Prince

Here’s a topic I’ve been avoiding.

prince gun mic

This was the poster on my bedroom wall for most of my childhood

If you know me, or even if you just know the earlier version of this blog, you know I’m all about Prince. Since the earliest of my days, I’ve been moved by Prince’s funk. Long before I knew what he was talking about, I was choreographing song-specific dances in my bedroom for an audience of none. Before I started choosing my own controversies, I lived for all of his.

Oh, Prince. Continue reading

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Predicting the future in the past about the present

Until I was in college and became keenly aware of my shortcomings in the study of chemistry, I planned to be a veterinarian. When I was in high school, we had two weeks for special, off-campus study for an internship or travel abroad experience. I always found a veterinarian to follow around and envy. From the emergency room to castrations and teeth cleanings, I was fully immersed in my future professional life. I was all, “shucks, this life thing is pretty much figured out.”

I had no idea I would end up living in another country, building a business that centers on forgotten family histories. But now that I think of it, there were some hints of an entirely different purpose from what I intended.

High school English class

High school nerding in English class

Continue reading

Homework, Procrastination, and Freak Outs

Homework sucks.  Well, no.  I understand it from a reasonable perspective.  If I only attended class, even if I listened really carefully and took diligent notes, I wouldn’t learn much.  Most of the substance comes from reading, reflecting, writing…all of that.  I get it.  Really I do.  But for some reason homework brings on this unwelcome sense of dread and anxiety.

I think it goes back to when homework started picking up – maybe 4th grade.  I used to expect to be finished with all of my assignments by about 7pm.  So when Jeopardy was coming on in the living room, and I still had more than one assignment left to finish, I would freak out.  It would start with biting my nails, progress to a racing heart, and finally escalate to full-blown tears.  It was insane.  My mother would explain that I was only wasting more time with my freak out.  But I couldn’t be reasoned with.  I was already convinced I would still be doing math word problems as the sun rose…on my 20th birthday.

I didn’t have as much time to panic over homework in high school.  I was always involved with a bunch of activities, mainly ballet, that kept me busy.  By the time I got home and had some dinner, I only had a couple of hours before I needed to be asleep.  So even though I hated it, I just had to get it done.  One night I remember eating my dinner on the way to a rehearsal, while writing a paper, relying on the light in the car.  If I had taken time for a freak out, I would have missed rehearsal, and I wouldn’t have finished the paper.

The problem became procrastination, a good friend I met in college.  More free time meant more time to waste.  If I had 2 days to complete a paper, something else of critical importance would take priority on the first day – something like cleaning my roommate’s hair out of the vacuum or sitting in a room with a few friends discussing how much work we had to do.  On the second day, I would get everything else out of the way at the beginning of the day – checking mail, having breakfast and lunch, maybe a class or rehearsal.  Nothing would be finished between any of those things.  So I wouldn’t start until they were all completed.  And that usually left me at 9 or 10pm, beginning a paper that was due the following day.  I had it worked out to a science though.  Mountain Dew, commiserating friends, and knowledge that it had been done before got me through it every time.  I lost a lot of sleep.  And I had a reasonable number of freak outs.  And none of it helped improve my relationship with homework.

Law school was just about the same, defined by procrastination and complaining.  But that complaining was warranted.

And now, here I am about a decade later, still biting my nails, wasting time, and freaking out about homework.

I handed in my first real paper last week.  Although I left myself plenty of time to write the paper, it took me far longer than I expected to finish.  At one point I had to trash my argument because it was centered around an article that turned out to be absolutely nutso (took me three reads to realize the guy was talking about magic more literally than is acceptable in an academic environment).  Researching, re-reading, and trying to make sense of it all just went on and on.  I expected to finish with plenty of time to spare.  But around midnight, the night before it was due (it was to be emailed by midnight the following night), I was making fried rice and tea, knowing I would be up for several more hours.  And then, of course, old habits came back to haunt me.  No tears were shed.  But self-doubt made an appearance.  And then there was that woman I haven’t been in touch with for 4 years on facebook – I needed to look at all 121 of her Grand Canyon vacation photos.  And then there was my phone’s ringtone – that had to be changed.  And then of course there was the discovery of Top Chef All Stars on youtube.  My goodness.  There was just so much to do in such a short period of time.

