Monday, February 29, 2016

No One Owes You Anything. #Artist

Enter Lucy Van Pelt.  
It's the last day. The last day. This is it. Help me! Help me!

It's a brief scene from "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown". I always knew Lucy was an extremist. 

I had to step on a scale at the airport in Vieques so they could have my weight on file before we boarded the 6 passenger plane back to the mainland. Needless to say, the camera adds 38 pounds. I can take things to the extreme too, Lucy. Muscle relaxers help though. 

These past 28 days have taught me a lot about responsibility. Responsibility for myself. Accountability. Here's something anyone who bothers to create something needs to know:

No one owes you anything. 

This is hard for any person, creative or not, to accept. The money I have spent on therapy talking about my feelings of self-worth as an artist and a person in a community I sometimes feel doesn't want me, could finance a down payment on a lovely condo. Self-deprecating monologues about other people's careers and how I just know they directly effect mine. "Why do they think Molly Pope is doing something brilliant?" "Amber Martin is a joke. Don't they know what she did to me?" Virtually stalking the staff of Joe's Pub, a group of 20 somethings and nothing-somethings who are making creative decisions for the same twenty people over and over again, while they've stopped returning my phone calls and emails almost a year ago. Going into a tailspin of "They don't want me anymore. I must suck."  New York City being as small as it is, I can fall into other tailspins over members of other communities too. For example, I see people that look like me. Fellow black, gay artists walking around town. Some of whom I used to be connected to. They look at me now as though I've changed. 

"You've changed. You're daring. You're different in the woods" ~ the baker's wife

You have one little falling out with a community you never had much more than a similar skin tone in common with, and you can spend years feeling blacklisted (pardon the pun). There has always been a long history of black folks not supporting black folks. Ever since the first house nigger told the first field nigger "You can't come in here" that thing has existed. It's not about who has the most toys. That's what, I assume, white folks fight about. It's about never having had a toy in the first place, and then being told you have to share it. 

In whatever the situation I find myself. I have to remember:

No one owes me anything. 

And, more importantly, my story is different than his. Which is different than hers. Which is only important to me. Which should only be important to you. Your stuff is your stuff. And hers is hers. My toys belong to me. Your toys belong to you. Now tell me about them. 

Some of the seemingly racist things that have been said to me over the years (since the fourth grade):

"Do you get sunburns?" (2009)

"You know how black attracts the sun, right? Are you hotter than us?" (1992)

"So, wait. The inside of your palms and the bottoms of your feet aren't brown. Are you sure it isn't dirt?" (1985)

"Your teeth are seriously so white. Uggh. I'm so jealous." (2010, 2013, 2014, just the other day)

"I'm so sorry for your people." (1986)*
     *We had just learned about slavery. Rachel Levy came up to me afterward and said this. Verbatim. In response, I said "But didn't they put y'all in ovens?"  I got sent to the principal's office. 

The fact is, we can all get caught up in these things. I have. We all get caught up in the wires that make our own individual machine run. It's how you maneuver around them. Like a fox? Or like a Tasmanian devil?

I told you the other day how I got caught up in my phone going for a swim on our last day on the island. It could've sidelined everything. I didn't write for a day like I promised myself I would. I beat myself up for it. I am the only one responsible for what I am doing here. No one else is to blame. That's a hard pill to swallow. On its own. On my own. 

Having to sit down and orchestrate, create, write these entries each day for the last month has freed up the space that I was saving to dwell on unimportant people and their insignificant behavior patterns. I let go of "Well, she's never had to have a job in her life.  Why does it all have to work out for her?" and "He's not even reading any of what I'm writing here.  He obviously doesn't care about me as an artist or a friend." I let all of that go.  As soon as I did that, everything else became clear. As soon as I got out of my own way other things started to show up. 

Next week Michael and I get to perform "Jackson on Jackson: Niggahs With Attitudes" at The Duplex. A few weeks later, I'm singing in Sondheimas at 54 Below for Stephen Sondheim's birthday celebration. Then The Black-Ups have been invited back to DROM on April 2nd. Followed by a return to 54 Below to join Michael and the cast of "A Strange Loop" on April 26th.  And then fast to work on The Black-Ups heading to Club Oberon in Boston. None of this will be possible if I'm standing in the middle of the pathway toward my own self, stomping my feet, and complaining about someone else's story, which I'm not even reading. 

