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Leaving

The New Year’s Eve before I was leaving home for good I sat in my near empty apartment full of boxes waiting. It was our last NYE together as best friends turned lovers who were holding on to something we both knew had to end. I waited. I called. I texted. Waited some more. He was out getting plastered and I was the last stop of the night. When he finally walked through the door in the wee hours of the morning, I chastised him about how he had ruined what was supposed to be a memorable night, our last one together. By the time we finished arguing we sat on my cream leather loveseat with our thighs nearly touching. The January breeze whistled through the sliding patio door.

“Bené, I have to let you go. If I don’t I’ll be holding you back.”

Like all of the other important men in my life, he was full of I love yous and tears but wouldn’t stay. My second favorite poet, Nayyirah Waheed, says, “Stay is a sensitive word. We wear who stayed and who left in our skin forever.” I tried to fight it, fight for us, but somehow my brain knew what my heart couldn’t yet understand. It was best this way. I was leaving home, destined for greatness, and deep down we knew I was never coming back. And he was never going to leave. We salvaged the early morning by making love for the last time.

A few days later I drove my little two-door Chevy to the cornfields of Indiana to embark on what I thought would be the solution to me throwing away my dream of becoming the female Johnnie Cochran.

As a little girl I don’t remember knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. I only dreamt of being rich and famous. Someone’s name everybody knew. To have the means do some good in the world. I always did exceptionally well in school, but I didn’t like science or math. The medical field was out. I didn’t like kids enough to want to teach. I was into the arts, which is why I’d auditioned for dance and drama for Nashville School of the Arts and was accepted for both. Thoughts of attending Julliard to become a professional dancer were shot down with the “dancers don’t make no money” my family had repeated like a psalm. Misty Copeland says hi, Ma. So when I graduated high school in three years I’d settled on being a lawyer. I was a great debater, which is the clean way of saying I loved to argue. I found the law to be interesting enough, and a six figure salary seemed like having it all back then. Besides, I wasn’t going to be just any lawyer; I was going to be the female Johnnie Cochran. When I stepped onto Tennessee State University’s campus in the fall of ‘02, I declared Chemistry as my major. I’d let my mom convince me I could become a pharmacist, a career that didn’t require med school and I could make 100K a year out the gate. The way she saw it, like most people of our parents generation and the one before them, you go to school to get a good job and you work that job until you retire. But by my second semester I’d changed my major to English.

English was always my favorite subject. And although I’d always written from a young age— raps, poetry, essays — I wasn’t majoring in English to become a writer. I’d read somewhere that law schools preferred English majors over Political Science majors because it meant we could write, analyze and think critically. It never dawned on me that I could be a writer until I was on my way to grad school at 23. The LSAT had proven to be much more challenging than I’d expected. I’d always done so well in school that I underestimated the difficulty of culturally biased standardized tests like the LSAT. I did horribly. In my defense, I didn’t really study for it either. I retook it while in grad school after taking a LSAT prep course and did better, but not good enough. There were also the bad decisions I’d made in my wild early 20s that would have to be disclosed when it came time for me to pass the bar exam, so that was that on my law school ambitions. It took me a year into grad school to box up my LSAT prep books, law school applications and all the information I’d collected about law schools over the years. A sadness of finality washed over me that day as I closed the chapter on who I once thought I’d become. New dreams were on the horizon and I was now committed to becoming a journalist, more specifically, a writer. I believed I could be of service to the world by writing for the marginalized, the people overlooked, underrepresented and stereotyped. The media had gotten our communities wrong so often, and I was going to be the one to right those wrongs.

Once I’d conquered grad school I set my eyes on New York City. My one and only media internship at VIBE had solidified NYC was this dreamy fantasy that I had to make a reality. I’d make it in NYC then I could make it anywhere. In the summer of 2010, fresh out of grad school, I visited my then boyfriend, a New York native, and never left.

It took me until April 2012 to land my first full-time media job. I substitute taught and took a gig at Harlem Children’s Zone as I waited for my big break. In hindsight, that delay and rejection would come to be symbolic of how I’d spend the next eight years working in NYC media. In between August 2010 and April 2012 I was making a name for myself freelancing for sites like the now defunct thefreshxpress.com and clutchmagonline.com. My opinions were bold, confrontational and sometimes loud and wrong, but people were paying attention. An editor for Essence.com had become familiar with my byline through me constantly churning out my opinion on everything from relationships to feminism to race. When people say you can’t pay bills with opinions I can tell they don’t know any writers. I paid many bills from doing just that. Eventually I was able to parlay those op-ed pieces into reported pieces for ESSENCE, the site and later the magazine. Print clips were King because as we saw it, anybody could write online but you had to really be skilled to write for the mag. ESSENCE was the first bucket list publication I checked off my list. VIBE was the second.

VH1 called in the spring of 2012. I went all out for my interview and writing test because I had to get this job. We’d grown up watching VH1 Behind the Music. It was home to the iconic Flavor of Love and For the Love of Ray J. Having the network’s name on my resumé would be a game changer. I killed my interview and within a week I’d accepted the job offer, moved to my first Brooklyn apartment, alone, and left my Long Island dwellings and boyfriend behind.

Nothing about VH1 was a traditional media job. I was the go-to girl for the network’s ratchet reality shows that I still watch. I worked with talent. I produced video content. I did live web shows, on-camera interviews. Most days I was writing at least six pieces a day and editing photos for each one. It was a bootcamp of sorts. A faux cool pop-culture vibe, but still corporate America. It was also my introduction to The Industry. The open bars. Free concerts. Interviewing artists in their studios. The album listening parties. Not many people can say they were at Kendrick Lamar’s NYC listening party for his classic debut, good kid, m.a.a.d. city. But I was there listening to the album on blown out speakers before it was released.

Being in the streets at events Monday through Thursday got old. Quick. And I’d noticed people only wanted to get close to me because of where I worked. The same people who’d ignored my emails when I was a freelancer were on my dick when I suddenly had that VH1 title behind my name. I vowed then I’d never put my job in any of social media bios, or mention where I worked unless it was absolutely necessary. I wanted to be known and respected as Bené, not Bené who works at whatever company.

In the years since those early VH1 days I’ve added more household name brands to my resumé that most people would never know, and a few niche sites like The Frisky (RIP) where I did some damn good work. I also was never not freelancing. Multiple streams of income. One by one I was knocking off bucket list goals: GQ, New York Times, historic magazine cover stories, interviewing my favorite artists and eventually ending up on a magazine Masthead as an editor. But in the midst of some pretty dope achievements, shit wasn’t all sweet. By year three I hated The Industry. You couldn’t pay me to attend events. The scene was the same ol’ people and I found a lot of them to be phony. There are some really good people in media, but I struggled with folks caring more about being popular than wanting to master the craft. Regular ass writers behaved like they were real life celebrities. It was a smart hustle though. Social media popularity and clout-chasing turned into some big bags and opportunity for folks. I can’t hate on that. Instead I turned my focus away from being the radical chick with opinions and started doing only reported pieces — profiles, cover stories, Q&As, longform journalism. I didn’t want editors hitting me up to do hot takes every time some racist did some racist thing. I made it my goal to insert myself as a black woman in the spaces people deem prestigious. Sadly, there is a hierarchy in media and black publications are at the bottom of the totem pole. Several white editors did not take me seriously until I had clips from mainstream publications.

After being laid off from Centric TV (now called BET Her), I’d become jaded and uninspired. It was my second lay-off (a total that grew to five), always due to budget cuts. I was in what I call a professional hell from 2015-2018. The highs were extremely high but too infrequent. And the lows were so low I had to drive right over to the SNAP office on Myrtle Ave. to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. Depression knew me intimately and insomnia may as well have been my lover. Rejection was eating away at my insides like a ravishing incurable disease. I’d ask God why She didn’t give me a gift that didn’t involve rejection, or at least one where me having a Master’s meant I could have some sort of stability.

Money was the number one source of all my problems, but the inner turmoil of my career not being what I thought it should be was a close second. Sacrificing so much for a career that’s not producing the results you’d envision takes a toll on you mentally. I had to pay my university to intern at VIBE. I paid out of pocket to live in NYC for that summer. When I landed VH1 that was all me. Nobody made any calls on my behalf. I got it out the mud like all hustlers do.

The growing jadedness and feeling of defeat made me self-isolate. Friends mean well, but they give the worst advice. “Everybody can tell you how to do it; they never did it.” Friends legit told me I could write my way out of my circumstances as if a pile of money would magically fall in my lap if I just sat down and wrote. Other “friends” and associates dipped because it was no longer beneficial. When my cover stories were going viral, or I’d written for some new white publication, it was great to cheerlead for me and do the “I’m so happy to know you” spiel. When I stopped posting any milestone achievements people ghosted. It was no longer cool to be next to me or even show public support on the rare occasion I would promote my work. An editor I’d written for for over six years as a freelancer, and had worked for their brand for two summers in a row, had the power to hire me and acted clueless when I asked her why she hadn’t. I desperately needed the job and I was over qualified for it if anything. That kind of betrayal from every angle scarred me, but it made me appreciate all the people who still go up for me even though instead of career announcements I mostly post bad bitch pics on the ‘gram.

