Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What Really Counts


I made a list, a small and surprising list, of memories of 2008.

I remember the weariness of beginning the year with a broken heart, and the angst of having my purse stolen. I remember chicken and waffles and getting doozied up in Atlanta; and jazz and beignets and sexiness in New Orleans. I remember sweet kisses. I remember celebrating my brother’s dirty thirty. I recall the anxiety and pride of the Obama campaign that, at times, consumed my days.

I reviewed my list, pausing on each memory. Most of them were good, pleasant. In fact, it seemed too good, too pleasant. Whose life was this? I pored over the list again, searching between the lines. Something was missing. I thought about each month: January, February, March…and then I reflected on each season: winter, spring, summer, fall.

“You’ve had a great year!” a stranger peeping over my shoulder would say.

Well—but--where are the…bills? Where is the fretting over past due this and late that and car notes and $4 gas and ailing bank accounts and whack health insurance and floating checks? Where were the worries of doing the wrong thing or the frustrations of my 9-5? Where was the concern of spending too much money going there or eating that? Where was the cringing each time another bank imploded in our sagging economy?

My list was very telling. Those frustrations I wasted so much energy on, at the end of the year, were no longer relevant.

The times I was stuck behind slow drivers or was late to work or left dishes in the sink didn’t make the “Ode to 08” list. It means that the title of the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff” is true. We get so caught up in the daily mess that we often don’t look at our lives in broader terms. Sure, there are folks who are in deplorable situations, circumstances that justify some “woe is me.” And most of us have had a few moments in life where things did truly suck. But usually that’s not the case.

I once asked a stress-free friend how he managed to stay so annoyingly breezy at all times. He said he would ask himself, “Will this matter in five years?” And nine times out of ten, whatever it is won’t even matter in 24 hours.


“I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.”

-Nadine Stair “If I Had My Life to Live Over”


I too have made the typical resolutions of losing weight and saving money. But one of the most important resolutions of life is to know those moments of frustration, heartache, and disappoint will pass.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seven Days in History

Image from http://www.barackobama.com/


Saturday November 8, 2008

This time last week I was nervous. Anxious. I felt an urge to do something more to get Barack Obama elected. I had already contributed a few dollars to the campaign but a request made during his speeches of late kept ringing in my head, “If you’ll just knock on a few doors for me, if you’ll make a few calls for me…”

“I’m with the Obama Campaign!”

I disdain being the irritant behind unsolicited calls and visits. I thought about canvassing for Barack before; I even signed up with a local field office. But my fear of dealing with being cussed out by random McCain supporters kept me from participating. Not the cussing out part but my reaction. Like many Americans of all races, this election is personal. I have yet to figure out a way to take rude, ignorant, and opposing comments in stride.

The Saturday before the election, I said to hell with it.

The field office at Queen Bee’s salon on Columbia Street dwells in Washington Shores, a mostly black lower to middle class neighborhood. I walked in to the shop and was greeted by a small 50ish white woman with a calm, mild manner. Her name was Jan.

While I waited for my friend Natasha to arrive, Jan explained a canvassing packet to me. Within the manila folder were several documents. One gave tips and advice for successful canvassing: how to introduce yourself, ask people if they need rides to the polls, take water and comfortable shoes, don’t waste time at unanswered doors because there’s a lot of ground to cover, and my favorite—“Be courteous and polite. Remember, you’re representing Barack Obama.”

The packet contained a Google map and directions from the field office to the first home in the area identified on the packet. The map showed dots of the specific houses. There were about eight to 10 pages of voters’ information, including their address, age, and party affiliation.

Impressive.

“Have you been working at this office all along?” I asked Jan.

“I’ve been here three days,” she replied in a soft Southern accent. Jan said she was from Texas, a non-budging red state. She came to Florida that week to volunteer on the Obama campaign in a state that he had a chance of turning blue.

Man that’s commitment, I thought. Jan obviously had a lot of free time on her hands. “So are you retired?”

“Oh no, this is my vacation time,” she said. “This election is just too important.”

Natasha arrived and we headed out to her car to go canvassing. It began to drizzle and neither one of us had an umbrella. “Let me see if they have anything inside,” I said, trotting back to Queen Bee’s. Jan didn’t have umbrellas but there were packets of emergency ponchos on-hand.

I walked swiftly back to Natasha’s car, cool sky water wetting my clothes, hair, and face. I thought of the images of Barack Obama the previous week at a rained-out rally in Pennsylvania before a crowd of 9,000 sloshy attendees. (McCain had cancelled his outdoor rally in the same area that day.) I was inspired by the thought of his uncovered head, just a jacket, jeans and sneakers in 40 degree weather and forceful winds driving the rain drops into his face like needles.

The drizzle let up by the time we parked streetside in our chosen neighborhood 5 minutes away from the field office. There was still one thing nagging me about our task that day. I thought our goal was to convince people to vote for Obama, a factually unneeded effort in an all black neighborhood. I wondered if we should knock on doors in Metro West or Winter Park where we were more likely to run into non-Obama supporters. “Do you think we’re going to be as effective in this neighborhood as we would in another neighborhood?” I asked Natasha.

Early voting had been going on in Florida for two weeks and Natasha explained that the lists we had were of registered Democrats who had not voted yet. “Oh wow! Okay, cool.” Our efforts were indeed going to be of value here.

I was still uneasy about this whole door-knocking thing so Natasha and I visited the first few houses together. Some folks weren’t home, others had voted that day. A light-skinned heavyset woman with short hair and an open-faced gold tooth came to the door of one house. She sat out on the porch, eager to chat. The woman said she had voted already, but her brow furrowed as she told us that her man was a manager at Popeye’s and wouldn’t be able to get off work to vote.

We brainstormed ideas about absentee ballots and other alternatives for the woman’s boyfriend to vote. The woman noticed Natasha’s “Women for Obama” button. She asked her for it. “Oh, uh…sure,” Natasha said, removing the pin from her blouse.

The woman then turned her attention to my “Yes We Can” button with Barack and Michelle giving pound. “Ooh, I like that! Can I have it?” she asked, the gold in her mouth twinkling. “Oh I need mine for all these other doors we gotta knock on,” I said. You already have Natasha’s button now you want mine too? What kind of greedy some-of-a…

A bald gentleman came to the door as we talked and said he would be voting Tuesday. Another man squeezed his way into the door opening soon thereafter. The five of us talked about volunteering, voting, and so on. The last guy to join the conversation also noticed my button. “Can I have it?” he asked. Okay, house full of hustlers. I declined and was more than ready to leave their porch.

By that time, I had built up enough courage to split the canvassing packet with Natasha and hit up some doors myself. The packet was organized so that odd-numbered houses were on different pages than even-numbered houses on the same street. Therefore, you and your partner can work both sides of a street at the same time and still be within sight of each other. I knew Obama ran a tight campaign, but the fact that every detail down to house numbers had been analyzed gave me a new appreciation for the attentiveness of the organization.

“Who is it?” folks called from behind the doors.

“I’m with the Obama campaign!” I shouted back. Damn that felt good. I spoke with more people and left door hangers with my written note, “Please Vote!” on the doorknobs of the absent. Many people had already voted the day before or that day and it had not registered on our lists yet. Still others weren’t down with early voting and pledged to vote on Tuesday.

One resident’s response, however, kicked the sense out of me.

“We will not be voting,” the hefty 60-year-old woman said through a partially opened door.

“Oh…ummm…” My mouth hung open as my brain searched for logical words. As if prodded by my stuttering, the woman explained that she had medical issues with her legs and could not stand up for long periods. As she spoke, I studied her shaped eyebrows and short haircut, her smooth beige skin, searching for something.

I peered down at my list. A 61-year-old man with the same last name also lived in the house, her husband. I asked if he’d be voting. She said no.

This woman had drunk from colored-only water fountains that I’ve only heard stories about. She remembered her exact location when Martin Luther King was assassinated. She had been led to the back of the bus as a child.

“Okay well I hope you all reconsider,” I mumbled, turning away, head down, still searching for a reason why this eyewitness to the civil rights struggle could dismiss her and her husband’s right to vote for an incredible black man. I blinked back tears.

“If I can get over there I’ll try,” she called after me. Was that guilt in her voice? Good.

I rejoined Tasha and we headed back to the field office. We sat at the table at the front and ate. Other canvassers came in and dropped off their packets. Jan tallied numbers and assorted piles of data. The field office manager, Robert, a 20-something dark-skinned brother with shoulder length dreads came in and sat down to a computer and engaged in light conversation. The ladies in the back getting their hair done chatted and cussed and laughed. One of their daughters, Jazzlyn, sat at the table with me, asking questions and rambling about 7-year-old life.

“Anything else I can help with?” I asked Natasha. It was going on 8 o’clock. “Sure!” I was given a laptop to enter the day’s data: Obama supporter? Bad address? Not home? Natasha ran out to get us tall cups of hot chocolate from AMPM.

“Going home to get some rest?” I asked as Robert headed towards the door later on.

“Oh no. No rest until November 5th.”


Tuesday November 4, 2008

The day had come.

Kerri, Keri, John, and I joined a couple hundred Obama supporters at Club Whispers to watch the results come in. All 22 screens in the venue were tuned to CNN. The dj spun hip-hop and R&B during slow periods.

