Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reflecting at the End of the Year

As everyone does, if the internet is to be believed, I like to use the holidays as a chance to reflect. Truthfully, I tend to be a rather self-reflective person in general. Others might call it "narcissism" but I digress. I like to think about what I'm thinking and how it's different from what I used to think.

Sometimes it's easier to think the complicated thoughts than feel the complicated feelings. 

I think as a defense mechanism - if I can plan for it, I can prepare for it, and "it" can't hurt me. At least, that's what Type-A Courtney wishes would work, and it's the best strategy I've got so far. But we all know that the effort is futile: "it" will eventually catch you. Hurt is inevitable. And, surprisingly, that realization has been the most freeing lesson of my 2014.

Once I realized that everything in the world could hurt me, I stopped making choices based on avoiding hurt.

If I had to sum up 2013 in one word, it would be loss. I lost friends and family who were close to me, I lost a relationship, I lost some of my confidence, I lost my footing in a space that I thought I knew. And no amount of thinking or preparing could have prevented it. No amount of extra effort or carefulness or diligence can bring back our loved ones who are gone, or make someone love you in the way you deserve, or even make you love you in the way you deserve.

Hurt will find you well enough on its own, it doesn't need you to go looking for it.

My theme for 2014, almost unconsciously, has been risk. I moved in with strangers, bared my soul to acquaintances, left the country with a broken phone, said "yes" more often than I said "no", and said "no" to people who aren't used to hearing it. I began a complicated relationship with a complicated man. "But you could get hurt" stopped being reason enough to not do something. And those risks, so far, have paid off.

The strangers I moved in with became my Brooklyn family.
The acquaintances I connected with have become close friends.
Leaving the country caused me to reconnect with one of my oldest and best friends.
I directed more, danced more, experienced more.
I found a new job and took my business to another level.
And that complicated relationship is the best I've ever been in.

It's still all scary. Yes, I will still get hurt. I am a work in progress. But I am happy. And, most importantly, I'm taking new risks and minimizing the role fear plays in my life. Thank you for supporting me and my journey. Thank you for reading.

May your 2015 be filled with risks and rewards beyond your wildest dreams. And, just once, may your laughter be caught on film so that you remember what your joy looks like when you're too scared.

Happy Holidays!



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Musings on the Tortoise and the Hare

After reading this listicle, I was reminded why I hate hearing people talk about Millennials. There are so many complaints about our collective inability to be better people that it's a wonder we aren't all committing ritual suicide in front of Sallie Mae's headquarters. Maybe we are averse to blood on our iPads.

But I digress.

These arguments often remind me of the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Every preceding generation is painted as the thoughtful tortoise - patient, hardworking, and resilient. They were able to earn their keep while staying focused and paying their dues. We Millennials are the foolhardy hare - boastful, entitled, and lazy. We sleep while the rest of the world works and that will ultimately be our undoing. So the world says.
The fable only works if the hare falls asleep. What if the hare remains awake?

What if our hare runs to the finish line and realizes that the only thing waiting on the other side is more race?

What if the hare encounters row after row of blockading tortoises jostling for a finish line no one can clearly see anymore, let alone cross?

What if a generation of thoughtful tortoises coached a generation of enterprising hares then stripped the race track?

What if the hare sees destruction and dysfunction at the end of the race, runs back to the tortoise to say "I don't know if running this race is worth it" and the tortoise berates the hare for lacking a work ethic?

What if the hare says, "I don't think everyone gets to run this race. We've left others at the start"?

What if the tortoise replies, "I've made it this far, I don't know why they didn't. It's not my problem"?

What if the tortoise and the hare aren't even running the same race?

It's all fables and fairytales; questions without answers. Maybe Millennials are lazy, entitled, selfish and difficult. Maybe not. It is difficult to understand the impact our generation will have when the world changes so quickly. Simply, the race isn't over.

Or maybe I'm just asleep, and the race is already lost.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (BONUS DAY - Celebrate Yourself and Others)

Today is my 30th birthday! It has been an interesting journey to this point. I've learned a lot and I am grateful to anyone who has followed this for the last 3031 days. I appreciate your support.

Since it's my birthday, I want to focus on celebrating and remembering that joy is not a limited resource. I offer my birthday and this space for celebrations big and small. I'll start:

I Celebrate thirty awesome years on this planet and in this life.

I Celebrate Beyonce as she's filled a void in my heart since Janet married that billionaire.

I Celebrate that the internet has allowed me to maintain so many relationships with people near and far.

I Celebrate every one of you doing something you like at this moment.

I Celebrate every one of you doing something you hate at this moment because it just needs to get done.

I Celebrate oysters and expensive cheese. Not together.

I Celebrate gainful employment, though I'm not going to work tomorrow.

I Celebrate a body that works for me in the ways I need it to.

I Celebrate both the homes we come from and the homes we build for ourselves.

I Celebrate hugs. I really love hugs.

I Celebrate love in every form possible.

Comment with what you are celebrating today.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 30 - Enjoy the Journey)

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday.

This blog was a challenge to myself to see how I could reconcile my experiences thus far and approach thirty with clarity. I needed to understand the goals I wanted for this new phase in my life. Thirty is a milestone because I am no where near where I thought I was going to be. And that's not a bad thing:

If I was limited in my current success by the things I thought I wanted in the past, I would be miserable.

