Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) and this Marvin Gaye Collabo

I love me some Mos Def. Like, I’m still lamenting the loss of my Black Star CD that I unintentionally cracked in half (long story) last fall. I could buy another CD, sure, but that disc was the one I’d had since college! I came to my conscious hip-hop existence during that time period, and it was through Mos and Kweli and Common and Ms. Badu that it happened. And when we speak about another kind of consciousness, there’s Marvin Gaye whose crooning and lyricism can put anyone in just the right frame of mind for whatever.

Though Mos was ten when Marvin Gaye was killed, thanks to Amerigo Gazaway, the two men–Mos and Marvin–now have a 13-track collaboration mix tape titled “Yasiin Gaye.” Amerigo does this collaborations that never happened business by taking two sets of artists and syncing and melding their sounds into one song. The results are nice.

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Yasiin Gaye: The Departure (Side One) can be found on Amerigo’s bandcamp page. Side two is set to drop in a matter of weeks.

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I Love Writing. I Love Fashion. Never the Twain Shall Meet?

“Once, at a workshop, I sat with other unpublished writers, silently nursing our hopes and watching the faculty—published writers who seemed to float in their accomplishment. A fellow aspiring writer said of one faculty member, “Look at that dress and makeup! You can’t take her seriously.” I thought the woman looked attractive, and I admired the grace with which she walked in her heels. But I found myself quickly agreeing. Yes, indeed, one could not take this author of three novels seriously, because she wore a pretty dress and two shades of eye shadow.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay on elle.com titled Why Can’t a Smart Woman Love Fashion? compelled me to write. Like Ms. Adichie, I am African (though born in the U.S.). My parents are West African, and I was raised by a mother who is much like the mother who Ms. Adichie describes–mindful of her appearance, has an appreciation for various perfumes, makes sure that her jewelry matches. We learn through modeled behavior, and seeing my mother take great care in how she presented herself to the world had an effect on me. I eventually started caring about my appearance, too.

During my pre-teen and teen years, I had subscriptions to Sassy,/i. and Seventeen. I tried to emulate some of the fashions that I saw Lisa Turtle or Brenda Walsh wear on television, I made sure that I wrapped my hair every night so that I could brush it down the next morning for school, I made myself aware of what things were “in” and what was “out.” And while I was conscious of style and fashion, I was also a bookworm who loved writing.

I went on to major in English while in college and later earned a Master’s in writing. During both periods of my life, I simply couldn’t find it in myself to walk into a classroom in my pajamas or wrinkled clothes. Even if I wore jeans to class, I’d likely pair them with some low-heeled boots and a nice v-neck shirt. To this day, if I pull out a shirt or a skirt from my drawer or my closet and it’s wrinkled, I plug in the iron and get to work. These are things my mom instilled in me. She also advocated for higher education. The two were never diametrically opposed in her world or in our household–you didn’t leave the house in ill-fitting or wrinkled clothes and you strived to earn good grades in school.

It never struck me as strange that I could simultaneously love writing and love fashion. I didn’t think it odd that I liked wearing heels. Or that I carried around in my purse whatever novel I happened to be reading. So when I was invited to interview with a company years ago for a writing and communications position, I prepped as best I could: I printed off a clean copy of my resume as well as a couple of writing samples; I chose a slate gray pencil skirt, a black camisole, a black blazer, black tights, and black heels for the interview; and I slipped the sheets of paper into a leather portfolio I’d purchased at Target (sister on a budget here).

I met first with the managing editor of this company (an educational company that produced curriculum), and he and I spoke for perhaps 20 minutes, me listening to the standard “Our company does…” and “What you would do in this position is…” explanations and him entertaining the questions you’re told to ask in interviews so that you exhibit your research skills and interest. After he and I spoke, he told me that he would pull in the associate editor, who, if I were hired, would be my direct suprvisor. She stepped into the glass-walled conference room and he excused himself. She asked similar questions to his and I spoke about my educational background.

