too much to ask that he come to me already earning a (barely) living wage?" "I have my own communication issues that I'm trying to work out - when I say that I want my man to be able to express himself honestly and directly, am I being hypocritical?"

When I revisit the reality that "I need for my man to have some culture and depth about himself...he has to read, and appreciate theater & visual art, he ought to be able to watch some indie film with me and share my love for food, and he needs to understand that my spirituality and my upbringing and my interests and my friends are not strange, they are not weird, they are not "different" or "unique" or "white"(sarcastic, condescending tone implied), they are beautiful and valid and relevant." I wonder if I blew it when I broke up with the guy who was 100% with me on the culture & depth tip, but when it came to the emotional maturity and the living wage / career goals part......not so much.

And when I find myself thinking about this stuff for more than ten minutes at a time, I get mad. So today, instead of continuing this dumb ass day-by-day cycle of sad ~ mad ~ sad ~ mad, I'm going to get over it and find something else to do. People are dying in Iraq and Lebanon and Ethiopia - my problems pale in comparison.

Moving on.........

I'm trying to prepare for auditions this Sunday. I'll do a monologue from Who Will Sing For Lena, of course. And I've got about 70 hours to learn a monologue from The Shadow Box. Hopefully the directors will be awed & dazzled by me and there will be a small fight over who will cast me in their piece. There are 3 that I would really like to do, and as always, they are running consecutively. We'll see what happens.

Saturday I'm getting micro-braids. I will be a walking, talking example of "never say never", 'cause I sure said I would never get those things again! I was ok with the amount of time it took (back in the day it was 22 hours; hopefully this time will be closer to 8). It was the removal of said braids that made me want to shoot myself. Why is it that when you need help taking your micros down, nobody wants to step up? Well, the only reason I agreed to do this again is because my regular beautician agreed to take them down for me, as well as maintain them for as long as I keep them in. Ok, well there's more reasons than that I guess. I don't do well with new growth. I dig & scratch at it. Since I'm trying to transform myself and there won't be any chemical altering of my natural coils, I'm gonna need to wrap those coils in some $40-a-bag, 20 inch, Yaki Perm, human, made in China hair.

Dr. Dyson has redeemed himself, as I knew he would. After reading the Bash Cosby book, I felt like I needed a palate cleanser, so-to-speak. So I picked up "Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster", knowing that this would do the trick. One of the things that I like about Dr. Dyson is that he structures his writing so that all the facts get laid out in plain view before he starts drawing conclusions. So whether you agree with those conclusions or not, you've got a full set of facts to work with. Now, I'm not sure how anybody could disagree with the fact that there was an enormous failure on the part of government at all levels. Enormous and more than a little fishy. "Come Hell or High Water..." does an excellent job of slowly exposing the details & history of what seemed fishy to the naked eye. And surprisingly, he was able to do it without getting me all riled up, like I usually am when I think about my people down there waiting and suffering for days. As difficult as I find his writing style, I was able to finish the book in 4 days. But now my brain hurts. I'll read "The Devil Wears Prada" on Saturday while I'm getting my wig busted, then that's gotta be it for a minute. I need to watch some Oprah (my TiVo is getting dangerously full) and start watching The Wire.

So there you have it...yet another post about how positively random (and sad and mad and over it) I am. Perhaps something noteworthy will happen in the coming days & I'll be focused yet again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Like all of the major changes in my life, this one happened with almost no effort on my part. Sure there was months of talking, thinking, imagining, retreating, dismissing and reading. That's always my Phase One. Phase Two typically involves creating a timeline, determining the financial implications of my endeavor and executing my thoroughly thought through plan. Phase Three - completion.

I don't think I've ever gotten to Phase Two. Typically I go straight from Phase One to Phase Three and friends marvel at how I got to be so lucky as to skip the hard part.

Without me realizing it, this journey began on April 1st. I had survived winter coat + wool scarf. I had recovered from too tight at the edges. I was coping with stress + digging (no, not scratching...digging...with whatever was pen, metal letter opener...whatever). The morning of April 1st, however, I found out that I was NOT coping well with winter coat + wool scarf Part Deux.

I pulled out all of my trusty coping tools. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror. I reminded myself that it would grow back and it would be healthier. I promised myself that next winter I would take more preventative measures. I tried not to cry.

