Sunday, June 8, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Maya Angelou

When I heard that Dr. Maya Angelou passed away, I realized her words have been part of the soundtrack of my life. Her voice (that voice: if God is a woman that's the sound of her voice) has guided me while making important decisions, has offered me comfort and served me like a cautionary tale. She was a mother of my heart and mind.

Oprah Winfrey introduced me to Maya Angelou through her talk show. Oprah hosted a slumber party on location at Ms. Angelou's house with some viewers who read her book Heart of a Woman. After a group discussion, Oprah and Maya sat on Maya's giant bed and talked. They were wearing pajamas and seemed so comfortable with each other. It was revelatory to see two black women who shared such love and respect for one another talk about life in a deep enriching way on national television. It's the only time in my life (outside of my children) that I experienced love at first sight. A warm glow seemed to emanate off the screen and I felt embraced.

That's when I heard Maya say, "When someone tells you who they are believe them the first time." The sentiment blew my mind. Well, of course! When someone behaves in a way that shows you their true character why wouldn't you believe them? Why would you project on them what you want them to be? Don't waste your time. Take them at their word.

I could hardly wrap my mind around this profound being. I often threw my hands up and shook my head in awe when she extolled one brilliant thing after the other. Here's another pearl, "There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing, to believing nothing." That's So true!! "I am a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me." Self-love! Whaaaaat?!!

Her words helped shape my world view. If  I saw or heard her, my heart was lifted and I'd lean in for a lesson that was certain to follow.

"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." Self love and forgiveness. What a concept!

She not only influenced me as a writer, she inspired me as a human being. Instead of "Love" she wrote "Joy" before her autograph. She strove to "be of use", demanded kindness and rejected cruelty. She laughed, she smiled, she celebrated life despite her tragic childhood which included a rape. She never suggested that life was easy. She simply chose to live in the light.

"Still I rise." 

When I heard the news, it felt like the sun disappeared, suddenly and without warning. How I'll miss her bright light.

I was so pleased by the outpouring of love on social media. So many people expressed that she felt like an aunt, mother or sister. Dr. Angelou made me feel like she was speaking directly and only to me: like she was mine. Glad to know, she was ours.

Here is part of a poem she wrote for Michael Jackson's memorial. He was controversial, I know, but her words express how I feel in regards to her:

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing, now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind.
Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace. Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.
In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure...
He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.
Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love, and survived and did more than that.
He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his...
We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. He gave us all he had been given.
Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square.
In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England
We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Duggar Girls Courtship Jim Bob and Michelle

In a former life, I think I was a 1950's, white housewife who loved to stay at home and keep house without a hint of bitterness or remorse. The closest thing modern times has to a 1950's housewife is Michelle Duggar from the TLC program 19 Kids And Counting which is why the program speaks to me like a whisper on the wind.

Michelle and her husband Jim Bob are Christians who follow the universal principles of a man named Bill Gothard. He is the founder of The Institute in Basic Life Principles. I am not saying I want to follow this dude's teachings. I don't really want to be a 1950's housewife, either but I do like to live vicariously through the Duggars and imagine that I am a homeschooling mom who has a tank of happy gas hidden in a private place because she is always even keeled and smiling.

Duggar family with daughter in law and grandchild

Here are another five reasons I heart the Duggars:

1) The Duggar kids "date with a purpose" which means they go through a period called a courtship where they talk and share bible verses for a spell then decide they want to enter into a courtship which means they go out on chaperoned dates with the intention of marriage. Their physical contact is restricted to "side hugging" (no full frontal) and they save holding hands for engagement and their first kiss for the wedding day.

**Life would be so much easier if teenagers didn't have to deal with "you show me yours and I'll show you mine." Their young minds can't handle the emotional physical combo. Fortunately, no one wanted to date me in high school so I didn't have to deal with it. If I had to deal with it then, I would have been a hot mess. I could barely handle it in my twenties and thirties. I want my girls to focus on themselves in high school years and worry about dating later. I plan to raise my daughters this way as soon as I can convince my husband it's not "unrealistic and ridiculous."

2) Michelle Duggar gives good parenting advice. She recommends you whisper to your child when angry as opposed to shout. She gives her toddlers small chores like folding laundry and putting their toys away. They actually do it because she practices obedience training which trains her kids to obey their elders and older siblings immediately. When my kids don't listen and I am ready to release a war cry for the ages, I think, "What would Michelle Duggar do?" then usually can't remember because I'm too stinkin' mad.

