Category Archives: Millennial Thoughts

On the Precipice of Everything and Nothing

 

Sometimes I get tired.

I wonder, who am I fooling? Does what I do really matter?

Like this blog, for example— I’m still not convinced that anyone outside of my immediate family reads it anyway. Of course, like my proverbial friend the tree in the forest, I have to wonder if I am being heard. Because if not, do I even have a blog? Am I even writing?

Yes. I do.  Yes. I am.

I realize I have to believe that… or I would NEVER get anything done.

Looking back over the past two and half years since I moved into the wonderful New York City (where everyone aspires to be, and I am so lucky… blah, blah, blah), I can’t help but feel disappointed in myself with how little I’ve accomplished. Or rather, how little I’ve accomplished of my running list of goals and dreams.

On the precipice of everything and nothing.

That’s where I stand. It is a comfortable friend; a space I know well.

I am in the land of great possibility and ample opportunity… not to mention I am apart of the tech savvy “can do” generation known as the millennials. So where is my stop? I must have missed my exit, taken the wrong train, or got off at the wrong bus terminal. It’s the only explanation for the predicament in which I now find myself.

At first I thought the amount of excuses I made regularly was holding me back, but if I’m being honest with myself…

Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing anything.

It sounds terrible to say out loud, and it feels even worse to write it.

When someone doesn’t feel like working— when they literally have to drag their broken down , beaten-by-life-carcass into work everyday— it’s safe to say that person should be in the market for a new job. But is anything safe to say when someone can’t even get it together long enough to pursue their own passion projects?

It is a funny thing, what we call “work,” and how it relates to what we call “pleasure.”

When the two blend together into the seamless fabric of one’s life, it is impossible to realize the difference between the two. It is impossible to function.

Take that, and combine it with the fact that everything and everyone is on social media. Everyday I feel like I’m being sucked further and further down into the rabbit hole of perfectly curated instagram posts where every girl manages to maintain model-gorgeous looks while leading lives of purpose and glamour.

After so many of those “perfect” posts, I instantly compare myself to a life I know nothing about, while wanting to grab a pint of ice cream and crawl into bed. How on earth do I compete with that? What do I have to contribute?

And then, of course, there is the execution of the so-called passion projects… particularly when they demand the support of others. The reality of the situation can appear daunting at best, crippling at worst.

So you take a break. You heal.  You rediscover what the project first meant to you, and you redirect. You move on.

I move on.

HOUSE OF HORRORS: HOW I SURVIVED EVIL ROOMMATES, WHITE PRIVILEGE, AND A MULTI-THOUSAND DOLLAR COUCH IN MY FIRST MANHATTAN APARTMENT

My bedroom in the “House of Horrors!”

{Names marked with an asterisk* have been altered out of respect for privacy}

Be careful, she tells you—and she’s absolutely right.

After all, you’re her baby. It’s your first time living on your own after college; in a major world city no less. And you’re not totally clueless, of course. You’ve just completed a four-year program at a university in Manhattan’s backyard and accepted a job at a major news network. The world is yours to conquer.

But that feels like a long time ago.

One day you wake up to find yourself unemployed, burning through your savings account at the speed of sound and living in an apartment filled with enough emotional baggage to qualify as a city landfill.

No, wait. That was me.

It began when I was lucky enough—blessed, really—to land a job at the place of my senior year internship roughly two weeks after graduation. It was stunning. I received the call exactly as I was lamenting the state of my joblessness and utter lack of daily routine now that I no longer had to worry about classes or homework.

Surfing the net for job applications from everywhere to the Huffington Post (ironic, no?) to the Dollar General down the street from my rural home, the buzzing of my phone made me stir from the listless spell I had fallen under.

It was NBC. Nightly News needed something called a Digital Researcher and would I be able to come in Wednesdays through Sundays? Once the conversation with the HR manager was complete I barged into my mother’s room with what I assume was a very puzzled look on my face.

“What happened?” my mom asked, looking quite bemused.

“I think I was just offered a job.”

***

I’m smiling to myself even as I write this because I can practically hear my mom’s anxious voice in my head while I prepared to move from my cousin’s Harlem apartment into my very own… with roommates of course.

