Disclosure: I received compensation for this post. All opinions are my own since I have too many lofty standards for integrity to write about something I don’t believe in. Plus, this is a legit post in and of itself.
Since moving to New York not too long ago, I’ve stayed in six different homes in three different boroughs. All but two of those places I booked through Airbnb, a peer-to-peer service similar to Uber and Tinder, but not for ride-sharing or getting your freak on. It’s like matchmaking for people with short-term rental property and people looking to rent. I’ve got stories for days about my experiences as an Airbnb renter, but I want to touch on one in particular.
You may be familiar with #AirbnbWhileBlack, the hashtagthat quickly gained traction on Twitter, and attracted coverage from several media outlets. NPR even hosted a Twitter chat on the subject. Tweet after tweet, Airbinb users contributed personal accounts of rental requests being rejected due to discrimination by the host.
Back in 2014, a Harvard study found that: “…requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.”
This data doesn’t surprise me as someone named “Keisha,” born and raised in these United States, where the current presumptive Presidential nominee from the Republican party wants to ban Muslims from immigrating, export undocumented residents – zeroing in on people of Mexican-descent, and refers to Black people as “the Blacks.”
I’ve encountered some roadblocks with hosts – specifically three different White men – whose listings showed their rentals as available on the dates I wanted, but they denied my requests when I inquired. Each claimed their rentals were already booked. I didn’t think too much of it, other than feeling frustrated that they wasted my time. However, when I read that other Black people had experiences very similar to mine, I couldn’t dismiss the issue.
In one particularly glaring example of #AirbnbWhileBlack, a young black man, Rohan, shared his jaw-dropping exchange with a White host who denied his booking, again claiming unavailability. Amazingly though, when Rohan’s White friend inquired about reserving the place for the same dates, miraculously the rental became available! Divine intervention or good old-fashioned racism?
When Black people point out racial bias (of the conscious and unconscious types) and outright racism, we sometimes hear a common lazy retort from the callous and unsympathetic: “Well, why don’t you start your own thing then?”
That’s exactly what Rohan did.
Along with his co-founder Zakiyyah, the two developed a new vacation, and short-term rentals service: Innclusive (formerly known as Noirebnb). This new platform aims to provide a space where people from all backgrounds will feel welcome regardless of what you look like, how you identify yourself, what you believe in, or what name you were given.
The discrimination issues extend beyond Black people, as folks from other marginalized groups (including non-Black Muslims, and a transgender woman) have reported similar issues. They inquire about booking an available rental, only to have the host deny their requests, again responding that the listing is already booked. How curious.
Clearly, something needs to change and short of ending all forms of bigotry overnight, a platform like Innclusive stands to expand access to the home-sharing economy to people who might otherwise be shut out or disadvantaged.
I believe in the concept of home-sharing – despite a few bizarre experiences, including a near poisoning by carbon monoxide! – especially in a society where we’ve become increasingly isolated from each other. When you meet the right host, you have the chance to connect with someone you may not have otherwise met. Other benefits are the comfort of a more personal experience, as well the opportunity to live somewhat like a local – factors which differentiate home-sharing from hotel stays.
As someone who faces potential discrimination by hosts on Airbnb, I look forward to trying out Innclusive. Who needs a side helping of racism when they’re searching for that perfect spot for their next vacation?
Visit Innclusive hereand sign up for an email notification when the site officially launches! You can also follow Innclusive on Facebook and Twitter.
Have you experienced discrimination online? Do you think there’s a need for spaces like Innclusive?
You’d think after all the times I’ve moved as a kid and an adult, that it’d get easier, less stressful, but noooooo. As usual, life has other plans, and laughs at yours.
Life: “Mwah haha. I spit on your plans! I will do as I see fit. Ya dig?”
In case you missed the announcement on Facebook, I officially moved to New York! You may (or may not) remember that I mentioned in San Francisco, I Think I’m Over You that I desperately wanted to leave the city, but I didn’t reveal where I intended to move. So now you know.
Why New York? I am originally from here, some of my close family lives here (whereas I had zero family in California), it’s probably my favorite city in the world, and it’s mostly cheaper than San Francisco, which is bananas.