“I’m hungry,” Kerri said. I had been thinking the same thing. It was about a quarter to 11 pm and Obama’s 207 had not budged. We decided to walk down the strip mall in search of food. I spotted the Underground Blues spot on the other end.

The joint was small, four or five white patrons sat stoic at the bar. What sounded like rock music blared from the stereo. We turned our backs and examined paper menus. I felt uncomfortable with my “Yes We Can” Obama pin on my chest in the barren, red neckish atmosphere. It seemed odd that there were people in the country who appeared oblivious and apathetic to the history that was happening at that moment. We peered at the menus longer than necessary.

“Do they even have the news on in here?” I said as my eyes located the first TV behind the bar, showing a sports game. The second TV showed the same game. I was about to suck my teeth when I laid eyes on the third television screen. It was the news with a banner on the screen that read: BARACK OBAMA ELECTED PRESIDENT – CNN PROJECTION.

Had to be an assumption. A guess. An estimate. Maybe a good possibility. The men at the bar sipped their beers.

“That can’t be right,” Keri mumbled. We whirled around, our thoughts the same: get the hell out of Dodge and head back to Whispers for confirmation. We had only been gone 15 minutes, how could they already be declaring Obama president? Keri was about to start jogging down the sidewalk but we maintained a brisk power walk.

As we approached the club, a 20-something year old brother was crouched over on his cell phone, sobbing. “I have never been this proud to be black in my entire life!” he cried. Keri, Kerri, and I looked at each other and dipped inside.

People were shouting and smiling, “Whoooo!” was heard all around. We hugged other people and each other. I stared at the nearest TV, drinking in the words: BARACK OBAMA ELECTED PRESIDENT – CNN PROJECTION. A total of 298 electoral votes had been awarded to Obama, and still counting.

The error-free win still seemed too smooth to be true. Where’s the recount? What about the rest of the states? What about disenfranchised voters? What about the Bradley Effect? What about the fact that Obama’s a black man and this is still America? Things like this, like becoming freaking president, don’t happen to black people. Not here. You might be American Idol, you might be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or hell, secretary of state, but black folks don’t get to be the president. Not in the country where Obama’s preparedness and initiative were openly called “uppity” and “arrogant” by pundits and high ranking government officials. Not in a country where a Republican women’s group placed Obama’s caricature surrounded by watermelons on a dollar. Not in this world where a London man was shot three times for wearing an Obama shirt. Not in a country where a black preacher can’t speak the truth about the ills of America’s past without being called “anti-American” and goodness, “racist.” Not in a country where politicians willfully mock community organizers on national television. Not in a country where a Christian man is incorrectly called Muslim, and even if he was, that’s somehow a bad thing. Not in a country where intellect and physical fitness are downfalls. Not in a country where after being on TV nearly everyday for two years, people still claim they don’t know you.

It wasn’t long before McCain gave the best speech of his campaign—his concession speech. A close-up of Sarah Palin showed tear-filled eyes. A sprinkle of expletives escaped my mouth. Keri and Kerri looked back at me wide-eyed. “Sorry, had to cuss. Turret’s.”

And then, the man. This speech was different than the campaign speeches of hope and inspiration and “yes we can.” Those speeches were meant to encourage, to urge. They were “feel good.” This speech, however, was the speech of a man who was taking control as leader of the free world. While gracious and humble, it undeniably commanded the respect of everyone under the sound of his voice. Before, he was some Americans’ candidate. Now he was every Americans’ leader.

Hot tears flowed down my cheeks as I rocked side to side in my spot on the dance floor. We were slaves in this country. This man is joining the ranks of 43 men before him, some of whom owned people that looked like him. President of the United States of America.

As he walked off the stage that night, Obama didn’t smile like he did when he strolled off the stage at rallies. Even though he had just executed a speech for the history books, his expression showed that the significance and implications of what had occurred were still sinking in.

Dawn of a New Day


Sunlight streaming through the living room blinds evidenced that my goal wakeup time of 6 am had passed. It was 8:30. The television was still on, newscasters reminding me that it wasn’t all a dream. Uncle Sam had not shown up with an evil grin screaming, “PSYCHE!” I had taken the day off, knowing that no matter what the results of the election, I'd be no good to the workplace that day. I rolled over, pressed power on the stereo, and tuned into the Steve Harvey Morning Show. Barack Obama had indeed been elected president of the United States.

I smiled at every Obama/Biden bumper sticker and yard sign I saw while heading to the grocery store. The customers in Publix seemed to push their carts with a certain ease as they glided up and down the aisles. I searched the eyes of passersby for a sign of mutual joy so I could give a thumbs-up or whisper, "We did it!"

My sister Hope and I met at Golden Corral for lunch. Between helpings of popcorn shrimp and fried chicken, we recapped the emotions and memories of the past few months that culminated the previous night.

It felt like Christmas.

(Yeah, sounds hokey, I know. Obama has a way of bringing out the mushies in people.)

November 8, 2008

“Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned in a nationally televised address Wednesday that he will deploy short-range missiles near Poland capable of striking NATO territory if the new Obama administration presses ahead with plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe.” (Washington Post)

I was used to “Obama campaign” but whoa, did this new word add a hell of a lot of impact. “Obama administration.” That’s official.

After lingering on that thought, I drank in the meaning of the news article. Russia was already talking smack about bucking an Obama administration. My nerves piqued. Like a parent sending their child off to college, it’s not that I didn’t believe Obama couldn’t handle it, I just felt a sudden rush of worry about him. I wondered if the threat rattled him as much as it did me. Then I remembered why I voted for this man. I calmed down. Obama embodies wisdom and judgment unknown to many. He also chose a foreign policy guru in Joe Biden. Our guy would be fine.

Just three days after his historic win, President-elect Obama held his first post-election news conference on Friday. Once again his demeanor, much like during his acceptance speech, was different than it had been during the campaign. He seemed grave. Faint bags dwelled under his eyes. I wondered what kind of secrets had been shared during his intelligence briefings, secrets to which he was not privy as a senator. Had the skeletons of a nation shook his spirit? Either way the man needed rest. There's a big job ahead of him.

(Believe it or not, there is an extended version of this narrative. Please contact me if you are interested in publishing.)










Sunday, October 26, 2008

Yes We Can: October 20th Obama Rally in Orlando

A costumed man and woman proclaim messages and poke fun outside the Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.



October 20, 2008 Orlando, Florida

I try in vain to pinpoint a dominant ethnicity, a task that is usually easily determined. But there is none. I can’t stop smiling. Nobody can. It is the longest, happiest line I’ve ever been in.
Black, white, Latino, Asian, college kids, senior citizens—60,000 strong.

A tall, lanky white dude named Matt with ice blue eyes and a boyish smile keeps us laughing with his mumblings as a security guard postpones our pack from moving forward. Then we look over and Matt has managed to maneuver to the other side of the gate. “Matt, how you gone leave us Matt!” I shout. He raises his palms, shrugs, and smiles.

The 50ish black man to my right is rocking a black t-shirt with the Obama photo from a recent Ebony magazine cover. On it, Obama dons black shades while stepping out of an SUV. So Mike Lowry. So sexy. Bold letters read: MISSION POSSIBLE. “I love that picture!” I tell the man.

“Ay, I ain’t no punk, but Obama is lookin’ good right here!” the man says. We nod in agreement. He looks around at the bottlenecked crowd at the gate and laughs, “I guess I shouldn’t have said that so loud, don’t want to offend nobody.”

My friend Keri, my sister Hope, and I catch up to Matt while embarking the final hurdle, the Secret Service tent. A meaty nonsmiling agent paws through Matt’s blue duffle bag. He fishes out a possible menace to society—a browning pear—and instructs Matt to throw it away.


“How ‘bout I just eat it before going inside,” Matt says biting into the fleshy pear as I set my purse on the table. “How ‘bout you just throw it away before you go inside,” says Sexy Secret Service man.

Once “inside” we are still “outside,” just in front of the Amway Arena in downtown Orlando, Florida. It’s 5 o’clock. We find a sweet spot a school bus length away from the side of the podium. Music blares from the speakers: soul, a little country. My sister and I can’t stop marveling at the incredibly mixed crowd. “Look up there!” I say, pointing to Secret Service agents atop every Bulleted Listhigh building in the immediate vicinity. So that’s how Obama is able to do outside events.

Opening chords from an acoustic guitar vibrate through the crisp fall air. The jumbotron opposite of the stage springs to life. Everyone focuses their attention on the "Yes We Can" music video, which features celebrities singing and speaking the words of a famous Obama speech. The crowd is rapt. During the last 20 seconds of the video when Will.I.am and Common and John Legend begin to chant, so do the thousands around us: "YES. WE. CAN...YES. WE. CAN...YES. WE. CAN..." Fists pump the air. "YES. WE. CAN...YES. WE. CAN..."

I sigh as the song ends too soon. The white woman next to me presses her fingers to her eyes as tears glisten upon her knuckles. She blinkingly opens her eyes to see a young black woman with arms open wide. We embrace. “I’ve never felt passion like this,” Lani Van Petten, 58, says, wiping her reddened cheeks. It is her first political rally, as is mine.