What helps? Writing. Building. Creating. Communicating. This project. Which, I'm very happy to announce, I will continue even though the month has ended. Not every day though, as I have stuff to prepare for. But a few times a week. "Sundays Are For Music" will continue each weekend. And a string of other stories I've been working on. It is fulfilling to me. To only me. I want the same for everyone.  I want to read and hear the stories of other people too.  It is allowing me to share. To share with myself. So I can remind myself of just how important I am to myself. My third or fourth show at Joe's Pub years ago was named after my favorite Zora Neale Hurston quote. It's also the title of her autobiography. 

"I Love Myself When I'm Laughing...And Then Again When I'm Looking Mean and Impressive". 

I like myself. A lot. And that's a battle enough.  From crosswalk to crosswalk, I have to remind myself of that.  I don't have time to worry if you like me or not. Life is far too short.  I only have a responsibility to be a good and genuine and respectful and truthful human being. In my travels, I  hope I meet you and you are so impressed with how much I love myself that you wanna come up and meet me at my level. And I will always do the same for you.

Thank you.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sundays are for music. #NancyWilson

Shes' undoubtedly one of my all time favorite voices.  The stories she's telling are crystal clear.  It's as though she's just talking to an old friend, an emotionally unavailable lover, or just to 12 year in me in my basement.

In 1964 her most successful Billboard 100 hit was released. - (You Don't Know) How Glad I Am.

She won an Emmy for her own series, The Nancy Wilson Show, in 1968.  And she's also go 3 Grammy Awards under her belt.

She dropped out of Ohio's Central State University to pursue he dreams of singing.  On September 10, 2011 she performed the last time on stage.  She said "I'm not going to be doing it anymore, and what better place to end it than where I started – in Ohio."

Her debut single in 1960 was another favorite of mine, "Guess Who I Saw Today".  I found a video of me singing it (Thank you, Don) at some place called Joe's Pub back in 2012.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Items in the overhead bin. #cellphone

Firstly, to those following along at home. Clearly I'm late. My roughly 8:AM post was not delivered yesterday.  Let me see if I can explain. 

This is the Caribbean ocean. Pata Prieta Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico to be exact. My cell phone was submerged in this just yesterday. The last evening of our vacation. As the most beatific sun began to set. 

I suppose I could even back up further. Knowing my deep love of jewelry, you'll feel my pain. A ring that I purchased exactly one year ago on our last trip to Puerto Rico, was lost on this same beach on the 2nd day of our trip. Now, if you're counting along, I'm currently sitting on a United Airlines flight from San Juan to Newark, New Jersey without a cell phone and without a beloved piece of jewelry that once marked a very special trip to me. 

The ring was not expensive. The phone ....well.  During the 11 o'clock number in the last few hours of our perfect trip, I singlehandedly ruined my phone. A phone filled with recordings of rehearsals, notes to all of my selves, letters currently in draft form not yet sent to Susan Sarandon, Bill Cosby, and Solange Knowles. Notes for skits I want to perform with Ladonna. The entire script I had copied into my phone to learn for "Niggahs With Attitudes". Rare rehearsal recordings of me and Elliot working through songs that maybe never saw the light of day. Every picture I had taken over the last few years. More importantly, the pictures I had taken from each day of our trip this week. If you'd like a score, I only have 3 pictures left that happen to be on my iPad. And not much had been backed up due to a problem with iTunes and space in something white people call "the cloud". 

Needless to say, the loss of the phone while on this peaceful 1/2 mile stretch of beach the middle of a virtually untouched wildlife preserve ...a beach with 8 other people on it (and 3 stray, adorable dogs...the dogs on this island, by the way...heaven). At sunset. 80 degrees. Watching the man I love enjoy floating in this crystal clear, warm water.  I was furious. I checked out. I was completely enraged. So angry with myself for being so dumb. How could I let me phone get wet. I had been so careful all week. I let the loss of the phone take me completely out of the moment that I was so happy to (literally) be swimming in just minutes before. Does hat happen often? What does it take to set you off? What does it take to get you back? Is a sunset with a reflection of the sun on almost turquoise 78 degree calm water enough to pull you back to happy?  What about on the last night of your vacation on a 12 mile island where horses run free and walk the streets with cranes resting on their backs like they are the best of friends?  Like Danny Devito getting a piggy back ride from Shaquille O'Niel. 