The past couple of months post-move have been alternately frustrating, depressing, and surprising. Due to all the roadblocks, a string of “bad luck,” and random happenings, I questioned my decision to move here before I had all the factors in place that I felt I needed to make it work.
Brief lowlights of my time in New York:
My beloved cat – who has been in my life for 14 years – has kidney issues (along with stress related to the move) and I had to drop a grip of much-needed funds to take him to the vet. Some may question spending a lot of money on a cat’s health, but he’s important to my mental health, and other than his kidney issues – which are mostly treatable – he’s a happy kitty. The positive from this is that I discovered a wonderful vet in the City with great feline-bedside manner, and a calming way with their owners.
A job I thought I was a shoo-in for ended up not working out due to a sudden hiring freeze (they were prepping my offer letter!), and without a job it’s difficult to rent an apartment since New York requires you have proof of income that’s at least FORTY times the monthly rent. That’s right FORTY TIMES!
I’ve moved around a lot, staying in various Airbnbs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens – one place where there was a gas leak while I was sleeping, and I am lucky we didn’t get poisoned. At another place I found a used cupcake pan with crusted old bread in it sitting in the oven. Disgusting!
A kind and generous friend also offered me his place to stay for about a month while he traveled, since my circumstances left me feeling displaced, and on edge. It’s exhausting bouncing from place to place – not just for me, but also the two kitties who have no idea what’s going on except that the home they’ve known for over three years suddenly disappeared.’
On the bright side, as a result of all this apartment-hopping, I have gotten a chance to get to know different neighborhoods, which will help me decide where I want to look for apartments since I’m more informed. Luckily, my latest Airbnb host offered me the option to sublet her place, so I have somewhere stable to stay until I’m ready to search for an apartment of my own. Phew!
One of my grandmother’s who I am very close to (not the one who lives in New York) had two strokes and she’s been in rehab for a couple of months now. It distressed me that I couldn’t afford to fly to visit her and offer my support.
I fell into one of the deepest depressions I’ve experienced in years. Crying all the time, feeling hopeless, like no one wanted to hire me, feeling dumb for moving, and generally possessing an overall pessimistic attitude, whereas I’m usually fairly optimistic and hopeful (some would say idealistic). Quite frankly I didn’t see how my life would get better. It seemed as though I was destined for failure.
Just when you think you’re done learning certain lessons, another situation arises to reinforce what you previously learned, or to hammer it home since perhaps you didn’t learn enough the first time. Like the universe is saying, “Girl, listen! Trying to help you! Gotdammit you’re hard-headed.”
These recent experiences have left me humbled (and beaten down). However, through these trials, I’ve relearned the importance of acceptance. Once I stopped fighting my circumstances (I believe this is what some Christians refer to when they say “Jesus take the wheel”) and dwelling on how things “should be,” my attitude slowly improved and now I can see rays of hope again.
The past few weeks things have started to look up:
I got a new day job. Hooray for not being a broke bitch anymore.
Two of my three sisters moved here also within the past couple of months, which is like a dream come true for me!
My mom lives here (not my “bonus mom” Country Life, City Wifetm). I’m fortunate enough to have two moms and a dad. Three parents to worry about me and say things like: “It’s cold outside, put on a jacket!” I’m almost 40 years, but parents don’t stop being parents. I also have a whole mess of aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousin’s kids whom I haven’t met, or haven’t seen since my childhood days.
Coffee made the way you like it. No fixing it up yourself.
All the New York pizza I could ever want, anytime I want it.
Breakfast sandwiches at delis which cost less than a meal at McDonald’s
I was able to give a tourist directions last week. I felt proud. I’m slowly becoming a New Yorker again!
New York so far is wonderful. I’ve met so many friendly and chatty people. The neighborhood enclaves actually feel like neighborhoods. It’s refreshing after living in a city where it felt like people were scared to make conversation with strangers. Just the other day I had a random conversation about music with a guy working at a juice store.
The independently owned pet stores almost all seem to have cats that live there, and it’s endearing to see a grown, burly man who owns the store, speak lovingly about his love of his kitties. (Side note: the bougie cat food I buy cost almost 50% less than the San Francisco prices.)
After months of no other promising job prospects, suddenly last month I found myself busy with interviews at several different companies. When it rains, it pours as the saying goes.