The preshow begins, a trickling of local officials takes the stage for typical call and response (“Hello Orlando!” “You ready for Barack Obama!”). A young sister sings the National Anthem; we do the pledge of allegiance. A local pastor prays…a pleasant surprise. I’m glad that prayer is still okay in public, in America, in 2008, particularly at event of this size and diversity.


A guy from the campaign takes the podium and begins by saying that Floridians are very special, that each of our votes counts for 10 votes in relation to the rest of the country. Never heard it put like that, and it makes sense when I occasionally grasp the logic and numbers associated with delegates and the Electoral College.

People seem to be holding their breaths the ten minutes following the preshow. Senator Bill Nelson finally introduces Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The applause and shouts are deafening. They enter from backstage, smiling and waving.

It’s my first time hearing Clinton in person, second time for Obama. I’m always amazed that people look just as they do on TV; so seeing them in person takes on a surreal quality as if watching them on a giant television screen.

Clinton speaks first, with Obama to her left, his hands clasped in front of him, a brilliant blue sky their backdrop. “A democratic president did it before, and a Democratic president will do it again!” Clinton proclaims as she lays a hand on Obama’s shoulder.



“With your help, America will once again rise from the ashes of the Bushes!” she declares. Man, Hillary knows how to amp up a crowd.

And then the man. Obama mentions the gorgeous weather as he thanks local dignitaries and Hillary before getting into his speech. “We were thrilled yesterday when a great American statesman joined our cause—General Colin Powell,” he says of yesterday’s endorsement.

I analyze the speaking styles of the two senators. Both are engaging. Both are masters of the teleprompter, so much so you forget it’s there. Hillary is pep rally, which is not a diss by any means. Her role today is hype man. Her speech is tailored with a plenty of applause-triggering statements to pump up support for Obama.

Barack, on the other hand, manages to be concrete and laid back at the same time. With sleeves rolled up, he’s so comfortable that he can spit policy one minute and talk about not falling for the GOP “okey doke” the next. He commands the podium with brilliance and candor.

“Raise your hands if you make less than a quarter million dollars a year!” A sea of beige, sand, chocolate, and tan arms hit the sky. “Your taxes will not go up!” Obama cries.

For the next 30 minutes Obama talks policy, McCain, early voting, and coconut cream pie in Georgetown, Ohio, after which, the senators leave the stage and come into the crowd to shake hands.

Since there’s no chance of getting close enough to grasp their fingertips, the next goal is taking pictures on the stage in front of the “CHANGE” banner. Keri and I hesitantly follow my sister as she climbs over a guardrail. We hike up steep steps and arrive on the stage, triumphant.

Hundreds wait along the rail by the tents for another glimpse of Obama. We take turns taking grinning photos, and then turn our attention to the backstage area as well. Maybe he’ll come out and wave again.

I look around at the stragglers, the blazing lights, the bumper-to-bumper traffic that is building in front of the arena. I’m unsettled…but in a good way. It’s like, I don’t want to let go of this very cool moment. I can see it in the others that are just standing, lingering, not doing anything in particular. They, like us, are not ready to relinquish what happened this evening.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of this rally, or probably any of Obama’s rallies, without sounding like a fairy tale; clichés such as “warm” and “fuzzy” come to mind. But the hope here, the inspiration is tangible. It’s similar to the chill one experiences during moving Sunday morning praise. It’s goose bumps, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff. It’s the kind of stuff that non-Obama supporters sneer at because it just sounds corny.

To some extent, I can’t blame them. There were moments during the rally when I too felt like, this is unbelievable--this unity, this peace, this inspiration. It’s unreal. It’s unprecedented.

And I’m glad to be a part of it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Pursuit of Fabulousness

Image by Steve Woods


"Oh no, I make too much money to give up my career," the successful businesswoman-turned-sometimes-author replied pointedly when asked if she had considered writing full time.

Surely, no one else at the writers workshop full of mostly middle-aged hobbyists could have made that claim. The remark of the visiting author seemed detached, aloof. Elitist, even. How could she (whose name escapes me) call herself an author when she didn't eat, breathe, and sneeze verbs and metaphors?

Well as my mom used to admonish, keep saying good morning. With a couple years, bills, and experiences under my belt, the author’s standpoint makes more cents. She is a woman who has published novels on a small scale, but felt no desire to give up a lucrative career on Wall Street to crank out more books. She has the best of both worlds.

As children our dreams didn’t have salaries attached to them. We mused over the prospect of becoming an ice skater or a singer or a circus clown. In college, we began to understand how our passion for computers or animals translated into dollars, but didn’t have a solid idea of what those dollars meant. (I used to think $25,000 a year sounded like a lot of money).

You don't develop a lifestyle until you're out on your own. As a kid, you go where your parents go, live in your parents' house, and wear the clothes they buy you. As a young adult, your lifestyle includes little more than cheap beer and Ramen noodles. You don’t know that you prefer tailored suits, European cars, hardwood floors, a trip out of state every couple months, and a certain amount of square footage in your place of residence. You're oblivious to the fact that your dream of living on 5th Avenue is incompatible with a teacher's salary. You're shocked that even as a certified medical assistant, you can barely afford to attend the family reunion.

It’s the intersection where “What do you want to be when you grow up?” meets “How do you want to live when you grow up?”

I’m standing at this intersection.

On the eve of my arrival into the late-twenties age bracket, that notion of pursuing dividends over dreams has garnered the “last chance” urgency of a going-out-of-business sale. Every day, life carries the potential to get more complicated. These are the years that folks (if they haven’t started already) add more factors to the equation. Kids, husbands, and baby daddies have steadily cropped up in the lives of people around me.

When the grown folks used to tell us the world was ours, it was because we had clean slates and no responsibilities. The built-in advantage of youth is freedom. While I’m not a starry-eyed kid anymore, I've begun to appreciate the advantage that comes with my situation. No kids, no man, no drama, and no one else's desires to be concerned about but my own.

And so, the clock is ticking. Not my myth of a biological clock, but the "get money" clock. In the words of Jay-Z in "Beach Chair," "Life is but a dream to me, I don't want to wake up, 30 odd years without having my cake up." Other folks are concerned about being 30 and single, I’m concerned about being 30 and broke.

It is not easy for men to rise whose qualities are thwarted by poverty.

-Juvenal (55 AD - 127 AD), Satires


Now's the time to make a move up a few tax brackets, before I get too old for spontaneity, or a man shows up and fuddles up my focus, or the stork drops something in my window (or is it the chimney?). The more factors you add to the equation, the more challenging life is to navigate.

So when it comes to that unabashed author that addressed the writers group that day, I get it. Do what you love or make great money doing something else. But struggling to do what you don’t love is truly unacceptable.




Monday, July 14, 2008

Permanent Vacay: How Can I Be Down?


Photo by Christian Sommers

“This is what I live for,” I sighed as my girlfriends and I dined on the balcony of the Ember’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, sipping cocktails and grubbin’ on Cajun cuisine.

Goodness, is it really? The announcement shocked me. Well, maybe I wasn’t all that shocked by the declaration itself, just the way it tasted after it escaped from my mouth. It seemed shallow. There’s more dignity in proclaiming you live for your kids or for helping old ladies cross the street or running marathons for charity or climbing mountains.

Literally, I don’t live for crawfish gumbo, bread pudding, and alcohol (contrary to popular belief). Yet right at that moment, the chemistry of the spices, the laughter, the energy of thousands of people strolling the street below, the smiles, the light-hearted banter…it all added up to what life’s supposed to be about. Happiness.

I desperately need to figure out a way to replicate that feeling. To live on vacation. “Don’t we all!” they shout. “Get rich!” the mob cries. Well, that will be awesome, but in the meantime prior to making crazy bank, is it too much to ask/expect/strive to be happy every day? To eat, drink, and be merry every day, and not just on intermittent paid days off from work?

This is some serious withdrawal.

Surely everyone feels this way after vacation, but I’m on a different level right now. I’m practically depressed.

The goal of vacation is to be happy by any means necessary, whether it be stuffing oneself without fear of calories, drinking at midday, dancing until 4 am, getting your flirt on, your sexy on, your whatever on. Being happy at all costs. Why don’t we lead regular life with this kind of dedication?

The running joke/mantra throughout our Fourth of July weekend in New Orleans went like this, “Three words--Vay. Cay. Shun.” This was the response any time one of us debated a second order of bread pudding or buying a lovely piece of jewelry. Three words:-- Vay. Cay. Shun.

Now I’m back in regular life, and why does regular life have to be so darn regular?

“Vacation is a state of mind,” said my good friend Brett as I whined about my predicament. “I know people who do it.”

View from the balcony of the Bourbon Street Blues Company during Essence Festival 2008.

Well it must be a state of mind that has nothing to do with money, because I most definitely can’t afford to retire and chill on the beach right now. So in a figurative sense, a vacation state of mind is not about splurging on trinkets, but maintaining that mental state that germinates in Hiltons, Hyatts, and Marriotts far from home. When I recall the mindset of vacay, it’s simply hakuna matata, straight no chaser. No worries. About money, about weight, about work, about bills, about family, about whatever. Everything you do on a good vacation is about getting the most of your day and to hell with the rest. To hell with the rest! Ha! How liberating!

