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Writing about love during times of hate

December 30th, 2015 8 comments

Love is a battle.
Love is a war.

— James Baldwin

 

Love is a difficult thing to write about.

It doesn’t seem this way at first. We think there’s so much to say because there’s so much we feel in the moment, but then when we put fingers to keys, it just becomes incoherent mush. That is why the popular thing to do these days when it’s time to express joy is to do this a;npogifhaptgag

or this: !!!!!!!!!!!!

or this: Yaaaaaaaaasssss

or we write out a bunch of emojis. (My personal favorite is the flame emoji.)

Another reason love is probably more difficult than ever to write about is because in 2015, it seemed like we saw less of it playing out on the news and in social media. In his annual Who Won the Year bracket, Rembert Browne writing for New York Magazine crowned “Hate” as the unfortunate champion of 2015. Granted that’s only one man’s opinion, but if you read the whole article (which you should do after finishing this one) how he got there makes sense. There is not one group of people that exists today who doesn’t feel like someone is hating on them. Black people. White people. Men. Women. LGBT. Muslims. Christians. Americans. Foreigners. Democrats. Republicans. Everyone swears everyone hates them.

Some of these groups have a much stronger, more legitimate case for this feeling than others, but you get the point. This was the year everyone felt at some point like society was out to kill them or against them. This was the year when I often woke up, checked my phone, and saw a news alert that crushed me. All I could do was turn around and hold Gina, then pray for the strength to make it through the day.

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Eleven Lessons Learned After Living In New York City For 11 Years

July 9th, 2015 2 comments

Eleven years ago today, I stepped off a plane at JFK International Airport. It wasn’t my first time visiting New York City. I had been here enough times to not be in awe of the city skyline as my plane was touching down. I even lived here once, albeit temporarily for a three-month summer residence between my junior year and senior year at Howard University. I lived with my brother in Astoria Queens and interned at Vibe magazine in Manhattan. Instead of awe and excitement, my feeling was firmly one of anxiety as I loaded up a cart with my luggage. Unlike my previous visits, this was a one-way trip. I was here to stay and I had no idea when I would leave.

All these years later, I still don’t know when I’m buying a one-way ticket out of here. These days whenever I’m asked if I see myself staying (and as long as you tell people you’re from somewhere else, they will always ask you when you’re leaving) I shrug because I don’t know if that day will ever come. I’m not a New Yorker but New York City has become home, and that is a very bittersweet thing for me to say. Outside of Seaside, California, the city where I was raised, I have spent more time living in New York than I have anywhere else. And while I always grew up with a dream of one day living in the Empire State, I don’t know if that dream ever entailed me staying this long.

But here I am with no exit strategy in mind. This puts me in the unique position of being able to help those who are either thinking about moving to the city or packing their bags to do so. As long as I have been here, I still identify more with the wide-eyed newcomers than the natives. I was once you, but didn’t have very many people who I could talk to not just about living here but trying to figure out how to call this place home. These are the lessons I’ve learned in my quest to get comfortable in New York, New York, big city of dreams.

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What It Feels Like to Lose a Distant Friend in 2014

September 30th, 2014 5 comments

On Sunday morning, I logged onto Facebook and received terrible news. My friend from Howard University, Shomari Marlon Small died on Friday, September 26 in his native, Jamaica. The cause of his death as of this time is still unclear, and I am waiting to hear more details, which I am sure will come to me similar to the way news of his death came to me: On social media.

Shomari and I met each other as freshmen at Howard University. Coming from California, I wasn’t exposed to too many people like Shomari, which is to say I could probably count on one hand how many true Jamaicans I met prior to arriving at HU. Shomari’s island accent was thick to the point where I chuckled the first time he spoke. I had a lot of growing up to do back then, but Shomari did too because when he heard me speak, he laughed and said, “Yo, where are you from? Why do you talk like that?” I had never been to Jamaica, he had never set foot in California, and both of us were living in D.C., away from our families and all that was familiar for the first time.

