Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alice in Harlem: Book Club Sundays

This weekend I had my first book club experience, thanks to my friend Anastazia! Every woman there was connected to me in some way: my alma mater, youth non-profits, and/or my current job. We spent the evening indulging in Anastazia's cooking, wine, and Chimimanda Adichie's "Americanah."

Anastazia threw down! We had burgers, orzo pasta, and plenty of toppings to go around. She also had a watermelon tart, for dessert. Homemakers for the win?

Chimamanda's book was a love story wrapped in notions on culture, race, religion, immigration, morality, marriage, and so much more. The debate, in the room, was heavy. We voiced our opinions and listened to related narratives, as the sun descended into the sky. 

It was an excellent read! I give it a 9 out of 10. Our next read is Boy, Snow, Bird and I can't wait!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 2

To read part 1, of this series, go HERE.

   I woke up, the next morning, with Damali on my mind. It isn’t what you’re thinking. I wasn’t thinking about his smirk, tone, lips, or the lisp that danced between his cadences.
            I was wondering how he’d known my father. I slid out of my too-tall bed and pulled up the blinds, to let the sunshine in. Honestly, my apartment’s yellow walls already reflected enough sun, for my taste. However, my therapist insisted that I let air/light in, to quell my morning anxiety. I walked into my living room and took a seat, at my corner desk. I was a regular Sidney Shaw—after a high-school creative writing teacher’s compliments and several viewings of “Brown Sugar.” I knew exactly what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I opened up Microsoft Word and typed the words:

If i ever wanted love

it would look like this

In the shape of a sixteen bar verse

Rapped in metaphors and similies

And never miss a beat

Like my fathers tape deck


like the journals

that lay on his desk

How did Damali know my father?

My father was Fort Greene, all day. He was Harlem Renaissance royalty; the grandson of a jazz musician that migrated to Brooklyn, when uptown started changing. He was Spike Lee block parties and a lover of the HBCU girls that made their way to the north, to party with borough boys. My father made it out of the projects, but still came back from college and bought a house, in his old neighborhood, with his high-school sweetheart. I’m sure they never fathomed they wouldn’t make it, to see their baby girl do the same.
I continued typing. I’d been trying to decide, for a couple of weeks, if I’d finally perform at Free Verse. My father used to take me there to read my baby stanzas, as a pre-teen. Ever since I got back, Mr. Mills has been trying to get me to bless the microphone again.
            I wasn’t ready. Performing reminded me too much of my father. My voice and style was similar to his, a prose writer in his own right, and every time the rhythm left my tongue, I could feel his soul walk right through me.

Love is shoes on concrete

Tapping to 808 beats,

Faltering for cracks or holes—proof

That we are all able to weather the storm

Love is Bambatta playing in the background

Your mother yelling,

For y’all to turn it down

Giggling, because hip-hop is the one thing

You’re good at sharing

            The tears started to come. I closed my laptop and redirected my focus to prepping, for my morning at the publishing house.
            I was thirty minutes early. Malaki was thirty minutes early. I didn’t know if we were both early birds or if I’d kept up the habit, because I knew he would.
            I walked past his office, waved hello, and headed to my cubicle to put my things down. I walked into our tiny cove, under the stairs, that we called a kitchen, and turned on the coffee maker. I started to prepare mugs, for all the editors—1 cube for Malaki—2 cubes for—just then Malaki walked in.

“You don’t have to make me any. I’m trying to go decaf these days.”

I turned over his mug and shook the cubes back into their container, “Oh. No problem. Would you like me to run out and get some decaf, instead?”

He took the mug from me, “No. I got it. You really shouldn’t have to do this.”

I smiled and continued to prepare my direct supervisors coffee, “I don’t mind.”

He sighed, “So what were you doing at that bar, last night? Midnight cap?”

I laughed, “It was nowhere near midnight and it isn’t a bar. It’s Free Verse—a local bookshop and café. They were hosting an open mic.”

“Oh you’re into that sort of thing?”

I poured the finished coffee into the mug, “I’m a writer. I write some poetry, but I haven’t performed much of it lately.”

“Ah, a listener. I like that. There’s this really great jazz networking event that happens just down the block, from there. You should come out some time. We can leave work and go together.”

I smiled and cupped the mug carefully, prepping to leave the room, “Sure. That’d be awesome. Shoot me an email with the details.”

Did Malaki just ask me on a date?

Look forward to new installments of "Free Verse", every week! I'd love to hear your comments, below!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Being A Writer: IfNoOneHasToldYou.com

There was silence. The apartment we'd decorated together, filled with laughter, tears, and much more, was silent. 

One month after our breakup, I tried to fill the space with another fool. This didn't work. 