But there’s a happy ending.  I finished the paper, emailed it, and handed in the hard copy before 6pm the following day (perhaps my earliest ever).  And I think it made sense.  If it didn’t make sense, well it’s not so much a happy ending.  But it certainly felt happy to get over that hurdle.  And having spent so much time on the paper, I understood more of the concepts than I had before I began.

So finally feeling a bit smarter and more confident, I think homework and I may have reached a better place…but that’s not to say I won’t be looking at every single photo you’ve posted on facebook the night before my next paper is due.

A Cat’s Moving Story

I adopted Zora in Oakland when she was about 5 years old. She had been in the shelter for a year and a half, going between their two sites hoping to find a home in either of them.

I found her by looking at profiles of the long-term animals on the SPCA’s website. They described her as the shelter cat, no longer focused on finding a home, but accepting that she may be a “lifer.” She now resided in the back and only occasionally stayed in the cages up front for display. Her primary job was to test out the temperament of new dogs to see how they would respond to a cat hissing at them. So she was constantly on the defense.

I went to the shelter and requested her by name. “You want to see Sweat Pea?” (her name at the time), he said somewhat in disbelief. Then with a sudden burst of excitement, he jumped up and said, “Oh! Let me get her for you!” Shortly after that, another woman joined him in his giddy excitement to introduce Sweat Pea to someone. They explained that I would need to come to the back to meet her.

She had a little bed that was perched on a dusty windowsill behind the metal shelves of food and supplies. Her food bowl and water were somewhere in the midst of the chaos, as was her litter box. Her home was the supply room. A long-hair domestic cat, with gigantic and bright green eyes, a thick coat of black, brown, and white hair, and a little bit of an attitude, she really was quite charming. I knew her name wouldn’t remain. I also knew she was coming with me.

With her name now Zora, she quickly became spoiled and happy with life in my Oakland apartment. But less than six months later, we moved to Brooklyn. The cross country flight was a big deal, forcing her to stay in her carrier for more than 10 hours. But it never crossed my mind that she wouldn’t come with me. So both she and I had to bear it (though I admit her burden to bear was much greater than mine).

Then, just a few years later, I was ready for another big move – only international this time. During the brief time in which I wasn’t too sure about which country I would move to, I researched animal immigration laws. With many countries requiring absurdly long quarantines or other challenging hoops to jump through, I understood why many people think such a move with an animal would be nearly impossible. But thankfully, the Netherlands has a pleasantly friendly animal immigration policy. As long as she had her shots and a microchip, she’d be good to go. They don’t quarantine animals here “on principle.” My kind of country.

I took her to the vet two times: first to get the shots in November, and then earlier this month to have her European Union passport/health certificate created. A few days before our departure I had to drive out to JFK to receive an official USDA stamp on her passport. Fortunately, Zora did not have to make that trip. Because just a few days later she was in a bag, on a plane, sitting under the seat in front of me, exhausted from having cried the entire way to the airport. She also pooped in her carrier three times during the drive, requiring me to change the padding multiple times before we even got on the plane. I worried she wasn’t ready to fly again.

But on the plane she settled down. As I watched my movies and enjoyed my tasty dinner, I checked on her every five minutes or so. She cried a few times. But then she started dozing off. As she accepted her fate, the entire process became much easier.

plane seat

 

Once we arrived in the Netherlands, they looked at her passport for about a minute, then told me to have a nice day. She didn’t even have to come out of her carrier to walk some sort of straight line test, which for some reason is what I imagined. There we both were, suddenly walking around the Netherlands…legally.