No sane person would choose the life of a creative. Writing is not like singing or songwriting. Our favorite artists have created their greatest work in times of heartbreak and doubt and loneliness and fear. We only want a Mary J. album if she’s going through it. Kendrick was admittedly depressed while making To Pimp A Butterfly. Lemonade is the result of Jay Z’s trifling community dick. Well, this ain’t that. This is the first thing I’ve written since May. Any creative who creates dope shit will tell you you become paralyzed, unable to create, when you’re trying to survive. What sane person would choose this life? And what do you do when writing is the only thing you think you’re kind of good at?

January marks ten years since I left the place I’d called home for ten years. And it’s once again time to pack up and leave the place I’ve lived the longest since leaving home.

Our souls know when it’s time to close a chapter. For about the past three years I’d been feeling like I was over NYC, but as much as I’d say it I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Every time I was sure was the time I was out of here, another job would come through at the last hour. This time I’m certain. My lease ends on December 31st. There’s no way I’ll find another one-bedroom in BK for even close to what I’m paying when I moved in this apartment almost five years ago. But strangely, even with all the stress of of planning a major move during the holidays, having the date feels like confirmation from the universe. It’s time. I came, I saw, I conquered. I loved and lost and loved again. I gave NYC everything I had in me. We had the best of times and the worst of times. I did everything I set out to do except, well, that one thing. But it’ll happen. And I don’t need to be here for it to manifest.

What’s next is a question that consumes me day and night. It’s as terrifying as it is freeing. What I want is constantly changing as I evolve. And truthfully, I don’t know. I think it’s time for palm trees though. And beaches and space and serenity and maybe a cute little puppy. Somewhere for my old ass to lay down roots where I don’t feel like every day is a hustle and struggle just to survive. I’m tired of surviving. I’m ready to live.

Ten years ago when he told me he had to let me go I didn’t understand. How do you love someone and let them go? Now I get it. He didn’t really let me go as we’re still best friends. But he had to let go of how we were at that particular time in order for me to flourish. He knew I would not have experienced what was necessary for my growth had he stayed. And I was too much of a recovering undercover over lover to have the strength to say goodbye.

Ten years have passed since that New Year’s morning and it’s time to leave again. I smile because he was right. Nayyirah was right too. We wear who stays and who leaves in our skin forever. But sometimes we’re the ones doing the leaving. And sometimes to leave is to live.

Walls

Ma’s love had conditions. She was mean and volatile and bitter. Our home was like a war zone. I tiptoed carefully as to not detonate any explosives. Anything, and nothing at all, could set her off into screaming fits or her hands meeting my face — privately or publicly. Dad wasn’t around to intervene. Living with seventeen years of ubiquitous fear in a place meant to be safe, filled with softness and patience and affirmations, naturally hardens you.

For a long time I took pride in the walls I’d built, the armor I wore, to protect myself. I was satisfied with outsiders having one perception of me — tough, not to be disrespected, a fighter, perhaps even mean — and the people I held close knowing different. The more people became familiar with my writing the more those walls seemed necessary for survival. Letting people in, especially strangers from the Internet, could only do harm. I had to control the narrative around who I really was and who I’d let people believe I was. There is a me that my longtime friends know and a me that people here in NYC know. Both were the same person but one was more hidden.

This layered identity is something only two people in a city of eight million have picked up on. Strangely enough both were men.

Three years ago we had a first date, the kind you only read about in novels. We’d gone from semi-familiar writer peers to what seemed like two people who’d known each other for a lifetime. Our seven-hour date came to an end only because I had already made plans to see Dark Knight Rises with my homeboy from college. Within that seven hours he saw me. Really saw me.

“You’re nothing like I imagined based on your tweets,” he said half-joking.

“What does that mean?”

“Like, you’re really funny. Fun. Very chill. Down to earth. Just a real cool chick. Based on Twitter I’d think you were this angry pro-black feminist all the time. I’m joking, but you you get what I mean.”

I did. He was vocalizing the perception was not the totality of reality. It was only a part. I thought about my first date conversation with the man who’d later become my boyfriend of two years when the subject came up recently with a good friend who is also a writer. My friend noted how my walls and fear of letting people in were affecting my writing.

In two separate conversations, months apart, I’d sent my friend some old blog posts and some very personal unpublished pieces I’d written just for me.

“You write like you know someone’s reading,” he said after reading what he considers his favorite piece.

By that he meant I stopped myself from really writing how I felt in the moments the piece called for me to do just that. For whatever reason, unbeknownst to him, I was holding back. Months later I let him read a couple other pieces I was working on. They were filled with the kind of soul bearing subjects you can’t broach publicly until reconciling with what may come after. I thought about how what he’d read in those pieces were things that my close girlfriends, at least the ones here, didn’t even know. Once again he had the same feedback.

“I think you’re a really good writer. I think you could be great if you work through your fear of being vulnerable.”

The closer we became as friends the more he expressed this sentiment, and not just about my writing. He was almost taken aback by how much love I had to give to the people around me and how sensitive I was. He said it as if he wished more people could know me the way he had come to know me. He was lowkey offended by me hiding the best parts of myself from the world.

It’s not like I want to hide. How freeing it would be for people to see for themselves how I love love and am empathetic and feel deeply and cry often and am super sensitive and funny and soft. But being hard is easier. It commands respect. When you’re hard no one asks about the end of friendships you’ve mourned because they assume you don’t care. Hardness means when your good friend dies few people make sure you’re ok because you seem ok. Hardness also means you’ve made walking away part of your DNA because leaving is better than being left even if said person was never leaving. Being hard means people aren’t shocked when you seek revenge instead of falling apart. The double-edge sword means people also don’t let you cry or breakdown or check on you because you’re strong. You’re hard so you’re unbreakable. If only it were true.

Growing up, fear and anger were the constant emotions floating through our two bedroom apartment. Fear breeds defense mechanisms. Walls as a form of protection are one of the many defense mechanisms against sometimes nonexistent threats. Those walls never get torn down although certain people are able to chip away at them better than others. When the chipping does happen, like falling in love, and you end up hurt anyway, now you have a wall and a fence making it even harder to get in.

Once, grandma and I were having a discussion about how parents can really fuck up their children for a lifetime. It was my roundabout way of admitting I believed both my parents had ruined me. It was evident by my interpersonal relationships and me against the world persona. Grandma was having none of it. She promptly said parents only job is to feed, clothe and shelter their children and make sure they become productive members of society. Anything else was a bonus but not requirement. She had no interest in hearing grown people whine about the failures of their parents and how it has impacted their life. Right then I bottled up my sob story filled with burning questions about the whys and hows my parents were the way they were.

I had no interest in being more open until my friend told me my work was suffering as a result. My need for control and privacy had become more of an obsession the more my following grew. I started to tweet less. I deleted Instagram. I incessantly deleted tweets I’d decided were too personal. Any Facebook status or photo as far as a year back was deleted if it was too personal for my comfort. And the things I needed to write about that I knew would resonate and maybe heal others were locked away in Google docs for my eyes only.

I tell myself a happier more fulfilling life means letting go of fear and letting people in. Happiness is my ultimate goal, but it’s my work being only really good when it could be great that keeps me up at night. I’d sacrifice happiness and having a lifelong partner and kids if it meant my writing was exceptional and renowned.

If removing a couple bricks from the walls so that a bit of my light and sometimes darkness seeps out for onlookers to see means becoming a better writer, maybe it’s time to bring out the sledgehammer from the tool shed. Besides, anything torn down can always be rebuilt with an even better foundation.

Insomnia

The sun will soon rise. I flip from one side to the other trying to find comfort. My knee hits the laptop that rests in its new home on the right side of the bed where you’d fall asleep before me every night. Pushing the electronics further to what used to be your side of the bed remind me I’m alone again.

Your scent still lingers on the sheets. More proof that your arms used to snuggle me in the place that’s now vacant. The laughter that once echoed off the walls has been replaced by a haunting silence. In hindsight your incessant snoring doesn’t seem so bad after all. Insomnia is my new best friend.

My bed is my sanctuary from the weariness of the ways of the world, but lately it’s a pestering reminder of another failed relationship, of being alone again. The act of undressing, wiping off the day’s makeup and climbing into bed brings about questions without answers. Do I really miss you or am I just lonely? Is it being used to your presence that I miss or your absence?

There is a difference.

Spring is here. The season of bloom. Days pass by seamlessly. Nights get easier. Sleep still eludes me, but aloneness feels ok.