We have to stop treating enjoyment like the fine china that only adorns the dinner table on holidays. “If you're not going to have fun, why do it?” Randy Pausch questioned during one of his last lectures on time management. Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given only a few months to live. His perspective on time has obviously become more urgent. "I truly believe that time is the only commodity that matters," he said.

Pausch emphasizes fun as the "overall goal" in life. I can dig his sentiments. Have fun every day. Anticipate every day.

It’s interesting, even after chatting and dancing until the sun came up, I couldn’t sleep past 8 am in New Orleans. I was too excited, too eager to begin the day, no matter how soft the comforters or pounding the hangover. In retrospect, it proves that when your day revolves around things that make you happy and experiences to savor, tiredness is an afterthought. Passion is energy. Passion is fuel. Happiness is fuel.

That’s it. I’m over dreading Mondays. I’m over dreading anything. I know I can’t ignore my obligations, but I aim to approach them with a more beautiful mindset. (e.g., My job is now my “vacation sponsor.”)

Although I may not be able to hop a plane and return to NOLA, or anywhere else tomorrow, or next week, or next month, I’m determined to infuse my regular life…with life.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dreaming More Than Others Think is Practical


Fantasia and I during Disney's Dreamers Academy in January 2008.

I try to listen. I do. It's a process…learning to be still and be guided. And to trust God when he says, "When I move, you move." Which conversely means, that you're not always in motion. Sometimes you gotta chill.

I've learned that being compelled will often lead me to do what I need to do. And for those things I don't need to do, I'm not compelled to do it. I try to follow this instinct, but sometimes I ignore it. Again, it's a process.

Oftentimes we wait to do things because we want to have all of our pigeons in order, all our business just right. Which is fine, it's fine to be prepared. But the preparation can be so overwhelming that we never lift off. The successful people of the world take risks, and the very essence of a risk is that everything might not be lined up just right. After all, if everything's lined up, then it's not much of a risk, is it?

Tears welled up in my eyes during one of the final curtain calls of The Color Purple on Broadway during Christmas last year. There was Fantasia Barrino, taking her bow, and I thought, My God, this chile is on Broadway! Five minutes ago, she was a single mother and a high school dropout struggling to get by, and now this girl is thriving in the Canaan land of the theater world!

I will admit, I was skeptical and disappointed when Barrino first joined the cast. I have an appreciation and background in theater, so it doesn’t take a big name for me to see a show; I just want to see a good show. Therefore, it seemed like a sellout for the decision-makers with The Color Purple to choose a celebrity with little acting experience over the hundreds of skilled and trained actresses who had spent years perfecting the craft.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What's Up with the Connect???

Hey people,

The Connect is still alive and definitely well! God has blessed me to be able to branch out into other online media, which is awesome.

Thanks for reading and offering great feedback...even when we disagree...*smile* Thanks for the encouragement, the kudos, the love, the patience, the kicks in the butt (you know who you are...). You have been a great sounding board. Without you, I would not have had the confidence to pitch what you read here FIRST.

And so, I'm thinking the Connect will take more of a "bloggy" turn for the time being (gasp!). Yes, yes, I know. How many times have I exclaimed, THIS IS NOT A BLOG!!!!! When you say, "Hey, I like your blog..." Well, that's because most of the pieces posted here take way more time, effort, revision, and research than a "blog." These are "columns." But now that I'm doing a couple different things now, the "columns" will be less frequent, but you will see more "blogs." Make sense? I'm rambling.

Happy Juneteenth.

(GIVE US FREE!!!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Will Work for Character



"Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all."

-Sam Ewig

Few of us escape without engaging in it. Some of us will earn a couple crusty years at the end to enjoy the fruits of it. The rest of us will die doing it.

For most, money is the whip that drives this machine that engrosses our lives. For others it’s power, greed, love, a solution to restlessness, or all of the above.

It is the most widely acknowledged character builder in the world.

Work.

I never questioned the age-old mantra that working builds character until now. I’ve been a card-carrying member of the workforce for over a decade now, ever since I lied to acquire my first job at 15 as a salesperson at J. Silver ($10 or less) clothing store. While I’m no veteran, if the age-old adage is true, my character should be sufficiently built by now.

And so, does work indeed build character?

“Working does build character, no lie,” said Jessica, a customer service representative. “It gives a person a tool on how to deal with difficult situations, the real world. Persons that don’t have to work generally end up spoiled and screwed up.”

Spoilage is often cited as a direct consequence of not having to join the 9 to 5 bandwagon. When the world is handed to you on a bling-encrusted platter, virtues like responsibility, compassion, and resilience are hard to come by, which is why parents often encourage teenagers to obtain jobs to “learn the value of a dollar.” [Delect Inject: Which isn’t much, depending on where you are in the world today…]

Yet, hypin’ up the workforce like it’s the best thing since cable TV is one-sided. Punching a clock, begging permission for time off, and being pimped for your skills is not all that. Isn’t having the option to work what all us working folks are working towards? Beneath all this rhetoric, are we just hating on those who started out with what we’re fighting to achieve? After all, we laugh at folks who claim they’ll keep working if they win the lotto. I like jogging, but please believe I wouldn’t be doing it if I was blessed with the metabolism of some lil’ thang that can eat whatever she wants.

Everything about working for The Man every night and day ain’t pretty. It changes people (e.g., Devil Wears Prada). A person can’t do 40 hours or more of anything a week and it not impact them one way or another. That's too huge of an amount of time over years and years to exist in isolation of one's being.

“I’ve also become much more self-involved and generally, I think, just worse from doing this—worse as a person, as a friend, just worse. As I become more successful, as we like to say in the office, it’s all about me. And I don’t like that…”

–Lisa Pirriolli, casting director (from Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs by John Bowe)

I spent a month as a sacrificial lamb in high school telemarketing for MBNA. Now I’ve done a lot of things—wait tables, fill prescriptions, cashier in various locales, clean up a gas station—but telemarketing broke my heart. The job is founded on rejection. Every freaking day. For hours.

I experienced bouts of anxiety leading up to my shift. I slept restlessly. When I wasn’t in the building, I was tortured by thoughts of being in the building. Then one afternoon, dressed for work, I collapsed into a sobbing glob in my mother’s arms. She told me to call MBNA that day and quit.

The only character I gained from telemarketing was to be decent to telemarketers. And hey, maybe that’s what character is all about—having the ability to relate.

“That’s the worst thing, it takes so much of your time. You can get a day off when you want, but still, it takes all your time. And you’re tired when you’re done. Really tired. It’s basically a job for stupid people. It’s not very interesting. it’s just not. I mean, if you have no other opportunities and you need benefits, and you’re going nowhere, take this job.”

–William Rosario, UPS driver (from Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs by John Bowe)
It’s undeniable that people are products of their experiences. How much so---the nature versus nurture question—has been debated for years. Nature: we’re born nice, productive, mean, or chill. Or nurture: we learn to be nice, productive, mean, or chill.

Nature says you are innately who you are whether your daddy's a street hustler or a Hilton. Therefore if Paris was from a trailer park, she'd still be a spoiled attention lover, but with a couple babies and a penchant for Marlboros aka "cowboy killers." The Nurture Teams claim you are who you based on your environment. In this case, Trailer Park Paris (which could be the name of a baby doll…) wouldn't be spoiled because she had to work at the local Waffle House to pay her bills and she got little more than a stray mutt for Christmas as a child.

If work truly builds so much character, there wouldn't be so many jerks at the job. Give a nutcase a job at McDonald’s and she’s a burger flippin’ nutcase. Give a liar a job at Tire Kingdom and you will likely have a tire’ rotatin’, oil changin’ liar. It proves that much our character is innate.

On the other hand, I know my 15 or more jobs have helped to shape me into the woman I am today. I’m more refined. I can relate to anybody. I've seen the inner workings of so many industries that my general knowledge base is more diverse than it would be had I grown up financially pampered.

Being a member of the workforce by necessity instills values that would otherwise not be there. Conversely, people that don’t have to work could be missing those values. There are plenty of people who work that don’t have to—privileged young people, bored housewives, and well-to-do retirees—that just need something to do. The rest of us don’t just need something to do, we need something to eat. And air conditioning.


"It's a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can't eat for eight hours; he can't drink for eight hours; he can't make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work."

-William Faulkner
I'm not sure that working builds character. But I do know it can bring out the best or the worst in people. So like anything else in life, it is what you make of it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Bridge Between Goals and Accomplishments: A Tale of Two Homies

Somewhere between the first Iraq War in 1991 and the current debacle, I toyed with the idea of joining the military. Not for scholarships or adventure, nor an ill attempt at GI Jeannette. But for all the aspects most veterans detest--the 4 am drills, the grueling tasks of basic training, and the ability to say I’d done more before 9 am than most people do all day.

While I no longer have a desire to enlist, my fascination with discipline and those who’ve got it on lock is very much intact. Discipline equals efficiency. A disciplined person possesses a self-regulating mechanism that propels him or her to perform at optimal levels. These are the people who chair four committees at the church, volunteer on the weekends, work overtime, get there early, stay late, send the follow-up email, eat right, do Pilates, and have great hair.


To me, these attributes are like the moon…awe-inspiring and out of reach.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.”

-Jim Rohn

My good friend Jeannine is one of the most disciplined people I know. We started college the same time and she finished two years before I did. Jeannine enrolled at Howard University in 2005 and recently earned her masters degree. She is currently pursuing her PhD. in neuropsychology.