We stayed in a hotel the first few nights before moving into my apartment. Then with very little furniture and no heat in the apartment on the first night, Zora followed me around the place whining, seemingly chastising me for making yet another poor decision. But once she discovered the big windowsill in the kitchen that looks out onto our private garden, she began to purr and let the events of the last few days roll off her back. She was home. And hopefully she now understands that no matter where the next plane will take us, she’ll always be home with me.

window seat

It’s a long way from the Oakland SPCA, isn’t it?

A Happy Holiday

I used to love, love, love Christmas (still do!). And judge me if you’d like. But it didn’t have anything to do with baby Jesus. I’m purely into the secular and commercial aspects of the holiday. I believed in Santa until my sister killed the illusion. And I probably could have kept the fantasy going for much longer because I wanted to believe in it. Not so much the fat, white man breaking into homes while people sleep part – that’s undeniably creepy. But it was the mystery of a generous spirit arriving once a year to reward you for being good and kind. And the excitement, generosity, and overall happiness of my family. It was all so fantastic.

And my Mom went big with it. Christmas was such a major affair in our house. We’d have the tree decorated well before the holiday, including the various ornaments my sister and I made throughout the years, and lots of pretty lights. A few wrapped presents were placed under the tree in advance. But the real magic would happen overnight between xmas eve and xmas morning. We’d go downstairs early in the morning to find a fantasy land where barbies and cabbage patch dolls came to celebrate. My dad would have put some things together, with plenty of treasures for my sister and me to enjoy in amazement on our respective sides of the tree (I think she normally had the right side and I had the left). The barbie pool and several dolls would stand out on her side, while a big sled and the “hungry, hungry hippo” game waited for me. I have such vivid, and fond memories of looking over the railing from upstairs to see what was in store for us downstairs on xmas morning. It never disappointed, always filling me with incredible amounts of joy. And although it was somewhat materialistic (who doesn’t like to get fun things every once in awhile?), the overarching sentiment was the fun of anticipation and surprise.

As part of the natural cycle of life, my sister, brother-in-law, and I stayed up until about 3am this morning to prepare for xmas morning for my two nephews. Wrapping, assembling things, making it all look festive and exciting – it was a serious effort. And just like it has pretty much every year before, it made me super happy, remembering how much I love this holiday. The only major difference between xmas now and then is the ability to sleep through the night (xmas was the only day of the year on which I thought it perfectly acceptable to start my day at 4am). And just like my sister and me, my nephews are lucky boys – surrounded by family, love, and incredibly cool presents.

I’m not into many holidays. Valentine’s Day can stay in its exclusive, cardboard, heart-shaped box, Easter and its bunny never really caught on (though one year I got a poorly handwritten note from the Easter bunny thanking me for the cookies I provided, which was really sweet), and 4th of July offends me and my enslaved ancestors. Christmas is my favorite. And for this reason, I’ll always make my best effort to celebrate it with my family – even if that means flying in from Amsterdam every year.

Although the Dutch also celebrate xmas on December 25th, their major holiday around this time of year is Sinterklaas. It’s similar to xmas in that gifts are given to children and there’s a Santa-like figure named Sinterklaas, who happens to be thinner than Santa and from Spain. One major difference is it’s celebrated on December 5th. Oh, and Sinterklaas has a little helper named Black Piet, who is normally a white man in black face, clearly acting as Sinterklaas’ slave. Uhhhh, yeah. I’ll probably have more to say on that next year. But let’s just say I don’t think the Dutch holiday will be replacing xmas anytime soon on my list of favorites.

For now, I’ll just leave it at Happy Holidays to all, whether it’s Christmas, Sinterklaas, Festivus, or whatever holiday brings you joy. I hope everyone is even slightly as blessed as I feel on this day.

