Share It — Your Gifts, Your Talents, You

“How you going to be dope and keep it to yourself?” he asked earnestly, flashing his winning smile, which devolved quickly to a pressed lip smirk, coupled with eyes that were visors, throwing all the shade. The seemingly odd combination somehow perfectly accented and punctuated his statement question. For over three hours, my cousin and I sat, ate (sidenote: we had some delicious oxtails, rice and plantains, which was pronounced exactly as it is spelt by our white waitress, which sounded foreign to our Caribbean-bred ears, never hearing it pronounced that way except by white folk in NYC who have recently Columbused our beloved ripe banana), drank (quite a bit of rum, bourbon and whiskey), and conversed. The topics ranged from trashy, binge-worthy television shows to family gossip to podcasts to personal stories.

My cousin, like me, is a writer and he is gifted to be able to put his words to melodies, creating music that makes you feel, dance and sing, often all at the same damn time. Towards the end of the night, he shared that he struggles with his writing process because he overly criticizes his work, concerned with what others will think about his music, which then delays and often torpedoes the whole creative adventure. As a response, I shared two brief stories, one from Debbie Allen and one from Jerry Seinfeld. Debbie Allen, who is amazing and you need to google her if you do not know who she is, shared a question that her Pulitzer prize nominated momma, Vivian Allen, asked her and her sister, Phylicia Rashad, who you also need to google if you do not know who she is; in fact, lose yourself in a wikipedia vortex of the Allens (sidenote: Stop. Take a moment. Clap for all that #blackgirlmagic in that household). She would ask her daughters, “What have you done today that helped you get closer to your dream?” Action. Getting closer to one’s dream requires it. Similarly, Jerry Seinfeld, I would say google him but I have a sneaky suspicion that y’all already know this white male comedian (sidenote: I’m sucking/kissing my teeth right now cause race and gender), shared a seemingly simple practice with an up and coming comedian to help them improve their craft so they could hopefully become successful (such a loaded word — I would argue that the younger comedian is already successful because they are actively pursuing their passion, yet American society would say otherwise because they’re not rich and famous). Seinfeld told them to buy a calendar and every day, whether they felt like it or not, to write a joke; it did not have to be a complete joke or even a particularly long joke, but it had to be written done. Action. And, afterwards, they should draw a big [insert your favorite color] X over the day and watch, with growing pride at its increasing length, their X-snake (phallic much?). He mentioned that he would sometimes write what he knew was a crappy joke just to keep his streak going. He also warned that if the comedian missed a day, it would make it easier to miss the next day and so on, creating a blank calendar snake that would also be challenging to break.

I shared those two stories with my cousin and we both came to the conclusion that dream-realizing requires action, daily. So here is my first X as I get back in the habit of closing the canyon sized gap between my thoughts and my writing. And whenever my cousin wakes up from his full belly, alcohol infused sleep, in his inbox will be a link to this post, a reminder that he now has to actively do something so that he too can start his own X-chain.

The last ones to leave the restaurant, sans the workers, who were busy with their closing time routines well before we paid our bill, I told my cousin gushingly that he was awesome. He retorted, “I already know that…but, thank you.” I playfully countered, “So, you have to share it!”

Stop Paying Attention to Age

“I need a slow motion video, right now,” he recited bubbly when he answered my phone call. Most greet others with a hug or a handshake. Our special welcome is a rap ad-lib that we uttered no less than a thousand times in one day during the summer of 2011. We joked, drank, partied, and conversed during his one night visit to NYC. Most importantly, we needed a slow motion video for our plethora of shenanigans.