I have found so many new opportunities that I didn't even know were possible. I have met my heroes, fallen in and of love, started my own business, and forged connections and developed communities that have nurtured and supported me in ways I couldn't have imagined.

By enjoying the journey, I have found lessons in every moment.

Each passing minute is a new chance to learn something. It's an opportunity to take a risk, make a friend, try something different, ask a question. Our lives are collections of these minutes and they tell a story. They are our journey and I thank you for taking my journey with me.

Your support of this blog has been amazing. I appreciate every kind word or thought you've shared as I've worked my way through these past 30 days. I am grateful for your time and energy. Thank you.

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. Bring it on.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 29 - Just Do It)

Sometimes you just have to do something. 

For the last few months, I've been in a hibernation of sorts. I have let my own personal work fall to the wayside and indulged myself in frivolous pastimes as a means to avoid it. I needed the break but eventually I had to keep my promises. I'd made promises to my board, to my friends, to my partners. And I will admit, I just didn't want to keep them. I was at a point where I wanted to relinquish my responsibilities and just disappear into banality.

Then someone reminded me to just do it.

Sometimes there is no motivation. Sometimes there is no inspiration. Sometimes you just don't want to. It's so tempting to surrender to nothingness. And we all know the difference between "I'm burned out and need rest" and "I just don't want to." It's easy to create excuses to conflate the two, but ultimately we cannot give in to apathy. We cannot always wait to be ready.

More often than we admit, we must act before we are ready. Though we are a day late and a dollar short, we must deliver anyway.

I was imperfect. I was unprepared. I fell short. I delivered anyway. And I'm not here to tell you that in the end my motivation showed up. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter whether my inspiration shows up or not, I'm going to do the work anyway. Because I have a job to do. I have goals to meet. I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep...


Monday, February 17, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 28 - Sometimes Words Fail You)

I am running out of words to express rage. I am actually scared because I don't even feel rage the same. It's a low rumble iin my stomach now. A simmering that is so constant that I only really acknowledge it when it flares, like a sports injury that only hurts when its cold. The damage is done, but you learn to live with it somehow.

That's how I feel after the verdict for the killer of Jordan Davis.

I'm out of words. I'm glad it's not my job to write, because I would fail. I want to scream and cry and just fall asleep. Luckily, there are people who are better at this than me. Who can take that rage and communicate it effectively. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one such person. He has written amazing things on a variety of topics, but I want to share highlights.

From Black Boy Interrupted
And this will happen again, must happen again, because our policy is color-blind, but our heritage isn't. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind denies its rightful inheritance. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind is a drug addict claiming he can walk away after just one more hit.

From On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn
I insist that the irrelevance of black life has been drilled into this country since its infancy, and shall not be extricated through the latest innovations in Negro Finishing School. I insist that racism is our heritage, that Thomas Jefferson's genius is no more important than his plundering of the body of Sally Hemmings, that George Washington's abdication is no more significant than his wild pursuit of Oney Judge.

From Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice
I have seen nothing within the actual case presented by the prosecution that would allow for a stable and unvacillating belief that George Zimmerman was guilty.
That conclusion should not offer you security or comfort. It should not leave you secure in the wisdom of our laws. On the contrary, it should greatly trouble you. But if you are simply focusing on what happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history and bought into a idea of fairness which can not possibly exist.

My words have failed me. I am glad his did not.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 27 - Recognize Your Safe Spaces)

The world is hard. It is also beautiful and fulfilling, but there's no shortage of hard. And I've mentioned before the importance of rest and recharging, and I want to take it one step further.

You have to create a safe space. A place that gives you peace and perspective.

Most of my safe spaces are edible. My favorite safe space is oysters, preferable $1, and a beer.

I love seafood, and I didn't have an oyster until I was 24. Where I grew up, fresh seafood was hard to find. Fresh oysters don't travel well, and frankly I didn't trust the places who offered them where I was. From afar, oysters seemed like the ultimate in East Coast indulgence - a signifier of an urban, sophisticated life I didn't have access to. Oysters were a metaphoric brass ring that I couldn't reach; one of those symbols we all create to represent a goal in our lives. Then I ate one and discovered a new safe space.

This city is hard and without a space of your own, metaphoric or not, it just gets harder. 

When I ate that first oyster (and the many, many, many, since), I was able to put my choices into perspective. It was a marker of sorts: I was holding in my hand something that previously felt unattainable. When I am overwhelmed, having oysters and a beer reminds me of the work it took to get here. It reminds of the choices I made. It allows me to indulge. And, frankly, it's just delicious. It is something that makes me feel good whether I'm alone or with all of my friends. It's a place I feel safe.

Create a space that is just yours, even if it's a short activity. It's worth its weight in gold.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 26 - Let People Love You)

This might seem contradictory to yesterday's post, but I promise it is not. You should, by all means, fight for the love you deserve. Definitely don't settle. However, when someone is offering you the love you want, let them.

The world doesn't tell you how scary it is to be given real love.

When someone loves you fully, it can be terrifying. It's actually why the hardest question in the world for me to answer is my mother asking me "How are you?" There's so much love in that question it's scary, and it forces me to assess how I'm actually feeling every time. More than once, I've been surprised at my own answer.