Some nights I switch it up, letting the iPad and MacBook rest on my desk instead of next to me. I undress and let the duvet cover warm my body. Your scent no longer greets me. I lie on my stomach before facing the window. I’ve convinced myself I’ll be happy and fulfilled if I have to live the rest of my life with the right side of the bed empty. Because at 32 it’s a hard truth one must reconcile with.

One rainy night I stared at the ceiling listening to the water hit my window sills. I had an answer to those pesky questions. I miss you only because I’m lonely. I stayed when I should’ve left because I’m lonely. I blame the loneliness of the city for why we were together when we were doomed from the start. And I blame the loneliness of the city for why we held on too long.

I stretch out my arm across the gaping space on what’s no longer your side of the bed. The sun is beginning to light the sky. I close my eyes, but I don’t fall asleep.

For Colored Girls Like Korryn Gaines And The Black Men Who Hate Us

What is it to be a black woman in America. For the burden of both racism and misogyny to lay at our feet.

Korryn Gaines was no fool. In her short 23 years she was all too familiar with the carnage of black bodies. This familiarity with state sanctioned executions empowered her to raise unafraid black children. With her thick Baltimore accent she instructed her five-year-old son to record the Baltimore County police who’d pulled her over for not having registered tags on her car. That day, she was ready to die. Her life was spared, but she wouldn’t be so fortunate again.

Her Instagram shows a warrior woman who believed in her right to legally bear arms. She was uninterested in kowtowing to the very system that kills even its most “perfect” victims. Instead of “hands up, don’t shoot!” she thought “#StopKillingUs is some begging ass shit” was more appropriate. Baby girl had no desire to be pleasant or respectable.

So when Baltimore County police showed up to her apartment to serve a warrant for her arrest over misdemeanor traffic violation charges, she knew it could very well be the day she took her last breath. In her last moments she took to Instagram to record her cute, chubby cheeked five-year-old son, her asking the questions, him predicting the outcome.

“Who’s outside?”
“The police.”
“What are they trying to do?”
“They trying to kill us.”

What happened next doesn’t matter much because the result is the same. It’s always the same. Korryn is dead. The police will lie. The media will corroborate the police’s lies. The public will blame her for her death. There will be no justice. Officials will call for peace. Family members are left to raise her children. And shortly we will have all moved on to grieve the next victim of police violence. The narrative is so familiar it shows up in our dreams. The tears feel the same as the ones we wiped the last time we mourned a black person who we did not know. Only this time those tears will only be cried by black women. All black lives are not mourned equally.

Because Korryn dared to be a vocal black woman — one who may or may not have been legally armed — there is no outcry for her except from other black women. There will be no outraged celebrities. Protesters won’t flood the streets in cities across the nation. Public officials will not demand accountability for the officers who killed her. Presidential candidates will not condemn the police department for their failure to de-escalate considering a child was present. President Obama will not tell the nation Korryn could’ve been his daughter. News and cable networks won’t profit off her death by hosting Town Hall meetings. Black men will not grieve her as they have the long list of black men killed similarly. In fact, black men will adopt the language of our oppressors to blame her for her own murder.

Black men couldn’t wait to vocalize their hatred for black women. “It’s looking mighty justifiable right now” and “Korryn Gaines deserved to die” and “Basically asked for it” and “She decided to be reckless with her son and her own life” and “Korryn Gaines was an ignorant, loud mouth little girl.” Those are just a few. Tucking in their hatred is hard to do, even when two black children are left without a mother.

Black men's hero, Malcolm X, telling the painful truth about black women.

Black men’s hero, Malcolm X, telling the painful truth about black women.

These are the same black men who automatically don’t trust police accounts in killings where the victim is a black man, but are quick to believe Korryn was pointing a gun at the police when they entered her home. Despite her documented recordings of run-ins with the Baltimore County police, black men aren’t thinking maybe this woman was targeted. Black men are not playing detective to figure out the truth in this strange story the police tell of using the landlord’s key to enter her home. Black men are not rallying for an end to a system that sends a SWAT team to someone’s home over non-violent traffic violations. Black men are not calling foul, because even if she was armed, white suspects with guns are apprehended alive all the time. Black men are not questioning how she could hold her phone to record, hold her son and allegedly hold a shotgun in her hand all at the same time. Black men aren’t sympathetic to her developmental disability due to lead poisoning, which could’ve affected her reasoning the day she was murdered. Nope. Black men are saying she deserved to die because she was a crazy fool and a shitty mother for daring to be free.

Ain’t that peculiar?

Black men must remove the word revolutionary from their vocabulary. One minute it’s “fuck the police” and the next it’s Korryn was reckless. Black men love the iconic photo of their hero Malcolm X looking out the window of his home, shotgun in hand to protect his family, but Korryn possibly having a gun means she deserved death. They cheer on Nat Turner but who does Korryn think she is to protect her family. Black men either don’t know what revolutionary really means or think the word is reserved for them solely.

Remove it from your tongues.

It’s not just about Korryn. It’s about black womenfolk being de mules of the world at the hands of black men. Folks called Sandra Bland sassy. Said had she not talked back she would’ve lived. No one showed up for the Rekia Boyd rally in NYC. When we talk to black men about the dangers of street harassment we are met with death and rape threats. Statistics show violence against black women is mostly at the hands of black men, but we’re shouted over for bringing that up. Then when we tell black men that we, too, are killed by police, we are told now is not the time to be divisive. You will get to us after we take care of our “kings.”

But you see, that doesn’t work for me. My liberation is not going to come after. I’m not suffering through black men’s harmful misogynoir while black women’s freedom becomes a ‘maybe we’ll get to it in the next lifetime’ non-priority. I’m not adding a “not all black men” caveat to my truths in order to coddle hurt feelings. My life is literally on the line. And my freedom can’t wait.

Either cis black men are going to center black women so we can all get free together, or my freedom fighting will be reserved for black women and black queer folks. Do what you want with that. But my freedom can’t wait. I won’t wait for you to see my humanity while I fight for yours.

While you’re denying our humanity, remember this: Putting off black women’s liberation for tomorrow is a dangerous game. Because ain’t a single liberation movement survived without us.

To Korryn and Sandra and all the black women who refuse to bow, refuse to shutup, we got you. Rest easy knowing black women said your name and refused to let them forget.

For My Friend, Feeney

The mayor tweeted about you. He posted that Making Your Mark on the World pilot video. I only made it to 1:27 before the tears fell.

Since I heard the news via text I’ve had a hard time coping with the words RIP next to your name. Because being dead at 32 doesn’t make much sense. You were very much alive when we talked a little over a week ago. And now that you’re not, I don’t understand the whys and hows.

Ten days ago I texted you to see how the preparations for the move to Atlanta were going. You said you had a lot to do so you’d postponed the move. You were going to have an intimate going away party at Angel Harlem. I was so proud of you although I was secretly sad you were leaving. Remember I kept calling this our glo’ up season? We were about to glo’ up on everybody. You at CNN.com as the entertainment editor, me writing for new mainstream publications. It was our time.

 

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I remember the day we met. It was June 06, 2011 at a NYABJ meeting. We had a good laugh with Jessica because me being me, I raised my hand to ask a very blunt but relevant question. We still laugh about that to this day. The next day I emailed all of you so you’d have my contact info. You were the only person on the thread who responded.

Hey Bené,

Good meeting you as well. Let’s make some things happen for NYABJ — it’s apparent they really need us.

Hit me on Twitter: @MFeeney and @NYDNMFeeney.

All the best,

Michael J. Feeney
Staff Writer
NY Daily News

That’s the kind of man you were.

Who knew a year later you’d be running things as president of NYABJ. You were literally the only reason I came to those damn meetings. I’m not a big fan of forced networking. You’d tell me that was all the more reason to come. At your last meeting as president I beamed with pride seeing you at that podium. You were a beacon of light for the org. Instead of complaining about the things you wanted to see done with NYABJ, you sprung into action. When you emailed me at the end of 2011 to tell me you were running, I knew you’d win. How could you not? So seeing you honored for your four years of service, and everyone toasting you for everything you’d accomplished, was a proud moment as your friend. Even though the meeting was to celebrate you, the first thing you said when you saw me was, “Awww man. I meant to shout you out.” I had just written the Shonda Rhimes covers, and you, in your moment, were thinking about how you wanted the room to celebrate me.

That was the kind of man you were.

The last time we hung out was the night of the NYABJ Christmas party at Clyde Frazier’s. You had a cold. I could tell you were tired and slightly sick. You weren’t your usual upbeat self. I waited with you until the party was over as you rolled up some banner. Even on your way out the door you were still working. You drove me to the train in your white car with NY press plates. I didn’t even know press plates existed until hanging with you. In the car, I had just received the edits to a major piece and was near tears. I hated the edits. You were talking and I was halfway listening because I was knee deep in writing an email over the edits. I read you the email and you laughed in my face. You flat out told me not to send that email. It was too emotional and could be interpreted wrong. I scrapped it and sent something with less words, less feelings. We sat in the car for a few minutes to talk before I got on the train. When I got home I texted you, “Thanks for reeling me back in. That email I was about to send was about to be too LIT.” Your response: “Lol. You have an opportunity that few ever get. You are a good writer and they know it. I’m proud of you and proud to call you my friend. Keep up the good work! Sometimes you just gotta keep your emotions in check. You’re too good to be showing out! Lol.”