I woke up in the mornings, with a heavy on my heart. I put on my suit slowly, with something weighing me down. I swallowed sadness, during board meetings.

A few other fools came calling, during the silence. Some would get me to crack a smile, others would get me to giggle. However, they were there for all the wrong reasons. I could not find solace in words that resembled contradiction, no matter how convincing or soothing they were. 

One morning, I woke up and I wrote this. It became a mantra. I started repeating it, in my mind, as I walked to the train, as I situated myself at my desk, as I left work at dusk. 

I put my energy into my writing. I journaled my experiences dating and realized, through a conversation with a friend, that other women might benefit from my stories. I've always considered myself a semi-lifestyle blogger and a fiction writer. I'd never gone as far as to put the intricacies of my private life, on my website. However, I followed through and the response was insane. 

Hundreds of emails flooded my inbox. Women were telling me stories about their careers, loved ones, hobbies, passion, hurt, and so much more. I answered as many as I could, but EVERY woman that emailed me had the ability to do exactly what I'd done. They all had a story to tell. Their prose was powerful and relatable. 

I started putting up #ifnoonehastoldyou quotes on my IG. They were resonating and women were spreading them everywhere. It's then I realized that just like I needed a mantra, something to say over and over, other women needed one too. 

That's how Ifnoonehastoldyou.com was born. There are a ton of sites geared towards millennial women, but how many of them tell you the things you really need to hear? How many of the stories are written with women who've decided to open their heart and hand its lessons to you? How many aren't driven by pop culture, gossip, and other things we spend far too much time on?

I found peace in reading emails, from women who were suffering through the same plights. I wanted these women to have the same thing. I wanted women EVERYWHERE to find peace. I wanted them to have a platform.

I didn't want to give advice or preach. I wanted to share stories that resonated and yelled, "You're NOT alone."

If no one has told you, we're in this thing together. This confusing, quarter-life crisis, economy-driven, brothers-got-too-many-options thing, TOGETHER.

If you'd like to submit to the site, go here.

We welcome all stories that emphasize triumph over tribulation! Can't wait to read them. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Alice in Upstate New York: Vineyard Romp

This past weekend, I went to visit my best friend upstate. I haven't seen her, in three months, and our bonding time was way overdue. We spent the weekend, in and out of different vineyards, with some of her local friends. It was an amazing (and drunken) experience. 

Driving upstate more awesome than I could have ever imagined. I was able to drive with the windows down, through the mountains, with the wind blowing through my hair. I stopped to get gas and spoke to a guy on a Harley, that was listening to John Coltrane's "Naima." I bought peaches, from a farm, on the side of the road. I felt all of my anxiety lift from my chest, as I drove up and down I-80. It was invigorating. I'll definitely be upping my road trips, this summer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse

It wasn’t the first time I’d spotted him here. The sulk in his step was an indicator that this had always been his neighborhood. If that wasn’t enough, you could also tell by the way the crowd embraced him. As he stepped off the stage, gentleman and women alike grabbed his hands in adoration. The owner patted his shoulder, as he walked through the aisles and the barista made it her business to hand him a congratulatory coffee. He had them all under some sort of spell. Well, everyone except for me.
I was steadily approaching the six-month anniversary of coming home from school. Nothing was familiar about the Brooklyn I grew up in. Coffee shops and quaint restaurants appeared where bodegas and Laundromats used to be. The stoops that were filled with hyper brown children and elderly women were now bursting with hipster gatherings and young professionals. The only thing familiar about my nook of Brooklyn was “Free Verse.”
Free Verse was a bookstore and coffee shop located in an isolated brownstone on Fulton Avenue. You could tell it was once a part of a row of houses, but its family had been replaced by businesses. Mr. Mills owned the entire residence: the first floor was the bookstore, the second was the café, and the third is where everyone presumed he lived. For as long as I lived there, he’s always allowed the community in, through open mics, book clubs, children’s birthday parties, and so much more. When I was growing up, Mr. Mills was a small, stout, and handsome man who all the single ladies tried to get the attention of. Rumor had it that he and his wife, who was now with our lord and savior, started the store. Her picture was placed discreetly throughout both floors, a symbol of love and care, and I could tell that he didn’t plan on remarrying.
Mr. Mills and the poet that just got off stage stood in a corner conversing. If you didn’t know that Mr. Mills never had children, you would think this man was his son by the way he kept pulling him into an embrace. I’d begun to eavesdrop.
“We don’t see you enough Damali. You’ve got to make it your business to stop by more often,” Mr. Mills said.
            “I know Mills. I know. I’ve been trying to make it my business, at least once a month.”
            Damali wasn’t a frequent performer, on open mic night, but he was right, he did show up about once a month. Whenever he got to the mic, folks that usually whispered throughout poems were suddenly quiet. It was as if they knew that what he was about to perform would be incredible. The first time he’d gone up, he’d been wearing a simple black tee and jeans with a Raiders fitted. His brown hands clasped together and he bopped his head in preparation, as if he was listening to a song. I rolled my eyes, waiting to hear another rapper who’d slow down his violent rhymes and call them poetry.
            He wrapped his fingers around the microphone and coughed, before he began:

I’m sorry

How suddenly

You forget
What a real man is

And if you
Trying to remember
Listen to this

He’s prone to hit
Another man quick
If he dare disrespect
Whatever lies neath’
Your neck

There to honor and protect
Capable of mental
And yes physical sex
But one without the other
Forget that…. 
Let’s not get all poetic about it

It’s wack

He’s daddy on Monday
When you lose tears
Cuz’ life ain’t fair

He’s mommy on Tuesday
When he greases your scalp
Parts your hair

He’s brother on Wednesday
As you sit and play NBA live
Not denying him
But alongside with him

He’s Grandma on Thursday
Where kisses
And strong chest replace bosom
Cuz’ you need somewhere to rest

He’s sister on Friday
When you need to talk
About all your mess

And on the weekend
He’s you
A part of
The passion
You share

Run his fingertips through your hair

No need for pretending

He already knows the real you

Always tempted to kiss you

Never dismiss you
Everything you say
Is of the utmost

He’ll linger on your every word
Like eyes on a Sunday sunrise

You are a prize 

If you want Monday through Friday
Treat him like a man
Not a child

Don’t hold out
If he ain’t got none in a while

Don’t sweat the small things
Give him time to prepare

House, children, rings

No man ignores the inevitable 

Men remember these things….

Like you’ll remember the beginning of this

I’m sorry
How suddenly
You forget
What a real man is

And if you
Trying to remember
Listen to this

Let him love you
Like you’re the pulse in his wrist
The lifeline, by which you live

Believe me

When it’s all said and done
I bet it’ll be worth it.

Damali descended the stage, as the crowd became a gradual uproar. After a poet speaks, there’s almost always a second of silence. It’s when the poem seeps into the audience’s skin, only to be broken by the first clap. It’s within this interval, that Damali’s familiarity wrapped around my heart. It’s within the first echo of applause that I tried to shake whatever I was feeling, off of my skin.
It’d been a few months since that first poem. I’m sure that whatever it struck within me was wearing off. I grabbed my bag and jacket and headed outside to catch a cab. While putting my order into an app that was far too costly, but extremely convienent, I recognized a familiar face leaving the restaurant, two doors down.
Malaki Mitchell was the office hottie. I worked at a publishing house, where he was an editor. I was an assitant editor to one of his colleagues, but I felt like a glorified intern. Between running out for lattes and dry cleaning, his face made the days bearable. He finally started to walk past Free Verse, when I caught his eye.
“Jai? Hey. What are you doing out here, this late?”
I smiled, “Don’t worry, I won’t be late for work.”
He laughed. His perfect teeth jutted, from his Hershey lips and his skin seemed to pour from the navy blue suit he was wearing. He held a to-go bag, in his right hand. I pointed to it.
He held it up, “Yeah. They make really great chicken alfredo. I live right around the corner.”
“Oh, wow. I grew up here. I live in Crown Heights now, it was too expensive to come back.”
He cringed, “Well, hope I wasn’t part of the wave that pushed you out.”
I smiled uncomfortably.
“Totally kidding. I’ll see you in the morning though. Have a good night.”
He grabbed my shoulder, in farewell, and despite his offhand comment, I swooned a little. Yeah, he was my boss. But a girl could dream, right?
I looked down at the app and realized that I didn’t press send on my order. Yeesh. I’d have to wait twenty more minutes, for my ride to show up. I pressed send and sat on the steps of the building. I was about to take out a book, when someone sat next to me.
            “You like the stockbroker type, huh?”
            I looked over my shoulder, it was Damali, “What are you talking about?”
            “Your little friend you were out here talking to.”
            “Oh. No, he’s just someone I work with.”
            I hissed my jamaican descendant teeth, “Listen. You should really be minding your own business.”
He stood up from his seat and the street light hit his face. It was chiseled to perfection, reminiscent of his poetry.
            “I’m just making conversation. You should be minding that attitude.”
            I fell silent, hoping it would get him to go away.
            He spoke again, “I wanted to say that I’m sorry about your dad. He was a good man.”
            He had my attention, “You knew my father?”
            “I loved your father, like he was my own.”
            My cab pulled up as I turned to Damali, to ask him more questions.
            He smiled, “It’s getting late. Catch that cab. You’ll see me around.”

Look forward to new installments of "Free Verse", every week! I'd love to hear your comments, below!
(image via )