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Taste your life.

It’s been one of those weeks where almost everything and everyone I encounter reaffirms the same thing. And that thing seems to be the thing I’ve been searching for all along in my angst of trying to figure out what I care about anymore. As I’ve been in a state of despondent behavior, my current yearning is to care about something, anything.

It all started on Sunday when this doula who I’ve befriended at work introduced me to scotch, or rather the proper way to sip scotch. It was an experience to say the least as I had no idea my palate was capable of tasting anything beyond the alcohol burn. So that I was able to taste the earthy, wood-burning qualities and enjoy it was like…

So on Monday, I stopped by the whiskey bar the doula recommended, which happens to be near The Artist Co-op, and it just so happened to be Whiskey Lesson Monday (not much of a name, but cool), and because of the rain, I was the only student to show up! After these rather apropo happenings, I landed on this page during the next morning’s reading of Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett…

We call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens. That’s the species name we’ve given ourselves. And that comes from the Latin sapere, which means “to taste” or “to know.” The species that knows and knows that it knows.

I’ve been reading Sapiens at night and I didn’t know that the root word literally means to taste. Our species literally means to taste humanity. Life talks to you in whispers, and sometimes life talks to you loudly through people, literature, and Whiskey Lesson Mondays. This has been one of the most exciting weeks of my life because I have learned something new every single day. I’ve experienced new tastes, I’ve discovered new levels of awareness, and I haven’t felt this alive in I’m not sure how long. It feels good!

What is life trying to tell you, and what is the taste of life that you’re not yet experiencing? If I can offer any advice, try something you’ve never tried before. If someone introduces something to you, and it’s not harmful or sketchy, say yes! For me it was easy to spot this sign because food is a chore for me sometimes, even though I enjoy a good meal, I tend to scarf my food down and bypass the pleasure of my taste buds. But now I’m going to savor anything I’m fortunate enough to consume, and for you take whatever has been a chore and find your exciting brand new entry into some experience of your humanity and taste your life!

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Cooking like Oprah

I brought Oprah’s cookbook, because of course.

And tonight I’m making another recipe for a dinner party that I’m hosting. A few weeks back, I was hanging out at my favorite inconvenience store in the neighborhood (it’s your run of the mill grocery store or bodega, but hella over priced…hence the inconvenience), when my former co-worker (oh and I used to work there) started telling me about a postal mishap that happened in which she didn’t receive the Zadie Smith book she ordered. A young lady in line heard us and started chatting about her love for Smith, and then next thing you know we’re talking books, Babyface, and the 90s black woman.

It felt incomplete to leave our conversation right there in the store and so I told the ladies I’d have a dinner night, and thus that dinner night is here. Like the millennial that I am, I considered backing out, but because my words were spoken, the deed was done right? And I just had to follow through and show up in the moment that I created with my words lest I make myself a liar.

Why did I consider backing out? Firstly, I don’t cook. I’d like to be a better, and more frequent, maker of food, but alas I’m not. Secondly, I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to this cooking that may or may not be tasty let alone edible. Thirdly, I am the not as skilled as my mother at having company and I’m afraid it comes off as rude or less than hospitable. I’d like to be better, and of course this takes practice, but my guess is that I have some self-fulfilling prophecy center in my brain that is well prepared for me to be at my worst.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to cook more anyway, so this is a nice way to encourage myself to socialize and satisfy my desire of, you know, feeding myself. And the truth is that when I do get around to doing it, it’s actually fun cooking from Oprah’s cookbook. The recipes have these great stories and the meals make me feel like I’m hanging out with Oprah at her kitchen table. Here’s a meal I made from a few months ago, which was incredibly tasty.

What are some easy, tasty dishes you make for guests? And if you had to recommend a cookbook, what would it be?

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Are you a writer?