That was the kind of man you were.

Always looking out, always wanting to see everyone shine, always being a friend that told me the truth — not just what I wanted to hear.

I’m so angry that was the last time I hugged you. That I’ll never ride in that white car again. That I’m fighting to remember what your laugh sounds like.

Over the last year that our friendship grew, I don’t think I got to tell you that you were the only person who I consistently talked to about the thing we always talked about. We encouraged each other. You passed on contacts. I texted to see how you were doing. We threw shade at silly things celebs were doing. When I wrote that Chi-Raq review on my blog you texted me how I needed to pitch it and be paid for that piece. You were always thinking about the work and how us writers should be compensated for it.

That’s the kind of man you were.

Remember when we started getting close. You told me I needed a male brain trust for the men I was dating. I texted you about this guy I was talking to who went to Delaware State with you. You told me he was good people. But you thought everybody was good people. You had love for everybody. I told you the guy and I had no chemistry. You told me to give it time. It didn’t work out, but I appreciated that you were hopeful. That’s when our friendship blossomed.

I’ve sobbed on and off all evening. I aimlessly checked Twitter and Facebook to read people’s amazingly kind words about you. Through the grief I keep going back to our texts. Even through tears I smile and laugh at some of the things we used to write in those texts. It’s so unreal that you’ll never text me again.

To think that you went into cardiac arrest when you had the heart of gold is not lost on me. Before today I always thought the saying “the good die young” was stupid. I mean, the good die at all ages. I think I understand now. You were just 32. You are still supposed to be here.

Your accomplishments in journalism go without saying. And many people will honor you with their words over the upcoming weeks. I know what I’ve written here doesn’t do you justice. I really don’t have the words but I had to write. You, more than anyone, would understand that.

As I end this I’m thinking about October. We went to a booty modeling event together and had one of the best nights I’ve had in NYC. A freaking booty modeling event! Man, I miss you already.

Trust and know you were loved. How you touched people, how you connected people, how you lived life, will never be forgotten. In your honor we’re all going to live a little more and write a little harder.

I’m incredibly grateful to call you a friend. You saw the best in me.

Tell God I’d prefer it if you were here with us, but I at least know you’re up there with a pen in your hand, taking notes. You wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rest in love, my friend. The good really do die young.

The Year of Bitter Sweetness

Everything heals.

This year was a whirlwind of bitter sweetness. Growing pains are uncomfortable. They require isolation. A kind of isolation that suffocates in aloneness and silence. There was lots of time to think. And write privately and not at all.

In 2015 I gave myself the gift of loving me unconditionally. Not the fake kind of self-love made for IG quotes, but the real kind of consuming, unwavering, dance naked in the mirror kind of love. The self-pleasuring kind where I explored my own body. The kind of love that can take a lifetime. On the days I didn’t feel pretty I reminded myself I am pretty. The days I touched the rolls in my tummy I squeezed them tighter while laughing at how I refuse to do sit ups. The days I was mean to people who deserved it —and others who didn’t — I loved myself anyway. When I felt demoralized and debilitated from seven months of unemployment I reminded myself I am worthy. On the days that turned into months where I was too depressed to lift my head from the pillow so I sat in darkness for a full 24 hours I reminded myself it was temporary. I told myself I was dope and believed it. It was an arduous but necessary task. Had I not learned to wholly love me I would’ve crumbled.

Sweetness came in the form of cover stories and bylines in new publications. Sweetness came in being able to say no to work that didn’t inspire me — while being able to pay my rent solely from freelancing. It came through the soulfulness of Jazmine Sullivan singing my life in Central Park. Sweetness came in Rome where I travelled alone but was never really by myself. It came in the oysters and étouffée fries in NOLA. Sweetness came in meeting new people, reconnecting with lost ones. Sweetness came in the laughter of family. It came on the dance floor at Bed-Vyne and Franklin Park. Sweetness came in the freedom to create what moves me. It came in my comfort in being alone. Sweetness came in the form of sisterhood. It came in unpacking layers. Sweetness came in drunken nights with boys in bars. It came on magazine shoots in the presence of success. Sweetness came through the words of writers I’d idolized praising me for accomplishments. It came in healing wounds. Sweetness was all around.

The bitter parts of the year are harder to write about. Over the years I’ve repeatedly asked myself if I’m addicted to a narrative of struggle and pain. I don’t want that to be the case but I’m not sure it’s not. This was the first year someone used my own words to try to make me feel low. I knew it would happen one day and the thought alone made me write less, and at times less transparently.  The real version of the bitter parts would expose a handful of people who honestly don’t deserve the attention. So the safe version is this: A few people showed me their authentic selves. For that I am grateful. It was real quiet for chicks who were on my line daily during their breakups and unemployments and assaults but got ghost when I needed the same. Someone who was an advisor of sorts turned out to be a human dumpster who admittedly bashes me to folks and entertains hella gossip about me all because I told them the truth when asked my opinion. The extended version is much more grimy. Fuckboy betrayed me many times all while playing victim to his hordes of women. I’m talking a chick living with him while lying to me about it, giving my number to other chicks he’s smashed, sending people to my house. Real fuckboy shit.Thankfully I got the last laugh. When I wrote my first cover story, which Fuckboy had once told me I pretty much couldn’t do, he was the one person I wanted to talk about it with for so many reasons. That’s bittersweetness for your ass. People behind the scenes doing what they do best — be fake and talk shit. Family drama on my dad’s side. It’s always his side. And there’s the much tougher bitterness to cope with: the self-inflicted kind.

But I’m not mad at 2015. I did a lot of wrong and a lot of right. Even at my lowest I did good things for people, the kind of stuff I didn’t publicize for the ‘gram. For every bitter moment there were five sweet ones. For every person I rightfully purged there were ten more who showed up when it mattered most. And the wins, the wins were far more epic than the losses. It was a good year of preparedness for the success to come.

I learned healing is a slow process. It didn’t look how I thought it should. It didn’t happen when I wanted it to. It didn’t involve anyone else. It was mine alone to grapple with. I came out on the other side.

Everything heals.

For that I am grateful. 2015 was the year of self-love, growing pains, first-time accomplishments, resilience, surviving, living and healing. Getting back to me. I chose me. Again and again and again. And again some more.

‘Chi-Raq’ Does A Disservice To Black Women And Chicago

Spike Lee is forever controversial. Sometimes he says dope, important things on gentrification like, “Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.” Sometimes he says dangerous, dumb things like, “I think a sex strike could really work on college campuses where there’s an abundance of sexual harassment or date rapes.” See? Forever controversial. Sometimes poignantly on point, sometimes too far gone. Chi-Raq is undoubtedly the latter.

New York City’s finest gathered at the Zeigfeld Theater to lay eyes on Lee’s latest creative offering. A Spike Lee joint brings out the old, the young, the rich, the poor and everything in between. The invite-only screening included the star-studded cast: Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, LaLa Anthony and Nick Cannon along with celeb friends there to support. Before the film started there was something like what Black church folks call Announcements. Lee gave personal shout-outs to all the celebs in the building. Rev. Al Sharpton made a speech on how this film was going to save lives although I imagine he’d never seen the film since he was at the screening like everybody else. A white man told the crowd they’d be marching to Times Sq. after the film in protest of anti-gun violence. Finally, there was a prayer led by Father Michael Pflegler. A bow your head so we can thank Lee for this god-awful movie type prayer. I’m sure the actual prayer was about combatting violence in our communities, but I was in such shock that we were bringing the Lord into a movie screening that I had to tweet through it.

One of my first concerns was the sheer number of white people in the theater who would undoubtedly take this film seriously. If I see one white writer waxing poetic about how Chi-Raq is a brilliant analysis of violence in Chicago I may shake the table. Based on the trailer I already had serious doubts and low expectations. But a foolish part of me had a tiny bit of hope that Lee would prove us all wrong, making the Twitter elite who rage against everything, eat their words. After all, this is the dude that gave us Malcolm X and School Daze and Bamboozled and my favorite movie of all-time, Crooklyn. But remembering the catastrophe that was 2012’s Red Hook Summer, I knew Chi-Raq would be bad. I’d hoped otherwise.