Seeing as we were equally alien to not only our surroundings but to each other, we hit it off immediately. Some days, we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. He hipped me to beef patties, I put him up on sushi and raw seaweed my mom would send me in care packages. In those very early days at Howard we became more brothers than friends.

By the beginning of the second semester, Shomari and I still acknowledged one another as close friends, but the dynamic between us wasn’t like the first semester. We grew apart, not in spirit, but socially. By now we adjusted to life at Howard, made more friends who we would be seen with more often, developed other interests that kept us busy. He was a business major, I was a communications major, this meant often times a whole week could by before we ran into each other, since most of our classes were taking place on different parts of campus. Our relationship with one another continued on that path right up until he transferred out of Howard in 2003. We never had a chance to say goodbye to one another.

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Robin Williams: A Man Who Made My Whole Family Laugh

August 12th, 2014 No comments

When the news came across my Twitter timeline that Robin Williams committed suicide on Monday, I, like everyone was shocked and saddened by the news. I was also somewhat unsettled, like I usually am by most celebrity deaths. To mourn someone we don’t know on a personal level, demonstrates a certain sense of compassion, but when that person is a star, I always try to hold back my grief. As much as I have written about celebrities, interviewed them, and even enjoyed reading profiles about them, I have never been in the business of celebrity worship. These people, who entertain me, are appreciated, but not more than those I actually know, so I reserve a full range of emotions for those closest to me.

The loss of Williams is different.

Whether he played an animated genie, a cross-dressing father desperate to be with his kids, an adult-looking fifth grader with a crush on his teacher, a boy who could fly and never wanted to grow up, a doctor with unconventional methods of treatment, a widowed therapist with a unique approach to helping his only patient, I always took a piece of the characters he played with me.

I don’t know what jobs Williams had coming down the pipeline, I don’t know what movie or show he was slated to play in next. What I do know is whatever the role was, he was more than likely going to nail it and transform into yet another character that would probably stay with me for the rest of my life, because that’s what Williams always did.

I truly can’t think of one person who is talented the way Williams was talented. People can name me funnier comedians, they can cite better actors, but I can’t think of someone who had both of those gifts in abundance like Williams did. That man made my whole family laugh, together, at the same time. That made his talent more than entertaining to me; it was downright magical.

Ten Years A New Yorker

July 9th, 2014 7 comments

Today marks my official New York Birthday. In 2004, I flew into JFK, a young, fresh-faced college graduate who finally accomplished one of my major life goals up until that point: Get a job at a major magazine in New York City.

That magazine was VIBE and the first job was as a fact-checker. As for residence, well, I didn’t have my own place yet, but I had a plan. My brother was already living here and would let me crash on his couch until I found a place of my own. Within a month of me landing in my new home, I was moving into a two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights with my friend Ashley, who I met the summer before when we were interning at VIBE. For two years, we stayed there on W. 164 and Broadway, a block away from the ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated.

Life was good, and even in hindsight it seemed too good to be true. Hugh, one of my best friends from college was living in Fort Greene, not far from three other former classmates of ours E, Neems, and Ash who shared an apartment. Every day, we would go back and forth exchanging emails, debating, talking smack, cracking jokes, then gather on the weekends at the girls’ apartment, the five of us acting out a real-life version of “Living Single.” Since I was the lone Uptown resident, I would either pack my stuff and take it with me to work or I would go home, pack, and then make the long trek from Uptown to Bed-Stuy.

I like to look at those first two years in New York City as an incubation period, my version of graduate school. Aside from the unexpected murder of my uncle, which happened in California two months after I left, there were very few real moments in my reality within those first 730 days I was here.

But then, very suddenly, everything started changing.

Hugh was leaving NYC for a new job opportunity, and my roommate was doing the same. This meant I was going to be here without one of my best friends and I had to look for a new place (and possibly a new roommate).

As luck would have it, I was able to secure an affordable one-bedroom apartment in Central Harlem, on 150th and Frederick Douglass (or, as the native New Yorkers call it, 8th Ave). I signed my lease and moved in, turned 25, and began a new chapter in my career as an editor at KING magazine all within the same week.