And then I saw C. Coolstein.

Oh my gosh, you cut your hair!!

And the dam broke. Don't worry, I didn't start crying openly in the bar. But I was weeping, wailing and moaning on the inside.

A conversation followed, during which my girl asked me why I didn't just go natural...locs even. I couldn't handle it. I snapped - conversation over. Is she f-ing kidding me? Hello, say it with me, people: "Corporate America".

But the seed had been planted. And it wasn't a bad idea. Upon further review (and execution of Phase One) I determined that it was actually a pretty good idea.

In theory.

Like I said, the universe has a way of taking care of my business for me when I'm too stuck on scared to do it myself. When I sat in the chair Saturday July 29th eagerly awaiting the harsh, smelly chemical that would instantly transform me from African Cheetah to Business Barbie, I had no idea that my scalp had other plans for me. That magically transforming process was over before it had a chance to start. I'm certain that she lit a match to my scalp, the burning was that instantaneous and intense.

Scalp is burning, scalp is burning,
look out, look out,
pour on water, pour on water

And just like that, Phase Three began. The African Cheetah was born again. My journey began with no steps (unless you count the swift and deliberate steps I took to the shampoo bowl, demanding that that relaxer be rinsed out immediately).

For twelve days I have tried to hide the TWA that has taken up residence under my hairstyle; I have cursed the stupid, dumb, itchy, nap....kinky African Cheetah hair; I have apologized to my tresses and begged their forgiveness and long term cooperation; I have obsessed over the possibilities; I have handed this journey over to my inner goddess.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This Damn Book Thing!

I've been tagged. And it's not fair. I'm a reader. Narrowing these down to one book for each question has been entirely too difficult. And this was supposed to be the easy, fluff post that I put up while I'm getting it together to do my REAL post.


1. ONE book that changed your life

The Bluest Eye By Toni Morrison
This was the first book that I felt a real connection with. I have always been an avid reader, but this is the first time I remember feeling like I was eating the words and drinking their power and wallowing around in their meaning. Thus began my love affair with (almost) all things Toni Morrison.

2. ONE book you have read more than once

Beloved By Toni Morrison
I don't appreciate having to leave The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Paradise, Lovely Bones and New Black Man off this list. But since it only asks for one, I guess I am ok with putting Beloved. It is certainly one of several books that I used to read annually.

3. ONE book you would want on a desert island

Song of Solomon By Toni Morrison
As a general rule, I try to stay away from desert islands. But if I found myself on one, I would want to have a book that I wanted to re-read as soon as I finished it.

4. ONE book that made you laugh

Cell By Stephen King
He's my other favorite author and this was certainly not his best work. But I was quite tickled by some of his descriptions. I distinctly remember him describing a woman's haircut as "zero tolerance". Then he went into a brief moment of imagining her pre-retirement career as a librarian, who had become very good at keeping kids in line. Blah, blah, blah.

5. ONE book that made you cry

Finding Fish By Antoine Fisher
Not only did it make me cry, but it was one of few books that was so emotionally painful to read, that I had to put it down every chapter or so. The movie doesn't even begin to tell this man's story. Not even close. Quite frankly, by the time he got to the military, the book was pretty much over. Met wife, worked it out, met family, worked it out, the end. Good books should never be made into movies. People should just read the book or be forced to miss out.

6. ONE book you wish you had written

I don't have an answer for this one. Seriously, it's been a couple of days and I'm still drawing a blank here.

7. ONE book you wish had never been written

Losing The Race By John McWhorter
He's a jackass. I could have also lived without "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost It's Mind?". For real.

8. ONE book you are currently reading

Black Hair: Art, Style and Culture By Ima Ebong
You'll be hearing more about this one, believe me. I'm reading some other book for this month's book club, but it's not worth mentioning. I'm enjoying it this time, but still.

9. ONE book you've been meaning to read

Come Hell or High Water By Michael Eric Dyson
I just needed a break after the Bill Cosby book, but I'ma get to it. Matter of fact, I'm reserving it right now at the library. Oh, and I checked out "The Covenant" but I wasn't in the mood (and may never be) so I didn't get past the 2nd or 3rd chapter. I get it, Tavis - we need to get it together - got it.