We met while I attended the best university at a “we have extra money in our budget so let’s host an extravagant buffet styled lunch” appreciation luncheon during the summer. His mother was then an administrative assistant in the Dean’s office and proudly introduced me to her soon to be fourteen year old son. His tall lanky frame, with over sized hands and feet, highlighted that was he in the midst of a growth sprout. His mom and my boss mentor suddenly disappeared into the crowed after the brief introduction, and we were left awkwardly together. Making small talk (Editor’s note: small talk with a teenager is top ten hardest things to do in life…don’t doubt me, just shake your head in agreement), I asked what he liked to do in his free time, and he tersely replied, “Play basketball.” I then invited him to hoop with me and some friends, not thinking that he would take me up on the offer. But he did; I still remember the phone call from his mother asking what time she should bring him to the gym. A couple days later, we were running up and down the court together. He was on my team because my big brother instincts wanted to protect him because neither my friends nor I knew if he could actually hoop since he was younger than we were and if he sucked it was only right that I shouldered the burden. Impressively, he held his own against the older competition and we won the majority of our games. More importantly, our friendship began.

We are six years apart, and being the elder I assumed the mentor role. We spoke occasionally about school and his social life; I mainly listened and offered advice when asked for it. After I graduated, our conversations continued, evolving as we each became more of ourselves. The frequency decreased each year, but we always made it a point to check in with each other ever so often. For example, when I found out that I was going to have a child at twenty-three, we spoke about it like brothers. I shared with him my anxieties and apprehensions, especially given that both of us had grown up without our biological fathers present. Likewise, when he was having a difficult time in college, we spoke about it like brothers. I encouraged him to continue his educational journey, and even sent him some money for “books.”

After all the pleasantries and small talk, he exploded that he connected with his biological father and siblings. The story seemed surreal; he went to college with his half sister and even met her a couple times because they shared a similar friend group. Only a few months earlier did she somehow connect the dots. I smiled when I heard the excitement in his voice about being a big brother and how he and his sisters are actively working on crafting meaningful relationships. And then the conversation became authentic when we broached the difficult questions about his father and their initial meeting. Undeterred and maturely, he detailed the work in progress of moving past the past and focusing on the future. I could hear, faintly, the hurt in his voice that he was actively moving beyond. He understood that bitterness would destroy this opportunity, so he decided to be happy and embrace the moment. During our two hour conversation, I learned from him. He showcased for me what letting go actually looks like. He demonstrated a strength and courageousness that left me in awe. I just kept saying in my head, “I want to be like him when I grew up” because he was handling tough situations in an admirable way that I wanted to emulate.

After we hung up the phone, some two hours later, I decided that I can no longer pay attention to age because it can not quantify one’s wisdom and maturity. I have met some older adults who act like children immaturely. Similarly, I have met some young adults who speak and act with a knowledge beyond what one would expect given their age. Thus, I am actively working to remove my assumptions about others based on their age.

I Can’t Sleep…What’s New

It’s odd to be back, but I return to my blog after an almost fourteen week absence. Writing is good for me and I am elated to push the black and white keys that spell the words that are my thoughts. Writing is necessary for me. Throughout my time away, I constantly thought about foreverizing certain moments in a blog, but repeatedly failed to do so. I did do some writing here, here, and here. While writing about music is enjoyable and I will continue, it was not the same as being here, home, at Betweentheworldandme.

Most people that know me beyond lit computer screens and incessant social media (and even those that know me only within those realms) know that I have poor sleeping patterns. It’s true, I do, and even detailed its history in this post. What I did not share, however, is what I do when the world seemingly sleeps and I’m wide awake. The overwhelming majority of the time I listen to my mind pace (but not limited to), constructing analytical dissections of a relationship to formulating potential initiatives for my work community to worrying about life and all the what-ifs of the future. *Sidenote: For those that wonder what I do the other times not included in the overwhelming majority: I work out, try to go back to sleep, read, work on my clothing company, check instagram, watch “Orange is the new black,” which I recently completed and loved (most of it). I do the things most people do throughout the day, but I happen to do them around 3am.*

Most of the time, I wake to a stream of words that often form the opening line(s) to a poem, paper, or prose. *Sidenote: While in college, I often woke up to my thesis sentence spilling from my mind and from there was able to craft my argument and eventually write my paper.* Though energized from the few hours of rest, I often resist moving from my bed to quickly jot them down. As a result, hours later, when I try to grasp them, they avert my grip like grabbing at free flowing water. Because I have had a strong yearning to write and empty myself again, I decided to get up this morning and write those words:

He didn’t say sorry. He had no problem forming the three-syllable phrase and forcibly uttering the words. Throughout his life he has said sorry numerous times when he didn’t mean it. Not tonight. He did not want to accept blame for his mistakes because he stubbornly believed that she was the only one at fault. So, he sat there, looking into her pleadingly eyes and said nothing. A mere apologetic whisper would have bridged the growing gap in the conversation and salvaged the quickly eroding relationship. The overdue pregnant pause, with each new second adding to the deafening shrill, could not budge him. No, he was intently perched on his rock of “asshole” “not my fault” and had no intention of moving for her, for reconciliation, or for himself anytime soon. So he sat there, determined, but he struggled to look in her eyes long enough without feeling guilt for his refusal. He could see her hurt and knew unequivocally he was the reason for it. Suddenly fiddling with his hands, a feeble attempt to break eye contact, he readjusts his position atop his ego. And she waited uncomfortably, tears forming in her eyes, damned by her eyelids or pride or both, as she watched her now ex-boyfriend noticeably squirm in his seat like a child, exhibiting the same uneasiness of an eight year old learning accountability. Disgusted and frustrated with her inability to lock eyes with him again, she begrudgingly asked, “Now what, huh?”

Thoughts about Jason Collins and his historical moment

jason collins

Congratulations to Jason Collins for being comfortable and brave to admit his sexual orientation in a public manner. The thirty-four old NBA center made history yesterday when his personal essay for Sports Illustrated leaked to the press and other media outlets, marking him as the first openly gay professional team sport athlete. Here are my thoughts and concerns as this story makes its way through our media’s digestive track.

  • As this Ted Talk illustrates the key to a movement is actually the second person. Who will follow Collins’ courageous first step and announce their sexual orientation? Once that happens, I hope the flood gates will open and America can begin to openly discuss and accept (not tolerate…I strongly dislike that word when we discuss differences…I can tolerate playing basketball on a sprained ankle, whereas I can accept one’s humanity) gay athletes.
  • Bill Clinton wrote yesterday, “It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities,” in praise of Jason Collins’ admission. While I agree with him, I am weary of the use of “good man.” I worry that while Clinton in trying to challenge the way we think of gay athletes, unfortunately reinforces the idea of gay as “bad.” His statement would have still been as powerful with the omission of “good man” because regardless of Collins’ sexuality he is a good person; the two, goodness and sexuality, should not be linked.
  • Collins coming out has a “where were you when…” feel to it. I was in my car, listening to ESPN talk radio when I first heard the news. The announcer stressed that he was not gay, but supported Jason Collins. It struck me as odd that he felt the need to confirm his heterosexuality as he supported an openly gay athlete. Pay attention to that throughout the subsequent commentary.
  • Lastly, while I disagree with those who for various reasons (i.e. bigotry, religion, etc) condemn homosexuality, I do believe that in the spirit of diversity they should be able to share their thoughts and opinions. While it pains me to write that sentence because I worry about the hatred that they may spew, it is within their rights to voice their opinions. Likewise, it is in my rights to disagree with them.

In the words of the famous philosopher from Brooklyn, Jay-Z, “What you eat, don’t make me shhh…Where’s the love?”

I am thankful that Jason Collins found the inner strength to share such a private matter in such a public manner to help push the conversation about homosexuality, sports, masculinity, and the various interconnected threads forward. Who he decides to sleep with does not affect me anymore than it affected it yesterday; likewise, who I decide to sleep with does not affect him. I appreciate his decision to live authentically and hope that others, regardless of sexual orientation, can learn from his example: Be who you are and love who you are because you deserve it!