(Because really, who can afford to live in New York on their own straight out of college?!)

At the time I brushed her warnings aside, chalking it up to typical parental worry, but I quickly learned that she was right after a few months of living with Anna* and Winnifred*.

The apartment was a lovely three-bedroom, one bathroom with an office, and I was shown the space by Ryan*—a friendly man in his late twenties who showed me the space and introduced himself to his current roommates: three women, also in their late twenties. Ryan lived in the small area that was the office, but appeared to be as thorough as possible when posting the advertisement for the room on social media.

It read:

“Room not very big, but you will have access to the rest of the apartment. I live with three women… they’re nice people. One of them likes to cook often and does!”

When I saw the room, I noted that Ryan did not lie. The space, was in fact very tiny. He outfitted his office/bedroom with a futon and dresser with a TV on top, and had curtains hanging from glass-windowed double doors for privacy.

As I was new to the city, apartment hunting, and about to start a job, I didn’t have time to be picky. I needed to get out of the hair my generous cousin and her roommates after what was supposed to be a weekend visit turned into a three-week stay with intermittent trips back to Pennsylvania to prepare for the forthcoming move.

“I’ll take it,” I blurted.

“Great, I’m really excited for you,” Ryan said with a genuine smile.

I met the rest of the girls about a week before the July 1st move was to take place, and they had many questions.

“Where do you work?”

“NBC.”

“Are you okay with the LGBTQ community?”

“Yes.”

“What are your hobbies?”

“Yoga, reading, writing.”

“Will you be doing yoga in the living room? Are you clean?”

“No… and absolutely.”

After they seemed satisfied with my answers, I left and said I would see them later.

When July 1st came, I moved in relying on my own strength of will and the kindness of strangers. My new roommates, however, acted like they had no idea what I was doing there.

“Ryan never told us you were moving in…We would have liked to have more say in the type of roommates we have living with us,” Kathleen* and Winnifred announced.

I was already feeling unwanted… and also confused. Hadn’t they known Ryan was moving out on July 1st? The man had another apartment lined up for months! From that moment on I struggled to keep calm when it was made clear that I was not welcome in the girls’ space… I was just there to help them pay the rent by contributing an equal portion (not to mention legally replacing Ryan’s name on the lease) of it for a space not even a reasonable fraction of the space the others occupied.

The first time I truly felt like a stranger in my own home was when I found out Kathleen was moving out of the apartment to live with her girlfriend and that there was someone new moving into the space within the week. I hadn’t even met her!

We had a talk. I understood that Ryan may not have been upfront with them about my moving in… but I was in…and had thus far done nothing to disrespect them in any way. I couldn’t believe they would keep me from crucial decisions in the apartment, and I had every right to know who I was going to be living with.

The girls shrugged it off and said they would be better in the future… but they weren’t.

Things were not easy for the new girl after too long, we formed a camaraderie around the fact that we were essentially prohibited from utilizing any space outside of our rooms. Thank God for Breanna*, or I may very well have found myself in a true “House of Horrors”—the kind that exists in a person’s mind when they’ve been broken by a what appears to be an ever-present cloud of negativity settling over their life.

Breanna felt it when, like a child, she was scolded by Anna for “not properly washing HER pots.” Oh, I hadn’t mentioned the couch yet, have I? Anna didn’t want us to sit on it, really, because she paid a couple thousand dollars for it and didn’t want us to mess it up.

Actually, she didn’t want us anywhere in the living room because she had purchased “99 percent” of everything in it and spent “way too much money on these items not to be able to use such amenities” whenever she wished—especially the television.

The rules she set didn’t seem to apply to Winnifred, however, who often had nervous breakdowns whenever Anna was away for a lengthy period of time (Eg: a weekend). The co-dependency the girls exhibited would become very alarming at times… but I felt strange developing an “us vs. them” mentality with Breanna and I on one side… and our “oppressors” on the other.

If it were not for Breanna, I might not even have placed a racial element into the situation. But Anna and Winnifred were in fact, white…while Breanna and I were not. But was that the real reason they appeared to become bent out of shape when we refused to clean up spaces that we really were not permitted to use? To this day, I don’t have an answer.