10. tag 5 other bloggers to do this

No. Yeah, I said it - no. This feels way too much like the chain emails of yesteryear (or yesterday if you're my mother). I can't even do it. Friends, readers, passersby, if you want to do this on your blog, feel free. If you don't want to, then don't.

(Ok, so I'm running out of fluff posts and I'm running out of valid excuses......I guess I better quit procrastinating and get 'er done!)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Yeah, India, but it's really hard!

the highest expression of love
is to give without expecting

the highest expression of love
is to accept without exception

i have so much to learn...

...i want to live with an open heart

- india.arie

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm Back!

Did you miss me??

I've just returned from a 7 day cruise in Hawaii, so that's why I've been incognegro for the last 2 weeks or so. I have achieved a nice chocolaty color, even got a bit of sunburn on my shoulders and I've spent the last 2 workdays trying not to fall asleep at work.

So, once I am slightly more alert & able to string together a coherent sentence, I'll be back to blogging. In the meantime, I'm just trying to maintain...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The 1st Ever, Almost Complete Audio Post

After 24 hours and 2 emails to the Blogger helpdesk, I am just going to move forward & post this without the last 3 pictures. I am terribly aggravated (Changseeker, you feel me!) so you are just going to have to use your imagination until I can get the remaining photos uploaded!

this is my 1st audio post - click to play

" time, at band camp..."

"...look deep into my eyes..."

"Wow, I was just waaaaay up THERE!"

" fresh & so clean..."

[do you really need captions when it's an audiopost?]

audio post Part Deux - click to play

[This is where the additional 3 pictures would be if Blogger weren't so DUMB!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

(Thank God) I Am Not My Hair

After waiting for months, going to numerous retailers and watching my friend have a good old fashioned, Piscean Princess trademark "your customer service STINKS and somebody is gonna hear from me, just as soon as I get back to my desk to pen a strongly worded letter!" moment, I have obtained India Arie's latest album, "Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship". As always, the new album digestion process has been slow and methodical. So far, I think my favorite is "Good Morning", but by the time this weekend is over, I'll know for sure.

As I pulled into the parking lot at my job yesterday, volume at level 22, track 11 began...

little girl with a press n curl
age eight i got a jheri curl
thirteen i got a relaxer
i was the source of so much laughter
fifteen when it all broke off
eighteen and i went all natural
february two thousand and two
i went and did what i had to do
cause it was time to change my life
to become the woman that i am inside
ninety seven dreadlocks all gone
looked in the mirror for the first time and saw that

i am not my hair
i am not this skin
i am not your expectations
i am not my hair
i am not this skin
i am a soul that lives within

Yeah, India, I am so feeling you girl! The chronology and the ages are a little different, but all in all, my story is the same.

My mommy has never known how to do hair. She has never done anything to her own and she was pretty much incapable of making mine look decent. Several thousand miles away from her nearest family member, she was left to her own miserably incompetent devices. So for the first six years of my life, I had an afro. Sometimes that afro was teeny-weeny. Other times it was fluffy and unkempt with a ribbon attached to a bobby pin jammed into it's side.

Suddenly, things changed...and more capable family members were close at hand. Let the braiding begin! At first, there were cornrows in creative and elaborate styles. I couldn't have been happier! Until the cornrow-er went out of business and was replaced with a single braid-er. Now don't get me wrong, I realize that singles can be attractive and stylish. Back in 1980, a $2 package of colored plastic beads was all it took to take a head full of individual, slave-style plaits to the next level.

Unfortunately my braider thought those plastic beads looked cheap and tacky, so instead, I got some antique wooden beads. (Yes, they were wood. Like from trees.) They were gold and there was one on each 3 inch braid. With aluminum foil on the bottom to keep them on. Needless to say, I wasn't off to a good start in my new city at my new school with my new hair. Second graders are mean!

Before long, St. Jerry, the patron saint of little brown girls with major hair issues, heard my cry. Yes, dear reader, the Jheri Curl was born! Even though the bearer of the wooden beads would not even entertain the idea, once I was deposited into my father's hot little hands for the summer, it was a done deal. Finally! Not only did I have hair that moved, but I had hair like all the other girls. Of course mine was significantly shorter than most (think Easy-E, circa 1988) but it was a step in the right direction, regardless.