My Initial Want of Approval

lannister

“Jugglers and singers require applause.” -Lord Lannister

Aside from my growing obsession with the intriguing characters and tantalizing story lines, I thoroughly enjoy the thought-provoking comments littered throughout the hit HBO series, Games of Thrones. The above quote was disgustedly uttered by a father towards his son, who wanted some recognition for his bravery on the battlefield. And at that moment, I felt connected to the son. There are times when I want to be recognized for the often thankless hard work that I do. There are times when I want to feel appreciated by those closest to me. But, I caught myself, while in this empathetic lull, and shifted my attention to the father’s words. Lord Lannister, though cruel, was absolutely correct. There are those professions in which applause is mandatory (editor’s note: all teachers can attest that our profession is definitely not one of them), and countless others in which recognition is scarce (editor’s note: just nod along fellow teachers). And then I started to think about why I, like Tyrion, lust after appreciation and recognition, especially from those closest to me.

It is linked to my fear of failure and, more acutely, my feeling of inadequacy and/or feeling wayward. The hallowed approval of those close to me falsely signals that I am adequate, that I am doing the right thing, that I am somehow how on the right path by pleasing them.

But then I caught myself again from falling down this self-loathing, dependent on others for my joy free-for-all that I sometimes masochistically endure, and reminded myself of one of my life sayings, “Don’t judge me.” Often when people hear the phrase, they think that I am repelling potential negative criticism. But most fail to realize that praise is the prettier side of judgement. In other words, criticism and praise are two sides of the same coin, aptly named judgement.

So when I say “don’t judge me,” not only am I telling the other person not to flip their coin and share their sentiments based on which side lies upward, but, more importantly, I am reminding myself that I do not care about their coin; I do not need their recognition or approval. Instead, the saying reminds me to find solace in my own decision and continue to work tirelessly because I am not doing this work or making those decisions for the applause. Nope. I am doing the work so that my students’ lives will be filled with opportunities so that they can make their own choices, which will craft their life narrative. I am making personal decisions because I want to make them!

Thanks Game of Thrones for another moment, in which I was able to dig a little deeper into my character by watching the drama unfold between fictional characters.

Revenge, the Coldest of Dishes

missinginactionThis year, I have been blessed to see three live NBA basketball games, witnessing Lebron, Kobe, and Melo. As a result, I have made a resolution with my future self: the expendable money that future me makes will be spent on going to NBA games, with the goal of attending a game in every arena.

The NBA, more than any other American professional sport, thrives on the marketing of their superstars. Unlike football, where their players are helmeted and only a handful of quarterbacks or skill players are known, most people recognize NBA players, largely because there is little separation between the players and fans (editor’s note: NBA players also sell and endorse everything under the sun). NBA players wear tank tops and shorts and periodically dive into the stands. After a big shot, they interact with the fans, who are a few feet away from the court, reducing the space with their outreached hands, hoping to touch a player at some point throughout the game. Even the fans seated on the periphery, nearly touching the arena’s rafters, are able to see the player’s winning smiles and ever-changing emotions via the jumbotron. While this close proximity encourages a euphoric, if only fleeting, connectedness, the monetary cost of experiencing it can be costly for some families.

Enter billionaires and millionaires and their egotistical feelings.

On November 29th, Greg Popovich, who I think is a phenomenal coach and does not receive the national attention he deserves because he coaches in a small market, decided to send his top four players home, even though they had a game against the Miami Heat that night. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobilli, and Danny Green went back to San Antonio on a commercial flight, instead of suiting up and playing the scheduled game. This move caused understandable uproar because Popovich did not inform the league of his decision until shortly before the start of the game. More importantly, the Miami Heat fans, who paid top dollars to see what many believe to be a NBA finals preview, were unable to see San Antonio at full strength. Remember, the NBA, more than any American professional sports, makes the bulk of their money on the marketability of their superstars, of which Duncan, Parker, and Ginobilli are. As a reprimand, the commissioner fined the Spurs organization a quarter of a million dollars. A gentle slap on the wrist for an organization that makes over $135 million in revenue annually.