Throughout this rough period, my family and several friends have comforted me, and offered me support; a generous and caring friend lent me funds (which embarrassed me to need) so I didn’t have to worry as much about how to pay my bills, eat, or afford a place to stay. I’m extremely grateful for all of them; they helped me feel loved, and less alone.
Now that I can think more clearly without the distortion of depressive thoughts, I better understand that things happen for a reason, and I may not know why as soon as I’d like, but with patience and time, the path usually reveals itself. I look forward to seeing what’s next and hope I’m headed toward a more positive trajectory than a tough one, but either way I am better equipped to handle it.
Have you ever been through a period of life so tough you couldn’t see your way out of it? How did you handle it?
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When I considered writing an end of the year retrospective, my face scrunched up in disgust as I reflected on 2015. Not my favorite year by a longshot. So much of it felt like a continuous struggle – like I’m in the middle of a significant lesson which I’ve tired of learning. Part of that may be the depression talking. It’s been one of the roughest years for me in a long while on that front and I know how much it can cloud and distort a person’s view of situations. A year is a fairly arbitrary measure of time and in the space of those bookends much transpired – good, bad and adjectives in between. There are layers to this life thing.
Instead of dwelling on the year’s lows and looking at the year simplistically, I opted to capture the essence of each month – a reflection of what was going during that period in time – including the books I read, TV shows I binged, trips I took and posts I wrote that resonated with people. It turns out that 2015 wasn’t as “garbage” as I initially thought.
2015: Year in Review
Highs: Woke up in Prague after a fun New Years Eve. • Designed and ordered my first box of business cards as a writer and blogger. • Was excited to be followed by Taye Diggs on Twitter until I found out he follows practically everyone.
Highs: Beinginvited as a guest on a radio show. I thought my nerves were going to get the best of me, but I did it and I didn’t make myself look like a fool! • Caught up with a good friend from L.A. who was passing through San Francisco for a blip. We laughed so hard; it was just what I needed. Lows: The Uprising in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray – specifically the way many mainstream media outlets distorted events, as well as how excessive policing goaded and further traumatized people already in emotional distress. Binge-watched:Marvel’s Daredevil •Bones (s5-9) Wrote: 5 Myths About Black Americans That Need to Disappear(4th most popular post of the year)
Highs: Watched two friends who seem made for each other get married • Saw an excellent and poignant one-woman show at The Marsh called Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters • Danced to tracks spun by Ryan Hemsworth at 1015 Folsom • Saw Kim Kardashian talk about the sexual objectification of women in the media (yes, really) at The Commonwealth Club (While I’ve never been her biggest fan, I have to admit she gives a charming interview and is likely smarter than she’s given credit for). My friend J and I are now technically in an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians since the cameras were there with Kim and panned over the audience.
A friend sent me an email out of the blue saying “write a book please” – it meant a lot. • Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole and took down the anachronistic Confederate Flag waving in front of South Carolina’s capitol building! Lows: A delusional white supremacist befriended and then murdered 9 black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Being in the office – where I was one of very few black employees – feeling alone in mourning the lives lost, because no one else seemed care about what had happened – at least not to the degree I did. Binge-watched: Orange is the New Black (s2-3) Read: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ☆☆☆☆☆ Wrote: Don’t Call Me “Girl”
Highs: First BlogHer conference • Spent time with my (New York) mom and my grandparents • Took in another one woman show, this time by Anna Deavere Smith called Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at Berkeley Rep – disquieting commentary on the US educational system and the “school-to-prison” pipeline. • BlogHer.com picked up my post What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman for syndication!
BlogHer 2015 is hands down the best conference I’ve ever attended. Among many highlights: I learned more than I probably am even aware; shared an inspiring moment of solidarity led by the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement; met one of the bloggers I admire, Awesomely Luvvie (and acted like a fool incapable of forming proper sentences); listened with great interest as the talented film director Ava DuVernay imparted words of wisdom; and engaged in refreshingly honest discussion on sexual harassment, intersectional feminism, and domestic violence helmed by three formidable women behind a few of the most powerful “hashtag activism” movements on Twitter in recent years.
I also met some wonderful new people, and to wrap it all up we celebrated with a party where Boyz II Men performed, Nick Cannon DJed, we “whip and nae nae”d, and dined on all the McDonald’s we could eat!
