Monthly Archives: July 2015

Time Stopping Thursdays: About a Doll

One Summer, about fifteen years ago, the man I was seeing took me on trip to London at my request. I wish that I could say it was one of the best times of my life. It certainly wasn’t the worst, but it was the first time I had ever travelled with anyone outside of my family anywhere, let alone across the ocean and that made me a little nervous. In the past when I’ve been in a foreign place I would often cling to things that make me feel safe or that remind me of home. I read books, listened to music or cozy up that trusty opiate of the masses, television.

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Reya, my customised Black Blythe Doll.

At some point during our site seeing, we visited the design museum in London. He was into that stuff and at the time I was not. I would not develop an appreciation of design until years later, long after we had broken up. It was a museum of modern art which did nothing whatsoever for me in those days. We saw several floors of odd looking things I could not recall or describe to you before ending up in my favorite of all places in any museum, the gift shop.

I love museum gift shops. Let me loose in the Moma design gift shop and I can lose myself for about an hour.

It was in an assorted book bin at the London Design Museum gift shop that I first caught site pf a strange little photo essay entitled “This is Blythe” by Gina Garan. It peeked my interest because of the big headed doll on the cover with equally large eyes. In a way my discovery of this book sparked a latent interest in photography itself. In a variety of staged and found scenarios complete with wardrobe changes and odd captions and above all with a look of surly, melancholic intelligence, curiosity and worldliness was a doll unlike any I had ever seen before. It was so wacky it made my brain flip. The absurdity of it. The irony. I had always associated dolls with children and child’s play but GIna had re-contexualized everything I thought I understood about photography and dolls in those pages where I stood over a book bin in a kind of bizarre and delighted time stopping state of “what the fuckness.” It was like finding myself suddenly transported into a space that I liked but never imagined could exist and not being altogether sure where it was located. This was an adult using a doll to play with mature themes using humor, art, imagination and whimsy. I was hooked. It’s what I love most about that trip to London. And it had absoluetly nothing to do with Big Ben, red telephone booths or the changing of the palace guard.

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What Happened Miss Winehouse?

When Amy Winehouse was a girl she told her mother that she needed to be rougher with Amy, that she was too soft and that she could get away with murder around her. That was my first clue to Amy’s nature as I watched the documentary about her entitled “Amy” last week at Upstate Films in Woodstock.

Amy’s  father left her and her mother when she was still a girl. Her mother claimed she could not handle Amy’s overwhelming and intense energy. And Amy couldn’t handle the overwhelming and intense illusion of fame that came with her success as a pop singer. She was bold and brash, outspoken and seemed incapable of keeping her feelings in but at her core she was highly sensitive, a raw and open wound that needed more than anything else to feel loved, understood and protected.

I didn’t start to really pay attention to Amy’s music until after she had passed. But like anyone in the America I could not get away from her music when she was the height of her short lived career. It was everywhere, this old soul jazz vocalist in the body of a young Jewish girl and the face of a lead actress in a Pedro Almadovar film crossed with a Ronette. Where did she come from? Why was she like this?

Continue reading What Happened Miss Winehouse?

Time Stopping Thursdays: A Sky Full of Stars

On a clear night in New York City, you can’t actually see the stars. You know they’re there but how often do you feel moved to look up into the sky to see them? All of the lights from street lamps, lights, tall buildings, not to mention clouds, if it’s a cloudy day, drown out the magic that occurs in a clear night sky when there are no other lights to compete with.

trees  silhouetted by the night sky,
trees silhouetted by the night sky,

I spent the last couple of nights with my husband at a rented cabin in the heart of Woodstock. On Tuesday night we hiked the Eastern trail of the Comeau property and afterward bought tickets to a film at the local theater. When we got back to the cabin it was late and pitch black except for the lights on in the cabin, which was basically in the woods. When I stepped out of the car and looked up into the sky I was just stunned. First of all the trees at this place were just so tall, they were like towering giants shooting straight up into the sky. They framed clusters of sparkling stars and swayed in the breeze with an ominous presence that made me feel tiny in the most comforting way. Nothing else mattered to me in that moment but seeing those stars. They were so still and yet filled with so much life despite being reflections of light emitted from explosions that occurred many years ago. I don’t really understand it.