Today, I got on the 2 train with hundreds of other passengers, one of which happened to be D.L. Hughley. I ran through a quick story in my head about how he had probably just finished taping at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and so that means he had probably discussed the possibility of doing his show when they were on The View a couple months back. I thought to ask him if he had any Netflix specials in the works, because I really enjoyed Chappelle’s, and I’ve been hearing about Chris Rock having one on the way, and Hughley is my third favorite comedian (Bill Cosby being knocked to position number 4 for obvious reasons), and perhaps the conversation would segue to my latest video review of Noah’s Born A Crime.

This week was already a big networking week for me, so one of my justifications for getting so stuck in my head and not actually saying something was that I’d already met too many people this week to attempt to introduce myself to someone else. Especially not an entertainer who both my dad and I agreed on enjoying. From my days volunteering at The Artist Co-op and meeting other awesome artists, to the Multicultural Summit at HBO, to last night’s screening of Vanessa Hill’s film, Mutant Menu, I have done a month’s worth of ice-breaker introductions, business card sharing, and first-impression-making, that not meeting DL Hughley whilst standing directly in front of him on a rocky train ride was a risk I was willing to take. As for my dad, when I told him that I rode the train with DL Hughley, who btw was preoccupied with his phone (probably on Instagram), my dad said I should have been like, “You’re on your phone with this lovely, young lady standing right in front of you?” The levels to African Dads.

But this isn’t about which celebrities I run into on the train, it’s about the stories that go on in my head at risk of never being shared in the world. At the Mutant Menu afterparty, I was asked the question that is all too expected at this point, “Are you a writer too?” I’m always inclined at first to say no, because truth be told, writing is hard. I love writers, but whenever I think of myself as one, I feel like an imposter because for years I wrote and published sans editor and sans audience, so I started to believe that my work, and my worth, as a writer was nothing. It’s the weirdest thing because sometimes when I think back on the things I’ve written, it’s almost as if I have craft amnesia; it’s not that I didn’t enjoy creating work just from words, but it’s the part where it doesn’t turn into something tangible or visual for others that takes me out of my element. It’s like an athlete neglecting the inclinations of her body because her opponent didn’t show or because the stadium seats were empty.

I think there are books inside of me, but right next to them is also my toughest critic, and my most fervent fan. And perhaps it was never about whether or not I could write, it was always about whether or not I would silence or celebrate the words in my head.

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Date Night with Joseph Campbell and Solitaire

After several months, I finally received the contract that I’ve been waiting for, and surprisingly, I feel close to nothing about it. I haven’t even finished reading through it, which is surprising because it’s what I’ve been looking forward to reading this whole time. And, it’s date night and I’ve spent much of the day searching for authors and publishing houses to connect with, which was to no avail, and for good reason as I was literally just passing the time (or wasting time, if you’re into semantics and that sort of thing). Oh, but it’s date night.

I’m spending time in the world of mythology this week and as I try to escape my allergen-riddled reality. Joseph Campbell left behind a wealth of knowledge on how we build fiction when he left the earth school, and his is one of my favorite collections to revisit when my curiosity has no specific name or question. I found this book at the Material for the Arts warehouse in Queens and directly after had one of the best burgers of my life, so that day is going down as a gift from the gods.

This third volume in a four-part series explores the “occidental” themes of art and religion, followed by its companion which explored the “oriental” themes. It’s quite a fascinating perspective because we rarely think of the world’s cultural constructs in terms of the larger generalization that Campbell spent his life trying to help us understand. So basically, the Orient, or eastern philosophies and mythologies, seek to establish principles that transcend experiences, whereas western philosophies and mythologies seek to establish relationships between God and man that are given meaning whether through personification, symbols, tangible evidence. And throughout the book he offers examples to further understand the occidental themes that have defined western history.