Real love forces you to see yourself honestly - and sometimes shows you how you're not measuring up.

As I said yesterday, love is both feeling and action. It is fairly common to be experiencing one or the other at any given moment. It is when both are present that you can fully understand the power of it all. Real love is as terrifying to give as it is to receive. It makes you vulnerable. It leaves you open. But it also lets you create a truly genuine connection. It is worth fighting for and worth keeping. 

Let people love you. Work to be worthy of it. And love genuinely in return.

When you have fought for the love you deserve, surrender to its power.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 25 - Fight For the Love You Deserve)

I love hard, always have. I make very serious and deep connections with people. I love actively and wholly and passionately. I say "I love you" several times a day to several people and I mean it every time. For me, an abundance of love does not diminish its value: the more love I give, the more I see love in the world. That is sometimes difficult for the people I love to get - I don't just feel love, I try to enact love at every opportunity.

Love as action is even stronger than love as a feeling.

I have been in a romantic relationship for 11 of the last 14 years. It's a number I keep repeating because it gets no less staggering to me whenever I say it. Over a third of my entire life has been spent committed to someone else. That's time I can't get back, and it's, frankly, time I don't want back. It taught me how I love and what I need to feel love. That time helped me learn to love myself, and is driving me to stay focused on love's role in my life outside of a romantic relationship. Love is limitless, and there are many ways to cultivate it in life.

People who say they love you but can't show they love you, aren't for you.

I won't presume to tell others what they feel, because I know feelings aren't actions. People are imperfect, so we can't always show what we are feeling effectively. However, anyone who constantly says they love you but doesn't show you that love in their actions isn't for you.  Real love is both action and feeling: you deserve that. We all deserve that.

Love hard in both action and feeling; fight for the same in return.

I will leave you with two of my favorite love songs. Take today and celebrate the multitude of ways love is present in your life.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 24 - Read Everything)

Words are amazing. I love them. You can use them to communicate so much. They can hurt, uplift, soothe, instruct, transform. The words that are chosen in any given medium confer more than just meaning, they confer tone, location, history. Each word carries with it connotation, denotation, and context. What a word means is what we all understand it to mean based on the information we have at any given moment. The more information we have, the deeper the meaning.

By reading everything, you understand how malleable words are and, therefore, how malleable concepts are.

As I've stated before, systems are everywhere. Those systems are largely communicated through what is written down. The more one reads, the more one understands the various systems at play. I use that in my work as a theater artist and as a person: when we choose to tell one story, what are the stories we aren't telling? By devouring multiple perspectives from various sources, it's possible to obtain clarity about how all of our various identities intersect.

Reading is practical.

I am someone who reads instruction manuals and fine print. I will admit that there are several EULA's that I've never glanced at, but I, more often than not, read anything put in front of me. I read contracts, and cereal boxes, and old magazines at the doctor's,and anything that has words on it and is still in front of my eyeballs. And I am amazed at the number of times it's given me an edge to read information hidden in plain sight. 

Reading is also just plain fun.

A good book is worth its weight in gold. It transports us to a far off place while simultaneously revealing our inner most thoughts. Good books reveal something about our lives, fictional or not. They allow us to compound our collective experience. They stretch the bounds of what is possible. Books are powerful and we become even more powerful with the knowledge.

Read often, read everything.


Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 24 - Sometimes A Song Says It All)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 23 - Let Other People Have The Floor)

When you let other people tell their stories, you are apt to learn a bit about your own.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 22 - Art Changes Lives)

I have considered myself an artist for as long as I can remember. I have danced, sung (badly), acted, and directed with some regularity since I was 3-years-old. I have always appreciated the role of art in my life and I am grateful to have had a support system that made those experiences possible.

I say, without hesitation, that art changed my life.

This is not a story about how I was on a wayward path and art redeemed me. I am very much a product of a middle-class, stable, two-parent home with access to some of the best resources one could find. No, this is a story about how art (specifically theater) gave me purpose. At twelve years old, I read For Colored Girls... and experienced a defining moment. I read these words

i found god in myself

& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely

and my life was different. Middle-school me fully understood the type of woman I wanted to be, even if I couldn't articulate it. Wanting to be in an environment where those words could be written became my goal. Seventeen years later, I still repeat those words to myself to remind myself of why I do any of the various things I do. And while Ms. Shange did not write those words for me, her writing them at all is a testament to the potential power of art. Those words traveled ten years and a thousand miles to change my life. I believe I would have built an ok life had I not read those words, but I know it would have been a lot harder and much less fulfilling.

The impact of the arts is both tangible and immeasurable.

It's easy to feel the need to quantify the arts: dollars raised, dollars spent, dollars generated, jobs given, tourists attracted, etc. And to the people who can make that argument, keep at it. That, however, is not the only value needed. Art is like water - it is difficult to contain and devastating in its absence. Art nourishes us even when we think we don't need it. All art reminds us that the line between possible and impossible isn't fixed - art showed us that today's communicator is tomorrow's cell phone.

Respect the power of art to transform people, places, concepts, and limitations.

Art changes lives. I know it changed mine.



