Fire Feels

Smudging prayer

Recently, in a Facebook status, I shared a moment I had one morning when I was greeted by the manager at my local Pret. She exclaimed about how nice I smelled after we hugged and then asked if I had smudged that morning. I’m pretty sure I did a double take. I was like…ummm yeah, last night. How in the heck did she know? No one has ever asked me that before. She told me that she smudges in her space as well, which I know that many Black people do. But I came up on a very Hotepy household attending a lot of cultural events, meditations and chantings so it was always around me and now I understand that though many of us don’t always talk about it, we do it.

I’ve just never had anyone smell it on me before.

“Do I smell smokey?” I asked.

No, she said. It’s that smell after the smoke has gone out. It’s a cleansing.

Okaaay….I kinda got but I was still stumped at her sensitivity in picking it up so accurately. I had a few people in my Facebook network ask what smudging was to which I googled and tagged a few articles. And this morning as I think more about smudging and smoke in general, it’s got me thinking about the overall sacredness of smoke and how my earliest memories of it were watching the smoke from incense sticks that my parents bought, seemingly in bulk from Rastafarians in Brooklyn rising, and floating, morphing into endless shapes before fading into the air in our apartment. It was meditation before I was conscious of it, like watching clouds in the sky.

Since man’s first fascination with fire, which remains at the heart of civilization, smoke has been seen as the embodiment of this powerful element. We can imagine early man sitting around life-giving fire, watching the smoke rise and appearing to reach to heaven when man could not. Rising into the atmosphere, into mysterious realms that man could not comprehend.

-Jenny Smedly

 Stove lit

It’s made me think about the double sided gas burning fireplace in the middle of the house where I grew up in the Bronx and how I loved to sit and watch it in the Winter (in the mornings I would sneak down and cut it on even though my dad was trying to avoid a large Con Ed bill) the large roaring bonfires on sprawling back yards that we would sit around during dorm parties when I attended Bard College and the pit fires we made when on the few occasions my husband and I have gone camping with friends.

Candlelight

Aside from a candle I burn regularly in my home, I often forget how much I love fire. Like smoke, it changes shape, only more rapidly, sometimes with more volatility depending on the air, but it also provides light, hypnotically vibrant color, warmth, fuel and power. It’s easy to imagine indigenous people watching objects and bodies burn and believing that the smoke has transformed the physical into the realms of the spirit world. So it would follow naturally that certain natural elements symbolizing earthly properties when left to dry would be burnt to transfer their individual properties to bodies and spaces and things as a way of blessing, honoring, warding away negativity or drawing attracting abundance.

The nature of fire and candlelight has always made it a little easier for me to get still inside and in some cases for me to forget myself and become one with its movement. From the act of striking a match, to building a fire, to lighting a stove, I have a very respectful relationship with it. When nature is respected, it will serve and when it is abused or neglected, well…

Burning can be both destructive and cleansing. Fire like all natural elements will reflect its traits in the intention of the user, but it will never stop being fire.

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Retrospection

You ever look back at a situation or a relationship that caused a lot of tension and foreboding and recognize that you can no longer even remember what that felt like anymore? Something or someone you couldn’t even imagine getting over at the time has now faded into the background. You have let it go.

And have you ever looked back at yourself in a time when you were so unsatisfied with your appearance or so insecure about something, no one else even noticed and realized, wow I looked great. What was I worried about?

I’ve noticed a lot lately, because I’ve been busier than I’m used to and often in a bit of a zombie state that when I take a moment to reflect back at the past, things always seem like they were better. Now, I’m not going to lie. There are things that happened, situations I had to deal with and several people who I do not ever want to deal with in my life again. But I’m always amazed by how unsatisfied I was with things that now I would give so much to have again; health a sense of security, confidence, purpose…less weight. LOL!

Dwelling on the past is a waste of time, it’s true and it usually means that the present is either lacking in some way or you’re having trouble meeting it or yourself in it fully or both.