This morning, I woke up in that same apartment. It is one of the few things from my time here that has remained the same. Most of everything else around me has changed. Some of the changes were part of my plan, most of them were God’s plan for me, the only thing that has never been on the agenda is an exit plan. I’m sure that day will come, but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since moving to this city ten years ago is that this city and I are a good match.

I will always make sure people know I grew up in Seaside, California and that I am a proud alumni of Howard University, because my Pop told me to never forget where I came from. But today’s post is about where I am and have been for the past 10 years.

No one can seem to agree on how long one must live in New York before they become a New Yorker. I’ve heard some can become one in six months, but that’s a lie. In my first six months here, I still thought the train ride from Uptown to Brooklyn wasn’t too bad. Instead, I would like to think today, ten years after I picked up my luggage off a carousel and told a cab driver to take me to 792 Columbus Ave, I can now claim I’m a New Yorker. I’m not from here, but I am of here, and just like people tell me to this day they can hear the California accent when I talk, whenever I travel out of this city, people will think it makes sense when I tell them I’m visiting from New York.

To commemorate my 10th New York Birthday here are ten lessons I’ve learned about living in the concrete jungle.

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Everything Will Be Okay: The Feeling of Losing A Job

June 30th, 2014 5 comments

To this day I haven’t received a more cryptic text message than the one I woke up to on this day five years ago.

First message:
Hey man, just want to tell you tomorrow is going to be a day, be ready.

Second message:
Just do your normal routine, make your breakfast, and come to the office at the usual time.

Third message:
If it helps, just know I’ve already cried about this several times, but we’re going to be okay.

The messages were from Ben, my editor and boss at VIBE. At the time, I was an articles editor, but my main duty was online editor. I had just started working under Ben after reporting to Danyel, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, and Ross, the head of digital, for the better part of a year. Ben was not a new employee, he was one of the more senior people on staff, but we never worked as close as we had within those last couple of months.

Reading those text messages from Ben made my heart sink straight into my stomach. At the time I received them, I wasn’t home. I was at the apartment of a girl I was seeing. During that time, it was customary for me to wake up an hour before her and quietly step out to go home and get ready for the day. But on that morning, I was too scared to even move. I woke her up instead.

“What do I do about this?”

She was half-asleep, but attentive enough to calm me down. “It might not be as bad as you think,” she said.

“But it’s definitely not good, right?”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “If he said he cried, it doesn’t sound good.”

I sat on the side of her bed and just stared at the drawn blinds covering her small bedroom window. The fear that I was going to be fired paralyzed me momentarily. The time was 6:30 AM, and it would be at least another three hours before I found out anything.

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Six Months Later, How I Feel Now

May 22nd, 2014 3 comments

We have more time in front of us than we do behind us, but when our future comes, I want something to be on the public record that states how I felt after being with you for only six months.

When I realized I was in love with you, I told you I felt this way before. I know it wasn’t the most romantic thing to say, but sometimes we have to sacrifice the sweet talk for honesty. My larger point was, my feelings for others never stopped me from being self-destructive. I used to think if I loved a woman enough, I would change. As it turns out, that old saying about love not being enough is true. But eventually, change came from within, I changed on my own, so when you found me, I was ready in some ways.

I was ready to say I love you when I did because I was sure. I was ready to tell my mother about you when I did because I was sure. I was ready to bring you around my friends because I was sure. I was ready to be public about you to those who follow me because I was sure.

What was I so sure about? It wasn’t only your love for me, but your faith in me too.

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E.D.A (Electronic Displays of Affection) With My Girlfriend

January 23rd, 2014 7 comments

At first, it was about other girls.

I needed to tell them there was someone new in my life, and I didn’t want them finding out on Instagram. I wanted to be straight up, so I reached out to the ones I knew would care about seeing me with a new woman and give them the heads up. Others reached out to me before I even had a chance to tell them what was happening, making assumptions that, while correct, were still premature. But I was thankful they did the heavy lifting for me.