Monday, February 10, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 21 - Don't Be So Hard On Yourself)

Recently, a very good friend reminded me very poignantly that I was driving myself insane. I was creating impossible standards, feeling pressure to meet said standards, resenting the standards, and then beating myself up for not meeting them. It was decidedly not awesome.

Doing your best and striving for perfection is great; beating yourself up when you fall short is not. 

I am a very driven person. I always have been. I also have difficulty finishing the things I start - if it falters in some way, I am likely to believe it is (or I am) somehow unworthy. They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but that's just not true. We all fall short. We all fail. But that doesn't mean what we've done is invalid. It simply means it was not perfect, and that's fine.

If you can forgive another's failures, you can forgive your own.

This same friend pointed out that I was giving leeway to others that I wasn't allowing for myself. I was trying to adhere to a standard that I wouldn't even enforce. She said "give yourself the minimum consideration you'd give someone you care about." Because I am someone I care about. We should always treat ourselves as we'd treat someone else we love.

Strive often, take care of yourself always.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 20 - Goodbyes are Hard)

Last night, I got to attend a farewell-for-now party for one of my newest friends in NYC. It was the third such farewell in four days; the sixth farewell in the last month. The goodbye party is a NYC staple - this city is a beautiful revolving door.

Goodbyes are hard but necessary.

Getting to see so many people prepare for and make graceful exits, I can't help but contemplate the nature of goodbyes. Why does it take a promise of prolonged absence for some folks to get their stuff together? At each goodbye, there is a reconciling of sorts, both within the person leaving and those surrounding him/her. There's a conscious decision to create a marker, of sorts, and assess where we all are at that particular moment.

If you can say goodbye, you should. It's the ones you couldn't say that you'll regret the most.

Each goodbye party I've gone to recently has been just that, a party. It's been people leaving to make bold, new choices in their lives and venture off into bigger and better things. Each event has been filled with love and laughter. They've been good and I am thankful. I recognize that there are times when goodbyes aren't so easy, or clean-cut, joyful, or planned. Some goodbyes are permanent. Some are sudden. All are hard.

In the next few weeks two of my closest friends will be leaving the city and I will miss them terribly. They join the ranks of many more who are off to new adventures. To all of you, near and far, I'm happy to know you and to have shared space with you, no matter how briefly. Travel safe now and always. Drop me a line when you can.


ETA: I wrote this and then read my amazing friend Eleanor's blog about a similar subject. Read it too.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 19 - The Elephant and The String)

Every so often, I think of this story:

On the day a new elephant is born, the training method of East Asian “mahouts” has been to tie one end of a thick rope to the elephant’s neck or leg, and the other to a stake planted deeply in the ground.

From birth the young elephant struggles and fights to free itself, day after day, month after month, and year after year. But the overwhelming rope eventually conquers the young elephant, as at some point in it’s life, it gives up, stops resisting, and stops fighting. From that day forth, the trainer replaces the thick rope with a thin string, and the elephant continues living under the belief that it cannot defeat the rope.

Whenever the elephant feels the familiar tightening of the string (albeit much softer), it is reminded of the rope, and gently moves back to the center of it’s radius. 

It makes question: what are the behaviors we repeat just because they are familiar? How are we limiting ourselves based on out-of-date "lessons" and experiences? What are the "rules" we follow just because they are the rules we've always followed?

Often our strongest chains are self-constructed.

There are real limitations in the world. It is impossible to do or be everything. Few us ever even test those limits. We let past experiences color our present reality and don't take enough time to reconsider whether that coloring is valid. We don't consider whether the thick rope has been replaced with a thin string while we weren't paying attention. We become our own zookeepers and forget to check if the gate is locked.

Understanding your limits is one thing: being ruled by them is entirely different.

Every once in a while pull at the strings that hold you. Tap at that glass ceiling. Make sure the closed door in front of you is actually locked. As Marianne Williamson put it,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 18 - Be Surprising)

Sometimes we get so comfortable in who we are, where we work, who we love, that we hit a rut. We keep doing the same things and keep getting the same results. We start to think that just because this is what we've been doing, this is all we can do.

Surprise yourself every once in a while.

I am not particularly competitive, but I HATE to be underestimated. HATE IT. I will lose with the best of them, but the second someone takes my loss as a foregone conclusion, I effectively lose my cool. And I make it a personal challenge to not underestimate myself - there is not a finite amount of awesome in the universe, so we can all be great. There is no way for you to know all of the things you're great at until you try all of the things. 

Everyone has to do everything for the first time.

Everybody was a three-year-old. There was a moment when the entire world was big and scary. For some reason, as we learn more we start to think that the world gets less big and less scary. We start to think we know all we need to know or that we can do everything we would ever need to do.

We stop surprising ourselves.

We stop expecting more from ourselves.

We stop asking others to expect more from us.

We stop expecting more from others.

We get stuck. We get complacent.

Surprise someone today with an honest admission out of the blue; surprise yourself by trying something new; listen to music you've never heard before; watch something you've never seen; do a task at your job differently; ask the person furthest away from you something about their day.

Expand your idea of who you think you are so that you can become who you're meant to be.

Remember that you are capable of doing anything at least as well as a three-year-old and they do more new things than you everyday.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 17 - People Are Complicated)

There have been plenty of days recently where I've looked at my life and just thought "I am a mess."