**Of course, four of Michelle Duggar's daughters are old enough to act as surrogate mothers. One of them does all the packing for trips. Another does most of the cooking. She has enough back up it's possible Michelle hasn't seen some of the littlest Duggars since she gave birth to them. My husband and I pay for babysitters and our village has a population deficit. We pretty much fend for ourselves.

3) Jim Bob Duggar loves his woman. There's a reason Jim Bob and Michelle have nineteen kids. He is hot for his lady. It's refreshing to see a couple on television, with kids who like each other let alone love each other and have sex. I can relate to this because my husband refers to me as his "red hot smokin' wife" whether I am wearing sweatpants or lingerie.

**Watching Jim Bob kiss on Michelle and make borderline inappropriate comments on their sex life in front of their kids is the equivalent of watching your parents do it.

4) There is no sarcasm in the Duggar household. The teenagers don't roll their eyes. They are utterly sincere. The daughters involved in courtships are excited about waiting to kiss until they are on the altar and actually like double dating with their parents. 

**They double date with their parents.

5) I look forward to the episode when one or more of the Duggar kids comes out. Will Michelle and Jim Bob accept their homosexuality?

**Let's face it, there are nineteen kids. Odds are one or two of them are gay. (I'm pretty sure I know which ones.) Will they have a courtship with a member of the same sex? Will they get a spin off reality show of their very own? Oh the potential.

I truly believe the five reasons I cited but I just can't resist adding the snark. That's why I need a little dose of Duggar. They brighten my dark, dark heart and my day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Harold Ramis; Thanks to You

"You're such a carnivore," I derided while I did my best to shame Harold Ramis with slow motion gesticulations, squinted disapproving eyes and attitude. I was improvising with the comedy legend one night when he stopped by to improvise with the e.t.c. cast at The Second City. I was playing a woman in love with her garden full of vegetables and Harold was playing a guy who just wanted to eat some meat. The line coupled with the non-verbals got a big laugh. Harold Ramis let a small smirk come across his face.

I was on stage with the guy from Stripes; a movie I watched over and over on cable when I was in high school. Once my line got the laugh he didn't do anything to try and grab the laugh back. In fact, he seemed to bask in the fact that the audience was laughing at me. Then he proceeded to say the next logical thing a "carnivore" might say with a laid back approach; playing the scene rather than the need to get a laugh.

It was one of those nights where as an ensemble we weren't hitting any home runs. Scenes meandered a little bit. Nothing was downright bad but there weren't many gems either. Mr. Ramis found a way to enhance every scene. Every darn thing he said was funny and even when a scene was going nowhere he found a way to elevate it and make it better. He did all this in the most gentleman-like style; letting us go first, standing when we entered the room, opening the door.

I came to improvisation as a theatre actor who was funny who quickly learned the basics of improvisation and was thrust into performing with people who had been studying it for years. They also happened to be brilliant. I rarely felt like I was in my element. Harold Ramis made me feel like an improviser that night.

He is known for saying, "If you concentrate on making everyone else around you look good, then it makes everybody look good."

I know he practiced that on stage. From everything I have been reading he did the same in life.

Great words to live by.

Job well done, Sir.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Vanity Fair's Hollywood "Issue"

This is the most black actors Vanity Fair has ever featured on the cover of their annual Hollywood Issue. There's six of 'em. Count 'em SIX. As a black actress my heart beat faster and my skin got tingly when I saw these actors amongst George Clooney and Julia Roberts. "Wow! What progress!" I thought.

As quickly as I felt the joy it was gone like the let down after you eat a pint of ice cream. Progress!!? It took them nineteen years to populate the cover with more than one black person. Why can't one of the black actresses be strewn across sex symbol Idris Elba's lap? (Granted if I were Julia Roberts I would have elbowed any one of the other ingenues who tried to take my spot.)

The image of Ms. Roberts and Mr. Elba pleases me because I know it will piss off many a racist who abhors interracial anything. Yet the image saddens me because it's a missed opportunity to show a black woman on a black man's lap on the cover of an iconic magazine or a black man standing on his own. How about that? She even has her hand on Chiwetel Ejiofor's shoulder! That's just greedy, Julia. The gesture turns the focus away from the black men and features the white actress. Nothing new here.