Moves like this always sound extra and unnecessary to outsiders or even people who are on the receiving end of the type of news I was delivering. I, for one, always believe in the power of saying nothing. That sort of move speaks volumes. But with social media a part of our everyday being, people we aren’t even talking to have an ability to hear us. People who were once in our lives, by our side, still exist on our screens, in our phones. And going through the trouble of blocking, de-friending, and deleting, well, it just seems to be more trouble than letting them know what was going on with me. If they chose to respond to my news with those actions, that’s fair, but I wasn’t about to go to such lengths. Besides, I don’t have blocks on my accounts. I’m sure they would still be checking me out from afar even if they did go to such lengths to act like I don’t exist.

Once I delivered my news like 3 Stacks, the hesitation to share still pulled at me. Now there were other people to worry about, and most of them were people I have never met in real life.

For the past couple of months I have been on cloud nine. The people in my inner circle have noticed it, my mother hears it in my voice on the phone. None of that is to say I was unhappy before Gina came into my life. Quite the contrary, everything was going just fine. You can say, I was on cloud eight, enjoying life, feeling blessed, and excited about what each day held. But she elevated all of that to the next level, and that’s where I’ve been for most of this winter.

Like most good things in my life, I had a desire to share it, but even after telling other girls I dated that we would no longer be dating, I held back because everything with my current girlfriend was and is still new. And I’ve seen it numerous times, electronic displays of affection (EDA) can make fools out of us all.The last relationship I was in fizzled in less than three months and when we got back together, less than three weeks. There is very little online evidence that we even existed, besides a couple of blog posts I wrote last year, and in hindsight, the minimal amount of EDA looks like it may have been the best move. Quite naturally, with this new relationship, I should follow the same script, right? Because, who knows? I could be single again tomorrow, says the cynic who lives in my head and likes to dance around in it every now and then.

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It Feels Like Skydiving (Act One of Letting Go)

December 9th, 2013 2 comments

You have no idea what it’s like to skydive, but you imagine it feels very similar to what you are preparing to do. You are about to let these hands go and your feet will follow from beneath you. None of it feels natural, none of it feels safe, all of it feels like the scariest thing you’ve ever done. You’ve done it in the past, all the landings before this one have been awkward, some have even caused injury; especially the last one, you told yourself you’re never going that high again. Ground zero, where you were always in control, was safer.

But the thing about ground zero is it all feels the same after awhile. There are no thrills at the street level. The only time you’ve ever felt alive is when you’ve gone that high and landed, awkwardly. To convince you it’s okay to go up there again, that you’re not crazy, you’re going to fully trust the person who is on your back, jumping out with you. They’ve done this too, had their own share of awkward landings, and they’re a little nervous as well.

YOLO you two say (not out loud, in your head) and then you jump.

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A Check-Up on the Words ‘I Love You’

October 8th, 2013 10 comments

We were sitting across from one another having brunch. The waitress came with our first order, a large salad we decided to share. With no hesitation, I dove my fork and spoon into the large bowl of arugula, gave it a couple of light tosses, and then pushed together a nice-sized portion. “Give me your plate,” I said. She picked it up and I laid down the serving and then another. “Is that good?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said. As I began to serve myself, she said, “I love you.”

That was the last time I remember hearing those words and feeling them.

It wasn’t the first time she said it. The two of us had been together for a while and said it to each other pretty regularly. But for whatever reason, at that moment, those words, the way she said them, were crystal.

I recalled that moment recently, after I watched this video of a guy who proposed to his girlfriend and planned her wedding using her Pinterest board as a guide. It was one of those viral videos I first ignored on Facebook, and only watched after enough of my friends asked me if I checked it out. The entire thing is pretty touching, assuming you have a heart, but the one part that stuck out for me is when Ryan, the guy who proposes, said that up until the moment he asked Amanda, his girlfriend, to marry him, he never told her he loved her.

As one of my boys said, Ryan must be a magician because to go five years without ever saying “I love you” is pure magic. I laughed because it’s true.

After I saw the video, I thought for a long while about Ryan’s reasoning behind never telling Amanda “I love you.” In the video he says, “I didn’t want to use that phrase until I felt like I could back it up with every fiber of my being.”

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