And I am. 

But I am also happy, and lonely, and excited about the future, and terrified about the future, and worried I will fail at something, and amazed that I've gotten this far, and in love with my job, and tired of my job, and grateful that I made it out of Saginaw while wishing I could crawl into my mother's bed at this very moment.

See? Mess.

People are complicated and messy and that's just fine.

This is not an excuse for me to wallow in whatever space I choose to be in at the moment. Nor is it a call to excuse people who are unreliable or mistreat you. It is a call to recognize that everyone has mess, and one day that mess will show. Someone will miss a deadline, someone will forget to call you back, someone won't be there when you need them. And most of the time they won't be able to tell you why. 

People are equally capable of greatness and awfulness. They are also frequently executing some degree of both at the same time.

As I touched on in Day 8, the things that make us great can also make us awful. That's why I love complicated hero stories - most of us are complicated heroes in our own lives. I know great members of their communities who are awful spouses; I know brilliant thinkers with no communication skills; I know talented artists who refuse to read anything longer than paragraph; and I am a truly awesome person who will be 15 minutes late to almost anything you invite me to.

When we accept the imperfections in ourselves and others, it's easier to improve them because you're no longer fighting them.

People are messy. They will disappoint you. You will disappoint yourself. Forgive them. Forgive you. Do better next time. 


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 16 - Details Matter)

Nuance is a wondrous thing. It is actually one of my favorite things. Nuance is the difference between loving and being in love; between hate and anger; between better and best. For me, nuance is the space where the truth lives - the details tell the story.

Details matter. Full stop.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Dylan Farrow Janet Mock/Piers Morgan

Each of the multiple stories attached to those links is screaming for nuance. Addiction, incest/sexual assault, and gender-identity are issues that can't be discussed without the details. Yet we all try. We all make judgements based on the information we think we have. So many of the posts on any platform I've seen about the above topics begin "Well, that's not what I would have done..." "If I was there, I would have seen..." "The facts clearly show..." The truth is the "facts" rarely show everything. And "facts" don't always lead to the correct conclusion. For example:

It is a fact that the sun is hot. It is also a fact that were I to touch the sun*, I would disintegrate based on the previous fact. Therefore, based on those facts, the sun could be considered a threat worth destroying. Facts aren't conclusions and shouldn't be confused as such. 

When you remove details, you change the narrative. One person's "detail" is another person's crux.

This becomes particularly important when dealing with marginalized communities. It is the repeated dismissal of the details of our existence that marginalizes us. The details of a marginalized group's struggle are always inconvenient to the dominant group. And if you are talking to someone about their story, don't police their narrative based on your experience.

When it is not your story, you don't get to decide which details are important.

Listen more. The details matter.


*I realize this would happen before I got anywhere near touching it, but c'est la vie.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 15 - Feelings Aren't Actions)

I am having lots of feelings recently - an action-packed six months of change will do that to a person. However, I constantly struggle with what to do with those feelings. As an ENFP*, my

primary mode of living is focused externally, where I take things in primarily via intuition. My secondary mode is internal, where I deal with things according to how I feel about them, or how they fit in with my personal value system." -


In other words, I act because I feel. Sometimes, I don't know how I'm feeling until I look at what I'm doing. If I'm avoiding something, I probably feel ambivalent, scared, or unprepared. If I'm reaching out to someone, I'm feeling lonely or in need of connection. If I'm not motivated to do much of anything, I'm exhausted or burned out. As a result, it is difficult for me to separate my feelings from my actions and that can lead to trouble.

Recognizing that feelings aren't actions empowers me to understand them separately.

Not every feeling deserves an action. Louis CK touches on this in the below video, but we as humans tend to do things to avoid sitting in our feelings. And sometimes feeling the feeling is all the action we need. 

Asking "Am I doing this thing because I want to do it or because I'm having a feeling?" allows us all to minimize our negative actions and get in touch with what we're feeling. The answers aren't easy or instant, but taking the moment to reflect and ask the question creates an opportunity to ensure the consequences of your actions are the consequences you want.

Feelings don't have consequences, the actions we take as a result of those feelings do.

You can be angry at someone without yelling; you can be attracted to someone without acting on it; you can be sad without hurting yourself. When we turn those feelings into actions that we can't take back, trouble happens. And that's not always a negative: break up with someone who makes you feel terrible; tell someone whom you can't stop thinking about how you feel; indulge in a guilty pleasure that makes you happy. This is not a call for inaction - it is a request to recognize that your feelings are not your actions. Each should be acknowledged and considered as separate parts of the whole. As a particular friend is tired of hearing me say,

Feel your feelings. Act in your best interest.


*P.S. This is a really accurate description of me (or how I see myself, at least), in case you were wondering.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 14 - Keep Your Promises)

I promised you thirty lessons in thirty days, and that's what I'm giving. I missed this weekend, but instead of skipping them, had to catch up because it is important to me to keep my promises. Simply:

Keep the promises you make, and only make promises you can keep.

It is surprisingly hard to not over promise. I know I do it all of the time, and it is a struggle I consistently fight. It becomes easier to just tell someone you'll give them what they want, even if you can't. We all do it because it's simpler than saying "I am not able to give that to you." 

It is an act of bravery to admit what you can't do.