There the night sky is above us all the time, every single night and yet we never see it like this. We turn on the television, our phones our laptops and spend so much time with our heads down in the light of our devices. If I could have access to a view of the stars like this one, I would be looking up every night the sky was clear. I would never miss it. It would become one of my favorite new series, one filled with mystery, beauty, romance, excitement and wonder with no repeat performances.

Babies Rock

I saw the incredible documentary “Babies” in the theater back in 2010. Four years later, I got married. Last night I watched it on Vimeo for the first time since then and saw entirely new things. I saw the deliberate connections the director made between the babies environment, their socialization and the ways in which they learned to behave and make choices, the ways in which they developed a sense of self. And I love it even more.

It is incredible to see how highly intelligent human beings can be who have only been on earth for a few months, because babies take in information so rapidly and integrate ritual, tradition and routine like sponges!

When I first saw “Babies” I did not recognize the immediate connection made between the first scene of Panijao and her sibling from Opuwo, Namibia, pounding rocks with smaller stones and the cut to several months earlier before Panijao was born where her mother used a stone to pound a red pigment on a rock in front of Panijao, while she was still in her stomach!

That blows my mind.

The four babies chosen to be documented from Africa, Japan, Mongolia and America, all process the information of their varied surroundings in unique ways. Observation, imitation, defense, survival, affection, play, the passage of time, rest, are all learned in the formative first few months of their lives. The emphasis in this documentary is on the world of the baby, an observation not only of the ways in which they navigate a world that is completely new to them but a body that is new them as well.

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Bayar gave me horrors. But that wasn’t his fault. His brother clearly had issues with his presence and tried his best to torture, harm and get rid of him. LOL! But that’s common with older siblings who are newly displaced by younger ones. Bayar also seemed to be alone a lot. I’m not sure why but I’m guessing his parents were working a lot. He’d be crawling around in the dirt with no diapers in a wide landscape, sitting in the back of a truck, sitting in a basin. He interacted a lot with animals and his environment. He took a few unattended tumbles but he was okay. Babies are stronger and more resilient than we imagine.

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Mari was hilarious. She seemed to have arrived with a distinct personality fully intact. She was apprehensive, impatient, careful. For me the all time best footage of Mari were her dramatic series of histrionics in reaction to her failure to keep a circular wooden peg inside a wooden circle. LOL! She was so stressed out it was like watching an adult react to a major challenge.

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My two favorite moments from Hattie’s early life were when she peels and eats a banana and hands her dad all the skin and the tiny piece at the bottom of the banana, which I never liked as a baby either. Does anyone? She’s just like, no, I don’t need that. The other is the footage of parents and babies sitting in a circle singing about mother Earth. Hattie’s father is there with her sitting between his legs and raising his arms in unison with the other parents. Hattie gets right up, walks across the floor and up to the door to try and get out. Who knows why but she is having none of it. She’s not mad or hysterical. She’s just done.

Panijao’s footage was particularly enjoyable to me. Though she also experienced her own share of growing pain, she also seemed to be learning and advancing more and more each time we saw her. She often seemed to be happy and joyful, receptive and embracing of her surroundings and familial connections. I also noticed her waist beads this time. She had waist beads even as a little bitty thing and they change when she’s older and walking around. I was never really worried for or about her. I just enjoyed watching her development.

Watching her fight off sleep in one scene was the most hilarious thing but of course the hardest moment to top was the scene that opens the film where she and her sibling are sitting together pounding rocks and she decides to grab a bottle that belongs to him. He takes it back, she bites him, he gives her a few good raps and grabs her by her necklace before returning to his work like nothing ever happened. It is the most hilarious thing in life. There is nothing random or vague about their exchange. They are intelligent, dexterous, strong willed and curious and although they have not fully mastered language, they communicate their desires with perfect clarity. Babies are just brand new people after all.