For the Greek, indeed for the European mind, the faculty of reason is to such a degree particular to man that to erase it is not to return to nature but to escape from it — from man’s nature. And if the excellence, arete, of any species must be recognized as rising from a life lived according to its nature, then for man it must be according to reason — neither to ecstatically communicated, so-called “divine revelations,” nor to animalistic or vegetal erasures of the human faculties. Moreover, the faculty of reason develops not in sheer solitude, but in society…

How I’ve made sense of the reading in contemporary context is that this makes me think of our beloved echo chambers. I think the echo chamber is the Western world’s security quilt onto which westerners of like-minded beliefs continue to stitch their patches. I also believe the Eastern world has its own echo chamber, but theirs is the one that allows for that transcendence of experiences mentioned earlier. It’s like the echo chamber of the west is a security blanket that we only share with those who share our thoughts and perspectives; the echo chamber of the east is a reverberating magnet in an open field that attracts those who have voyaged beyond their thoughts and perspectives and tapped into the principle of the magnet. But I don’t know, though.

 

Anyway, these are the first thoughts of May. How’s your month starting? I hope well and that wherever you are, your curiosity is being stoked and that there’s a good book in your hands!

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The Case for Rejections

This week has found me in one solidly consistent state of feeling rejected. My crush at work didn’t ask me out before his last day, a grant that I applied for turned down my application, and did I mention that my crush never asked me out?

It can be rather distressing to focus on the positive when what you’ve been focusing on rejects you. And it’s not even that it’s that big of a deal, or that it’s not a positive in and of itself, it’s that the idea of you not being enough starts to outweigh the parts of you that are enough. It’s like we spend our attention looking out at the things that would make us feel worthy instead of looking in at the things that make us worthy. I’ve been understanding this so much lately in that every time I’ve heard “no” (or nothing at all), I would follow that rejection down a rabbit hole of “What is it that I don’t have, or that I am not doing?” in an attempt to justify my feelings of lack, when what I should have done was reflect on what it was that I was truly after, what having the object of my desire would have reflected back to me about who I am, and go back to the place inside that needed to be reflected or seen. In the instance of being rejected from literary opportunities, funding, partnerships, etc., I believe that I’m searching for an experience outside of myself that defines my perceived purpose in education, so instead of reaching outside of myself for something else to reflect that purpose, perhaps if I focus inside to what the purpose wants to say and manifest, I will in effect be reflecting and defining it myself. (I could say that better.) In the case of being rejected by my crush…actually, I’m not sure how to make this point because I just really enjoyed his company. However I do believe that in any instance of relationships or romance, we’re seeking a reflection of the love we think we deserve, and if it doesn’t work out, then we have to become the love that we’re seeking, more or less. I get it, but seriously sometimes it’s just dating and enjoying people’s company.

This is very rambling, and given that I haven’t written a column in a week, you, whoever you are, have my sympathies for making it to this point. I think the real question that I’m asking is that, if I’m okay with “not forever, and just right now victories” what forever victory am I forfeiting if I can’t get over a right now rejection?

How do you deal with rejection? Share in the comments below!

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What does “love” mean to you?

For those who know me, there is a passage in literature that I recite daily because of the visceral reaction it evokes for me. It’s from Toni Morrison’s Paradise and it’s the most loving gut-punch that expresses the truth that love is not a gift, but a diploma.

I’m not even going to attempt to articulate “love” as I take a page out of the Nina Simone handbook.

What I will say is that love is the thing I think about the most consistently. Selfishly, I think how can I get some for myself, but more self-serving than that I think how amazing it is of a philosophy to practice, how grand of a language it is between us and the divine, and just how grateful I am to fall in love everyday with new things, new people, new experiences.

This week I’m in love with the joy of this TinyDesk concert from Tank and the Bangas. More specifically, I’m in love with the new expression of love that they have shared with the rest of us in the beautifully emotive Rollercoasters.

What are you falling or rising in love for and with this week? Do you have an expression of love that you hold dear? Share with us below!

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Too selfish or not too selfish?