It’s been four and a half years since that interview and I still remember with absolute clarity that she looked me in my eyes during our conversation and said, “You don’t look like a writer.” The company had a fairly relaxed dress code and a fairly relaxed environment (people wore jeans and sneakers and some employees had their dogs around the office), but I knew that one should not show up to an interview in just any old thing. “Dress for the job you want…” and all that jazz.

I was taken aback by this woman’s statement. In six words she had essentially called me a fraud. Those six words carried with them the judgment that because I’d dressed nicely it was inconceivable to her that I could also be a writer. I didn’t look the part as determined by…Hollywood? By certain writers’ workshops? By her. I tried not to lose composure and answered that I I wanted to look my best for the interview. That may or may not have been true. Yes, I wanted to present well for the interview, but that was also my approach in my (non-interviewing) life. It’s something that was ingrained from childhood. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I wouldn’t have fit in, what with not looking the way she thought writers should look.

That experience, however, didn’t make me re-evaluate my views on appearance and how I should present myself to the world. I’m a smart woman who loves her lipstick and heels as well as her writing journals and Toni Morrison novels. I see no reason to compromise on any of that.

Giving Me That Natural High

I’m on a high. A full twenty-four hours after seeing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Kennedy Center, I can’t shake the emotions that viewing those bodies in motion have filled me with. I remember commenting to a friend a year ago that I’d always wanted to get up to New York to see them, and when she sent me a text back in November asking if I wanted to see them at the Kennedy Center, I jumped at the chance. I’d only ever watched YouTube clips of a couple performances; this would be my first time experiencing them live.

Last night’s show was lovely. We sat in the orchestra section, second row, and my goodness! That’s the place to be. A few years ago, I saw the Ballet Nacional de Cuba perform Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center, and a group of us were up in the second tier. It’s different up there. From my vantage point in the orchestra last night, I witnessed the expressions on the dancers’ faces change and emote according to choreographic needs. Perspiration glistened on their tauts bodies, giving them a magnificent glow. The power they hold in their bodies, the strength of their legs, the lithe and graceful extensions from the shoulders to the fingertips–breathtaking.

They put on three performances–Chroma, D-Man in the Waters (Part I), and the world renowned, Revelations–each one distinct. Chroma is so stark and beautiful and the use of space magnificent. The music for the dance is quite the contrast, however: ominous, fierce, piercing. D-Man in the Waters (Part I) is playful and joyful in the midst of grief, which gives it a final uplifting sentiment. This piece was a wonderful transition to the last performance of the evening. Revelations expounds on those feelings of grief and steadfastness in the face of adversity. With the use of blues and gospel music, it demonstrates how so many turn to some type of spiritual aspect to lift them out of the deepest of sorrows.

Wayne McGregor’s CHROMA from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

Groundbreaking British choreographer Wayne McGregor's contemporary ballet is full of sensory suprises: sumptuous movement, a driving score by Joby Talbot with orchestrations of songs by The White Stripes, and a luminous set by minimalist architect John Pawson.

Bill T. Jones’ D-MAN IN THE WATERS (PART I) from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

In this exhilarating work by Kennedy Center Honoree, McArthur Grant awardee and Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones (Fela!, Spring Awakening), rigorous formalism and musicality embody resilience and triumph over loss. The piece captures the infectious energy, innocence and will to survive of a beleaguered generation, and though it deals with sorrow, it maintains a defiantly celebratory tone.

Alvin Ailey’s REVELATIONS from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

Alvin Ailey said that one of America’s richest treasures was the cultural heritage of the African-American – ”sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.” This enduring classic is a tribute to that heritage and to Ailey’s genius. Using African-American traditional spirituals, this suite fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul.

I guarantee that this will not be the last time that I see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform live. My soul needs it.

Next on the list: Seeing Misty Copeland perform with the American Ballet Theatre.

On the Body Ideal & Black Yogis

For the most part, I really like my body. It took me a long while to get to this point, but that journey started when I was about 27 or so. I’d owned countless fitness DVDs (mainly of the Pilates and yoga variety) and had attended a Pilates studio infrequently when I decided to bite the bullet and join a gym. There I took a combination yoga and Pilates class called yogalates as well as made use of the elliptical machines and treadmills. I even attended two cycle classes, which were a debacle, but that’s a story for another day.