Lows: My friend died from cancer • In a case of police abuse that hit frighteningly close to home, a 28-year old black woman named Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell under extremely suspicious circumstances – after a questionable arrest. This just weeks after the murders in Charleston. Again, working in the office – trying to get through the day coherently and without breaking into tears – seemed like a form of self-flagellation. Binge-watched:Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt • Veep Read: The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman ☆☆☆☆☆ Traveled: New York Wrote: What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman?(3rd most popular post of the year)
Highs: Reunited with my friends/favorite ex-coworkers to celebrate the life of our friend E- who died in July • Caught up other good friends in Los Angeles for Mexican food • Went to a San Francisco Giants game with a friend in town from L.A. • Surprised and honored to be included in Quirky, Brown Love’s200 Amazing Black Bloggers (among great company). Lows: The reason for the reunion • Took an unscheduled break from blogging to recharge
Highs: Visited my Vegas grandmother, got her signed up for seniors’ internet classes at her local library, helped her secure her membership at the ‘Y’ where she now enjoys taking chair yoga, and took her shopping because as I told her, just because you’re working out doesn’t mean you should dress any ol’ way and she was going to be a “fly granny.” 79 and still going strong. Get it granny! • Second youngest sister visited from Texas! • Danced my butt off at the Oakland Music Festival with said sister. • Invited ontoThe Unconventional Woman Podcast as a guest. Lows: Had a mammogram to check out a lump (everything’s fine). • Second youngest sister returned home. Binge-watched:Sliders (re-watched series) • Power Traveled: Las Vegas Wrote: San Francisco, I Think I’m Over You
Highs: With my second youngest sister, I spent my first Thanksgiving in over 20 years with my (New York) mom and her side of the family. Met a bunch of new-to-me and new-to-this-earth cousins. • Saw a live taping of The View and softened toward Raven; DJ Tanner was there!; left with a $100 gift card to Lulu’s and an Alessia Cara CD (the musical guest on the show). Lows: A job I wanted that would have allowed me to work remotely didn’t pan out Binge-watchedChicago Fire (whole series) • The Fosters (s3) • Being Mary Jane (whole series) Read:We Should All Be Feministsby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ☆☆☆☆☆ • Syrup: A Novel by Max Barry ☆☆☆☆☆ Traveled: New York Wrote: Quit Talking about the Lack of Diversity and Do Something
Once I put it all down, it’s clear that I have a lot to be grateful for this year. It’s far too easy to focus on what you don’t have, haven’t accomplished, who’s not with you, or how much money you didn’t make. It’s important not to let the year’s lows overshadow its’ memorable highlights.
I am healthy, I have a safe place to live, I don’t have to search for food, my family is safe and generally healthy, I have friends and people who love me. So take that depression!
With all that said, 2016 I hope you are planning to bring it.
How did you feel about 2015? What were your highs and lows? What did you watch/listen to/read/create? Travel anywhere interesting?
One of my closest friends is a white woman 30 years my senior – a Baby Boomer. We shared a cubicle wall back in the ’00s when we worked in IT at a large insurance company. I hated that job so much that some mornings I’d sit in my car and cry before leaving for the office.
It was the type of job where I had a micro-managing relic of a supervisor whom on a daily basis would periodically stroll by unsubtly peeking at our screens to make sure we weren’t surfing the internet. God forbid we take a break from the mind-numbing, inconsequential grunt work we were doing.
This is the same supervisor who for some reason couldn’t get my name right and would often refer to me by the name of one of the few other black female employees, who looked nothing like me and were at least 15 years older. I would pretend I didn’t hear him; after all, my name didn’t come out of his mouth.
Five days a week, I’d toil for hours at my desk in the large, window-deprived, cubicle farm boxed in by drab, ’70s-brown walls. An inappropriately loud middle-aged man who bang-typed on his keyboard and always seemed to be on the phone with his doctor discussing his various prescription meds, including one for ADHD, which explained a lot – sat in front of me. The back of his head, where unkempt gray hairs fought black for dominance, greeted me each time I looked up from my boxy monitor.
I’d often wonder, as I looked upward, “Why am I here? Why do I have to go through this? I am miserable almost every day!”