Anybody who was a child of divorce can probably remember that there was one thing that your estranged parents used as a tool to get at one another. For my mother, it was my hair. Upon my return after the summer of Jheri Curl #1, she promptly cut off all of my hair. It was back to the teeny weeny afro look, once again. The next summer, my teeny weeny afro had once again evolved into plantation plaits and I was off to visit daddy again. And he marched me right over to the local beauty shop and paid for more of those silky (aka greasy) curls. And when I got back home my mother cut off all my hair again. By the time the summer rolled around, I had cycled through the now familiar stages of hair regrowth. I even graduated from the Medusa look to the popular but impractical press and curl. Hot combs are indeed hot, rollers are pretty uncomfortable and not being able to swim was torture. I looked forward to Curl #3.

In a devastating turn of events, my mother wised up and cut my hair pre-visit!

Well, not to be outdone, my daddy waited patiently for my hair to get just long enough to wrap around one of those little rods.....and just like that, I was cool again! And this time, my exhausted & battle weary mother surrendered. The curl stayed.

Fast forward to 1988. Unless you were a gangsta rapper, the curl was no longer the style of the stylish. And I still had mine. By now I had experienced not only the original Jheri Curl, but the California Curl and the Wave Nouveau. And I was trying desperately to convince my mother to let me get a relaxer. Nope. Not happening. So here I was again, same city, new school, same bad hair. Tenth graders are mean!

In a totally spontaneous act of teenage defiance, I freed myself. Yes, I took matters into my own hands and got rid of that stankin' curl once and for all. Unfortunately, like most spontaneous acts of teenage defiance, mine lacked proper planning & regard for long term consequences. I won't take you through all of the ugly details, but I will tell you there was a blow dryer and a pressing comb involved. During the 5 days that it took for all of my hair to fall completely out, my mother employed one of her most memorable vigilante parenting tactics - she did nothing. She wouldn't take me to the beauty shop for services of any kind. I had to go to my new school with my new adolescent hormones with my new look (think Tina Turner, circa 1986). Tenth graders are still mean!

So the updated version of the hair re-growth process includes a relaxer (finally), finger waves (brown gel and all), finger waves and pineapple waves (yes, at the same time) and the Nefertiti cut (I swear it was in style for a few weeks!). And then I discovered weave. (It was around this time that I removed my mother from the hair care process. Her work was done.)

Fast forward 16 years to right now. My hair issues are not nearly as dramatic. Thanks to my standing weekly appointment at Styling Divas, I really don't have to think about my hair much at all. Until summer rolls around (don't worry, y'all, I really am over the jheri curl) and I want to enjoy swimming and other water related fun. Like now, I'm preparing to drive 7 hours to the most romantic place on earth (by myself, thanks for asking) to frolic in Lake Michigan. So I get braids. Not the crappy, individual braids of yesteryear, but the sleek, stylish cornrow of the millennium.

As I pulled into the parking lot at my job yesterday, I chuckled to myself in anticipation of my co-workers' awkward compliments and the questions of the bolder ones...

"now, can you wash that?"

"what happened to your other hair?"

"can I touch it?"

And just like in the movies, right when I was imagining these upcoming scenes, Track 11 came on. How poetic!

(I Am Not My Hair, the video)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Imagine That

Those of you who know me personally probably know that I have a very active imagination. Whether I'm inventing personalities for people, describing the songs & sound effects that serve as the backdrop for my everyday life, or just generally exaggerating, my mind is constantly working toward it's own amusement. But my hands down favorite of all the make-believe activities is the imaginary boyfriend.

For the first time since 1998, I am single. I have been single since February of last year. I've been on approximately 4 dates in that 16 months. Despite several honest attempts & attitude adjustments, my romantic life is pretty pitiful.

I've never been one to wallow in my own sadness/loneliness/boring-ness. Instead I find other things to do. I cook, I read, I watch movies, I sample the Cabernet Sauvignon of numerous wineries (sometimes in lieu of dinner). And when I need to feel that giggly feeling that can only come from being noticed by a cutie pie, I invent one.

Please don't be alarmed. I am not spending my days talking to & making out with people who don't exist. No, no, no...these are real people who I have at least had some minor chit-chat with, during which they all instantly fall hopelessly in love with me. (Don't ask me how I know this...I just know.)