My body transformed. I’d had the membership for about a year when people started asking me if I’d lost weight. I couldn’t answer in the affirmative because I didn’t (and still don’t) own a scale. I just knew that changes were happening because I gradually went from wearing a full size 12 in jeans to a full size 8 in jeans (which is to say that while my waist, butt, and thighs were getting worked out, they were shrinking at different rates. Initially, I had to keep buying 12s, for example, even though they were loose around my waist because my bum and thighs still filled them out). My goal had been to wear a size 8 and nothing smaller because I still loved my thighs and loved that my glutes were stronger and even rounder. It was then that I did finally step on the scale at the gym. I was content with the number I saw.

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Let me take this moment also to address the first part of this post’s opening sentence: “For the most part.” I do wish that my abs were well-defined. I’m not talking about Hulk levels of definition, but a little cut here and there would be nice. I stopped attending the gym when my work schedule changed during the Fall of 2008, and over the span of two and half years I went back up to a 12. I joined a new gym two and half years ago, and I’m back to my goal size of 8. I continue to work on my abs by trying (and trying and trying) to reduce my dependency on sugar (it’d be fair to say it’s like an addiction), but I’m in a size 8 pant and skirt!

This is all to address an xoJane piece that’s sparked a lot of debate (and rightly so). xoJane published Jen Polachek’s piece, “It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People in My Yoga Class and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It.” I wish I could say that this is satire by The Onion but alas, it isn’t. The tl;dr gist is that a white woman projects all of her white woman skinniness issues on a “heavyset black woman” who attends her yoga class. All of this white woman’s navel gazing has less to do with being asked to do Downward-facing Dog and more to do with her belief that a black woman who isn’t as skinny as she is somehow upset at the white woman’s skinniness in her bike shorts and sports bra combo.

Jen starts on this train of thought because minutes into the class, the black woman ditches Downward-facing Dog and goes into Child’s Pose where she stayed, according to Jen, for the remainder of the practice. A number of responses (including the Twitter hashtag, #BlackYogis) have taken Jen to task, including Pia Glenn’s on the same xoJane site with “It Happened to Me: I Read an Essay About a White Woman’s Yoga Class/Black Woman Crisis and I Cannot.”

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I want to talk about Jen’s absolute certainty that this woman resented her for her “skinny white girl body.” Firstly, given Jen’s smooth ability to project, I question her description of this woman being heavy set. Is being larger than a size 2 “heavy set”? And if this woman was in the double digits–let’s say a size 12 or a size 14–how certain can Jen be that this woman wasn’t already content in her skin and did not resent Jen for her “skinny white girl body”? Maybe this woman decided to try yoga to improve her flexibility (it’s certainly why I started doing yoga). Perhaps the woman heard that yoga is a great practice for working through stress and becoming more relaxed (again, a reason why I continue to practice yoga). It’s presumptuous to think that standards of beauty for one set of women (the thin, Euro model image of beauty) apply to another set of women (whether that set is African, Asian, Caribbean, or South American).

Earlier I spoke about size 8 being my goal size when I first started going to the gym and it being my goal once more after I’d gone back to a size 12. It was never my dream or wish to be a size 2 or 4. Why? Because I come from a culture that values curves as a beauty ideal. Not having an ass is not desirable. Hips are fancied. Applying Jen’s brand of navel gazing, I can only guess that she’d see my size 8 self in stretchy workout capris and a sports tank over my DD breasts and assume that my break in Child’s Pose is because I simultaneously covet and am contemptuous of her “skinny white girl body.”

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Jen, and other women like her, would do well to think beyond their own perceptions of beauty and the ideal body. It would have saved her a lot of anguish and tears (yes, she says that she went home and cried after witnessing such distress in class) over being in the presence of a “heavyset black woman” who she was sure was resentful of her “skinny white girl body.” Not every woman wishes to have a roundless ass or hips that are lacking in hour-glassedness (and yeah, that’s made up…much like Jen’s perceptions of a woman she never once conversed with).