Last night, the Miami Heat returned the malicious favor to the San Antonio fans by sitting both Dwayne Wade and the superstar amongst superstars, Lebron James. Each were sidelined with an injury. Interestingly, the league will have a difficult time fining the Heat because, unlike the Spurs, they followed protocol and reported that their players would be out due to injury. However, even a blind man can see that this move was also motivated by  revenge; the Heat organization wanted to payback the Spurs and their fans for the indiscretion and insult to the Heats fans back in November. For example, if the Heat’s winning streak was still intact and they were still chasing immortality, Wade and James, regardless of injury would have played. But the circumstances allowed for them to “take a night off” against the team who “robbed” their fans the pleasure of seeing the Spurs’ top players.

Lost in all of this tit for tat egotistical, billionaire mind war are the fans, specially the families that save their money to treat themselves or their children to a special outing. The kids (and adults), whose San Antonio rooms are covered in Lebron or Wade posters and defend them to their friends, who belittle them for liking anyone else not named Duncan, Parker, Ginobilli, or some other Spurs player, missed out on an opportunity to see their idol(s) defy gravity, shoot jumpers, and play tenacious defense that would surely lead to a highlight worthy moment on Sportscenter. Those voices, though they blend into one cacophonous sound for the players and the owners, need to be heard and recognized.

For a player like Lebron, who is finally starting to shed the venomous hate that surrounded his decision to play for Heat, this moment pushes him backwards as he (re)gains fans. If only the fans could boycott the owners and not attend a game to physically voice their displeasure with such childish behavior among the one percent. Unfortunately, it won’t happen because the experience is worth the cost.

Editor’s Note

editors noteOn Fridays, I will share news stories, personal experiences, or other musings that stood out to me throughout the week.

  • Diplomats Reunion Concert for the ten year anniversary of Diplomatic Immunity (editor’s note: with various rappers doing ten year anniversary shows, I suddenly feel dated and I haven’t even hit thirty yet. However, it is impossible to not recognize the impact that the Diplomats had on NYC culture in the early 2000’s. Dip!). 
  • The end of Miami’s Heat twenty-seven win streak (editor’s note: as a basketball fan I wanted to see the Lakers vaunted record fall, especially with Lebron leading the charge. Oh well!)
  • Religion (editor’s note: walking home after completing a couple of errands, I witness a Catholic middle school’s reenactment of Jesus’ crucifixion journey, with Roman soliders whipping at the faux cross and a student wearing a Jesus mask. The procession was followed by roughly a hundred or more parents, walking through the neighborhood. And then I remembered a conversation with a friend, who confessed that they achieved a serious religious moment while on a drug-induced trip. Their recollection of the moment, in which they felt connected to every particle on earth,  made sense. Point being that religion and its meaning manifests itself different).
  • Death (editor’s note: My condolences to a close friend who lost a dear friend and another friend who lost their grandmother. Death is inevitable but still feels tremendously unfair and crude).
  • Harry Potter (editor’s note: I started to read the Harry Potter series and am in love. I am not sure why I missed this wave the first time, and am actually not sure how I decided to make it my wave currently. But, I am thankful that I did because it is a great, fun read).
  • Kwame Harris (editor’s note: a lightly covered story about a former NFL player who was outed a couple months ago because of an altercation with a former partner. Interestingly, in the four male professional sports, there are no openly gay athletes. The fact illuminates a disturbingly disheartening truth about our society’s acceptance and acknowledgement of sexuality).
  • Red Equal Sign parodies (editor’s note: while the Supreme Court discusses gay marriage rights, many have taken the powerful symbol, a red equal sign, and have made various parodies. Turning the symbol into a joke, once again, speaks to our societal immaturity to openly discuss difficult topics. Instead, folk are quick to turn the matter into a farce. Though these various parodies are intended to make people laugh, these parodies undoubtedly belittle and hurt many whose ability to marry their love depends on nine people’s whim interpretation).
  • Florida Gulf Coast University (editor’s note: Dunk City are the darlings of the NCAA tournament, having upset two higher ranked teams with relative easy and ferocious dunks, their coach is married to a former Supermodel, and their team consists of a bunch of players that other, more notable programs, did not recruit. America loves the underdog and I will be rooting for them to make it the Elite Eight).

What stood out to you during the week? Please share your “editor’s note” in the comments.