I wondered what lessons I’d learn from this job, what I would take away from it. I figured there had to exist a reason beyond the below-market paycheck.
One afternoon, feeling trapped in the office and trying to make it through the day without screaming, I eavesdropped on my surrounding co-workers. To my left, on the other side of my cube wall, my neighbor ranted about yet another blunder of then-President George H. Bush. I heard her say:
“Of course, he’s from Texas. I’ve never met a person from Texas who I like.”
I stood up, peered over the wall and interjected shyly, “I’m from Texas. Well…kinda…I lived there junior high through college.”
My neighbor, JC, a blonde woman with a kind face, bright expressive eyes, and a voice that brings to mind your favorite elementary school teacher replied, “Well, I like you, so maybe Texas isn’t all bad.”
A friendship was born.
As we got better acquainted in the following months, we discovered that despite our age difference we shared more than a few commonalities. Our friendship cemented, when on a Friday night she came out to West Hollywood – risking traffic misery – to celebrate my 27th birthday with me and a bunch of my twenty-something friends. My friends liked her and I loved that she was game for anything – even hanging out with people who whine about being old at the age of 27.
In the many years that we’ve been friends, JC’s seen me through heartbreak, job changes and career struggles, supported me through growing pains and has taken me in on holidays since I don’t have family in California. She is like family to me.
It’s an unlikely friendship. I notice the curious looks we get sometimes when we’re out in public together – often joined by JC’s husband, to whom she’s been married almost as long as I’ve been alive. It’s difficult to quantify how much our friendship has enriched my life. However, there are valuable lessons I’ve picked up which I’d like to share.
1. Don’t Take Your Body or Health for Granted
A few years before I met JC, a man having an epileptic seizure while driving lost control of his car and plowed into her parked vehicle where she sat paying bills in the driver’s seat. The accident nearly killed her and almost destroyed her body. She spent nearly a year in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries as well as physical and mental therapy.
A self-proclaimed nature lover and outdoors girl who grew up in the California desert, JC had to re-learn how to walk and use her body – now rebuilt with skin grafts and enough metal to alarm an airport detector.
Her life as a maven of the outdoors was never the same after the accident. She can’t hike the way she used to. There’s always a mobility walker in the trunk of her Prius which she uses to help with her balance. She suffers through pain almost daily due to lingering nerve damage.
In discussing her accident, JC always reminds me of the importance of appreciating my body, health and youth. Not taking for granted how hard my muscles work just so I can walk, run and jump. To respect the vitality and mobility youth enables. As we all know, that mobility and vitality isn’t everlasting.
Staying physically fit and healthy is a priority for me. I use my youth to my advantage. I want to be that 70-year old no one believes is 70 because she’s bursting with energy and in fantastic shape.
2. You Can Be Friends with People with Different Belief Systems
JC is friends with nearly everyone. She’s warm, talkative, vibrant and very likable. Souls are drawn to her open heart, even those who don’t share her firmly liberal beliefs, about which she is quite vocal.
Conservative friends of hers will send her inflammatory memes and Snopes-worthy articles which they’ll vehemently debate knowing neither party will budge. Yet, they remain friends, despite their warring political beliefs of the type some friendships fall out over. It’s a testament to the fact that she accepts people for who they are and genuinely wants the best for everyone.
Some of JC’s friends she’s known since her childhood and early adulthood – though that doesn’t keep her from making new friends. With those she’s close to, she keeps in touch regularly – even talking on that device we use to text and check our social media. I aspire to be able to say the same when I hit her age. Maintaining friendships is important.
3. Always be Learning and Seeking New Experiences
From time to time JC will remind me of a conversation we had years ago that changed the way she views people in public spaces. She’d invited me to an art festival in Orange County, about an hour south of Los Angeles. If you’re unfamiliar with the OC, many cities there aren’t exactly diverse. Driving to Orange County is sometimes derisively referred to by Angelenos as “crossing the orange curtain” because in several ways it’s the polar opposite of L.A.
Though art is totally my thing, I declined the invite and explained why. I’d had some uncomfortable racial experiences in the OC. Particularly in the region where the festival took place, which was and still is overwhelmingly white. Some people would stare at me like they’ d never seen a black person before or they’d just not even acknowledge my existence. It’s quite alienating.