Ten Years Later

This weekend is my 10-year college reunion. Former classmates will be gathering to chit chat about what they’ve been up to for the past five or ten years, depending on whether or not they attended the 5-year. Folks will be happy to see old friends and many acquaintances who have been all but forgotten due to the whole ‘out of sight’ phenomenon. Classrooms, cafeterias, and art exhibits will all spark reflections on who we were ten years ago. There will be tons of “oh my goodness!! How have you been?! What have you been up to?!” flying around in high-pitched tones. Good memories relived – and new, somewhat generic memories created in turn.

I’m not going.

Not that I’m opposed to reunions. I went to the 5-year and had a good time. I also planned to go to this one. I even had the budget worked out, deciding to dish out the big bucks for the all-class dinner and a nostalgic stay in a dirty dorm room, sharing an even dirtier coed bathroom. The stage had been set for a delightful walk down memory lane. But once one of my closest friends from school told us she could no longer make it, the plan unraveled.

The question of whether or not it would be worth the effort and money to attend was asked, and the answer was not a definitive yes or no. My friends and I went back and forth for a couple of weeks. But as time went on, the idea of paying tons of money to see a few people I’d be excited to catch up with, and having superficial conversations with a bunch of people I barely remember (I take full responsibility for my bad memory), became less and less appealing. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. But it wasn’t worth the effort or the money, especially in light of my aggressive savings plan that officially launched this month. And also in light of Facebook, which makes reuniting every few years almost unnecessary, kinda.

I can’t pretend I’m not a bit disappointed that I won’t have an opportunity to see old friends this weekend. But I also can’t pretend it’s not somewhat of a relief. Although I know it’s silly, seeing people in five year intervals puts on the pressure to have something remarkable to report. Shoot, I feel the pressure on a Monday morning to report to my coworkers on all of my weekend adventures. And when my weekend consists of not much more than a walk from my bed to my couch, I dread sharing my boring response to the cheerful inquiries about what I’ve accomplished over the past two days. So five years of what seems like nothing but walks from my bed to my couch is really just pitiful.

At the five year reunion, I had finished law school, gone through an extended period of painful job searching, recently moved to Oakland, and was working in a miserable, low-paying job. I was completely broke and beginning to pay off tons of student loan debt. I was also on the brink of ending a long-distance, and long dying relationship. But I was feeling good – happy to be alive and feeling fortunate that I was able to be there. I also wasn’t insecure about my circumstances because they were shared by many classmates, or at least many could empathize. Five years out of college it makes sense to just be landing on your feet. But I joked with friends, “if I’m not married and doing something remarkable by the time our next reunion arrives, I’m not coming.” It was one of those serious jokes.

Funny how time flies when you’re figuring sh*t out. A few epiphanies and decisions pass – and it’s five years later.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself. In fact, I’m quite proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish since the last reunion.  So I need to get over that – I’ve got a decent story to tell.  But to be embarrassingly honest, it’s more about the insecurity I feel when hearing the stories of others. “We’ve been out of school the same amount of time. And you’ve managed to start a business, learn another language, find a cure for a previously incurable disease, purchase a home, find a mate, and have two babies? Wow, I’m really happy for you.” And I am! I’m really happy for that person. But how much of it can I take before I begin to feel like the incredible shrinking woman, small enough to fit into a first grader’s pocket by the time the reunion weekend is over? It wouldn’t be thaaaat bad…right?  (right.)  But the thought of it is pretty miserable.

So the thoughtful weighing of options (and life in general) has led to a missed 10th reunion. I’m committing to going to the 15th no matter what. I may be living in Amsterdam with my husband and two babies, writing up my findings to cure cancer. Or I may be living in my sister’s basement in Jersey trying to figure out a cure for an unsightly bunion. Either way, I’ll be there to share the stories and celebrate the growth and successes of my friends and former classmates. Let’s just hope I’ve still got my looks.

From the Perspective of a Race-ist

First I should mention that this post has nothing to do with Amsterdam. It does stem from something that recently happened at work. But I’m going to try my best to leave the specific circumstances out of it. I’ve just decided to use this space to get some things off my mind – not to say they won’t still be on my mind – but perhaps now they’ll also be on your mind. And that makes me feel a bit better.