Chi-Raq is the story of Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), the girlfriend of Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), convincing the women in Chicago to go on a sex strike until there’s a peace treaty between rivalry gangs. The wives, girlfriends and female affiliates of the Spartans and Trojan gangs are fed up of innocent children dying. They join forces to mastermind a plan to bring about peace. It all comes to a head when the ladies take over a national guard unarmed. Chi-Raq (Cannon) is the leader of the Spartans gang with ambitions of blowing up as a superstar rapper. He has no interest in “elevating his mind” for peace. Now I don’t know on what planet we’re supposed to be convinced that Cannon is a gang banger or good rapper, but here on planet Earth I assure you we’re not. Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) is head of the Trojans who’s always down for the shoot ’em up, bang bang life so he also has zero interest in 86’ing beefs with enemies. Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson) is the narrator who moves the story along in rhyme. With his pimp cane and colorful suits he’s one of the few bright spots in this otherwise dreadful satire. Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack) is the neighborhood pastor — the only one with some real sense who gives long dialogs about the NRA, the corrupt government, race and poverty. Turns out he’s as crooked as everybody else. There’s other appearances from Dave Chapelle, Angela Bassett, LaLa, Jennifer Hudson and Harry Lennix, but not even the star-studded cast could save Lee’s attempt at turning a greek comedy into anything worth watching.

As a comedy it fails. As a hot take on “black-on-black crime” it fails. As a version of Lysistrata it fails. As a film it fails. Chi-Raq is one long hotep sermon on how intraracial crime is our real problem. How black folks are doing white supremacy’s work by killing each other. How cops won’t respect us if we don’t respect ourselves. And how the real power that women have is in our vaginas because if we just withhold sex all would be right in the world. It’s full-on hotep, straight from the pages of the Third Eye Woke section of Twitter.

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I get it. It’s satire. But Lee wants us to take it seriously, which is why he led a march after the film. It’s why in every recent interview he hit us with the “but what about ‘black-on-black’ crime” detraction. It’s why he’s repeatedly said this film will save lives. How am I supposed to take this seriously when Lee uses the original names from Lysistrata for his main characters and gangs? I’m pretty sure Chicago is short on brothers named Cyclopes or Dolmedes. I’m not well-versed on Chicago gangs, but I’m pretty sure there’s no Spartans and Trojans riding through the streets throwing up their sets.

Then there’s Lee’s problem with women. He has always had a problem creating female characters. Always. In Chi-Raq the women are nothing more than their vaginas. “No peace, no pussy!” they chant. The only power they have is between their thighs. Women only exist for the pleasure and control of men. Guess what, though? Women enjoy sex. We love it! Why should women have to deprive ourselves of sexual fulfillment to cajole grown ass men? Not to mention the idea of black women withholding sex completely ignores the real life violence black women face at the hands of black men. So while the women are withholding sex to end gang-related violence, who is fighting for violence and sexual assault against black women? Yeah. It’s quiet on that front.

The women of Chi-Raq have no identities of their own. No aspirations or goals. No jobs. No wants or needs. Literally all we see them doing is existing for men and to service men. They’re the ride or dies who foolishly believe their vaginas can end a war. Sure Lysistrata had the same premise of using a sex strike to end the Peloponnesian War. But a closer look at the play shows that the women had concerns about gender-based issues. The major difference is the women in Lysistrata detested how men saw them as only sexual objects and how their opinions went unheard. They wanted more than just the war to end, they wanted to be treated with respect. Chi-Raq’s women never suggest they have their own demands or desires.

I’m not sure why men don’t find this offensive too. The idea that women can control men’s actions through their vaginas implies men are nothing but mindless animals controlled by their penises.

The oversimplification of the causes of violence in Chicago is another blind spot for Lee. There are moments of speaking truth to power like when Miss Hellen (Angela Bassett) speaks on the comparison in how America responds to white Sandy Hook victims vs. countless black children who are victims of violence every day. There’s also Father Corridan who delivers a sermon that mentions how our kids are on the school-to-prison pipeline. Those moments are awesome but they don’t tell anyone who reads books anything we don’t already know. Those moments are overshadowed by the pervasive message that “black-on-black crime” is a symptom of ego. It does very little handling of the real causes of violence like poverty, discriminating housing practices, criminalization of black boys and girls, mass incarceration and several other issues that date back to Jim Crow. After the Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd and Trayvon Martin shoutouts we’re back to the “but what about ‘black-on-black’ crime” message.

Let’s say I could toss aside my feminist gaze and critic’s lens to just enjoy the film as pure entertainment. It still sucks. For God’s sake the entire movie is in rhyme. As in you have to sit through a musical of sorts listening to characters rhyme what’s supposed to be serious dialogue on violence. What was funny to others was corny to me. You know when somebody says something at a stuffy panel or at the work happy-hour that isn’t really funny but because it’s supposed to be funny and you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings so people just laugh anyway? That’s what the comedy throughout the film is like. I genuinely laughed maybe twice. You know who didn’t laugh not once? Al Sharpton. I know because I sat right behind him.

I won’t even get into Cannon’s lyrics that sound like nothing you’d hear in a real rap song. I won’t even touch on how Lee’s interpretation of the hood in Chicago is people smoking blunts, sexing after cleaning their guns, pouring lean and thinking about gang banging under graffiti painted bridges all day. Literally the people in Chi-Raq did nothing else. Except Miss Hellen who didn’t own a TV because she read books instead. She’s the enlightened one. I won’t even touch on how his comparison of the Iraq War casualties vs. Chicago homicides is factually bankrupt. I won’t even touch on how the opening song after Cannon’s is R. Kelly. Yes, the I rape and molest children R. Kelly. I won’t even go into the soundtrack being about as uninspiring as the film. I won’t even go into how dangerous the message of the film is for Black girls and women.

I’ve not hated a film with this much ire since Django Unchained. I left the theater with a headache. To see such a talented group of actors handed such a shitty script annoyed the hell out of me. Teyonah Parris is amazing. Angela Bassett’s name speaks for itself as does Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes. But actors can only deliver on what they’re given. There was no character development. No real storyline that connected any of the characters in any meaningful way other than Chicago violence.

I didn’t leave the theater feeling hopeful about violence. I didn’t leave the theater feeling connected to any of the characters. I didn’t feel like Lee told the truth to shame the devil in terms of black folks plight in America. I don’t feel like Lee gave us nuanced, authentic representation. I didn’t leave the theater feeling like I’d at least had a good laugh. If art is supposed to make you feel, all it made me feel was annoyed about the two hours of my life I’ll never get back.

I don’t know what’s happened to Spike Lee. Not only is he drunk on the Kool-Aid, he’s fooled these actors into actually believing they’re doing some type of humanitarian deed with this film. They are convinced there’s a greater message. The irony is that Chi-Raq is not much different than the very Tyler Perry films Lee detests. He thinks his bourgeoisie Fort Greene upbringing and Morehouse degree separates him from the ridiculousness of Perry’s Madea. But the difference between the two is barely detectable. Like much of Perry’s work, Chi-Raq is preachy. It lacks the grace of subtlety because he underestimates the intelligence of his audience.

Lee has churned out some damn good classics. I will never take that from him. But I couldn’t stomach this. It not only exploited Chicago on the backs of black women, it’s just an incredibly bad film.

If you want to waste your money, be my guest. Just don’t go thinking you’re about to get anything of substance. This doesn’t represent Chicago. At best you’ll at least have something to discuss with the incense lighting, “Feminism is ruining the black man” spouting, Black Queen Earth Woman hoteps in your life. But if your life is ash and hotep free, catch it on bootleg.

* I use quotes for “black-on-black” crime every single time because it’s a fallacy created by white supremacy and upheld by racist media. Majority of crime is intraracial. In other words, people kill who they live in close proximity to. White people kill mostly whites. FBI statistics are your friend. Google.

Unforgettable

Men’s feelings are detonating all around me. In the past week three men have randomly and unexpectedly told me they have never stopped loving me.

I went home for six days because my mom was being honored as the former Alumni Director, a position she held for nearly 12 years. It was also my alma mater’s homecoming so running into my old work was inevitable. Friday night was a bust because the one party that was popping had a ridiculously long line. I don’t do lines. Agenda was dead but at least I’d get to catch up on all the southern music that I never get to hear in NYC. (NYC DJs, please go to down south clubs to learn what songs to play at a party. Please.) Within five minutes we had drinks sent to us (and more offered) by different dudes. The beauty of southern men. I’d noticed an old flame spitting his best game to the bottle waitress. He denied it but he was clearly intrigued. Eventually he saw me and it was a scene. Him ushering me over to his section where his squad had ordered bottle service. A long hug. Him whispering in my ear. Me giggling in my royal blue pants jumpsuit, dancing as I walked. “That’s the Bené I know,” he quipped.

For over 30 minutes he rattled off his feelings along with questions. He wanted to know why he’d never been able to “get me.” We’d talked when I was in college. It never went anywhere. No kissing, no sleepovers, not much of anything other than phone calls. But here we were in the club talking over “What’s A Goon to a Goblin.” It was flirty banter at first. Then he got serious. “I love you, Bené. I’ve never stopped loving you. I’m in love with you.” You don’t even know me. Then I noticed the wedding ring on his left finger. That wasn’t there when I’d seen him at a different club last year during the holidays.