JC said that she’d never thought about it that way before. She’d never really had to. She’d see a sprinkling of people of color in a crowd and think “ah, diversity.” She hadn’t given much thought to how it’d feel to always be the minority in public spaces and endure the weirdness that sometimes occurs. I laughed when one day she emailed me about an event she’d attended and how all she saw were “old white people.”
We’ve spoken fairly candidly about race over the years. She’s been open and receptive to learning about my experiences and how the world looks through my eyes. Likewise, I’ve learned a lot about her lens on the world.
As an avid traveler, JC’s always encouraged me to see the world. I recall one afternoon visiting her wonderfully quirky, ranch-style home up in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains and flipping through old photo albums as she narrated.
One album was full of photos taken on an African safari she’d gone on with her husband. As I turned the pages, I imagined how amazing it would be to visit Africa one day. For so long it had seemed like an unrealistic dream. Talking to JC about her experiences made it seem a more real and attainable goal to me.
In 2012, I visited Africa for the first time – Tanzania, specifically – and went on a safari. The entire trip was more incredible than I could have imagined. In the years since I met JC, I’ve visited countries on four different continents. I hope to make it to all seven by my 40th birthday.
Sometimes, the reason we’re placed in difficult situations isn’t immediately obvious. I never imagined in all those mornings I wept over how much I disliked my job, that I would one day be grateful for the experience. Without it, I never would have made one of the best friends I could ever ask for.
Do you have any unlikely friendships? What lessons have you learned through your friendships?
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I’m kind of back to not liking living in San Francisco.
Part of my disenchantment is probably my fault. I arrived here with big dreams I’ve yet to see realized. For one, I thought I’d fall into a good group of friends. Instead, someone I considered a good friend ghosted on me. Though I have made a few good friends whom I am grateful for, they’re from disparate circles. My social life is unrecognizable to me.
I also thought I might finally meet someone I can see a future with or at the very least someone whose company I’d enjoy more than Netflix and chillin’ solo. After all, they say San Francisco is one of the best US cities for singles. I don’t know if they actually talked to anyone who lives here because while I know many single people of different genders and sexual orientations whom are lovely, lovable people, they are not in a relationship, and most are actively searching.
I suppose if they mean this a great place to for singles if you want to remain single, that makes sense. Dating mostly takes place on apps here, at the expense, in my opinion, of people sharpening their in-person social skills. You can take your Tinders, Bagels, soul connections, rings and dings or whatever the hells and put ’em somewhere not on my phone.
When reality doesn’t live up to your high hopes, an emotional crash isn’t all that surprising.
There’s also the fact that everything here is so.damn.expensive. I think I must blackout when I pay my rent every month. That’s the only way I can understand how I continue to pay more than some people’s mortgage.
Of the people: I don’t get the seemingly dominant personality of passivity in this city. Just last week, I was at the drugstore in my favorite aisle – the candy aisle – when I noticed a woman walking toward me. As she neared me, she paused and started rummaging through her purse. I know she was faking. She walked with purpose down that aisle until she saw me. Now, I’m not very wide and I’m generally aware of the space around me, so it’s not like I was completely blocking her path. I’m not one of those oblivious aisle-blocking asshats.
A simple “excuse me” would have sufficed to get me to scoot the inch or two more needed for her clear passage. Instead, this lady acted like she had an urgent need to reapply lipstick or find a tampon. Who knows?
I could have moved preemptively, but I’ve done this dance before. I’ve been in many an aisle in this city and had this same scene go down. What is the deal with people? Is it timidity? Are they afraid to make contact with an unfamiliar human being? Politeness is appreciated, but there is such a thing as being so polite you make people want to scream.
The woman continued to dig in her purse – finding nothing because she was looking for nothing – until I finally inched forward, making sure to sigh heavily and roll my eyes at the absurdity of it all (hi, petty). There I was minding my business, trying to determine which pack of Sour Patch Kids would be the freshest, and here comes Timid Tammy ruining the experience with her fish spine.
I’ve also had people here give me that “Oh my” pearl-clutching glance because I dared speak up about something.
On the bus one afternoon, after a particularly tiresome string of hours at the day job, a budding-grey-haired woman with a folding shopping cart packed with several large black plastic bags, decided to throw a tantrum as she exited. She’d situated herself right by the door, so she only needed to make it a few feet to the steps. Each and every step she took came with a cranky grunt and dramatic muttering.