Maybe right now is not as challenging as I think it is. I’m certain I’ll look back and wonder why I thought it was so challenging, why I was so full of doubt, fear and insecurity. Maybe that’s part of growth. I just sometimes wish I could skip ahead to that part, the part where I feel like I know what I’m doing, where I’m going and that I didn’t feel so alone.

 

 

 

 

in a world…

White people huddled in the fetal position. White people frozen in defense poses looking up at something with foreboding. White people in tears, folded over and rocking themselves back and forth. They’re scared, paralyzed with fear. Something terrible is coming. Something that has been coming for decades. A major catastrophe, a plague made in a lab, a caged beast, a Jurassic creature resurrected for entertainment has revolted, the heart of darkness manifested in King Kong, in demons, in monsters, in aliens, in mutations intended for progress gone horribly wrong, immense power fallen into the wrong hands.

In a world…

Are we…

Are we not done?

How many times are we going to watch this movie? And look, I was born in the 70s. I once idolized the premises and characters in Superman, Star Wars, Back to The Future, Diehard, and any other great block busting White people movie you can name.

I have had grown ass men rattle on to me for hours about the positions of imaginary stars and solar systems in Star Wars and how the film prequel adaptations didn’t live up to the book and I, who am no stranger to the desire for escape through fantasy, have wondered….

What in all the heck does this have to do with real life?

I love Lord of Rings! (Just the first one)

But the first time I saw “Black Panther” I couldn’t speak afterward for a good ten minutes. Never had I imagined that a superhero genre film could so effectively bring the conversation of race, nationalism, Pan Africanism and technological optimism to the mainstream or at least mainstream social media conversation. Race? In a Superhero movie?

I can’t go back now. I can’t go back to deceptively benign “In a world…” trailer tropes where Whiteness stands in for the “every man” and Blackness is the tokenized exception, Like I was texting with a friend of mine today after he saw my reaction to “Infinity Wars” (I didn’t care for it) “Black Panther” set the bar too high for me to take 50 steps back into a “world” where Wakanda is just a tiny piece of an epic fantasy based on the usual White fears.

Stones, rocks, crystals, natural elements, super powers, talking apes….

White people just keep using cinema to reimagine their greatest fears over and over and over again and to position themselves in the collective imagination as the soul saviors from that fear so that Black people are indoctrinated to internalize the lie that we are the great monsters. Like James Baldwin said in “I am not your Negro,” we have never known what the hell they are so terrified of. We just want them out of our way because their fears have made them a real flesh and blood threat to us for decades.

To indigenous people, the monsters, demons, evil spirits, dark and unknown foreboding, pestilence and plague have always been White people. It’s never been a mystery to us, never some great case to be solved, some edge of your seat thriller or white knuckle ride.  That’s why “Get Out” is so fucking phenomenal, because we don’t need to use our imaginations to engage with horror. We face it or attempt to avoid facing it every single day. The great crafters of horror and chaos are behind every major studio in Hollywood, behind every cop car wheel, sitting in the halls of “justice,” the oval office, the teacher’s desk, the housing board and wherever access to equity, opportunity, fairness and wealth building have traditionally been monopolized by them.

But first, they were behind every Bible.

 

How many red lipsticks is too many?

With all the insanity that is going on the world right now, trying to figure out why I have so many damn red lipsticks is actually kind of offensive. That is until I make the connection to just how much insanity is going on to the need we often have to try and shop our depression away.

For woman in particular, retail therapy is very real. Women are heavily targeted consumers and we are marketed to on a very emotional an psychological level so that even when we are conscious that this is happening, it’s still a challenge to step back and take stock of exactly why we have 4 lipsticks in the same shade of red and are planning to buy another next week. The gratification, though short lived, is often prioritized over rooting out the what the real need or issue is.

Now there are times when the real need is a good red lipstick! Colors are such a powerful force in our lives and they play surprisingly significant roles in our ability to function. But marketing and advertising of color is a whole other beast. Nature ushers in Spring once a year. Advertisers promise it to you all year round or whenever you want it or whether or not you want it.