Time Stopping Thursdays No.1: Tango

I’ve  decided that for the rest of the Summer I will dedicate every Thursday to posting or writing about a time stopping moment that I have witnessed or experienced, something that pulled me right into the present moment, the magic moment of now which is really the way we’re supposed to live life all the time. Maybe it will be a moment that stops time for you too. If not, don’t worry, one of them is bound to, and if not, why not share your own time stopping moments with me?

My first moment is this Argentine Tango performed by Derek Hough and Nicole Scherzinger back in in 2010. Together they created something beyond the demonstration of mere athletic physicality, discipline and technique. With every step they pull the viewer in closer until the only thing that exists is watching, feeling, instinct and pure alertness. They are in total sink with one another.

Partners.

Anklet Weekend

I had my ears pierced when I was a baby so I don’t remember the pain if there was any. In traditional Caribbean fashion I was sent gold earrings and a gold bracelet from a beloved Aunt of my mother’s. In my baby pictures I can see them in my ears and on my wrist but they are no longer in my possession. During my adolescence, demonstrating classic early signs of DIY craftiness, I pierced my own ears a second time for a second pair of earholes, which I can still feel on my lobes but have not used in many years.

I remember that at Bard College, as an icebreaker with my new and slightly stiff roommate, I held out my hands to her one morning before heading out to class and asked, “What do you think? Do I look too much like Mr. T?” I wore way more rings in those days, at least two to three on each finger.

In addition to earrings, I also have an eclectic collection of necklaces that I love as well. I shop on etsy, H&M, Forever 21, street vendors and museum gift shops which are literally like an amusement park for me.

All of this to say, I wear and have worn as much jewelry as the next woman or man for that matter. But I’ve never done anklets. Oh there was one triple stranded anklet my godmother made for me when I was a girl. She made me jewelry all the time that I adored. That anklet wasn’t one of them. It’s not that it wasn’t nice. I just didn’t get it. My high school BF, Vanessa used to wear these cute silver toe rings. I could never pull that off either. I loved them on her though as I love anklets on other women. I find small adornments like that to be very special and specific. It is an adornment beyond the traditional Western adornment. You have to pay attention to see it and when you look you see more than just the jewelry; you see the body part. Ohhh it’s so feminine.

Well Khalilah is very feminine and she has been after me for some time now to make an anklet for her using some beads she purchased at Beads of Paradise which were originally purchased for me to make her waist beads. I spent a little time in the bead shops downtown on 6th Ave this weekend looking for accent beads, rings, clasps, crimp beads and crimp bead covers to create Khalilah’s anklet. I love bead stores. I got very curious and learned new things about finishing off beaded projects that I didn’t know before. Eternal gratitude to YouTube. LOL!

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Oshun Anklet for Khalilah

This past Sunday I made an anklet bracelet for each of us. Khalilah’s anklet has these beautiful copperish base beads with a translucent pink color you can see when you hold it up to the light, orange accent beads, and these beautiful shimmery gold colored bells that sound delightful when they ring. These colors are inspired by the Goddess Oshun.

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I made mine with a tinier bright yellow base bead because I am just plain shy about wearing an anklet. The yellow is bright but the strand is thin and modest because I am a walking contradiction. LOL! I used green and orange accent beads because they are two of my favorite colors. When I put it on I feel so freaking damsel like. I mean it’s beyond feminine. It’s such a delicate and sweet thing to wear jewelry on your ankles and feet.

I haven’t made anything by hand in a while though and this was a very interesting project. I feel like my sense of color combination and placement is becoming more refined than it used to be. It always feels good to complete a hands on project like this and for me one inspiration invariably leads to others. It’s one of the many things I love about color, creation and making things with my hands, especially in the Summer.

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Phases of Lavender

Spiritual Significance of Lavender

  • Spiritual Healing
  • Tranquility
  • Higher Consciousness
  • Release of Energy Blockages
  • Easing of Tension
  • Promotes Calmness
  • Purification

Phase 1

Years ago while on a short vacation in Hyde Park, my husband and I dinned at this wonderful restaurant, Terrapin. There I had my first ever Lavender Gimlet. I was blown away by the taste of something that before I had only ever associated with smell. Who thinks to do something like that? Maybe one of the CIA chefs that are boasted to be sprinkled about in the kitchens of the best dining spots in Hyde Park. I don’t know but as an avid foodie, I was blown away. I thought it was brilliant. Whenever we go there I always order one and I just savor it until it’s done.