Jeannine’s schedule is focused to the half hour. She rises no later than 7:30 am any day of the week, and is up at least three times a week before 5:30 am. She’s frequents the gym at least four times a week, works part time, attends church regularly, and studies profusely.

There’s some people that do it all in a way that’s “holier than thou.” Jeannine was never like that. Her drive is not of the corny, overachiever, “sididdy” sort. She’s the kind to stop by the party, leave after a couple hours, and not scoff at the rest of us for keeping it going until sunrise.

We often joke about residing on opposite ends of the continuum---her dogged tenacity, my carefree capriciousness. Yet I crave the willingness to jump up at the butt crack of dawn and grind vigorously towards my goals without the distractions of a daydream, or a nap, or an intriguing New York Times article, or a fine brother at the gas station, or emails, or foolishness on YouTube, or text messages, or a poem on my heart, or a night on the town, or in the lounge, or a dinner date, or a lunch date, or anything remotely captivating.

If I had Jeannine’s brand of fortitude, I honestly believe my life would be different. I’d be happier, I’d get things done, I wouldn’t procrastinate. Shoot, I’d probably be rich.

But my girl declares that while the grass is certainly tidier on her side of the fence, it’s definitely not greener. “I like my life but I don’t like my life,” she said. “I get very depressed. Very.”

Jeannine went on to explain that the trait that I admire so much in her is a gift and a curse. She enjoys being dependable, but the regimen can often be monotonous and lonely. “It’s a vicious cycle. I’m expected to be this way because I’ve built a reputation on being this way.”

[Delect Inject: Ay, there’s worse things to build a reputation on, but whatever…]

We’re both poster children for our astrological signs: Jeannine’s a Capricorn, known for pragmatism and ambition. I’m a Libra, known for being chill and charming. Surprisingly, as much as I want to be like her, Jeannine wants to be like me. “I wish I could be more laid back,” she said. Ehhh…be careful what you wish for, homegirl; my grass isn’t greener either. It’s overgrown with weeds and strewn with Corona bottles.

I discovered from interviewing Jeannine that while we’re total opposites in regards to discipline, we have the same issues dealing with our notorious characteristics. Jeannine mentioned that she is social but introverted, meaning she relishes in company, but doesn’t require it all the time. I too, am gregarious and sociable, but value solitude.

It’s about balance. Too much discipline garners stress, depression, and anxiety. Too little discipline equals less productivity, ultimately leading to regret doused with “shoulda, couldas.”

When it comes to me and my homegirl, it would do both of us some good to exchange doses of each other’s crowning attributes.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who You Callin' Lonely!




Image by Gabriella Fabbri


“Wow. I never thought I’d actually hear you say that.”

I chuckled at Jessica’s Monday morning reaction to the news that I endured a lonely spell over the weekend. Instead of sucking on the lemon, I slipped on a new dress, a pair of "get 'em" stilettos, and stepped out to a grown and sexy event, by myself, looking hot to def, and had a ball.

Jessica has known me for nearly eight years, and like many of my constituents, balks in the rare event that I mention the “L” word.

Even for me, it took a cathartic conversation a couple years ago to comprehend the word's applicability to myself. I had called my boy Redd in Philadelphia because I was in dire need of some bass in my ear, i.e., male attention. And I told him so.

“Aww, you just a little lonely, that’s all,” he said.

The record screeched. The music froze a la Smooth Criminal (the extended version). A hush descended over the crowd.

He might as well have called me fat. “Aww, you just a little fat, that’s all.” Or, “Aww, you just a little stupid, that’s all.”

At the time, I equated the word “lonely” with desperation. Like a stray mutt, a lonely man or woman was a bitter derelict that nobody wanted or had any interest in. They wore melancholy frowns and cried themselves to sleep at night after bruising their knees in prayer for a mate. None of which, applied to me; I get my carpe diem on whether or not there's a fella in the wings.

Therefore, I viewed Redd’s stinging diagnosis as an insult to my self-esteem, like saying I didn’t have any. But after marinating on the concept, I not only accepted but embraced the idea that “lonely” happens. And it's okay.

Even still, loneliness is a very specific feeling for me. Being “alone” and being “lonely” are not synonymous. I spend an enormous amount of time alone, but I am rarely lonely in the conventional sense of the word:

“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”

-Paul Tillich
There’s loneliness and then there’s solitude. Solitude is a chosen state of loneliness, one that I crave and require. Henry Miller said, “An artist is always alone - if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.” As an artist/writer/student of life, I spend quite a bit of time in thought, which demands some level of seclusion daily.

***

"It would do the world good if every man would compel himself occasionally to be absolutely alone. Most of the world's progress has come out of such loneliness."

- Bruce Barton

***
However, the loneliness that prompted the conversation with Jessica and Redd was not of the aforementioned abstract artsy fartsy persuasion. No, it was the good old-fashioned, wish- somebody-was-around sort. The empty, gazin’-at-the-wall, cognac sippin’, listenin’ to Billie Holiday or Lenny Williams kind that’s natural for everyone…but still shocking to several of my friends when it comes to me.

I asked Jess what it is about some people that makes them (or at least appear to be) immune to loneliness?

“INDEPENDENCE is the one and only thing that makes a person less susceptible to being lonely. Like, they are DANDY being solo,” she wrote via email. “Whereas a more emotional and sensitive person like me can’t have that.”

Jessica’s reference to “dandy being solo” alludes to people that can be comfortable going to the movies, lunch, dinner, lounge, festival…on the solo tip. I suppose there is a level of independence in the sense that I don’t depend on a ride-out partner in order to go somewhere. But for the record, I’m not a cyborg. I’ve strut into locales only to find that folks are clumped tightly into impenetrable pods incondusive to even the most savvy solo adventurer.

When it comes to the single life, another friend said I handle it better than anyone she knows. Well, I handle it like I handle most things—I don’t sweat it (or try not to). Again, it’s a matter of perspective. Just like I didn't perceive myself as lonely, I don’t perceive the single life as something to deal with like halitosis. It flows, it ebbs. Sometimes the block is hot, other times it's not.

Like the law of attraction, if you don’t worry about it then it’s not a problem...except for the occasional Waiting to Exhale moments.

When asked if men get lonely, Sylus, 29, said, "Yeah, all the time. Humans are made to be in relationships." The solution? "You find someone to fill that slot, fill that void. And if she's cool being in the slot, then that's what you do."

John, 41, agreed that men have their spells and they don't necessarily equate to horniness. Sometimes men just want company too. "And dammit, cuddling is cool!" he added.

And so, loneliness is yet another emotional wave that rises and falls. Some folks panic and drown. The rest of us are known to recruit a dolphin or borrow a surfboard and ride it out with a splash of finesse.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let Me Upgrade You

Image by Gabriella Fabbri

Kyle had just purchased a fresh pearl white Lexus coupe for his birthday. He said he’d rock it for a year or two, then trade it in.

“Oh, it’s a lease,” I assumed.

“No,” Kyle replied.

“Two years…you’re not going to have it paid off by then, will you?”

“I’ll probably never pay off a car. If I’ve had it four or five years, I’ve had it too long.”

I bristled at the callous decadence of his attitude. The nerve of trading in a perfectly good vehicle just because you’re ready for a new one—preposterous! How wastefully indulgent!

At the time this conversation took place, I was a loyal fan of my worn, rain-damaged, non-air-conditioned, don’t-let-the-back-windows-down 1994 Honda Civic affectionately known as “Babygirl,” bought used when I was in high school. The navy blue champion had scaled over 150,000 miles of asphalt and showed every scratch, dent, and ding of it. So as a member of the “Ride It ‘till the Wheels Fall Off” cartel, I could neither relate to nor cosign on Kyle’s lavish idea of trading in his brand new Lexus after a mere two years.

Well as my mom used to admonish, “Keep sayin’ good morning.” A year or so after my pow wow with the Diddy Wannabe, Babygirl’s chronic sputtering signaled a well-deserved retirement. I purchased a brand new jet black Nissan Altima, so fresh that it still sported factory papers on the hood, fenders, and trunk. The sexy beast’s odometer displayed a cool six miles.

The roads must have been buttered as I glided home that night, new car smell titillating my nostrils. I recalled the conversation with Kyle and it all made sense. At the time, I was ignorant to the experience of owning a new vehicle and couldn’t comprehend why a person would endure eternal car payments just to have one. But now that I am the first owner of a whip, the concept doesn't seem so far-fetched.

A similar epiphany occurred when I stopped by an out-of-town acquaintance’s hotel room recently. I paused in the doorway of the mildew-smelling room complete with damp turquoise carpet and loud, tacky art, and thought: Wow. It’s been a minute since I’ve been in a hotel room that opens to the parking lot. The absence of thoughtful décor and the lack of space and amenities that I had grown accustomed to made the place just somewhere to sleep and not an experience to savor.

On the flip side, some of my earliest trips as a child were to Disney World, when as many as seven family members mashed into the same sort of economy rooms that strike me as foreign now. Somewhere along the way, I upgraded.They say once you’ve had filet mignon, it’s hard to go back to Hamburger Helper. For some, it’s elevating from an old school TV set to HD, upper level to courtside, Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, coach to first class.