Matters of race have been of critical importance to me ever since I realized my race mattered to everyone else. Perhaps I was more in tune to questions of race as a child because I always lived and grew up around black people, but attended predominately white schools. That combination led to much self reflection early on. I have a pretty vivid memory of the racial dynamics of my 3rd grade class – at least one particular day. It must have been black history month. All of the students sat on the floor for a special lecture about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream. I was the only black student in the class (in the interest of full disclosure, there couldn’t have been more than 18 students total). As Ms. Porter vaguely described the troubles of black people in the U.S., all eyes were on me. Because discretion is perhaps a lesson taught in 4th grade, my classmates did not try to hide their fascination with my difference and association with these people whose lives suck so badly. Their stares seemed to say, “wow, she’s black. I wonder if she’s poor and angry.” Present day self would have been proud, and happy to lead the class, and requesting the extension of history lessons related my people well beyond one designated month. But the 3rd grader was mortified. My objective was to blend in, which was not being accomplished. I would bet (a small amount of) money that none of my classmates would have memories of that day or that lesson. My perspective was certainly different from theirs. I guess that was the beginning of the “minority” experience.

I was a senior in high school during the hype of the O.J. Simpson trial. The opposite of where I was as a 3rd grader, in 1995 I was constantly fighting the black fight, schooling my white classmates on their privilege and making sure my blackness and black people didn’t go unnoticed. I even wore down my AP English teacher until she added one piece of black literature to the syllabus, Things Fall Apart. And on a random day during that year, my small Statistics class was starting late. So about 6 of us, including the teacher, began chatting about O.J. and the craziness of the trial. In the midst of the conversation I said something along the lines of “I hate the white system of power in this country.” Little did I know, I had started a battle.

Several days later (or perhaps it was the next day) I reported to an emergency senior class meeting that was scheduled for the beginning of our lunch period – everyone was required to attend. Although such a meeting had never been called before, it could have been about anything. And about 2 minutes into the Head of High School’s announcement/speech, I realized the meeting was about me. She was saying something to the effect of offensive comments being made in a classroom that were being looked into, as well as the need to resolve class conflicts, blah blah blah. I had no doubt it was about me – and it also tipped me off when all attention and eyes seemed to be focused on me. As my classmates shuffled out of the emergency meeting, one of my few white allies whispered to me that she knew at least 2 girls had reported me to the Headmistress, requesting that I be expelled from school for being racist.

Aside from the fact that I subscribe to the belief that black people can’t be racist (prejudiced, maybe), the absurdity of this claim enraged me. These rich, white, bitches were trying to ruin my life because I spoke against the structures of power in white-dominated America – as I was sitting in a classroom of all white girls an hour from my home because the public school in my black neighborhood may very well have allowed me to graduate functionally illiterate. They claimed I said, “I hate white people.” (And honestly, in that moment, I did.). And from my ally I learned they made the argument that if they had said something similar about nigge…uhhh, black people, they would be kicked out. So I should face the same consequence. Apparently they were advocates for equality.

I was a strong student and in good favor with my school’s faculty. So although I had a moment of worry about my fate, I never actually believed I would be expelled. But this was lucky. In a not so different scenario, I very easily could have been perceived by the school’s administration as a threat, intimidating my poor, defenseless classmates with my racist rants.

I may not have been expelled for my O.J.-related remarks, but I certainly did earn a lovely pair of glasses that force me to view the world through special lenses, magnifying the biases with which I (and all of us) are viewed. I still wear those glasses everyday, whether consciously or not. It’s through these lenses that I have watched 3 black people fired for matters not relating to their performance (though they might claim one was related to performance – it wasn’t). And as far as I can remember, no one else has been fired for matters not relating to performance (at least since I’ve been there). Now we all carry biases and sometimes perceive people negatively as a result. But when it affects my people more than most, I can’t help but wonder if I’m still fighting that same battle that started in 12th grade.