In any event, the pair had formed a tight union in which the apartment was theirs, and Breana and I did not have access to common spaces just because we lived there and paid rent like responsible adults.

Probably one of the worst parts about the situation was not being able to entertain. The girls had company over regularly—usually spending the night on the couch without a word of warning, while the one time I had a guest over (and provided a decent amount of warning), the girls could not relinquish the common area. They made lunch, ate it… and proceeded to make soup for the next two hours and sprawl out on the couch so nobody else could sit there.

Embarrassed, I took my friend out to a local restaurant.

***

“YOU PEOPLE ARE SO UNGRATEFUL!”

“YOU PEOPLE? ARE WE GETTING RACIST NOW??”

Tensions exploded one night after Anna demanded Breanna return the lamp she let her use in her room because she did not feel comfortable with a stranger in her room to fix a broken light while nobody was home.

Everything was laid out on the table. Anna and Winnifred were tired of washing other people’s dishes when Breanna and I mentioned that we took care of our dishes the same night we used them and suggested that maybe they were unknowingly washing one another’s since they did the most cooking. The girls also had problems with us needing to bathe while they commandeered the bathroom hanging clothes they would line-dry all over the bathroom with absolutely no warning.

Most shocking was Anna’s accusations that Breanna and I were ungrateful because we didn’t go around thanking her for the use of her silverware and cooking utensils on a daily basis (made while swinging a rather large chef’s knife in her hand).

Winnifred had enough of the conversation and went to her room, slamming the door behind her and Anna was upset because all she had wanted to do was enjoy a nightly dinner with Winnifred, but she had left because of the discussion.

When the incident ended, I went back to my own room/office—stunned. From then on, as per Anna’s orders, Breanna and I stayed out of all common spaces save for the bathroom, because we our rent “did not give us access to the entire apartment.”

The apartment was no longer beautiful to me. The environment was dirty, lifeless and hostile…and in it I was just one of two women who didn’t know how to clean or bathe properly.

***

After moving out and taking the better part of a year to heal from the trying experience (and many others tied to it—I just couldn’t seem to shake them for the life of me!), I have found happiness in another part of the charming Harlem neighborhood to which I had grown accustomed. I even retained a very good friend—a member of my “soul tribe”—whom I met while living in my first apartment.

We decided to go out one evening and I met him in the apartment building we had once cohabitated only to find out that my former roommates were gone. Things didn’t go well with the roommate they brought in after Breanna and I had left, and they had to leave the apartment they once treasured so dearly.

IF A TREE FALLS…

 

We go through life asking ourselves extremely existential—if not somewhat depressing—questions. Whether we realize it or not. We each answer them differently as well. For example, I submit the ever-popular inquiry: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The question to this day is pondered the world over by modern day philosophers and scientists alike, and there is no “right” response.

If I were a physics buff, my reply might be “no.” I would say that sound is merely a perception—without a human (or animal) ear to perceive the noise of a fallen tree as sound, it is nothing more than vibration.

If I were a philosopher, I might say that it hardly matters because the fallen tree is simply an imperfect earthly representation of the concept of “treeness” floating through space and time.

I’ve always enjoyed hearing people’s responses to such questions because not only am I nosy (shocker! I am a journalist, after all), but it is fundamental to our wellbeing to hear viewpoints other than our own. However, there occasionally comes a time when one also has to put aside their unrelenting concern for the goings on in other people’s daily lives and focus on their individual wellbeing.

At least, that is what I’m noticing in my quest to find my place on the path unwinding (thank you, Elton John!).

Desperately in need of a salve on my wounded spirit, I returned to my Yoga practice in the last two weeks—for the first time in about a year. The recent wounds inflicted were not so deep; they were the type that comes from the ins and outs of daily living. Yet it hardly matters when one doesn’t take the time to check in with themselves and address those wounds. They just pile up until the essence of who they are becomes ridden with gaping sores oozing with infection.

For me, Yoga has been a reliable safe-guard against such emotional sickness. In fact, I can’t recall ever attending a practice session where my Yogi didn’t use the phrase “check in with yourself (and body).” That’s why it was particularly disheartening when I arrived one morning to the Yoga studio in Chelsea I’d been frequenting of late… and felt what I can only describe as the invalidation of my existence.