“Is that a wedding ring?”

“Yeah. I got married four months ago. I’m not gonna lie to you. I’ve never lied to you. That doesn’t change that I love you. Can we please go get something to eat after this?”

He knew the answer was going to always be no. It was no last year when he wasn’t married. It was definitely no now.

*******

That same night my first love told my homegirl he was coming to meet her at the same club we were at. “Ummm, Bené is with me,” she texted him. “Good. I want to see her.”  The bouncer wouldn’t let him in with his hat so we never saw each other. A few days after I got back to BK I FB messaged him a one sentence question. Instead of answering my question he typed his number. I took that as a yes to my question because if it was no he would’ve said that, right? We sent a couple short exchanges back and forth before all of his feelings came out.

I will always care deeply for you Bené. I honestly think of you daily. I visit your website periodically just to feel close to you. No matter what happened between us I have always respected the fact that I know you genuinely showed me LOVE in the way you show someone your purest form of LOVE…and I did not nurture it in the manner it deserved…That is one of my few regrets…

The message was much longer, but that was the gist. I didn’t understand. We’d not been together since I was 17. We’ve had few real conversations in the past 13 years. Where was all this coming from?

*******

There’s another ex with much of the same sentiment. We were awful for each other. He cheated. We’d tussle. Disrespect was the norm. He’d call me a bitch, I’d call him a ho. He did some damn near unforgivable shit. We were wild and toxic and in love. And yes, I consider dysfunctional love, love. In July of 2014 he started sending me FB messages with soliloquies about how sorry he is, how I am the one, how his mom still asks for me, how he’ll drive to NYC just to see me, how he just wishes he knew then what he knows now. His exact words in the first message he sent was, “I hate that I messed up with u! I still love u no matter how many chicks I b with! I think about u all the time. Plz talk to me. I wish u the best. I care about u so much!!! We had bad times but I don’t think about them times I just only [think about] the good times. Can u plz write sumthing back plz!!!???????”

For years I had him blocked on my personal FB page so he’d just send messages to my author FB page. I’d ignore. Eventually I’d respond with a simple, “I hope you’re well.” I’d get 26 messages in return. I don’t hate the dude. I just have no interest in really talking to him. I thought ending my ignore method would ease his curiosity and he’d give up. Not at all. He’s messaged me as recent as September 28 and I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend. It’s been five years and two relationships later since I’ve seen or spoken to him.

Having men pour their hearts out to you — whether in the club or on FB — is supremely strange.

I’m a firm believer of: “If you’re a halfway decent woman, he’ll come back. They always come back.” I’ve said this since I started dating in my late teens. It’s not exactly surprising that most of my exes have tried to come back or that men I used to date still want a chance. The ones who never had me still want that achievement. The ones who did, well, I can’t quite figure out what their deal is. But it makes me wonder why men don’t come to these conclusions sooner. Why the apologies take a decade. Why can’t they get it together when they still have you.

Let any of them tell it way back when, I would’ve been described with some unpleasant adjectives. “I can’t win for losing with you” or “you don’t trust me” are phrases I’ve heard from probably all my exes but one. And they weren’t necessarily wrong for feeling that way, but if I was all those things, why all the confessions years later? Why the daily thoughts of me? Why all the reassurance that I was/am a good woman? (Of course I am!) Why not feel like good riddance to her?

Part of me doesn’t understand having feelings for someone 10+ years later because I’ve never gone back to an ex. When I’m done I’m done. It may take a while for me to get there but there’s never any coming back once I’ve reached the point of you-no-longer-exist-to-me. There is not one man that I still have feelings for or still love. I’m a firm believer in moving forward in life — with everything — not backward. So the idea of harboring feelings for someone for a decade is unimaginable to me. Which leads me to the theory that men don’t take the time to heal after a breakup so they never truly get over certain exes. Men tend to trade the tears, depression and weight gain/loss for hoeing. While women usually mourn breakups, self-reflect and better themselves before moving on to the next man, men find something new to get up under. Fast. Hence why when women are finally done, we’re done. And why men are still confessing feelings decades later.

Of course this theory is only anecdotal. I don’t know that any of this means anything. Or that I even have a point. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to know men I once loved still have fond feelings of me when I was often Public Enemy No. 1 while we were together. To admit that they messed up and didn’t nurture the love I gave is very mature thing to do. It’s appreciated. And if I’m being really real it’s validating in a ego-driven way. It’s nice to be unforgettable.

The Spark

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about spark — how important it is and whether it must exist for me to develop feelings for a man.

I met a boy. He’s a for real grown man, actually. He reads. Travels. He has the prettiest green eyes I’ve ever seen on a man. He listens. He’s tallish and cornbread-fed like I like ’em. He has no problem spending money. Plans great dates. Calls or texts every day. He’s consistent. I can be myself around him. And we have fun together. But The Spark is nonexistent. I don’t want to kiss him at the end of the night. I don’t want to see what’s under the black leather jacket that highlights his chiseled arms. I don’t know that I’d want to cuddle with him after a drunken night of too many Jacks and ginger.

What is wrong with me?

He’s not the first. In the last year there’ve been many suitors. One that I liked, we had The Spark. Some were cool to be the homie. Some had epic flaws that I didn’t have the patience to overlook. Others were great guys on paper but that damned spark never showed up.

What exactly is The Spark? I don’t know. But you know when it’s there and you know when it’s not. It’s the thing that makes you giddy like a middle school girl with acne when your phone vibrates and it’s him. It’s when you talk on the phone for hours and one person has to force the other to hang up first. It’s your face lighting up when telling your girlfriends how much he’s into you. It’s blushing when he calls you baé or babe. It’s cowing over in embarrassment when a piece of lettuce is in your tooth because you want him to only see you looking flawless. It’s the organic connection like you can talk about anything — and you do — and it feels like you’ve known him your whole life. It just is. And when it ain’t, it ain’t.

I’ve had The Spark with every man I’ve been in a relationship with. I think. All those relationships ended within two years, all those relationships had some dysfunctional qualities. The chemistry and passion varied from man to man, but there was no doubt that thing that you can’t describe but you know you need it. Now I’m thinking maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe The Spark, and too much of it, is the problem.

At 30, I don’t know if it’s smart to rule out dudes solely because The Spark is missing in action.

On my first date with Green Eyes my girls texted the next day to see how it went.

“We stayed out until 3AM.”

“Yasssssss!”

“He opened all doors. Wore a suit jacket and hard bottoms. Was on time. Took me to Chef Roble’s restaurant, Streets BK, in Williamsburg. We never pulled our phones out in the three hours we were at the restaurant. Went to his friend’s new bar. Then went to Bed-vyne before calling it a night. It was a perfect date.”

“OMG. You about to be cuffed before cuffing season.”

“There’s no spark. I don’t think I’m ever going to like anybody ever again. I’m gonna cut him off.”

“Girl, what??? Maybe the chemistry thing will change. Just wait and see.”

“That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. If it ain’t there it ain’t there.”

“Sigh.”

Dating is bizarre, man. I, an intelligent human being who loves love, am considering 86ing a guy because The Spark isn’t fireworks. It’s not even the ‘hood fire crackers the kids pop on any given summer night.

Or maybe I’ll keep him around and instead of The Spark we’ll have mutual respect with minimum to no conflicts and it’ll be the the healthiest situation I’ve ever had with a man I’m dating.

A girl can dream.

I Wrote My First Cover Story – Behind the Scenes

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By now you’ve likely seen the news: I wrote my very first cover story. I say you’ve likely seen it not out of arrogance, but because it was an epic unveiling. “Good Morning America” exclusively revealed all six covers on September 10 at 8:30 a.m. I shamelessly tuned in. And DVRd. The cover story rollout took over my social media for an entire day. Literally. My mentions on Twitter were in shambles. I had no idea my announcing of it would be retweeted  by more than a handful of people, let alone by nearly 400. I received a boatload of Facebook requests (all of which I can’t accept so please look for me here). My testimony on “doing the work” has 145 shares and 278 likes. Kerry Washington and Shonda and Viola and more reposted their covers on Instagram and Twitter. Joan Morgan who helped shape my feminism gave me an amazing compliment on FB. Ava DuVernay posted the covers and favorited my tweet. It was a day of magic. Not so much because of me, but because it was historic. In ESSENCE’s 45 year existence they’ve never done six covers for one story. And that is the power of Shonda Rhimes, ladies and gentleman.

I won’t rehash the “inspiring” and “you brought me to tears” backstory because the FB status is public and you can read it there. I want to take you behind the scenes of what it was like being in the presence of such #BlackExcellence in the opulent Palace Hotel in the Katz Jewel Suite for two days. From all accounts, it was the first time all three casts of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder were in the same room. It certainly was the first group photo they’d taken for a magazine spread. Sure they see each other on red carpets in passing or at the ABC Upfronts — Upfronts is when networks announce their fall programming lineup. But the cast had never been together in this way.