Trust me, it happens all the time. But I'd be an imaginary hoe if I let all of them be my boyfriend at the same time. So here are some of the categories that I use to keep them all organized.

While I'm in the process of creating a personality for my flavor of the week, he is usually in the "he wants to be my boyfriend (smile)" category. This usually involves some lite flirting by both parties and not much else. After said flirting, I usually remind my friends that "he wants to be my boyfriend", I giggle, they groan and that is that.

Once the personality has been created (or revealed), if I don't want to continue the lite flirting, he ends up in the "he wants to be my boyfriend (Yuck!), talk to me/hide me/let's go the other way so he won't come over here" category. This person's phone calls or text messages or emails don't get returned in a timely fashion. Instead of the usual big-normous smile that I typically greet people with, he gets the closed mouth let's-keep-this-at-hello grin. This unfortunate group of fellas may have organized a support group for their Post-Princess Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There are some cases, however, when no personality (real or manufactured) is necessary. Examples include any cashier or waiter who wants to give me a hook up of any kind and the guys at the gas station who put the air in my tire the other day. In these cases, temporary boyfriend passes are issued whenever I need something.

Then there are the times where the boundaries of my imaginary relationship are tested. Like last night when Big Bad Brother Coolstein & I had an actual conversation that ended with a phone number exchange and the possibility of taking a 7 and a half hour road trip to the most romantic place in the world next weekend. So now I've spent the whole day imagining all the possible ways that he & I can make chocolate and vanilla babies. But now it's not all that imaginary anymore. I mean, that flirting wasn't the "lite" kind, both parties were giggling, the innuendos were far more suggestive...THIS IS REAL! (Not real like he's gonna be my real live boyfriend real, but way real-er than it was 24 hours ago.) That fine line between fantasy & reality has been breached (sort of). This is the part where I have to start being responsible for my (real) actions and for other (real) people's feelings.

Well, I guess I'll have to deal with it if it comes to that. But in the meantime, I'm on cloud 9 knowing that B.B.B. Coolstein (and several other people) thinks I'm cute and sexy and interesting and funny and smart and all that good stuff. (Again, no one has actually said these things, but I know that's how they feel. I just know it.) Don't laugh. This whole single thing is tough. I have been in several(real) consecutive, with no down-time in between relationships since I was 14 (except for "The Year I Fell In Love With Me", otherwise known as 1998). This imagination thing is the best I know how to pass the time. It's fun and effective.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Colored Contradictions

My power is in my madness, and my colored contradictions.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of being cast in George C. Wolfe's classic play, "The Colored Museum" at the oldest African American Cultural Arts Institution in the country (much love to The Mu!). Each of the 11 vignettes spoke to me in a different way and for different reasons. But the one that has inspired the most soul searching is "The Party".

If you're not paying attention, this scene is about a name-dropping, party girl who likes to dance. But upon closer review...

"Have y'all ever been to a party where there was one fool in the middle of the room, dancing harder and yelling louder than everybody in the entire place? Well honey, that fool was me! Yes, child, my name is Topsy Washington and I love to party!"

Well "anyone who knows anything about" Harriet Beecher Stowe or Uncle Tom (or La La L'Amazing Grace) knows that naming this character Topsy was sure to ruffle some feathers. Why, George? Why? You know we have a hard time coming to terms with those images!

She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas'r's parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded in front of her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance -- something as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, "so heathenish..."

~ Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

I could go on and on about this Topsy thing, but there's so much more to the piece, I just can't waste time on the child's name!

" let me tell you 'bout this function I went to the other night, way uptown. And baby, when I say way uptown, I mean way-way-way-way-way-way-way-way uptown. Somewhere between 125th Street and infinity.

Inside was the largest gathering of black/Negro/colored Americans you'd ever want to see. Over in one corner you got Nat Turner sippin champagne out of Eartha Kitt's slipper. And over in another corner, Bert Williams and Malcom X was discussing existentialism as it relates to the shuffle-ball-change. Girl, Aunt Jemima and Angela Davis was in the kitchen sharing a plate of greens and just going off about South Africa.