Phase 2

Several months ago year at a friend’s potluck in Brooklyn, someone brought lavender lemonade. I liked it so much, I got the recipe from them, filed that away and have been steadily researching the creation of lavender infused drinks ever since. I made my first lavender gimlet with gin for my husband and I last week in a cocktail shaker I’ve had for years but rarely use. Lavender Gimlets are probably an acquired taste and obviously not for those who don’t like gin but i love it. Making lavender simple syrup is super easy and I’m excited to use it for lavender lemonade this Summer as well.

Phase 3

Nearly two months ago, on recommendation from a friend and co-worker who has beautiful locs and styles hair I ordered this special hair oil. The product, which was said to have been delivered to my work address in it’s tracking data never arrived. I’ll save you descriptions of the anger and frustration and USPS paranoia I experienced after this. I filed a claim with USPS and left it at that. I let it go. One day last month it just showed up. It arrived at my job with no fanfare no explanation. I didn’t need any. I was just so happy it even came. It’s a high concentration mixture of natural essential oils used to stimulate hair growth. It smells amazing, as my friend had told me it would. A dropper is used to apply it because very little is needed. The strongest most prominent top note scent is lavender.

Phase 4

After work, on the same day the hair oil arrived, I met my husband for a stroll through the garden in Fort Tryon Park. We came upon a large bush of lavender and I started picking some. I put it in the satchel that hair oil came in and placed in the inner pocket of my denim jacket where it still lives. This instinct, I’m aware, comes from watching my mom pick lavender from the herb garden at BBG when my brother and I were little. There was a sequence of deliberate paths we took through that garden that would last all day and would very often end in the herb garden which, by the way, is no longer there except for in my memory.

Phase 5

Over the weekend I pulled a muscle in my back and in addition to starting a regimen of morning and nightly stretching at the recommendation of soulsistah4real, I’ve been taking salt baths for my back as well. Last night, I had my husband scatter some lavender buds into my bath. Omigoodness. It’s very rare, when I’m soaking in the tub that I’m not plotting some way to remain there over night. LOL!! It was very hard for me to leave and Tuesday night was no exception.  Hot water releases the scent and oil from lavender and releases it into the air and it’s oooohhh so calming.

Who knew there were so many freakin uses for lavender? I even have, and maybe this is going to sound obnoxious, lavender soybean oil nail polish remover. Wait!!! And lavender scented cuticle oil from Julep that I got in one of their freebie boxes almost a year ago. It’s a roll on that has lasted me forever.

Too much?

Well it doesn’t feel like too much to me as yet. LOL! In fact it feels pretty perfect.

Nature Speaks

“Nature can bring you to stillness. That is its gift to you. When you perceive and join with nature in the field of stillness, that field becomes permeated with your awareness. That is your gift to nature. Through you, nature becomes aware of itself. Nature has been waiting for you, as it were, for millions of years.”

-Eckhart Tolle

“Stillness Speaks”

I was reading this at Barnes & Noble this week and my eyes got a little bit wet. I’ve always understood nature’s gift to humanity but I’m not really sure I ever fully grasped our gift to nature or that nature can feel us when we align ourselves with nature. It makes total sense. I’m sure I’ve heard it said before. But this was the first time I really feel like, oh shit, I’m not just feeling nature. Nature feels me too!

I try to take a walk in Fort Tryon, our nearest public park at least once a week. When we lived in Harlem I would get a little antsy if I went too long without strolling to the conservatory in Central Park from 110th Street. It just got me to breath deeper, to recharge, to be still. And stillness has been something I have required access to since I was a child. Nature has been the thing, which gets me there the quickest.

Continue reading Nature Speaks

Miss Simone

When I look at Nina Simone, I see what is right with her, and what was wrong with the culture that surrounded her.