Managing expectations is a job in itself. And we all want to be the hero - the person who saves the day and over-delivers. However, we as human beings are fallible and have limited capacity. Only we know our limits, and we have to be able to communicate them to maintain trust. In short:

Make fewer promises. Make truer promises.

Seventeen more days.



Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 13 - Show Up to Your Big Game)

Everyone has their version of the Super Bowl: that one challenge you'll have to face if everything goes the way you want it to. Success is increasing challenges and responsibilities - there will eventually (and repeatedly) be the Big Challenge that changes the game. And the first and hardest thing you have to do at that challenge is show up.

Showing up is hard. Period.

It is easier than one thinks to not show up, ask Peyton Manning. Whatever the reason, and I'm not going to attempt to guess, something didn't show up for Manning and the Broncos last night. "Showing up" isn't just physically being somewhere, going through the motions, hoping that what has worked before will continue to work. "Showing up" is when preparation and planning meet execution; it's being both in the moment and three steps ahead.

In order to show up to your Big Challenge, you have to know it's the Big Challenge.

That's where planning and preparation comes in. Not every challenge is the Big Challenge. You have to be able to differentiate between today's challenge and the Big Challenge. It's why the playoffs in any sport are special - the stakes are different. You don't take playoff risks in regular season play. You don't deplete the resources you need for the Big Challenge for today's challenge. 

Even then, sometimes it just won't be there. Show up anyway.

There is no real doubt that Peyton Manning is good at his job - the debates around him center on just exactly how great he's supposed to be. But something did not happen for him and the rest of the team. Fatigue, lack of clarity, overthinking, or any number of thigns could have contributed. The dangerous part is when we let that be the norm and stop showing up. Defeats are inevitable, but so are more Big Challenges.

Show up, show out, and prepare for the next one.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 12 - You Never Know Who Will Be Important To You)

I touched on this on Day 1 (Speak Up) but it bears reiterating - you never know who will be important to you. One of my favorite lines in August: Osage County is "Thank God we can't tell the future, we would never get out of bed." And I'm not entirely sure that's true. I think if we could know the future, we wouldn't believe it anyway. 

The tragedy is not the number of people who betray you, it's the number of people you didn't give the chance to support you.

We often assume we know who our friends will be. We dismiss people who don't fit a particular idea of what we want. We don't ask for help because we assume people can't help. We don't confide in people because we assume they don't understand. 

If we knew what everyone else knew, all of our problems would be solved already.

Opening up makes you vulnerable, true, but more often than not it allows you to get your needs met. I currently live with (and love) people whom I wasn't even aware of four months ago. One of my best friends is my former intern; another I met on my very first day of college. I have people helping me run my business who I've never met in person. I couldn't predict what they would do for me, and I've stopped trying. It has also encouraged me to be more generous, even when someone doesnt' expect it. 

People's capacity for generosity exceeds our expectations. We can't predict who will help us, or how, so be open to all of the possibilities.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 11 - Say You Don't Know)

I embarked on this blogging journey to force myself to work through my experiences and share things I've learned. I use language to process, so while I want and appreciate your readership, this whole thing is about me processing my life experience to date. I am sharing these lessons to grapple with one simple truth:

I don't know.

I have feelings I don't understand. I have insecurities I want to fight. I have fears I don't want to face. I am attempting to wrestle with questions whose answers I don't know. And it's ok to not know. It's freeing to say "I don't know." Understanding what you don't know is the first step in learning something new.

When you are no longer responsible for generating the answer, you can truly appreciate the question. 

So today I sit before you and say that my questions remain unanswered - I am surrending to not having to figure it all out. I, simply, don' t know and that's just fine.

Twenty-one more days


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 10 - If Part of It's Broken, It All Could Be Broken)

I have a lot of strong opinions about a lot of things, particularly around racism, sexuality, inequality, and marginalization. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about systems and how they affect our collective existence. While no issue can be (or should be) condensed into a sound bite, I have learned something that applies across the board:

If part of a system is broken, it's probable that all of the system is broken - even the parts that currently work in your favor.

Systems are never perfect: something or someone is always overlooked, trapped, crushed, or dismissed by them. There are things that you as a person are taking for granted at this very moment. The ability to read this puts you in a privileged position on a variety of levels. And there are also plenty of times when the system does not work in your favor.

When the system works for you, take stock of all of the pieces that had to converge for that to happen. When it doesn't work, consider what you can contribute to fix it, change or, or discard it.

Ultimately, this is a lesson on empathy and recognizing that there are structures in place that reward some behaviors and punish others. This isn't necessarily because some behaviors and experiences are objectively better, it is because those behaviors and experiences are favored. Just because the system rewards you, it doesn't mean that you are better. Remembering that allows us all to be more aware of our place in this world.

"Better" doesn't exist in a vacuum. Rewards are distributed to benefit the system, not necessarily the recipient. Any system always works in its favor.

Racism rewards behaviors and experiences that are White-centered; sexism rewards behaviors and experiences that are male-centered; capitalism rewards behaviors and experiences that are money-centered; consumerism rewards behaviors and experiences that are consumption-centered...the list continues. When you are rewarded by these systems, ask yourself - what system did I contribute to? And if someone else was not rewarded, why not? Not "what did they do wrong?" Rather, "what did the system see in me that protects itself? What did it not see in someone else?" 