Dramatic, I know. Don’t worry—I’ve gotten over myself.

But wait, hmmm. A question of existence, eh? Just like my friend The Tree, though I doubt she spends time questioning the nature of her existence…because she just knows. At least, that’s what I started thinking about after the very first Yoga class I had at the aforementioned location when I struggled to maintain…(you guessed it!)…the “tree pose.”

My fantastic Yogi that evening told us all, “Don’t worry if you fall. I think we all know that saying, if a tree falls, it’s still a tree.

It was that thought that carried me through the class that didn’t start off so well; I was able to check in with myself and think about why I let silly things bother me.

So what if the receptionist seemed more preoccupied with the customer behind me and appeared to be rushing me along? So what if nobody opened the door for me when I arrived—even though they saw me struggling in the rain? Because I AM STILL ME.

No matter what life lessons—harsh or otherwise—come my way,

I am still me, and you are still you.

A Heightened State of Consciousness on the Uptown A

I’ve always found it fascinating that in a city of approximately 1.5 million people, very few individuals are aware of anyone other than themselves. Irritating, actually.

Yes, irritating is a much better way to describe how I felt one evening after work last week when I hopped on a crowded uptown-bound subway (pardon the redundancy) and had to say “excuse me” when a stranger stopped abruptly in the doorway—completely oblivious to the fact that there were other people behind him.

This was a rather mundane occurrence, yet I felt as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut at least 70 percent of my nerves to shreds. How hard is it to observe proper subway protocol? There are signs plastered all over each train, AND the conductors remind us to step all the way into the train every five minutes!

Flighty as it sounds, I’m grateful for that moment. Stay with me a moment, because at the risk of sounding too much like a New Age hipster, I realized something paramount to my life as a New Yorker: everybody in this city is just like me!

And who gets on a person’s nerves more than themselves?

It is often said that “we are our own worst critics,” or that what we dislike about others is merely a reflection about what we don’t like about ourselves, and blah, blah, blah. I suppose I shouldn’t take it too lightly. After all, I’m certainly guilty of being irritating on the subway at times… and in public spaces in general. It’s hard not to be on an island where space is limited and personalities are famously abrasive.

One instance that immediately comes to mind happened a few months ago on a rainy winter morning. I planted myself on a South Ferry – bound 1 train, and as much as I dislike riding local, I was just glad to no longer be exposed to the dreariness of outside.

Manhattan winds always seem to tear apart my umbrellas, so I finally put in the extra money to buy one that was larger and sturdy—even if they are a pain to carry around. There I was, sandwiched between two strangers (a novelty, I know!) and an almost unwieldy umbrella sticking out of the purse on my lap.

WHOOSH!

The man standing in front of my whirled around with a panicked look on his face. I in turn, became anxious as I waited to see what was wrong. Then I saw the embarrassing truth: the handle of my obnoxiously long umbrella was stabbing him square in the seat of his pants.

“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry!” I pulled my purse in closer to my body as quickly as I could and prepared myself to receive a punishing string of obscenities as payment for being so careless.

To my surprise, the expression on his face softened into a smile.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

I let out a deep sigh of relief. Which brings me back to the Uptown A.

The man I initially described was probably like me— hardworking and just leaving his job; utterly exhausted. While it’s certainly true that nobody is harder on ourselves than we are, I want to put a positive spin on it, because the reverse of my earlier statement is also true. The same way a person may get on my nerves because there is a very real possibility I may possess the same undesirable trait, seeing the good in others tells me more about my lovely qualities.

Our views into others are simply reflections of what is deep within ourselves.

That is how I will strive to view others the next time somebody cuts me off, pushes me without apology, or refuses to let me through in a packed subway station. After all, if a complete stranger could forgive me for giving him an unwelcome rectal exam, I can certainly exercise patience with everyone else.

There’s This Little Thing Called “Learning…”

Why is it so natural for me to think that I just OUGHT to have everything figured out?

Since the unexpected death of stepfather last month, I am determined to do everything I’ve always wanted to but put off due to my nerves, idealist dreams of perfection, or sheer laziness. My force-of-nature cousin recently shared a post on her Instagram page—a variation of the Michael Landon quote:

“Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows.”