But are we sometimes better off in the unknown? Ignorance is not only blissful, but often cheaper. After all, upgrades come with strings attached, usually dollar signs. Other times, drama—mo’ money, mo’ problems. Jay-Z, who seems to constantly struggle with his rags-to-riches existence, explains it like this in "Success" from the American Gangster album, "What do I think of success? It sucks too much stress. [...] I use to give a sh--, now I don't give a sh-- more. Truth be told I had more fun when I was piss poor."

There’s even a bit of discomfort associated with the discovery of escalated tastes, similar to when Roscoe the up-and-coming celebrity wakes up and realizes he lives in the hood--and then moves out immediately. Or when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit and were no longer down with chillin' in the buff. It's exposure to people, places, and experiences outside the norm that may render the customs and habits of old less satisfying.

The upgrade also means saying peace to defining elements of your past. It’s moving into a house and missing the convenience of an apartment, or striking out on your own and yearning for the company and cahoots of family or roommates. Progression can be bittersweet.

I initially found these insightful moments disturbing. It’s like, my preferences changed and I didn’t get the memo. What happened to the down-for-whatever me? Is she bourgeois now? Stuck up?

Not at all. Everything in my life doesn't require an upgrade. My $10 purse was stolen and I went out and bought another $10 purse. I'm okay with most store brand groceries. I'm loyal to my $9 L'Oreal foundation. As a java junkie, I actually prefer Burger King's coffee to Starbucks. And these days, I'm so glad the Altima takes plain ol’ regular gas!

Yet, there are some things for which I'll pay the upgrade--whether it is for top shelf spirits, getting my eyebrows threaded instead of doing them myself, or descent hotel accommodations. And who knows, maybe this time next year I'll trade in my '07 for an '09, just for the heck of it.

But it's too early to tell.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Worth the Woo


If I am not worth the wooing, I am surely not worth the winning.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Patrick* and I have been bumping into each other around town for five or six years now. After the latest run-in, we planned to meet up at a bar, but I was tired and took a rain check. He called some weeks later; I playfully reminded him that he owed me a drink.

“Oh yeah, I guess I do,” he said. We spent the next couple minutes tossing some spots up in the air as to where to go. It was a weeknight, so I wasn’t trying to do it big.

Enter the inevitable.

“Why don’t I just get a bottle and you come over here?”

Sigh. “I don’t want to come over there.”

“Why not?”

“Because there's nothing romantic or intimate about sitting up in your house with a bottle, drinking with you.”

“I think it’s more romantic and intimate than being out somewhere!”

In the midst of my explaining to Patrick (who is in his late-thirties) about the differences between men and women and that maybe if we had some history doing something else, chilling at his house would be an option, but considering that we’d never been anywhere in the five years that I’d known him---I stopped.

“You know what? Never mind. I’m not going to sit here and debate with you over buying me an $8 drink,” I said. The dial tone drowned his apologies. You’d think I asked the man to cosign on a car.

It’s not breaking news, nor will the rise of this crushing epidemic interrupt primetime programming. Yet in cities and suburbs across the land, quality women of all ages and races have been chronically subjected to the deceptive clutches of the “come-through.”

Don’t get me wrong, kickin’ it, watching a movie, sipping on a little something…all that’s fine. The problem is when the come-through becomes the predominant substitute for a date. When wooing is replaced by chronic effortlessness.

Being an expert on the laments of my girlfriends, I needed to find out if the epidemic surpasses women in their mid-20s. “There is no more woo,” said Katia, a 43-year-old, caramel sister with dimples and a gleaming smile. “All I see is men who want to come over my house and watch a DVD.”

Shocked and appalled, I had to consult with my Aunt Bess. At 61, Aunt Bess is a curvy, chocolate, vivacious fox. If there is any hope to be found in the dating game, she had to hold the key to its whereabouts.

Consequently, the same thing had been on her mind. Aunt Bess penned an essay in February called "Romance and Wooing." In it, she recalls a recent date with a man her age, “We sat, talked, and ate lunch, got to know each other a little bit. This must have taken all of forty-five minutes. Then Mr. Blank asked me if I wanted to go back to his place. No thanks!!! I must say that’s record wooing, even in this day and age.”

Aunt Bess went on to tell me that while she’s had some great times with a few good men, it’s not the norm. There’s more “Mr. Blanks” in the batch than any other.

What happened to a time when even if a man was just trying to hit, he’d still sprinkle a dash of effort into it? And while there are still men who don’t mind doing for a woman, the come-through has claimed the game of many a fella.

Some folks attribute this lackadaisical attitude to the surge of feminism and the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and 70s that continues to permeate society today with women proclaiming independence from the hills. “Chivalry is dead…and women killed it!” exclaims Dave Chappelle in Killing Them Softly.



In other words, women have fought to prove that we don’t have to cry, and we’re not sensitive, and we can be tough like men, hard like men, respected like men, do the job like a man or better, and I’ll be damned, we got what we wanted. We’re treated like men.

Then we're left to navigate the aftermath of a revolution, negotiating with tactless, spoiled fellas that call you a gold digger for expecting more than a ham sandwich and BET on a first "date."

But because we perceive what we want, we justify men's actions, or lack thereof--maybe he’s just not like that; some guys are not the wine-and-dine type. Or maybe he’s broke.

The Mt. Everest of all excuses that women provide for men? Maybe he doesn’t know any better. As in, maybe he was raised by a tribe of monkeys and somehow missed the 100,000 romantic comedies in rotation at the movie theater or on TV, maybe he hasn't read any Shakespeare or Eric Jerome Dickey or perused a magazine and since he was raised by animals, he doesn't have any sisters or a mother or some aunts or a grandma or some girl cousins to tell him that women just want the kind of romance and affection that requires a little more energy than soaking up each other's air conditioning.

If a man is that out of tune than I don't want him anyway.

It boomerangs back to positioning. If a man is genuinely interested in putting his bid in for Top Boo, he'll take you out. Period.

Granted, a man taking you out doesn't guarantee genuineness. However, every fruit is not an apple, but every apple is a fruit. In other words, every guy that spends ends doesn't want to be the man, but every guy that wants to be the man spends ends.

It's a minimum. If he doesn't ask you on a date, and never does…surprise! You're not "dating."

In retrospect of my experience, the guys that eventually led to boyfriends thought it not robbery to take me out to dinner, or a movie, or a show from time to time. The majority of the rest started out with DVDs and come-throughs.

So, despite the complaints of what men don’t do, the primary accountability resides with us, the women. We'll crave affection and attention so much so that we accept (and get) next to nothing just to have something to hold on to, not realizing that that same dude is taking the next female out on the town. We let our emotions cloud the reality of the position.

The result of this epiphany is that I spend more time alone now than I ever have in my life. There’s no shortage of approaches, phone numbers, or interest, I just choose not to entertain every wink and smile. Higher standards equal fewer options. And that’s fine. Quality, not quantity.

Truth is, a year ago I would’ve put on a pair of jeans and a cute top, slid on some lip gloss, and drove over to Patrick’s house, all under the impression that sipping Hennessy in the wee hours of the morning and sharing our company was special.

Fortunately, I've learned that how you start out is how you stay.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

For the Love of Music




Newsflash: There are 18-year-old people who don’t know about Prince.

As in, heard of him, can’t name a song, and actually have a bit of disdain for what they do now about The Purple One.

This rude awakening manifested as I shuttled three young men (two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old) home one night. I always enjoy a moment to enlighten the youngins, so I asked them what they knew about Prince.

“Prince?!” exclaimed one.

“Ay, is he, y’know, funny?” asked another.

“What? Okay, well y’all have heard Purple Rain, right?” The three boys looked at each other and then at me with raised eyebrows and silly grins. “Remember at the Super Bowl last year, when my boy had the scarf on and it was raining while he was singing Purple Rain…how fly is that--”

My inquiry was met with stares and chuckles. I immediately sought out my personal Purple Compilation and selected arguably one of the greatest songs of all time, Purple Rain. With volume nearly full blast, we rode as I crooned the climax like an owl with soul (“Whooooo whoooooo whooooo whoooo!”) and they joked (“I can’t get with all this hollin’…”).

While we had a good laugh that night, for the first time, I felt what my parents and elders must have felt when we flaunted our ignorance about the elements of Earth, Wind, and Fire, the harmony of The Temptations, and the unmatched flair of James Brown. “You don’t know nothin’ bout that!” they exclaimed. Yet beneath their playful teasing there dwelled a wish tinged with desperation. A wish that someday we’d break free of pop culture, countdown shows, and radio to discover the melodies that paved the way.

But is it really so bad to stick to what you know?

“If all you can talk about is Lil’ Wayne, lil’ Weezy, and all those other little rappers, that’s going to be your world,” said Brett, a friend and jazz enthusiast. Brett, who has played drums and trumpet for several years, stresses that his broad musical interests have initiated bonds with people of different backgrounds in a variety of settings. As a college student at Duke University, he gained much respect from fellow white students for being well versed in the likes of Led Zeppelin and others.

Like other folks I asked about the subject, Brett also mentioned the fact that most successful music producers engage in a variety of musical genres. “The consumers listen to what they want; the people that create the music listen to everything.” On any given episode of MTV Cribs, top artists show off music collections featuring rock, old school, and alternative.