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This photo was shared between ESSENCE, Entertainment Weekly and People. The camaraderie was apparent. The loving energy was palpable. These 35 or so people who all work under the Shondaland umbrella genuinely liked and respected each other. As you’ll read in the piece, it’s due to Shonda’s “no asshole” policy that she’s very serious about. There was lots of laughter. A lot of hugs. Basically a family reunion without the potato salad and electric slide.

The day after the group shot was all ESSENCE (read: all the Black folks). It was magical. I’ve been on magazine shoots before for stories like my Raisin in the Sun profile starring Diahann Carroll and Anika Noni Rose. But never a cover story shoot, and it was quite different than a package shoot. First of all, walking in to The Palace Hotel for two days (three if you include Viola’s shoot) as a Black girl with blue hair felt so good. I felt the stares. I imagine many people wondered what could a Black girl with blue hair do for a living. I smiled at everyone with my head held high. The Jewel Suite is pure decadence. From the Martin Katz crystal chandelier to the spiral staircase to the decor. And the 54 stories skyscraper view is top-notch. It’s a suite you wish you could afford so you could come back alone, or with a love, to enjoy a weekend staycation to pretend as if this is your real life. However, there’s not much time to bask in the beauty of the suite. There’s lots of movement and lots of waiting, too.

Tons of people are around. The celebrities. Their PR. The network’s PR. Hairstylist. Wardrobe stylist. Barbers. Manicurist. Photographer. Beauty Directors. Creative Directors. And so on. I had 10 people to interview in one day. Viola Davis was interview number 11, but her shoot was scheduled for a different day. Interviewing 10 people in between hair, makeup, styling and their photoshoots sounds like pure chaos. Not to mention some of them are household names like Kerry Washington, Chandra Wilson and of course Shonda Rhimes. There’s limited time because schedules are tight. However, I have zero complaints on how everything ran. It was a long, long day that ran smoother than a baby’s bottom. The ESSENCE team along with ABC’s PR helped me grab the actors as they were available. Everyone was so down to earth and chill. No egos. They were super personable. I can’t tell you how many of the actors said, “Oh my god, I LOVE your hair!”

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I was most nervous about interviewing Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis. Shonda is the most powerful showrunner in television. And if you’ve read enough of her interviews or follow her on Twitter you know she is no-nonsense. A brilliant woman who is not here for anyone’s foolishness. I was nervous about Viola for different reasons but nervous nonetheless. Shonda’s warmness surprised me. She was genuine. You could tell why everyone under the Shondaland family praised her. It wasn’t like two old girlfriends catching up, but it was two women — both writers — talking to each other with a respect and acknowledgment of their crafts. Viola was just as warm. Serious about what she wanted to convey, serious about the craft of acting, but nice. She dropped a really good gem about being yourself and how the status quo doesn’t change because everyone in Hollywood is trying to be a version of someone else and no one speaks up.

Alfred Enoch who plays Wes in HTGAWM was funny with his delightful British accent. Aja Naomi King who plays Mikaela in HTGAWM is both gorgeous and just a good soul. We had the same “Love” tattoo. We had quite a few ki kis. And Jerrika Hinton who plays Stephanie Edwards on Grey’s was a vibrant thing. Her personality lit up the room. She told this amazing story about Debbie Allen when I asked her the funniest moment of filming on Grey’s. She responded:

Yes! Just this season, I can’t remember what episode we were shooting, but it was group scene in the ER, nobody…For some reason something was happening. There was something in the air that day and we couldn’t keep it together. Like, we were trying to do this really serious thing and this trauma comes in, and Kevin is yelling all these orders at us and we just keep cracking up. Nobody can hold it together and Debbie was directing that episode. After about five times Debbie just runs out and she’s like, ‘OKAY EVERYBODY, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT. ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE…’ And everybody, like everybody: crew, cast, everybody just jumps in ‘ONE, TWO, THREE…’ And she got it out of us. [Laughter]

And then you were ready to get back to work? I asked.

And then we could do it. That’s the magic of Debbie Allen.

It’s been a beautiful struggle. I’m already on to the next thing. People have moved on to the next topic. But I couldn’t not recognize this moment for what it is. It is proof that doing the work matters. Believing in yourself matters. Never giving up matters. Not only does it matter, it produces results. It took me five years of professional writing to get here. I’ve written plenty for free. I’ve written some horrible things that I hope are scrubbed from the ‘net. I still pitch ideas and never hear back from editors. I physically went to offices with my resume but couldn’t get past security. I’ve emailed editors to set up coffee dates to no avail. I’ve paid my dues. It took me two years to land my first media job. I could write a book alone on that suffocating two year period. Since then I’ve suffered through two layoffs. But somehow I’ve kept writing and remained committed to the craft. I’m happy to be part of such a historic moment with my ESSENCE family. And even happier that my first cover star was a brown girl from suburban Chicago who is at the top of her field all because she “imagined things in her head” and with her words made them a reality.

Today

I saw your friend today walking down Nostrand Ave. We did that awkward dance of not being douchebaggy enough to pretend we didn’t know each other, but not sure what to say since our only connection was you. “That’s what I’m talking about!” he yelled, pointing to my Aquamarine and baby blue hair before we embraced. I awkwardly asked him if he and his fiancé had married, not knowing what else to say. “Not yet.” Luckily he was on the phone. I don’t think we could’ve walked away from each other fast enough.

I’m happy they’re still together. I can’t help but think how we are not.

It’s not fair.

I want to scream it for the world to hear. The words bubble up in the pit of my aching stomach, planting themselves in my heart. The one that’s broken. The one I’m not sure will ever work again. The one I can’t imagine loving anyone else with because I can’t bare the thought of love then loss.

Hours after bumping in to your boy I scrolled Instagram. On one of our mutual “friend’s” post I saw you wishing a beautiful girl happy birthday. “Thank you love,” she wrote back. You both followed each other shortly after that exchange. I closed out the app. I cannot escape you. Yet you are not here.

Our ghosts haunt this city. No place feels safe. Too many memories. All of them lingering, none fading away. I have done everything but spells and magic to make them disappear.

Every time well-meaning friends offer the misguided equivalent of “Let go, move on, or fuck him,” I want to yell at them. Somehow I’m the only one that understands a death has occurred. Do they not see all the signs of loss and grief? How could they not. The world tells us, especially us women folk, to let go lest we become Bitter Bettys. “Let that hurt go, ma!” is a popular insult tossed around on social media when women express any type of emotion. People’s pain is funny to many. And we wonder why everyone’s afraid to feel.

It’s not fair.

There have been men. They are intrigued. Who is this woman who laughs loudly, says exactly what she means, is confident in her talents and commands the attention of a room? Their curiosity does not hold my interest. I am bored. No one has shown me anything close to an organic chemistry I once knew.

One wanted to cuddle. No sex. I let him. Between my sheets his arms around my waist felt like mere weight suffocating me. He was cute. We’d hung out a lot. Always had fun. Kissed. But I was repulsed by cuddling with him. I was happy to scurry him off the next morning. He offered to take me to breakfast. I declined. He still calls. I never answer.

Another just wanted sex. I did too. That’s the end of that story.

The others are but a footnote. They will have had no lasting impact other than to remind me that I am wanted at a time I needed to feel wanted.

Oddly, I am the happiest I’ve ever been. For my 30th birthday, the one you pretended to forget, I traveled through Rome. And Florence. Best trip of my life. One of the best times of my life.

I spend a lot of time alone. It’s good for me. I have fallen in love with myself. Maybe that’s the best gift you ever gave me. Fuck that. I gave it to myself.

I laugh a lot. I cry a lot less.

In January a friend told me, “This is going to be your year if you let it.” It was in reference to letting you go. I think she was right. The Universe has come through with opportunities I doubt I’d have if I were with you. I feel grateful for my life every day.

But inside my head there’s still a gnawing soundbite. ‘It’s not fucking fair!’

You wreaked havoc on my life without a care in the world. You front for outsiders as if I never existed, as if we never existed. I hope that’s working out for you. We can ignore each other until eternity. I’ve still seen you naked.

Meanwhile my scars are visible. I pick at them, occasionally causing scabs. Once I have left the scar alone it disappears. I’m reminded of healing. The world wants healing to mean suffer in silence, act hard, don’t give him the satisfaction, don’t pick at the scab. Doing it the world’s way would have certainly killed me. Keeping this story inside of me would’ve done the same.

I hate you. I’m not too doped up on self-help books to say it. I do not wish you a lifetime of happiness. I will not rush my process to appear to be above the fray. I’ll leave that for all the women poorly advising other women to let go when they’ve not figured out how to do so themselves.

I hate you because we are no longer best friends. For having to pick up the pieces of a life I had mapped out for a lifetime with you. For having to come to grips with the fact you were never The One. For all the women — platonic or otherwise — who get to share your life while I don’t. Fuck them. For the embarrassment. For being afraid to write this because of what the “industry” will think. For not being able to listen to Nas without thinking of you.