But I digress. I don’t happen to think all advertising is evil. But I do think that as ads seep more pervasively and intimately into our daily lives, we have to be more vigilant about  understanding what really drives us to consume certain things and at what cost to our actual well being.

Last month I gathered all my red lipsticks together and decided to try them all on to see why I have so damn many, why I never wore what I have and what needed to go. I think I let go of three out of 15? LOL!

As it turns out I had even more than that in total. I just forgot about them.

Starting this week, I’ve been wearing each red lipstick on and off throughout the week and will continue to do so until they are done so I can remind myself that I probably don’t need anymore red lipstick this year!

I have never even thought of myself as a red person! But red lipstick is like the little black dress of make-up. And like a little black dress you should only need like 2 or 3 good ones right? LOL!

Anyway, please learn what you will from my red lipstick hoarding and enjoy this video.

Spring Snow

I was near Central Park at 59th street very early this morning for a Dr’s appointment and the first thing I saw when I emerged from the subway was the magical winter wonderland of Central Park all covered in snow. I was early so I took the time to cross over and walk in just far enough to see how breathtakingly beautiful and quiet everything was.

When we lived in Harlem, during Winters where it snowed heavily, I would pack my camera and my dolls, take the local to 110 and walk all through Central Park, all the way to 59th street. It was so magical, relaxing, creative and playful. It just made me breathe deeper. I loved seeing all the families and kids sliding down the steep hill next to the conservancy and all the funny, sometimes haunting shapes the snow would make after accumulating in fluffy chunks on top of things we see every day like benches and trash cans, steps and water fountains. Snow just kind of takes over and transforms nature for a brief time into a kind of abstract version of itself. And somehow after it snows it feels like anyplace quiet is extra quiet. You begin to be aware of the sounds of small things moving, falling, melting, and dropping.

CP Snow

I know that Spring just started and that this snow is not supposed to be on the menu but somehow I still feel the Spring beneath it all. It doesn’t even feel cold. It just feels like a different way to usher in Spring. Now check back with me in a few weeks and see if I still feel the same pending another Noreaster. LOL!

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For right now, I just felt blessed to have been able to tromp around like a child in the snow taking pictures and exchanging smiles with a few other people who were feeling the same Central Park snow joy. I really just wanted to keep walking deeper and deeper into the park and just lose myself in it all. It felt very meditative and I haven’t had moments of peaceful stillness like that in some time. So I’ll take whatever I can get. All signs point to Spring beginning. Even magnolia buds covered in frost are a promise.

Yoshidoll Life

It’s been a hectic month. It’s been a heavy month. And It ain’t over yet.

This review by Yoshi of her mom Ellarie’s latest collaboration with Coloupop was just the right brand of light silly Black Girl joy that I needed. Yoshi keeps her opinion on her mom’s line of lip colors very real even with her mama right behind the camera. LOL! I love how playful and silly and confidently honest she is. And of course I love how passionate she is about her favorite color because color makes me feel really good as well.

Take a brief little break from adulting and enjoy.

 

Don’t Freeze: Love and Vulnerability in Black Panther

I remember in the trailer for Black Panther watching the scene over and over again where Okoye tells T’challa before he descends to from the ship, not to “freeze.” And of course he says, “I never freeze” before putting on his helmet falling through a hatch release into the night.

I kept wondering it meant. In what situation would a superhero freeze or let his guard down? I couldn’t imagine the scenario and I really wanted to know.

As a bonafide movie lover, I have a collection of moments in films that I love and adore and among them is the moment when a man looks at the woman he loves, the moment when he is just openly gazing at her and time stops no matter what is happening. I love to see his openness, his vulnerability, his total surrender. But then of course he needs to be equally capable of getting it together again and carrying on his duties. LOL!

When Black Panther descends on a van of girls captured by the Boko Haram in order to save Nakia who is embedded among them on an undercover rescue mission, the aforementioned freezing begins. But not before he and Nakia stealthily dispatch of the armed men.  Then, thinking they are no longer under threat he faces her and says…hi. His mask is on so you can’t see his eyes but you can tell that he’s no longer in Black Panther mode. Okoye then appears and kills a man that neither or aware of because they’re too busy sharing a moment. LOL!