At the risk of sounding like an after school program, diversity in musical interests builds character. It makes you interesting. Similar to a diet, if all you eat is any one thing, you wind up unbalanced. Some of my young family members are forbidden the freedom to listen to secular music. As much as I adore gospel, I don’t see how every other genre of music can be justifiably ignored. At the very least, history and culture are embodied in the rhythms of music.

I’m not saying you have to dig every type of music, just as no one digs every type of food. But it doesn’t hurt to try something outside your norm, or at the very least, know about it. What’s worse is claiming you don’t like something you know nothing about. I have more respect for the person who gives something an honest chance and decides it’s not their cup of Kool-Aid, than the one who’s closed off from the jump.

I practice what I preach. I’ve been curious about jazz, the last couple of years, and more recently the blues. I bought an Etta James compilation and borrowed a few legends from the library: Son House, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis. I’ve made an amazing discovery in the process…can’t nothing scratch the blues like the blues.

Seeking knowledge---whether it is in music, art, literature, or whatever-- is a sign of actively elevating your life. As children, we’re told what to do and what to listen to and enjoy by parents, friends, radio, and pop charts. Many people continue in that vein into adulthood, listening to what they always listened to, liking what they always liked. I pity the fool! This is the time when education is the most rewarding, when learning is not for the sake of a grade, but for the enrichment of character.

I have my Aunt Bess to thank for turning me on to Prince when I was a teenager. I’ve since encountered friends that continue to lighten my ignorance of melodies new and old. In turn, I pass the torch, encouraging others to join in the challenge to climb out of our boxes, release the shackles, and open our ears.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

This Friendship Will Expire in 90 Days




“You know I got love for you, man!” I said.

“Yeah, you say that but you don’t show it,” Phil* said. “You don’t even call me.”

My friend's allegation confused me. After all, I had just talked to him a little while back…just the other--well, actually…ummm…okay, it had been five months. Still, I couldn’t understand his attitude.

Apparently Phil (and many folks for that matter) believes there’s a correlation between how much you call and how much you care.

I’ll be the first to admit that my follow-up skills suck at best and Phil is not the first person to rip me a new one about it. Yet we all have friends we don’t keep up with on the regular. It doesn’t mean we don't care about them.

There are a number of variables to consider when it comes to the fluctuations of communication and friendship. One is just…life, responsibilities. I’ve got business! The older you get, the more things vie for your attention--career, higher education, health, finances, spirituality, and so on.

Another factor is the natural communication pattern. If I talk to Lisa once a week and Paul once a year, that’s just how the natural pattern plays out for each individual. It doesn’t mean I care about Paul any less. Actually, if Paul started calling weekly, it probably wouldn’t even feel right. Communication between friends often dwindles after a move. We naturally talk more to the folks we see all the time. Other circumstances, like marriage and kids all alter the dynamics of how we interact.

Then there are different communication styles. Some people require daily friend interaction--The Phone Fanatic--always on the phone, always online, always rockin' the earpiece. When The Fanatics aren't on the phone they wonder, “Who can I call?” These people receive undue props on the friendship tip. Most of the time, they’re not calling because they care. They’re calling because they’re bored.

On the other extreme, you have folks like me without a house phone and 200 daytime cell phone minutes that rarely run over. My friendship style is laid back--laissez faire, if you will. I’ll check on you periodically (depending on our pattern). Otherwise, if you need me, call me. I don't spend a lot of time "shooting the breeze." Some people want that in a friend and feel let down when I don't provide it. My outlook is this: if your car breaks down, I got you. Something on your mind? I got you. Sick? I got you. Need to vent? I got you. But if you just ain't got anything better to do, holla at The Fanatic.

If a friend assumes a lower profile in my life or vice versa, it’s nothing to be mad at. There was a time when Phil and I talked every day, but the nature of our relationship is different now. I don't expect a person to stay tight with me just because we once were. If we do, gravy. If not, that’s okay too. Lack of communication doesn't make us enemies.

I love and care about my friends. It shows in the core attributes they can count on forever--trust, acceptance, loyalty. No matter how infrequent the communication, these qualities don’t change. Not after a week, a year, or a decade.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Plight of the Career Student in the School of Hard Knocks



An old buddy named Chris skipped across my mind recently and I decided to give him a call. The conversation went like this:

“How you been?” I ask cheerfully.

Pause. “Well…”

Chris quickly gains momentum and spews an hour-long diatribe laced with an unexpected move, lost job, and lack of anyone around that gives a damn. In other words, he isn’t doing well at all.

Sigh.




My side of the conversation is speckled with “uh huh” and “wow” and “aw man, that’s crazy.” I give the same advice I gave before, offer the same promise to keep him in my prayers, and tell him it’ll work out.

I hang up, drained, but not surprised. This is how it is for Chris. This is how it's been for Chris.

See, many if not most of us experience rough “patches.” These patches last a couple weeks, maybe even a couple months. Some folks have a bad year or two. But most of the time, by the grace of God, we’re okay. More sunshine than rain.

Then there are folks like Chris whose rough patches have evolved and spread into everyday existence. Rough patch becomes rough life, the kind of life where good comes in patches.

These are the career students in the School of Hard Knocks.

I'm not talking about the downtrodden poor people that either starve or resort to panhandling, folks that ain’t been right since ‘Nam, or families who’ve faced bankruptcy or disaster. The students at SOHK aren’t homeless. Shoot, they probably have cable and iPods. Nor will regular “brokeness” grant you admission either. No, I'm talking about that person that everyone knows who can never get their act together; they’re always going through it, teetering on the edge of the ravine that ends at Rock Bottom.

All students at SOHK possess three core attributes. The first is the job hoppin.’ Chris runs through jobs like Eddie Murphy runs through marriages. Yet, the most ironic thing about SOHK students is that they’re not lazy! They don’t mind long hours or physical labor; they’ll even juggle two or three jobs at a time, and a side hustle. But they wind up quitting or being fired before they can dig themselves out of the rut.

Secondly, like Papa and Mick Jagger, these folks are rolling stones. They tend to move around. Whether chasing cheaper rent, greener grass, or childhood dreams, you can’t send a Christmas card without checking to make sure the address is still valid.

The number one requirement for admission to the School of Hard Knocks is longevity. Think about it: the people you know who attend SOHK have been enrolled for as long as you can remember. The same goes for Chris. When we met over ten years ago he was down and out and unfortunately, little has changed.

I'm not saying all of this to mock those who are down on their luck, but isn't the phrase itself one that suggests a temporary condition? Can you really be down on your luck for 5, 10, 20 years? At the risk of sounding Cosbyan, at some point, people have to be honest about their contribution to a chronically unstable condition.

See, the individualized curriculum at SOHK doesn’t change. Students are given the same tests year after year, paycheck after paycheck, until they pass. “Since lessons are repeated until learned, and sense you cannot learn lessons until you are aware of them, it makes sense that you will need to cultivate awareness if you are to ever progress from where you are right now on your path,” says Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, author of If Life is a Game These are the Rules.

Carter-Scott's assessment is true for all lessons in life, whether it be in love, finances, jobs, etc. But for the career student at SOHK, it's difficult for any aspect of life to fall into place while still enrolled. So until Chris reaches that point, he’ll continue working on his PhD at the School of Hard Knocks.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Love is Like Premium Cable


It all started with a 30-day trial package of premium cable.

I had just moved into my apartment and was enjoying the temporary pleasures of HBO On Demand. In the midst of Million Dollar Baby, I realized there were only two weeks left in my free trial period, just two weeks before a decision was required of me.


Apparently, the suits at the cable company felt that by the end of thirty days, I would have had ample time to figure out if premium cable was worth the investment. Either way, after thirty days, I’d no longer get premium services for free.

I can dig that strategy.

It's not an uncommon marketing ploy--try it, then buy it. The lil' Asian woman in front of Manchu Wok in the food court hands you a toothpick pierced with a tenth of an ounce of bourbon chicken. The toothy salesman at the dealership lets you take the Camry for a test drive down the street. The cable company gave me thirty days to figure out if I wanted premium cable. And for the average person it only takes one bite, one ride, or one month to decide if you’re still interested.

So, when “in like,” why do we stick around for ridiculous amounts of time only to find out that a relationship isn’t meant to be?

We’re waiting for the person's feelings to catch up. We think they need time. And they give us something--attention, sex, conversation, company--that convinces us we’re not waiting in vain.

We drop nuggets, clues along the way to ensure that in case the person has SLD, he or she can't say they didn't know. If business continues as usual, we take this as a good sign. After all, they know what's up, and if they don't agree, they'll speak up...right?

And so, we kick. And push. And coast. Six months later, we’re in the same spot. No Man Land.

My girlfriends and I have spent many a night lamenting over these treadmill relationships of love & like lost---or worse---stagnated. Why does he call me every other day if he doesn’t like me? Why would he tell his mom about me? Why would he…I don’t know…remember my freaking birthday? Whatever.

“The fact that the guy doesn’t want you to get any farther away than you are doesn’t mean he’s ever going to let you any closer either,” said Evan Katz and Linda Holmes, authors of Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You if You Promised Not to Get Mad. “He may just leave you in that very lonely place right where you’ve been for months or years for as long as you are willing to stay.”