And then Fats sat down and started to work them 88's. And the Stevie joined in. And then Miles and Duke and Ella and Jimi and Charlie and Sly and Lightnin' and Count and Louie! And then everybody joined in. I tell you all the children was just all up in there,

dancing to the rhythm of one beat.

Dancing to the rhythm of their own definition.

Celebrating in their cultural madness

So, hold up George, you tryin' to tell me that I can identify with Malcom & Angela's politics and still have love for mammies and minstrels? At the same time?? Are you sure? Shouldn't I be mad & fly into a rage any time anybody even mentions blackface or pickaninnies?

How on earth is a modern day black woman supposed to embrace these "embarrassing" images in our history?

Well, like with anything else - getting educated on the subject. So like any actor, I spend a good deal of my pre-performance time doing research. Making sure that my character (or anyone else in the play) is not saying anything that I don't understand 100%. Becoming familiar with the period during which the play's action takes place, as well as the cultural & political climate during which it was written. And my process preceding "The Colored Museum" certainly helped me reconcile with my colored contradictions.

All I knew about Aunt Jemima before was that I didn't want to leave the house looking like her, or else I would shame the family & by extension, the entire race. But there was a real person behind those pancakes. Her name was Nancy Green and she was born a slave. We look at her and feel shame, but she is the face of our immediate ancestry. And in the late 1800's I can't imagine that she looked much different than any other 59 year old former slave. Neither Ms. Green nor her contemporaries were trying to be America's Next Top Model, they weren't climbing or integrating the corporate ladder and my guess is that their day-to-day concerns had more to do with survival than future generations' embarrassment over the scarf on her head. And how embarrassed can we really be? Don't you cover your head with something from time to time? I sure do - when I cook, when I sleep, when it rains.

Knowing a little more about Nancy Green and the 6 women who subsequently represented the pancake giant, I still resist the urge to wear my bonnet outside my house (except for the occasional quick drive to my mother's house). But I respect the fact that she represented the product marketing & fashion trends of her time. And she paved the way for Tyson Beckford (Polo, Ralph Lauren) & Paul Williams, Fred Thomas, Charles Stone III and Scott Brooks (Budweiser / Whassup!).

Now that that's been cleared up & put in perspective, what about this minstrel thing? White folks + burnt cork = OFFENSIVE, no question, right? But what about Williams & Walker (a.k.a. The Two Real Coons)? Do they go into the same box I put the Wayans family in?

After getting a bit more below the surface, I have concluded that White folks + burnt cork = cultural appropriation at it's stereotypical worst. And it still doesn't give me a warm & fuzzy feeling. But when someone steals something from you, what better revenge than to steal it back!

Bert Williams was a natural entertainer, who earned his early living mimicking "the humble, shiftless, slouch Negro who could neither read nor write but who had a certain hard, and not altogether inaccurate, philosophy of life." I guess he figured, if they can do it, I can too. After partnering with George Walker, Williams went on to become internationally famous for his vaudeville shows. White audiences came out in droves, considering Blacks in blackface somehow more authentic. The Black performers in this time used their time on stage to alter long held stereotypes. In the early 1900's the torch was passed to Stepin Fetchit, who brought the coon to the motion picture screen and became the first Black actor to become a millionaire. Often, while making movies in which he found the lines offensive, he would skip or mumble lines he did not like, pretending to be too stupid to comprehend the script.

So these men and women were performers. They cashed in on an artform that made a mockery of their very existence. They became world renowned actors, songwriters and filmmakers. They put on "a show" so that 100 years later I wouldn't have to. Make no mistake, these were not necessarily the most glamorous or respected trailblazers in our history. But they certainly represent a part of our history that we need to pass on to generations to come. Otherwise, we'll have entire genres of entertainment that pander to the foolish stereotypes that the mainstream is comfortable with.

(Oh, wait, that's already happening.)

It's hard work, coming to terms with the contradictions. But I think that our culture suffers when we ignore the parts of our past that we don't like. They are all a part of us and they're not going away.

"Everything I need to get over in this world, is inside here, connecting me to everybody and everything that's ever been. So, honey, don't waste your time trying to label or define me, 'cause

I'm not what I was ten years ago

or ten minutes ago.

I'm all of that and then some.

And whereas I can't live inside yesterday's pain,

I can't live without it!"