The Sick Day that Turned into Netflix Viewing

It is rare that I feel under the weather, not since I started eating a bit better than I did two years ago. So imagine my surprise and annoyance when on Wednesday morning I awoke with a bit of a stuffy nose. I went to work anyway because I didn’t feel so bad (unless you count the ways in which I kicked myself for not having properly kept covered Tuesday night after my trip to the gym. Feeling so much warmth after an hour and a half or working out, I didn’t bother to button up my wool coat or wrap my scarf around my neck. My neck is quite sensitive to cold air so I should have known. Sure enough Wednesday greeted me with a nice I told you so in the form of mild congestion.).

Wednesday night was filled with tossing and turning and frequent trips to the bathroom since I worked hard to keep hydrated. I went to work for half the day Thursday, came home, and made some spicy chicken soup, drank tea, and downed water. spicy chicken soup
In the middle of all this, I had tissues by my side to combat the stuffed right nostril followed by a blocked left nostril hours later. I napped (or, I should say “napped” because I never fully surrendered to sleep) then started re-watching episodes of The Americans (I’m readying myself for season two, which starts next month).

I also discovered that a documentary released on Netflix was nominated for an Oscar, a first for Netflix. Because it was set for a Friday premiere, I watched the trailer then added it to my list, eager to watch the next day. As I was home from work today, still congested and sneezing and coughing and sniffling, I snuggled up and fired up Netflix.

The Square–that’s the title of the documentary. It begins with what would later come to be known as The Arab Spring that happened in Egypt (and later across countries in North Africa) and its aftermath all the way until last summer when Mohamed Morsi was removed from power. My goodness. I’ve only had a couple hours to digest what I witnessed, but this documentary is powerful.

The Square_documentary

It’s told entirely from the point of view of Egyptians, which I feel gives it much more weight than if it were told by outsiders. Five people who became friends during the protests in Tahrir Square have access to cameras so we see all from their points of views: Khalid Abdalla, the actor who starred in The Kite Runner; Magdy Ashour, a member of The Muslim Brotherhood; Aida El Kashef, a female activist and journalist; Ramy Essam, a singer and activist; and Ahmed Hassan, an activist. It is this last person who I found myself drawn to. His anger and passion are palpable. His ability to engage in debate jaw-dropping.

To be sure, the other crew in the documentary are no less passionate. There are scenes of Khalid speaking with Anderson Cooper about the stakes in these protests as well as talking with his (Khalid’s) father about the need to agitate. Magdy is torn between his friendships with the activist he met in Tahrir when the country was calling for Mubarak to step down and being a member of The Brotherhood, a group who many in the documentary accuse of hijacking the protests in Tahrir Square for their own political benefit.

The Square is finely shot and doesn’t skimp on the urgency and immediacy of what many Egyptians felt during these many protests. So many moments were purely stunning. I was unprepared for the brutality (protesters being run down by tanks; Ramy with marks across his back displaying the beatings and electrocutions he endured) as well as my reaction to the elation as when it was announced that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down. I teared up seeing Egyptians in Tahrir Square weeping and shouting “Oh my God” that 30 years of rule had finally come to an end.

Though I am still processing the documentary and have many questions–like, how there’s not much talk, if any, that Morsi was removed a year after being democratically elected; or how women played a role and fared during these protests (i.e., sexual harassment). (There are brief moments with Aida, a journalist, but they are not about her as a woman nor are there thoughts about the iconic scene of a woman in a bra being dragged by police officers.)–I plan to watch it again. There’s so much to consider, and though I haven’t seen the other nominated documentaries (Dirty Wars is up next), I so hope that The Square walks away with the golden statue.

The Faulty State of Memory

We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely…by impression of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria–which is our actual experience.