We went to dinner last night. And then back in to town for dessert at El Blok Hotel, which clearly we enjoyed as we ate there 3 other times in our trip. At this point we were very recognizable to the bartenders and wait staff. We ordered dessert. I had the Limon which was a sort of lemon meringue with a bit of granola and sliced almonds. After that I immediately ordered a cocktail, the Sweet and Spicy, which was a gingery take on a mojito. Still enraged over, I'm guessing, not being able to check my Facebook or post a photo with sassy hashtags on Instagram, I told the bartender what had happened. 

"I'm so angry.  I'm such an idiot. I practically walked into the ocean with my phone in the back pocket of my bathing suit! Who does that?"

Without missing a beat, and in a voice as calm as the breeze at sunset in Vieques, she said "I don't even have a phone."

With that, we moved on. I was (and am...albeit slightly) angry with myself. I let it curb my entire being for just a moment. And the beautiful earth stood still (or so I thought) so I could stay mad. Mad about this thing that I'm so very dependent on for reasons still not completely clear to me. This lovely woman, who seemed to be an American, who now was just living on the island of Vieques mixing drinks at one of the most gorgeous hotels on the island.  This woman, who couldn't be happier. What was her story?  How did she get to happy? And stay there?

I'm writing to you now from the middle seat of a United Airlines flight back to New Jersey. We took a very tiny puddle jumper to San Juan this morning from the island. We had a 4 hour layover. I learned that 4 hours is enough time to get in a taxi, go to Old San Juan, have breakfast at a place you both fell in love with last year (Cafecultura ...I love their coffee.), stop at the jewelry shop you bought your ring at last year, and buy 3 new rings made of the same Yuca that your favorite was made from. 

When we got on the plane (after deciding what my in-flight jewelry would be), a woman behind us somehow had a mix up at boarding.  She was in Group 4 or 5. The Rosa Parks section of the boarding-order. This meant, on our very full flight that some overhead bags were being gate-checked. In the mix up of this, she somehow let her purse get gate-checked. She stormed to her seat after the cabin doors closed, with a tantrum and temperament of full, epic Becky proportions. "UN...BE...LIEVABLE!" She screamed. This has probably ruined her 3.5 hour flight.  I'm quite sure she "literally just can't even". This has potentially removed the memories of how great a trip to Puerto Rico could be. The beaches. The drinks. The mofongo. This must have ruined her day. 

Wait. Let me turn around and check. 
When I started writing this, she had a towel over her head (that must not have been in her purse), and she looked like a children's ghost costume on Halloween. Now she's on her phone looking at videos and laughing. 

I guess she found her way back to happy. 

Or maybe things just shift a little after take off. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shoulders as Earrings, no more. #vieques

This is Playuela.
Our waitress, Yanira ....

...from El Blok hotel told us it was one of her favorite beaches. You know when you connect with someone and their energy very quickly and you just start to open up. We followed the advice of this young, gorgeous girl who brought us the most amazing bacalao I've ever tasted. It was a salad made with arugula. On top was shredded cod fish, extra virgin olive oil, capers, red onion, red pepper, avocado, and sea salt. It was heavenly. Either the salad or her smile or her large gorgeous eyes made us follow her advice.  

Today we drove past a hollowed out church where people fly in to have their destination weddings on the northwest tip of the island. 

The chapel is called Chapel Ecumenical. The only walls are this front and the back wall where the altar would be. On the other side of this front door is painted the following mural...

Telling us once again that music is our saviour. 

These last few days of this writing project are helping me straighten out so much in my mind. I am terrified about this show Michael and I are writing.  It makes me enter into parts of my own writing I never thought I would have the balls to discuss. I have so much to learn.  I haven't felt so wholeheartedly invested in a creation in some time. I'm excited to learn 14 pages of Sondheim for a few weeks later. Ecstatic for The Black-Ups reunion (Potentially entitled "Hot-Sauce"). The direction of what will happen with this writing project will all be ...well ...written about over the next few days. I bet you can already tell, music will be a large part of it. But this project has connected me with so many people I haven't heard from in so long. We may not social media-talk all that often, but this has caused us to do that and more on some level.  And I appreciate and respect it. My therapist asked me why I wasn't sharing this project with absolutely everyone. I said it scared me. It still does. And that is on the docket to address as well. Don't worry. 

So is opening my written, creative, singing, loud, critical, unapologetic, artistic mouth the minute my soul has something to say. 

For now though, I'm thinking about Yanira, and Playuela. And floating in water so blue it almost aches my eyes. If it makes my shoulders go down, I'm in. This is heaven.