Google "Vanity Fair Hollywood 2014" and there are dozens of articles touting the grand accomplishment of the Vanity Fair Editors to finally have the realization that there are actors of color worthy of their cover. Nobody challenges the fact that there are no other ethnicities represented. Too often the discussion on race stops at black and white as if there are no other minorities who are discriminated against and underrepresented.

One step forward, two steps back.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Farrow and Public Opinion

Some sensitive topics have been bandied about on the internet and I say it needs to stop.
When it comes to issues of child abuse and addiction these are subjects that shouldn't be reduced to the arena of public opinion.

The Daily Beast's Robert B. Weide recently spent an article clarifying misconceptions surrounding Woody Allen and the allegations of abuse by his daughter Dylan Farrow in the 1990's. He also reveals what is true and false in regards to Allen's marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter with Andre Previn. Allen was in a relationship with Mia Farrow when the relationship with Soon-Yi began.

I read the article and was influenced by the revelations. "Oh, Soon-Yi was never Woody Allen's adopted daughter she was the adopted daughter of his girlfriend. Oh, there were no official charges against Woody Allen about the abuse of his daughter. My bad. Maybe Woody Allen isn't a creep," I thought.

Then Dylan Farrow published an open letter for the New York Times with details regarding the alleged abuse. It is a stark, graphic description. I was embarrassed that I'd been momentarily swayed by Weide's article but I didn't jumped from one conclusion to the other. I felt shame because I realized it was none of my business to try and exact the truth out of something in which I have no connection.

I wasn't there. I don't know any of these people. The complexities surrounding abuse deserve more than a quick read and my verdict.

On Sunday Phillip Seymour Hoffman a wonderful, forty-six-year old actor died of an apparent heroin overdose. Unfortunate details about how the father of three was found were laid out and the media machine went into full throttle. As quickly as the information was released people started spouting their opinions and in some cases judgement about his addiction.

He is dead. His partner lost a wife; his children lost a father. Debates about addiction have significance in a public forum but perhaps invoking Phillip Seymour Hoffman and one's opinion of him isn't respectful, necessary or appropriate. And perhaps speculation around whether a person was sexually abused should not be disseminated and reduced to conjecture and gossip.

Just because we have immediate access to information doesn't mean we can't take pause and recognize that we never know the whole story unless we have lived it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

10 Tips to Enduring Your Child's Rainbow Loom

1) Break it to your kid early and often that you will not be wearing all the bracelets they gift you. Sure the first time it’s easy to react like you just got a blue box from Tiffany’s. But by the twentieth band your child expects the same reaction despite the fact they just made you one ten minutes ago.

2) Avoid YouTube-Lady-With-Long-Nails-No-Polish who does instructional videos without a child in sight. She has mastered the starburst, fishtail, triple single and more. But why is she playing with a Rainbow Loom? All by herself? For what appears to be for hours? YouTube-Lady-With-Long-Nails-No-Polish will make you sad.

3) There are never enough c-clips. There are always more rubber bands than clips. This is a conspiracy. It keeps you buying more and more bags of bands in order to have enough clips. It's like when a drug dealer gives a customer their first hit for free. That's how they hook ya. After the first bag of bands, you are just another sucker "chasing the dragon."

4) S-clips suck.

5) Starburst will drive you to the edge of sanity. You need a degree of some kind to get through a Starburst instructional video. And the fact that it's being conducted by Ashley a nine year old only makes things worse. 

6) Every time you successfully return a rainbow loom rubber band to its case you get chocolate, or a glass of wine. Because you will find them everywhere. Places you can't imagine. Bonus: Open up the vacuum cleaner and you'll hit the jackpot. Book yourself a Spa Trip for that one.

7) Rainbow Loom cases are essential. Without a case chaos will ensue. Of course the case should be included with the Rainbow Loom but it isn’t.  It’s a racket. (see #3)

8) Empower your child with a mantra for the moments they lose their mind over a rainbow looming error. I suggest, “Stop. Breathe. Try again.” or “If you don’t stop hyperventilating I am going to send you to your room and throw that Rainbow Loom out the window!” One works better than the other.

9) YouTube-Lady-With-Long-Nails-No-Polish really does have the easiest to follow videos. Watch her in small doses unless you need a good cry. French Manicure, maybe? Anyone? Anyone?

10) Just remember the hell we put Mom and Dad through with our craft projects. Hook Rugs? Shrinky Dinks? Chalk it up to the "cycle of life" or "circle of love" Whatever. And remember, "Stop. Breathe. Try again."