For forcing me to see how happy I am without you.

Let’s not misconstrue any of this to mean I want you back. Or that I blabber to my girls about you all the time. Or that I’m sitting home singing Not Gon’ Cry. None of this means you were a flawless prize either. Your current/next/future girl has her work cut out for her. Godspeed. But you were my flawed everything. Now you are nothing but a painful part of my past.

Of everything I’ve learned over the years— in books, on the streets — nothing teaches you how to mend a broken heart. Nothing prepares you for one either. All the tips on busying yourself until your head spins, hanging out with your friends, getting new hobbies, I’ve done it all to infinity. The hole in my heart is still there. And underneath the hole is a cut left by anger and resentment from being hurt.

You hurt me.

I love love. I love to be in love. You took that away from me. Vulnerability is something I can no longer afford. I wanted to die when we died. I want to live now. I choose to avoid anything that can ever make me feel like death is an option.

You were reckless with my love. I’ve given up on waiting for the “Sorry I hurt you and did shitty things to keep hurting you” apology. It is of little use to me now.

But how I feel from time to time, how not a day goes by that I don’t think about you, that is not fucking fair.

Such is life. Such is matters of the heart.

One day you’ll be a footnote like the others. I’ll barely remember the whys and whats of my heart that you left shattered like a million tiny pieces of shard. One day I’ll laugh about how silly it was to be this pitiful over a man— one that is 5″4 nonetheless.

Today is not that day. I hope that day comes soon.

The Blog Post About Nothing

Yes, the title of this post is a play off Wale’s forthcoming album, The Album About Nothing. I felt the need to write something considering my last blog was in July 2014. I clicked on this draft from September 9, 2014 that was originally titled “Lessons,” made a few edits and viola.

Truth is I’m not ready to write (let alone publish) what’s bubbling inside my soul begging to bleed out on the page. The words doing gymnastics in my head, the ones that keep me up at night, are still too raw for public consumption. Most of it needs to be saved for The Book anyway. When I penned this post back in September I wrote:

I’m in a state of self-reflection. A transition period. It’s painful. Wakes me up in the wee hours of the morning. Sends me into fits of tears at any point during the day. Tears rolled down my face last week as I sat on the subway. “It’s going to be all right,” a black woman said as I exited the subway car. “Thank you,” I murmured. She was the only stranger who hadn’t pretended to not see me crying.

I’m in my head. All the time. Over-thinking. Replaying conversations. I’m a ball of emotions that range from rage to severe sadness sometimes all within 15 minutes. I’ve started journaling every day. This probably should be a journal entry. Whatever.

I’d do anything to rush the process, to be out of it completely. Patience, my dear, my inner voice whispers. Growth takes time. I already see the shift. My perspective has changed. Confidence in myself is at an all time high. The belief that no matter what I’ll be ok is constant. I’m doing the things I’d put off for too long. I’m being kinder to myself through my thoughts and words, and it’s all mad uncomfortable. Discomfort now for greatness later? I hope so. God I hope so.

It’s March now; so much has changed. Thankfully I’m in a much happier space. When I first jotted down these 30 thoughts I was hoping they’d serve as the equivalent to Rihanna’s tatted reminder: “Never a failure, always a lesson.” Reading over them now I laugh at some, others I think, ‘That’s so basic.’ Coincidentally there’s 30 “lessons” for a lack of better word. I’ll be 30 in 23 days. I feel amazing about turning 30 and where my life is in this moment. I’m grateful for change. I’m thankful for progress. I’m humbled that I can, on occasion, pour out 1400 words that hopefully mean something to somebody.

1. “You should forgive yourself. There was a deliverance that came out of your mess.” – Tera Carissa

2. I am valuable. That doesn’t change based on circumstances or other people’s failure to see my worth.

3. Don’t do what you can’t handle others doing to you.
I hate being ignored by people I love. One day I was sitting in my fury at being ignored until I was forced to think about family members and friends I’d ignored in the past. I can easily act as if you no longer exist once I’m hurt. How could I really be annoyed at being ignored when I had done the exact same thing to people I cared about? Yeah. Shit doesn’t feel too good when you’re on the receiving end of it.

4. You’ll be fine. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next month. But damn it, you will.

5. Read all things warsan shire. Whenever. Always. She will help you get through.

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6. There is a divine power in women sharing our stories. To hear them, to know we’re not alone in this journey, to have another woman understand, is healing. Being a woman is truly one of the greatest gifts in the world.

7. Let go. Edit: In your own fucking time and not a minute sooner.
Do you know how much insignificant crap we hold on to that doesn’t matter? If the doctor told you you only had a month left to live would it really matter that your former boss threw you under the bus? Would you really care that some some chick called you a bitch? Will it matter you fought with your lover because he got so drunk he didn’t come home and ended up passed out in a cab? Before 30 I addressed old wounds. I was still picking at the scabs leaving them unhealed. I definitely let go of ill feelings for people who are no longer significant. I cleaned out Gmail drafts I had typed to people who I believed had wronged me. I stopped disliking people who I felt had crossed the line for whatever reason. Let me stop lying. A few of you bitches I still don’t like (I’m no Deepak Chopra). Point is: I don’t care anymore. There is no room for unnecessary baggage for where I am going in life. It’s too heavy to hold. Please let it go. It’s weighing you down, love.

8. Don’t lose yourself in a relationship. Never, ever.

9. Do what you keep putting off now.

10. What do you want? No, seriously. Stop thinking/worrying about what everyone else in your life wants, needs or expects from you. Live for you.

11. “Stop letting these n-ggas have so much power over your emotions.” – Me, 2012

12. Get off social media. And live.
I got off Twitter for a total of two months in the past six months. I was hands down happier during the periods I wasn’t on. I was 100% more productive too. The minute I slowly got back in the Twitter vortex I noticed the change in my mood. I rarely scroll my TL these days. I tweet randomly, and from my mentions. Knowing what everyone else is thinking and doing all the time pays me exactly zero dollars. Less social media has improved my quality of life significantly.

13. You only have control over you. Your thoughts, your actions, your feelings. You cannot control what anyone else chooses to do.

14. Fear is the thief of joy.

15. …and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love
– warsan shire

16. Don’t be unnecessarily difficult.

17. You can’t treat people badly and expect them to stay around forever. They will leave you. And they should.

18. Whatever you put in the Universe will come to fruition—good or bad. If you’ve already sown bad harvest then you’ll have to live with what’s to come. Stop now if you’re speaking venom and hatred and brokenness and negativity.

19. Love doesn’t conquer all. Sorry. It just doesn’t. Best you learn this now.

20. Life is long or short depending on your outlook. Make amends.

21. Get a therapist. You were dealt a bad hand in life. Ok. Now what? We all have our own version of hell on earth. No one cares. I certainly have a story that will either bring you to tears or cause your jaw to drop. Your life is your own to fix. Work it out in therapy.

22. You are who you are. Make tweaks to what you want to change, but don’t go trying to be somebody else. Warrior women, don’t you dare go contorting yourselves into being pleasant, jovial women who speak less because that’s what he wants. Fuck.That.Shit.

23. Call your parents and grandparents more. You’ll wish you had slowed down a little to cherish them when they’re gone.

24. Some things are worth fighting for. Others are not. Decide wisely which is which.

25. Your truth is yours to do what you want with. If your story involves someone else? Eh. It’s still yours. They kind of will have to deal.

26. You will feel like dying. (If you’ve never felt this way consider yourself blessed.) Death is such a final solution. Keep living. And see #21.

27. “The best revenge is living well [or success].” No. Fuck that. That’s too much negative energy toiling over revenge or hoping others see you shining. Live well for yourself. Don’t give a damn about doing it as “revenge.”

28. Find something to be grateful for. Every single day. It helps. I get a daily alert on my iPhone that reads, “Say five things you’re grateful for.” I stop whatever I’m doing in that moment to do it. Puts things into perspective.

29. This is most important: Fall in love with yourself wholly. It makes life so much easier. The sooner you do this the better.

30. “Life is too short to spend it at war with yourself.” Insecurities destroy everything. Self-doubt is a colossal waste of time. Don’t believe everything you tell yourself. Stop being at war with yourself and get on with the business of loving who you authentically are.

Bonus: Lean in. You listening? Everything you lose is not a loss. Feel me? I know you think it’s a tremendous loss. It hurts. You’re wondering if you’ll ever have something that feels so good. You want to know why God didn’t see fit to let this thing or person stay. Well, it wasn’t meant. Let go of the plan you had and what you think you’ve lost. Hold tight to all there is to gain. The Universe doesn’t remove anything from our lives without replacing it with something better. Believe that. Tattoo it on your forehead. Put it on a sticky note on your mirror. EVERYTHING YOU LOSE IS NOT A LOSS.

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