Every moment is an opportunity to question our assumptions. When the veneer is cracked, don't jump to repair it. Take a moment to lift it up, and see what you're actually working with.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 9 - Laugh Loudly and Often)

Happy Wednesday. This never ceases to be funny to me:


I really enjoy making people laugh and laughing with them. Anyone who has ever met my mother knows that it's impossible to not laugh in her presence, and if I'm a third as funny as she is, I'm one lucky individual.

I also spend a lot of my time being serious, though as I get older I take myself decidedly less seriously. Adulthood is filled with so many moments you have to take seriously, it becomes a welcome break to engage in foolishness of any kind. 

Today's lesson is to occasionally embrace foolishness. Laugh loudly and often. Look for the humor in things.

Happy Wednesday!



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 8 - Recognize Your Best and Worst Qualities)

I am really nosy. Most of the time, this trait exhibits itself as a healthy curiosity sated by an hour or two on Wikipedia. However, there are moments when I'm digging just to dig: I want to know the who, what, why, when, and how of any of your lives at any given moment.

I've probably Googled you and it feels good to get that off my chest.

Our best qualities and our worst qualities are often closer than we want them to be.

This same nosiness actually makes me really good at my job. I listen to artists talk about their projects and genuinely want to know the details. I like to think this also helps me be a good friend - I like to listen and work through issues with people I care about. I work very hard at recognizing when issues are just not my business (to varying levels of success) because I know my nosy tendencies. I also work hard at making sure that someone wants to share information I'm asking for. Intrusive prying isn't helpful and it's taken me a while to learn that.

By recognizing our truths (good or ill) we are empowered to behave our best instead of doomed to live at our worst.

I feel that often times we assume we are better people than we are. It's how we get into those "I don't know that happened" situations - we assumed we would make better choices than we did. There are situations for all of us that can lead us to behaving our worst: don't ignore those situations, recognize them and commit to doing better. Find situations where that same "negative" tendency is an asset. Find even more situations where your best tendencies flourish. Be conscious of what you look like at your best and at your worst: aim for more of the former knowing you can't outrun the latter.

In short, be great as often as possible. And when you're not, let me know. ;)

Twenty-three days more.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 7 - Be Kind Until You Can't)

Kindness is really a gift that keeps on giving. It is amazing how a simple act of kindness can make any interaction more pleasant and more efficient. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, and recognizing someone's effort with kindness - even if the effort they are showing is part of their job - is always a good idea.

There are times, however, where kindness isn't the answer.

As a Black woman, often my anger is both assumed and vilified. Simple requests for action are deemed aggressive. I have many a personal story of having to couch questions in flowery language just to be heard. Women, in general, are socialized to believe that anger isn't an appropriate response, lest we be deemed hysterical or irrational or overly sensitive. Kindness becomes the assumed default, and when women (particularly Black women) are not kind, we are ignored or belittled or gaslighted.

Kindness is a courtesy - not a prerequisite for recognizing someone's humanity. 

Lead with kindness: be open to giving people as much positivity as you can. More often than not, a kind word will get you what you need. Just recognize when someone is mistaking your kindness for weakness. What you need has value, regardless of how you ask for it.

Be kind until you can't, then do what you have to do. 

24 days of kindness (or not) left.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 6 - Rest When You Need It)

Living in New York City, there is a constant need to do more, be more, see more. And while being driven is not geographically limited, I will say the sheer number of opportunities available here is staggering. One always feels like they're missing out on the coolest thing that ever happened, so one is constantly trying to do everything.

No matter the specifics of an opportunity, if you can't give it the attention it deserves, it is not the right opportunity. 

If you're not resting, you can't feasibly be available to the right opportunities. Rest isn't just sleep, it's giving your mind the chance to regain clarity and focus. It's almost impossible to plan and execute at the same time: resting allows you to assess where you are and pivot intelligently before you get swept up in a current of activity.

When you approach a task rested and refreshed, the task becomes less daunting and more beneficial.

Recently, I took a break from the day-to-day operations of my company, Colloquy Collective. As a tiny, emerging organization, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of necessary tasks (not to discount the awesome efforts of my Board of Directors, Advisory Board, and interns). I had to take a step back and reassess how effective I was being as the leader of this company. I know there were opportunities missed, however, the opportunity to rest was as beneficial for the organization as it was for myself.

Organizations should occasionally take breaks too. The constant pressure to produce can lead to mission drift, stagnancy, and mistakes.

Take the time to rest - it is an investment in the work you're about to do.

25 more days.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 5 - Sometimes It's Not That Deep)

Sometimes, it's just not that deep.

Enjoy your Saturday. ;)


Friday, January 24, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 4 - Loving Yourself Is A Revolutionary Act)

In a culture that simultaneously rewards (see: Steve Jobs) and punishes (see: Kanye West) narcissism, it's difficult to understand what side of the self-esteem fence you're supposed to sit. This might be the rantings of just another self-centered millennial, but my conclusion is this:

Loving yourself is a revolutionary act.

There are thousands of messages out in the world that tell us we are the wrong height/shape/size/color/intellect to be loved. Capitalism and consumerism are built on us feeling flawed and spending money to fix those flaws. Pop culture is ripe with ways we should consider ourselves unworthy, unlovable, unattractive. Every day it gets harder to remember that we are complete all on our own.