To be immediately engaged with both the vulnerability and strength of Black Panther in this initial and pivotal scene was just one of hundreds of ways in which the movie has shattered previous notions about what it has meant to be a “superhero.”

There is also no Clark Kent/Superman identity crisis conflict to deal with here. Among his people, T’challa does not hide as the Black Panther. Black Panther is not his secret identity. It is who he is. So when he looks at Nakia and freezes as Black Panther in the midst of battle or as King T’challa walking leisurely through the marketplace with her, it’s all the same man.

With Nakia, T’Challa is able to safely express his doubts about being the kind of king he feels he should be and he entrusts all the women around him, his mother, sister, general with the responsibility to support, inform, guide, strategist, and help him protect and defend Wakanda. They are all uniquely necessary and equally committed to this mission.

T’Challa’s vulnerability is his strength and he never seems to be at odds with it. I have never seen that treated with such balance and normative reverence in a superhero movie before. To feel the burden of so many of the oppressive and conditioned narratives we’re used to in movies; Whiteness, the male gaze, hyper sexuality, and more,  lift away for just a few hours is indescribably liberating. When I first saw Black Panther, I froze as well. And after the third time, time still stopped for me. And each time I see it, I come back to the world slightly different.

The Shifting of Happy Places

Just a few years ago, when I was fully immersed in a doll collection hobby, knitting and crocheting and generally making things by hand, Flickr was one of my primary happy place hubs. I went there to share photos, and to be social with other collectors, crafters and photographers. There were many women there whose feeds I looked forward to seeing each day but there were a special handful that for unique reasons really gave me life. Over the years of messaging, commenting, trading custom tips, sending dolls and items back and forth, I noticed that the activity of some of my faves started to peter out, to fizzle.

Life changes.

One of my fave photographers became pregnant and her gorgeous photographs which incorporated scenes from the nature preserve she lived nearby stopped showing up. One of my favorite, not to mention the only Black Blythe custom crafters, who gifted me one of my most cherished dolls just stopped activity altogether with no explanation. And the one friend that I made through the hobby (like met in person and actually got to know beyond dolls) fell in love, moved to Chicago, got married, and just recently had to move back to LA where she was born for a job while her husband is still working and living in Chicago, which I know has been heartbreaking for her. Needless to say, her doll feed activity has also been non-existent.

Life changes.

Happy places change.

I  hope that happy exist in new places for these women whose work I was so pleased and inspired to view on a weekly basis. Our lives are so much more than what what we choose to share on social media. Real, deep and intimate connections, within and with others require more than just logging in.

These days, due to business, the season (I’m so done with Winter or whatever this is) and location, my happy places have shifted as well. I packed up a bunch of my dolls almost a year ago because I just wasn’t feeling it. I even gave a bunch away during a series of Spring decluttering spurts. It felt good.

Currently, my happy places include make-up, skincare, wig play and social media/technology. I’ve immersed myself in some more successfully than others. But for the most part, I’m involved in using, crafting, learning about and being invested in these things on a daily basis. Who knows what my happy places will be in the next few years. I’m blessed that I have happy places at all. Because look at the world right now. We need all the happy we have access to.

Peace out.

UE

Heavy is the Head… Black Panther and Questions of Leadership

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown…”

-Shakespeare

“You are a good man and it’s hard for a good man to be a King.”

-Black Panther

When any leader shows their weaknesses to their people, there is always the possibility that people will take advantage, take for granted, incite mutiny, unrest, upheaval.  These chances are equally possible when a leader presents themselves as infallible, mysterious, Godlike, using fear and intimidation, but not as much. Because people are ruled so effectively by their own internal fears that external demonstrations from a ruling force usually keep a majority of us in check for life. Take a look around you.