-Tanya Steele

When I was a girl, my dad would listen to Sunday Morning Classics with Hal Jackson every single weekend.  For many years, Sunday Morning Classics woke me early every Sunday and I have never been a morning person but I didn’t mind. Sunday Morning Classics is where I remember hearing Nina Simone’s “MY Baby Just Cares for me” for the first time. I was familiar with the tune because of the classic Channel commercial.  My adolescent imagination was enchanted by her voice and the sexiness it lent to this very French perfume. What she does on the piano in that song is beyond my words to describe. In fact, although the song itself is quite popular, it’s not her vocals but her piano solo that slays. She was after all a prodigy, classically trained in piano from a very young age.

I read her autobiography a few years ago and last night I watched the documentary “What Happened Miss Simone” on Netflix. I had problems with it. But I had problems with her autobiography as well.  I was disturbed to learn how her husband, Andrew Stroud had severely beaten her throughout their marriage as well as tied her up and raped her on one occasion. I was disturbed that she chose to stay with him but based on her mindset I can understand why she stayed.  It was also sad to see how Nina replicated this abusive behavior by beating her own daughter in later years. But again, I can understand why this happened as well.  It became apparent to me as I read her autobiography that Nina was perhaps not the most reliable account of her own life because she seemed only to pull selectively from the parts of her memory that did not require her to take any responsibility for her own negative behavior.

What disturbed me about the documentary was the reliance on her husband to describe her and her declining mental state without ever interjecting that he was responsible for so much of it. It was if you were listening to a perpetrator talk about the unfortunate abuse of their own victim. I was not against him being a part of the documentary but at no point was there any evidence that Liz Garbus sought to investigate him or what in his background had caused him to be such a violent man. Though the facts of his violence were stated, his character was never really called into question. He was called a bully for working her hard. Nina was called violent, angry, difficult, unpredictable, frightening, prone to mood swings and more.

But the violence began long before Andrew entered Nina’s life. And that I believe is what laid the foundation for her acceptance of his abuse. As a girl, Nina was “discovered” by two white women who witnessed her incredible piano playing talent in church where she lead services and followed sermons that her mother gave. Nina’s family allowed these white women to isolate her in their home for many hours a day in their home while they trained her to be that exceptional Black novelty, the first Black classical pianist in America.  Money was raised for her scholarship. Her lessons were paid for. She was treated well. But she was isolated, lonely, always on the outside of things and worst of all, she was forbidden by her parents to ever complain about racial prejudice or to admit that it had any effect on her life. I don’t know if it is possible to really grasp what a thing that is to endure for a black girl born in America in the 1930s but I do know that this was violence that began in the core of Nina’s emotional foundation. Being taken in by two white women who displayed human kindness while facing and witnessing the evils of racism by the same white faces in other situations,  feeling like an outsider in both Black and white circles because like a bird in a gilded cage, she was held to higher expectations, set apart from the group and worked so hard that she basically had no childhood and no healthy form of socialization with her own people.

In this White ruled world, Nina was chosen. She was supposed to feel lucky. But sadly she was tortured, angry and depressed for most of her life except for the rare moments on stage when she could as she said be “free.” And you could see it in her movement; hear it in her voice and the music she made. She was a force of nature and I don’t think she ever really felt understood by anyone. She only came close to being free when she was able to release her spirit on stage. And what she did on stage was beyond the result of careful rehearsal because she would change her performance up all the time. She was notoriously disciplined but she did not allow that to dictate her performance. It was as if she defied her own training or rather she would channel her classical training into something  deeply emotional and spiritual.

The music that made her a star was considered by her family and I’m sure to the two White women who plucked her out of seeming obscurity to be “The Devil’s music.”  How ironic. She had to change her name (her real name was Eunice Waymon) to protect her identity and fragment herself in order to do what came naturally to her. When Nina found deeper purpose as an artist in the Civil Rights movement and began writing protest songs, she was ostracized again by record companies who refused to play her records thereby cutting her off from means to support herself.

How do you not go mad in these circumstances?

So I was not crazy about this documentary. In fact, like Steele, I was disappointed even in the title, which seemed to suggest that Nina was somehow to blame for all that happened to her with no emphasis whatsoever on the impact of the culture of racism, denial and compartmentalization that eventually unraveled her. She didn’t go mad for no reason. No woman ever does. Certainly, no Black woman.