I’ve been wrestling with my internal dialogue on whether or not I’m a kind person. Like most people, I’d like to think of myself as a kind, caring, and compassionate person, but sometimes I wonder if this is a nature/nurture state of being? Like what if I’m really a not-so-kind person and I only behave kindness. Or am I really a kind person at heart and exhibit not-so-kind behavior?

Recently, I realized that I tend to check out of conversations I’m having with people. It occurred to me when I was sitting at a bar and this guy mentioned that I had gone silent, and I quickly told him that I was just listening and processing…only I wasn’t. I got preoccupied with my own internal dialogue and had completely tuned him out.

I now believe that this wasn’t a one time occurrence, and that when I do get bored with people, I literally just tune into a separate conversation in my own head. While I can say it’s a plus to be self-aware of this behavior, it’s definitely a minus in that it’s rather selfish. I mean, I don’t want to go around life being more interested in my own thoughts than the thoughts of people gracious enough to communicate with me. But how does one change this behavior and maintain focus and presence in a situation that’s not very engaging?

I’m actually not sure at all, but I’m making a conscious effort to choose respect, presence, and kindness in my daily interactions. I find that starting with these intentions begets patience and an attentiveness that I don’t always have at the ready. It’s also been said that being selfish isn’t as terrible as it sounds because until you’re full of (and with) yourself, how can you have anything to offer to anyone else? So I guess it’s all about checking in with yourself first, and then offering your time and attention to others.

 

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The Separation of the Arts

My friend is opening a co-working space for performance artists. We met at a pitch session last year and connected on our shared plight of entrepreneurship. She’s a great force that I’m grateful to have in my life, and yesterday as we were talking in the space that she’s building, we kept coming around to the notion that there is a great divide between art communities. Listening to her and another friend go on and on about an array of theater shows, new and old playwrights, actors and their performances, I realized that I was completely in the dark about what was happening on Broadway and that it was experiencing a similar boom as I have been feeling about the literary community. I was so enthralled listening to them give synopses and make plans about shows that it dawned on me, there’s so much story out there that I’m not experiencing with my nose always in a book. It left us questioning what sort of behavior are we observing between people who are navigating between the different communities whether seamlessly like a Lin Manuel Miranda, or sporadically hopping about the arts like a me.

Perhaps that will be the mark of the time, in that our hyper-connectivity afforded us platforms to engage with an array of arts communities, but the real art and creativity came from how we did it. How we connected the dots between innovation in music and literature; how our sociopolitical lives were dramatized in movies, plays, and sculptures. It’s an exciting question to ask and has opened up to me a prairie of possibilities.

I suspect that there is a gland or wire of some sort that needs to be tuned to the right key in order to receive and appreciate this curiosity. Maybe it’s as simple as having an interest in it, maybe it’s about having an anchor or binder that I talked about earlier that keeps it all in focus. Maybe it’s just about paying attention to the world around us.

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The little word that could…

It’s taking me a really long time to figure out the first line of this post. Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of words and how we create our experience from what we say. Because our thoughts become our words, and our words become our action. And this much I know to be true, but to what extent?

Frankly, I find that it adds so much pressure to speaking that I find myself going mute over the anxiety of speaking the wrong things into existence. Like if I just made that joke about going mute, did I just will myself to lose my voice?

And if the Black Keys already told me to watch what I say because the devil is listening, then doesn’t the devil already know that I know, and is the devil now worried that I might try to throw it off course by saying the opposite thing in order to protect myself? I mean, do you see the pressure?!