Joan Didion

For the past two weeks, I’ve been kicking around the idea of memories and how they play a role in one’s life, particularly when you have a shared space in another’s life. Presumably, the leading of shared existence should mean that Person A’s remembrance of an event corroborates Person B’s memory of the same event. But that isn’t always the case. What set me on this path of rumination was a phone conversation with my father. He loves to tell stories, share memories, recall happenings.

One call I remember had him reminiscing about how he and my mother, his first wife, met. They met in the capital city of their birth when both were in college. The most workable, as Didion says, of my father’s memory of this encounter had it that my mother had designed a way to be just near the outside of one of his classes, and when she’d see him, she’d greet him with a smile. My father shared that his best friend was the one who called it to his attention that my mother was making eyes at him.

Not too long after that conversation, I visited with my mother, who is now remarried and has been with my (step)father since I was a girl of 15. At some point the topic came up about how she and my dad met. (“The narrative line” that I’ve come up with is that my uncle, one of my mother’s younger brothers, must have asked when last I’d spoken to my father, a question my uncle asks me a lot since the two were friends. So as I answered my uncle, sunk deep in his preferred arm chair in my parents’ living room, I remembered the conversation with my dad.) My mother’s recollection was that they’d met at a debut ball on campus. She was dating someone at the time, and they had gotten into an argument at some point before the evening of the dance. A male friend of hers had an extra ticket so she accepted his offer to be his date that night. According to my mom, my dad asked her to dance and continued asking her to dance the entire night. The boy with whom she’d had a relationship became a thing of the past.

When I told her that my father had an altogether different image, she shook her head and said, in a typical fashion of her home country (meaning not to be offensive), “Don’t let him lie to you!” She offered that they didn’t share a class, for one, and that she would have had no reason to be anywhere near his classes.

I spoke to my dad on Thanksgiving, and we talked again about the past and memories. It’s a preferred topic of his, certainly. I told him that my mother simply had a different recollection. He corroborated the debut ball occurrence and the dancing that they did all night, but he remains certain that she used to wait outside his math class just to smile and say “Hi.”

Discoveries

Last Saturday was a day for new adventure. Ever since I moved into the city, I’ve made it my mission to try things outside (or slightly outside) of my usual happenings. Over the years, I’ve stuck to one type of entertainment in the DMV area and that is salsa dancing, itself a new discovery for me 10 years ago.

I spent perhaps two hours Saturday afternoon getting lost in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, a piece of land I didn’t know existed beforehand. I had only to put the word “parks” in my phone’s GPS and a host of red icons appeared on screen.

It was a crisp though overcast fall afternoon. I traipsed along paths upon paths encountering water fountains and moss-covered stones and foliage having already transitioned from summer luster to autumn browns. At one point there was a couple in the distance who looked to be getting their engagement photos taken. They posed in coordinated outfits along a low stone wall with Rock Creek Park as their backdrop. It was perfect.

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[All photos in this set belong to me.]

Later that evening, I discovered a world previously unknown to me–skateboarding in Cuba. A friend invited me to a fundraiser held by an organization named Cuba Skate. Skateboarding as a hobby and as a sport is on the rise in the Caribbean’s largest island, and the event’s purpose was to raise money for skateboards and gear that is to be sent to Cuba. In the warehouse where the event took place, painted skateboards lived on the walls. They–the boards–were up for auction, the proceeds going toward the Cuba Skate cause.


Documentary clip, which played in a smaller room at the fundraiser

The crowd was a different sort, but they brought with them a new energy. It could have been the booze or the lighting or the evening’s purpose or the music the deejay played that infused the environment with cheer and good times. Toward the end of the night, he began playing a lot of ’90s hip hop hits, which had the crowd–white, black, Latino, Asian, younger Millenials and older Millenials alike–singing (and screaming) the lyrics as though the songs had just been released the week before. I count myself among the ones jamming to “Hypnotize” and “Jump Around” and “I Wanna Sex You Up.” By that time much of the wall space was bare. Those who won their bids had long since collected their skateboards and gone on their merry ways.

[I do not reserve the rights of the following series of painted skateboards. The artists who painted the skateboards reserve all rights.]
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I didn’t tumble into bed until two-thirty in the morning.