Boy, do I know it.

That’s why at 6:30 on a Wednesday evening, I found myself sweaty and out of breath from sprinting from work —to the subway— to what was to be my first Spanish conversation class in three years. Since childhood I’ve dreamed of travelling around the world…and in that fantasy I always knew at least two other languages besides English.

Sure, I’d taken the recommended language courses in high school and college—Spanish, of course—totally enamored with the mind-expanding richness that comes with learning new forms of communication. However, I rarely tried to strengthen my skills outside of class by conversing with a native speaker.

No, no, no. I was far too embarrassed by my gringa accent (among other things) for that.

Kind of like buying a fabulous new outfit and never taking it out of your closet for fear of how others will perceive you in it. Silly, right? (Heh, but I’m guilty of that too…)

Connecting my thoughts in Spanish once more proved to be difficult, but not as hard as I had figured considering the time gap in my training. Yes, everything was A – OK. Until it wasn’t.

The course instructor handed out a worksheet for us to complete and discuss the answer in roughly ten minutes. I looked down in horror —

“I’m afraid I don’t know any of these words,” I mumbled when it was time for the review.

“There’s this thing called ‘learning,’ you know,” he said gently.

I laughed. My classmates laughed. He laughed too, which only made me laugh harder, until the lightness of the room induced a roaring guffaw in me that arose from deep within my spiritual core.

He was right. And it was such an obvious fact, at that! Actually, he hadn’t expected any of us to know the words on the sheet.

After that life lesson wrapped in an academic one, I pushed the envelope. Two days later, as uncoordinated as I am, I walked into a beginner’s hip hop class.

The me before these experiences last week would have described my performance that night as a disaster. Just as I was about to lose heart in the class, my effervescent teacher fell into a spell of sharing too much information—a trait that she proudly laughs off.

“My therapist told me, and I’ve been seeing a therapist for a quite a number of years, there are three skills every human being should possess…in essence,” she said.

“The ability to (1) love, (2) be productive, and (3) be okay with uncertainty.”

I always count it a blessing when I meet people who are free enough to be so candid about their lives with complete strangers. There is always a tiny gift hidden inside their truth. From that moment, I was able to deal with the inevitable uncertainty of the choreography from lack of dance training while learning to be present in the moment. I now reflect fondly on my first dance-class-turned-therapy-session.

I look forward to the day when my walk to the studio becomes a strut.

Vamos a bailar en la vida!

Our Education Crisis: The Truth about “Blackness” in America

Published and modified on Peacevoice.info 

“Why are you reading so much?” “Why are you speaking so properly?”

On July 27, President Obama reiterated these questions—inquiries he often hears from youth in predominately black neighborhoods where some children are afraid to learn. Yes, afraid.  This fear Obama disclosed is brought on by the taunting many well-educated black individuals receive because their peers believe that being well read and articulate constitutes “acting white.”

Through covertly racist corporate media and hegemonic Caucasian opinion, dangerous implications are made that suggest minorities are both incapable and unwilling to learn. These implications only create innumerable obstacles and widen the achievement gap between whites and people of color in America.  In a perfect society in a perfect world, movies such as Dear White People would not be a primary way of generating understanding about racial divides. Knowledge is power, and our own ignorance of racial characteristics and the ludicrous expectations we make based on them must stop. That is the only way to create a “safe” enough society where everyone has equal access and ability to this nation’s greatest freedom: education.

What does “acting white” look like?  In mainstream America, this is going to a school and actually paying attention—being able to provide a well thought out answer when question by the teacher in class. This is seen as doing the homework assigned to you and holding an intelligent conversation with your peers based on the material outside of class. It is returning home to a family who cares enough to make sure you are on top of your homework and pressure you to get straight A’s.

What does “acting black” look ? On the other end of the spectrum, there is blackness: which is cutting classes whenever possible, looking like a fool when called upon by the teacher and consequently serving—and cutting detention—blowing off all homework assignments, failing and repeating your current grade over.

These low expectations lead not only to the fear of succeeding because it will be going against the “status quo,” but to the misallocation of resources in black communities. For a person of color, “acting white” may forever make you an outcast among your peers (not fitting in with either black or whites), but “acting black” leads to poor education, a minimum wage job, and the contempt of society’s dominant group.