When you’re in the space of “experiencing” something, I’ve realized that the key to this whole thoughts>words>actions ordeal is right there in the equation. Your thoughts! Your perspective = how you see it in your mind. How you perceive and interpret the experience is the key to how you respond to it with your words and your actions! For instance, if you’re experiencing heartbreak, a very real and heavy experience, your mind will be flooded with thoughts about everything that this means about who you are or who someone else is, and all of the things that went wrong, and how sad everything is. However, if in the midst of all these thoughts mixing with emotions in the abyss of your mind you could perceive that you are experiencing heartbreak –the act of your heart splitting in half– and that you are still whole, wouldn’t you begin to sense the shift of your thoughts before you respond. “I am missing this person, but I am still here…I must be really strong to be experiencing this breaking apart, and I’m looking forward to what will be built in its place…I am grateful to the things I’m learning about myself through this experience.” It’s also relevant in my earlier attempt at a joke in that if I perceive the thoughts>words>actions as a thing to be feared, my response will be to fear, and fear breeds inaction, stagnancy, the muteness.

If you’ll imagine with me that in your mind there is a long boulevard that traverses each crevice of your cerebral matter. And along this boulevard, which connects every piece of your mind, there are street lights operated from a circuit board that chooses which lights are on when and where, the color of the bulbs, and maintains and repairs any outages. If you could envision yourself at this circuit board, find the light switch labeled “Change your mind.” and turn it on. Choose the color, check the luminosity and adjust if necessary. Do what is necessary so that as you’re navigating this winding road of experiences and your thoughts begin to cloud your judgement, you’ll have that light that’s always shining that will remind you that at any point, you can change your mind to change your response to the experience you’re having. If the words are the power, believe in the truth that you want to speak to that power, and speak it!

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What’s your daily morning ritual?

There’s a question that Oprah asks her guests on Super Soul Sunday, which I look forward to the most, “Do you have a morning ritual?” I tend to expect some grand ceremony of awakening to the day, but it tends to be the most basic of activities, things we all already do in some form or fashion. “I have a cup of tea…” or “I read the paper…” or “I meditate, stretch.” In every response I hear some iteration of things that I’ve become jaded by or taken for granted. Waking up can be tough when you’re not ready to face the day. However, when you have something to look forward to, you tend to wake up with an extra pep in your step and suddenly, waking up is the best and easiest thing to do. So what if the waking up is the thing to look forward to?

I’m in the midst of creating my own daily ritual. Recently, I’ve been observing what time I wake up naturally, my first instinct after my eyes open, and how the rest of my day develops based on what I do first thing in the morning. I find that my body doesn’t sleep past 8am, which is a helpful constant. If I could though, I’d start my day around 6/7am, or at the magic hour when creativity peaks for me which is around 4am, so there’s that. And because I’ve been in and out of a funk for the past three months (give or take two years), I find that I don’t regularly wake up with the same alertness, and I tend to linger in the bed for much longer than necessary. I eventually get up and find something to drink; first water, then something aromatic (usually coffee, but these days tea…but maybe stout?!?!*). And the part that clicked for me recently is the presence of music in my daily ritual. So based on my personal findings, and on the Super Soul Sunday answers, this is the daily morning ritual that I’m in the process of setting for myself:

  1. Wake up, and get out of the bed within 10 seconds of my eyes opening
  2. Say “Thank you.” when my feet hit the floor
  3. Straighten up my bed
  4. Water: I drink some water and then I boil some water for tea/coffee
  5. Spiritual reading and ask/set the intention for the day
  6. Songwriting
  7. A stout?**

For me, it’s helpful to observe and define a ritual because it’s a ceremonious activity that not only offers me consistency, but reminds me of the gift of each day. When I wake up with the purpose of waking up, that awakening becomes the root, or the stem, for which the rest of the day can graciously bloom unto, because the day is now grounded and summoned. If I know that everyday is a gift, I suspect that it wouldn’t hurt to act like it. So, what’s your daily ritual that supports the unfolding of your day?

*It only occurred to me as I was writing this because I took the header photo yesterday and I really wanted to use it in today’s post, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
**But having a stout be a part of my daily routine might not be a bad idea, as it’s one of my favorite things in the world so I’d definitely be looking forward to it…of course it’d be closer to noon though, because I’m not a monster to have beer for breakfast. 😉