Sounds like the tried and true “stringin’ along” routine. Yet, the amazing thing about words is that you can flip them and get an entirely different connotation: Just because a guy [or girl] doesn’t let you any closer doesn’t mean he or she wants you to get any farther away.

In other words, play your position. Everybody can’t be quarterback.

I don't know about the fellas, but this is hard for women. Our proverbial ego cannot comprehend why a man that we’re interested in (operative phrase) would spend time with us, call us, communicate with us, vibe with us, sleep with us (or not)…and not want to be with us. It’s like we expect a man to either want to be the boyfriend, or leave us alone. “If you don’t want me then don’t talk to me,” Fantasia croons. That’s pretty much it. No gray area.

And really, it’s not fair because there is gray area; the idea only seems harsh when you’re the “liker” as opposed to the “likee.” The calls, the conversations, the attention can be confusing, cruel even. Yet, we all have people in our circles who we’re not trying to get with and it doesn’t mean they need to disappear. History calls these people “friends,” guys or girls you like—or love—but with whom you don’t wish to procreate or elope.

It’s not always ill will, malice, or an attempt to play games. Unreciprocated advances towards coupledom don’t mean you ain’t jack, it could just mean that the person is fine with you playing the position you play--the cool chick he can vent to, the hilarious homeboy that makes her laugh, etcetera. It also seems that if you have to ask what your role is, then it’s probably a good time to evaluate your positioning.

If you don’t like where you are, put the ball down and walk the hell off the court.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Glimpse of Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father


My intention this election year was to be unbiased in my biasness, reading Hillary Clinton’s autobiography and at least one of Barack Obama’s before voting time.

Much to the glee of my bank account, a few weeks ago I discovered a paperback edition of Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, on sale in Target. While I still intend to read Clinton’s Living History, I doubt it will happen before primary season is over.

And so, I present (drum roll, please)…my thoughts. Not a book review. Not a literary critique. Not an endorsement. Just some thoughts.

In Dreams, Barack Obama tells it like it is in the most poetic of prose. Now, I could just be a sucker for picture-painting adjectives and attention to detail, but the man’s eloquent descriptions are comparable to those of a seasoned author. Renowned journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault said Dreams is “One of the most powerful books of self-discovery I’ve ever read…It is also beautifully written, skillfully layered, and paced like a novel.”

Indeed, Obama’s gifted use of language often induces one to forget that Dreams is the actual tale of a United States senator and presidential hopeful. This is probably due to the fact that he was still a lawyer, not an elected politician, at the time Dreams was published in 1996. Dreams tells the story of a young Barack (“Barry” at times) searching for his identity within the two worlds of his Kenyan father and white mother.

The following passages from Dreams will hopefully provide a glimpse of the sincerity and expressiveness that Obama displays on every page.

Obama's father left the scene when he was 2 years old, returned to Hawaii for an extended visit when Obama was 10, and died when he was 21. Most of what Obama knew of his father came from stories and the occassional letter. Therefore, it was Obama's mother who first taught him about the black experience:

She would come home with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King. When she told me stories of schoolchildren in the South who were forced to read books handed down from wealthier white schools but who went on to become doctors and lawyers and scientists, I felt chastened by my reluctance to wake up and study in the mornings…Every black man was Thurgood Marshall or Sidney Poitier; every black woman Fannie Lou Hamer or Lena Horne. To be black was to be the beneficiary of a great inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear.
During his teenage years, Obama lived with his mother’s parents, Gramps and “Toot” in Hawaii. They were doting and proud of their grandson. However, in the following incident, Obama depicts a setting where societal race misconceptions penetrated even the most loving of homes. He walks in on the tail end of a heated discussion between his grandparents. When he enters, the argument dissipates and Toot explains what happened to her that morning at the bus stop:

“He was very aggressive, Barry. Very aggressive. I gave him a dollar and he kept asking. If the bus hadn’t come, I think he might have hit me over the head.”

I returned to the kitchen. Gramps was rinsing his cup, his back turned to me. “Listen,” I said. “Why don’t you just let me give her a ride? She seems pretty upset.”

“By a panhandler?”

“Yeah, I know—but it’s probably a little scary for her, seeing some big man block her way. It’s really no big deal.”

He turned around and I saw now that he was shaking. “It is a big deal. It’s a big deal to me. She’s been bothered by men before. You know why she’s so scared this time? I’ll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was
black…That’s the real reason why she’s bothered. And I just don’t think that’s right.”

The words were like a fist in my stomach, and I wobbled to regain my composure… Gramps slumped into a chair in the living room and said he was sorry he had told me.

They had sacrificed again and again for me. They had poured all their lingering hopes into my success. Never had they given me reason to doubt their love; I doubted if they ever would. And yet I knew that men who might easily have been my brothers could still inspire their rawest fears.


A third of Dreams is dedicated to Obama’s experience as an organizer in some of Chicago’s poorest communities. His keen sense of observation is evident in this passage as he writes about a visit to an elementary school during his organizing efforts:


She laughed cheerfully and walked me into the hallway, where a wobbly line of five- and six-year-olds was preparing to enter a classroom. A few of them waved and smiled at us; a pair of boys toward the rear spun around and around, their arms tight against their sides; a tiny little girl struggled to yank a sweater over her head and got tangled up in the sleeves. As the teacher tried to direct them up the stairs, I thought how happy and trusting they all seemed, that despite the rocky arrivals many of them had gone through—delivered prematurely, perhaps, or delivered into addiction, most of them already smudged with the ragged air of poverty—the joy they seemed to find in simple locomotion, the curiosity they displayed toward every new face, seemed the equal of children anywhere.


In the final portion of Dreams, Obama visits his father’s homeland for the first time. It is in Kenya where he finally is able to fill in the voids of his father’s story, the beautiful and the ugly:
I feel my father’s presence as Auma [Obama's sister] and I walk through the busy street. I see him in the schoolboys who run past us, their lean, black, legs moving like piston rods between blue shorts and oversized shoes. I hear in the laughter of the pair of university students who sip sweet, creamed tea and eat samosas in a dimly lit teahouse. I smell him in the cigarette smoke of the businessman who covers one ear and shouts into a pay phone; in the sweat of the day laborer who loads gravel into a wheelbarrow, his face and bare chest covered with dust. The Old Man’s here, I think, although he doesn’t say anything to me. He’s here, asking me to understand.

***
Family seemed to be everywhere: in stores, at the post office, on streets and in the parks, all of them fussing and fretting over Obama’s long-lost son. If I mentioned in passing that I needed a notebook or shaving cream, I could count on one of my aunts to insist that she take me to some far-off corner of Nairobi to find the best bargains, no matter how long the trip took or how much it might inconvenience her.

***

Not long into Obama’s visit, the hardships and poverty his family and other Kenyans faced became an uncomfortable reality. He and his sister Auma, who had been born in Africa, were of the few family members who were doing okay on their own. Yet, they struggled with how their independence translated to their poor relatives. Questions of responsibility arose, outwardly and inwardly:



For the first time in my life, I found myself thinking deeply about money: my own lack of it, the pursuit of it, the crude but undeniable peace it could buy. A part of me wished I could live up to the image that my new relatives imagined for me: a corporate lawyer, an American businessman, my hand poised on the spigot, ready to rain down like manna the largess of the Western world.
But of course I wasn’t either of those things. Even in the States, wealth involved trade-offs that I could see Auma now making as she tried, in her own way, to fulfill the family’s expectations. Her restlessness, her independence, her constant willingness to project unto the future—all of this struck the family as unnatural somehow. Unnatural…and un-African.

It was the same dilemma that old Frank had posed to me the year I left Hawaii, the same tensions that certain children in Altgeld might suffer if they took too much pleasure in doing their schoolwork, the same perverse survivor’s guilt that I could expect to experience if I ever did try to make money and had to pass the throngs of young black men on the corner as I made my way to a downtown office. Without power for the group, a group larger, even, than an extended family, our success always threatened to leave others behind.

Obama and Auma went on a safari excursion while in Kenya. Obama illustrates a carnal, yet serene episode in the wild:

And most of all the stillness, a silence to match the elements. At twilight, not far from our camp, we came upon a tribe of hyenas feeding on the carcass of a wildebeest. In the dying orange light they looked like demon dogs, their eyes like clumps of black coal, their chins dripping with blood. Beside them a row of vultures waited with stern, patient gazes, hopping away like hunchbacks whenever one of the hyenas got too close. It was a savage scene, and we stayed there for a long time, watching the life feed on itself, the silence interrupted only by the crack of bone or the rush of wind, or the hard thump of vulture’s wings as it strained to lift itself into the current until it finally found the higher air and those long and grateful wings became motionless and still like the rest. And I though to myself: This is what Creation looked like. The same stillness, the same crunching bone.

The following revelation came to Obama as he knelt in tears between the graves of his father and grandfather:
I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America—the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I’d felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I’d witnessed in Chicago—all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain I felt was my father’s pain. My questions were my brothers’ questions. Their struggle, my birthright.

Dreams is not about politics. It doesn't present a pristine facade of perfection. Obama shares his embarrassments, his uncertainties, and his doubts--some would say to a fault; the mentions of drugs and alcohol have been debated in public sectors since his campaign for presidency of the United States. But it is Obama’s genuineness, honesty, and "miscellaneous" experiences that makes his memoir a refreshing, relatable read.