The nature of our educational system and its racial divider has haunted this nation since before the landmark cases of Plessy v. Ferguson, where segregation cemented with the declaration that “separate was equal” and have continued long after Brown v. Board of Education, when it was unanimously decided that the results of Plessy v. Ferguson were baseless.

Well respected author and journalist Jonathan Kozol devoted himself to uncovering such awful truths about our country’s educational system. Kozol’s 2005 book, Shame of the Nation, provides an in-depth examination of the “restoration of apartheid schooling in America” through many heart breaking stories across the United States. His latest book, Fire in the Ashes, published in 2012, is no different. Kozol once again highlights the disadvantages black youth have compared to their white counterparts. “Why is nothing done about this?” is something I always ask when reading his works of nonfiction. It is always answered with the cruel reality: nothing is done because the expectations of achievement for these students is low, therefore they are seen as “inconsequential.”

Is it any wonder now why little “Billy” feels that as a young black boy, he is neither capable of nor supposed to sound intelligent? It is not entirely his fault. He is simply conforming to what American society expects. His parents experienced this, as well. Maybe he has no one to tell him to dream bigger – or maybe no one will—to look beyond what this society is handing out and reach for what his true intelligence and abilities may allow him to achieve. This includes reaching his full potential with access to quality education, encouragement to learn and a belief in the efficacy of doing so.

It is a vicious set of events: while the taunting of this oppression-induced mentality produces may deter many a well-educated black youth from reaching back and helping their fellow “minorities.” (Man, I hate using that word sometimes!) This is not acceptable, and it never will be.

So, how do we interrupt this cycle as well as the pervasive and damaging racial divide in our education system?

As we attempt to resolve this racial schism perpetuated by our own lack of understanding, it is easy to ask the questions, “What does it mean to ‘act black’?” or “What does it mean to ‘act white’?”

However, I encourage us all to cast aside any race-specific ideals that may arise in our answers. Let us discard the notion that “acting black” means one must be more interested in hip hop culture than literature. Let us renounce the misconception that “acting white” means growing up in middle class suburbia and being able to speak in an eloquent manner. By doing so, we are refusing to pander to the discriminatory foundations on which this society has been founded—the society that hated dark skin and ethnic features so much that a person with only “one drop” of African blood was forever labeled as a second-class citizen – or three-fifths of a person – in her own country.

Realizing that “race” really doesn’t exist would help as well. We are all human beings; the ideals of “race” in this country is little more than a socio-political structure to delineate between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Modern scholars such as Dr. Cornel West will agree that every society needs two groups of people to function—those that have the education and resources to attain more opportunity and those who don’t. The United States’ capitalistic system thrives on that. However, those that dislike certain human being based on features attained through the genetics of their immediate ancestry used the illusions of race to establish these two groups in America. It was simply more convenient. Coming to grips with that truth would certainly relieve our minds of the pressures of an outdated and quite frankly, tyrannical system.

We also must bear in mind that behaviors do not belong to any one race. Certain practices and idiosyncrasies may be more dominant in one particular group of people over all others, but to claim actions to be ours, and ours alone? It’s absurd to see it written down. Like Martin Luther King, jr.—I too, have a dream. My dream is that we as Americans (and as people) will one day move into a post-racial era where content of character is not predicated by “race.” This will in turn propel people of color to not be afraid to strive higher in their educational settings, and highly educated “minorities” will be the norm.

My dream is to see a world in which black youth do not purposely dumb themselves down in an effort to keep pace with what is expected of them. My dream is that white youth do not ostracize an intelligent youth simply because they do not look like them and therefore can’t be as smart as they are. One way this can be achieved is by encouraging young children—whether black, white, Latino, etc—not to self-segregate. Beverly Tatum’s book Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? examines the lack of understanding between ethnic groups based on the need to be with one’s “own kind.” I encourage us all to be inclusive with who we talk to, and we will realize that our similarities outweigh our differences. Who is to say I can’t be well versed in history and literature because of the color of my skin?

I’m really no different than my white classmates who live on the other side of town.