Loving yourself is a revolutionary act.

Loving yourself is not entitlement, nor pride, nor braggadocio. It is not ignoring your flaws, or loving some falsely constructed version of who you wish to be. It is accurately accounting for every part of you--flaws, boons, warts and all--and saying "I love myself at this moment as I am."

Not "I will love myself when I lose X pounds."

Not "I will love myself when I get my degree(s)."

Not "I will love myself when I find someone else to love me."

Not "I will love myself when I get my stuff together."

But "I love myself in my entirety at this moment and forever after. And even if the world tells me different, I know that I have value. I will reject any message that tells me I'm not enough. I will always work to improve myself, not because I am broken, but because I commit to care for the things I love, especially myself."

When you truly love yourself, your capacity to love others increases infinitely.

The revolution begins when nothing diminishes how you feel about you: you become invincible. You hear more accurately the difference between legitimate criticism and hate; between flattery and love; between authenticity and game. You take care of your needs and are able to be more generous with your spirit.

Loving yourself is a revolutionary act. How will you love yourself today?

27 days.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 3 - The Worst Thing That Can Happen to You Is Rarely That)

In the last 2+ years I have been fired, ended a long-term relationship, failed a class, and tragically lost two mentors and more than a few relatives. Each moment was devastating in its own right, and some hits were harder to take than others.

The worst thing that can happen to us is letting the most tragic thing that ever happened to us be the last thing that ever happened to us. 

The things we fear every day aren't the worst things that can happen to us. The scariest truth is that the universe is surprisingly adept at creating new tragedies. However, that is only outmatched by our collective ability to overcome. The instinct to survive and persist is biological - we are literally built to keep going. I'm not one to justify tragedies by implying they all happen for a reason: many things are just awful and random. 

However, every moment you exist after those tragedies is a triumph worth celebrating.

So whatever you are fighting right now, you are winning. The worst thing that can happen to you already happened and you survived. Just take the next breath, keep going, and keep winning.

Twenty-eight days left. 



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 2 - Ask the Hard Questions)

Twenty-nine days left until thirty and today's lesson is Ask the Hard Questions.

The hard questions aren't always obvious.

"Do I want to be with this person?" "Do I want to continue to work this job?" "Am I happy?" Those seem like hard questions, but they are actually just questions with sometimes difficult answers. If the answer doesn't inspire another question, your first question wasn't hard enough. And when we focus on answers we can easily make up ("Of course, I want to be with him/her." "I need this job, so sure I'll stay."; "I'm always happy.") we let ourselves off the hook. At the very least, we ask those questions with a general idea of the answer.

The hard question is the one you don't want to ask, not because you fear the answer, but because you genuinely don't know the answer.

"Is this relationship giving me what I need?" "Does this job value me in the same way I value it?" "Do I love myself enough to allow for happiness?" These questions require work that can't only be done internally. The hardest question I've asked myself in recent memory was "Do I need a committed romantic relationship to feel like my life is complete?" I am working through the answer, but realize this is the first time in my adult life I've allowed myself to ask it. 

What's a hard question you'd like to ask of yourself or soemone else?


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 1 - Speak Up)

Today marks a milestone in the #CountdownToThirty: 30 days left. And I've decided to share 30 lessons I've learned over the last 30 years in a lesson a day. Friends will be tagged and stories will be shared all in the hopes of arriving at 30 with clarity, laughter, and motivation.

So without further adieu, today's lesson is simply this: Speak up.

In August of 2012, I wrote an e-mail looking for a fight. I had some serious thoughts that I wanted addressed, and the people to whom I wrote stated they wanted the feedback. So I sent a rather harsh e-mail, and the recipient invited me to meet him. The subject was New Brooklyn Theater's desire to renovate the Slave Theater; the recipient was none other than Artistic Director Jonathan Solari.

I got the fight I was searching for, just with an ally instead of an adversary.

After we met, Jonathan and I become fast friends. Artistically and professionally we wanted the same things for Bed-Stuy with slightly different approaches; personally, he just turned out to be one of the coolest people on the planet. We have since collaborated on some amazing things and have been able to support each other in this Founding-Artistic-Director-struggle. Had I not spoken up, I would have missed a chance to get to know an amazing person and collaborator: my life and work would be worse for it.

And this other time I was on Twitter in my feelings.

Social media-ing while sitting in your feelings is rarely a good idea. However, one day I decided to do just that. And a friend offered me words of encouragement. I texted him a thank you, and we proceeded to have one of the most honest and fulfilling conversations I've ever had. It was unique in that we never talked like that previously. It was a random and honest moment of connection - a testament to his generosity as a person. I got through the day and got out of my feelings, but realized (again), had I not said something I would have missed it. I'm not even sure he knows what that (and subsequent) conversations meant to me.

Speaking up is not about burdening those around you. It is about trusting that your thoughts have enough value to create something amazing.

Telling someone how you feel (good or ill) is not just for unrequited love or bedside confessions. It's an opportunity to trust the people around you to be great; to be supportive; to be attentive. It's an opportunity to be vulnerable, which we should all take more frequently.

Speak up, truthfully and often.