So what to do then if you are a “good” person to earn the respect of people you love and for whom you earn the right to not only rule over but the responsibility to protect, provide for, inspire, motivate and so much more? These are also in many ways the questions of a new parent, a boss, or a person striving to master themselves effectively in order to navigate the world and all it’s obstacles in a balanced and optimally positive way towards a goal which will ultimately serve others.

It’s never easy, because hell can really seem to be other people, starting first and foremost with the hell inside yourself, which you may not even be aware of. Or which you try to avoid while trying to manage a staff, a community, a business, a family, a nation or all of the above at once.

marvel-black-panther-against-erik

I really love that during the challenges to earn the right to be King, T’Challa ritually has the power of the Black Panther taken away from him, so that he is not unfairly matched against his opponents, who are not, I believe presented as enemies, but as worthy challengers, those whom his people would serve just as loyally as they would T’Challa should he ever be defeated. There was a fairness there that moved me each time I saw it. He was humbled in front of his people, but still more than formidable against his opponents. His power as a Black Panther was granted by his lineage but as a King it was granted by his physical, mental and psychological strength. But i admit, there was that small part in me whenever he drank from the essence that takes away his power that made me scared of what might happen to him at that point.

On the ancestral plane, when he speaks to his father, his father tells him, “You are a good man and it’s hard for a good man to be a King.” In these words lay truths, problems, complexities and secrets, that his father had hoped would never come back to haunt T’Challa. Nakia tells him, “You get to chose the kind of king you want to be.” And because of the ways in which T’Challa’s father had chosen to rule when he was king, because of violent and negligent choices he made, T’Challa and his people are confronted by great violence and pain in the form of their own abandoned son, Killmonger.

Djala

I’ve always shied away from leadership, thinking myself  unworthy of the challenge but the truth is, I have never wanted to take on what I felt were the limits and rigidity of responsibility, discipline, order, and a giving up of freedom. But freedom, as I’ve been learning, is not free at all.

As humans in this world, our innate tendencies are motivated at the core by love, and we fluctuate between using control or being overwhelmed with pleasing people and over identifying with what others think to get it. This is why I believe self love and self trust, which I struggle with often, are integral to the ability to lead effectively.

In this Drumpf administration, tyranny, insanity, an inability to get beyond one’s crippling insecurities and a preoccupation with self interest over humanity are the order of each day in our government and sadly, but not surprisingly, the man, though deeply unstable, remains firmly fixed in the position of leader of America because fear is an effective tool in keeping a majority of people under control.

The surprising thing I’m learning lately though, is that sometimes people have to learn from a direct and decisive institution of sternness and discipline and order before they can understand that they might actually have a good leader, a good parent, a good boss. And when you are resistant to leading yourself, leadership from others is always going to feel like a kind of penalty. But there is a difference between loving discipline and abusive control. And sometimes it takes an insane man in power for people to rise up and define what kind of leadership they require. That’s not easy either. We have only our past as a reference to build towards the future and our tendency as humans to repeat the worst parts of  history is great. But when I look at Black Panther, I see that that we as Black people have just as much inclination to reach back into our past and manifest greatness today. And it moves me beyond words.

The Ancestral Plane: Black Panther Spoiler Alert

It’s hard for me to pick favorite parts of this movie. Everything was done so well that as my husband said, there was never one moment where my mind wandered or my eyes strayed. I could do nothing but watch this movie. From the first frame to the last, I was hooked. Pre-packed snacks made their way into my mouth somehow and I would lean forward occasionally but other than to laugh, clap or wipe away tears, I didn’t move much.

BP Gif

The Ancestral plane scenes touched me very deeply. I didn’t know what to expect when T’Challa was ceremonially buried in the ritual to make him king of Wakanda. And so I was completely transported. Where T’Challa went, I went too. The line of kings appearing as midnight Black Panthers writhing silently on branches in a tree representing royal lineage just burned through me. My God, can Coogler tell a story!

Kilmonger

And then when Killmonger went there. My heart just broke. I cried for Killmonger. I could not see him fully as a villain. I wanted redemption for him. But I understood his choice because I knew more about where he was coming from and what he refused to go back to in any world.

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