A minute later, she’d only progressed a few inches, so a kind man offered to help her the rest of the way.
“Noooo!” she shouted, mimicking the Wicked Witch of the West, “I don’t need YOUR HELP!” If she’d carried a cane, here is where she’d have shaken it at him with menace.
The defeated man backed away like a kicked puppy.
Around me, other passengers looked toward the rear window to see if another bus was coming. Nope.
A couple more minutes ticked by. The shopping cart and it’s pusher had yet to reach the steps.
Is NO ONE going to say anything? This is fucking ridiculous. This woman is holding up a bus full of people with lives because of her pride and stubbornness. Not even a peep from the bus driver – whose arm she threatened to bite off. She didn’t actually say that, but the quickness with which he recoiled like she’d hissed at him, indicated as such.
I couldn’t take anymore.
“Get off the bus!” I hollered.
A young woman across the way turned toward me with a furrowed brow. Oh stop clutching your damn pearls!
“Yeah, get off already!” the bus driver repeated, regaining his voice.
Soon other passengers chanted, some quieter than others, as the woman grumbled her way down the steps.
A few passengers clapped and whistled once the last of her landed on the sidewalk.
I hadn’t meant to start an uprising on the bus; I just wanted us to get moving. But, I bet you those people felt good taking control of their lives. We endure a lot of bizarre and sometimes frustrating encounters on these city buses.
Lastly, but most importantly, there’s the race thing. To put it bluntly: being black in San Francisco is existentially exhausting and socially isolating like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve written about that on multipleoccasions, so I won’t rehash it here.
With all of that said, I do not regret moving here. It’s still one of the best decisions I’ve made. My life now is incredibly different from the life I lived in Los Angeles. If I felt stalled in L.A. and wanted to push past the stagnancy by trying a new city, I got what I asked for and more. I’ve evolved in ways I never imagined. I believe moving here was a necessary step for my personal, emotional and career growth.
Barring some freak joyful miracle, my time in San Francisco is nearing its end. I had hoped this might be a place I could stay put for a long while, but I want to get out before I am driven completely mad. I also fear becoming one of the passive. That works fine for some people, but it gives me the itchees.
There’s only one US city next on the list. I’m not quite ready to reveal it yet as I’m still planning. I will say that it’s not happening this year, but if you’re a regular reader, you can probably guess which one it is.
October will mark 3 years here. I think I gave it a good shot.
Have you ever lived in a place you didn’t like? Also, if you are a passive aisle-passer, tell me why please, I’m curious.
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A friend of mine passed away last Tuesday. She was only 37.
I’m looking at those words and I still have difficulty absorbing them.
Few thoughts are as unnerving as knowing that someone you care about is no longer on this earth in their physical form. That all that’s left of them is your memories, which fade over time, and photos as digital proof of their once existence.
Her death didn’t come as a complete surprise. A cancer diagnosis six years ago was only the first of three. Three times my poor friend had to endure intensely draining – in all senses of the word – cycles of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I saw her when she lost her hair and covered her head with baseball caps, generally opting out of wigs. As her hair spikily returned, she joked that she looked like a boy, which didn’t bother her. She dealt with her cancer with her unique, sardonic sense of humor.
We met at work in Los Angeles eight years ago. She was one of three people who interviewed me for the job where I’d spend the next five years. I remember how comfortable I felt with her during the interview. There was an openness and warmth about her even though she presented herself somewhat stoically.
For three years, we sat just a few feet away from each other, the backs of our chairs facing the other’s desk. Those chairs got a lot of swivel action as we talked to each other frequently. Our roles were somewhat interdependent, so we worked closely together. It was a partnership which I greatly appreciated. She was incredibly intelligent and hardworking. She didn’t like disappointing people so she sometimes took on more work than she should have. We had many conversations where I implored upon her, as did several others, to push back on some of the requests for the sake of her sanity. She’d nod and agree, but soon revert to her old ways, working too many late hours.
Over time, we became friends and shared a mutual love of travel, dislike of people with no common sense, as well as the mundane in life. She was a person you could trust with a secret and one whose loyalty you never needed to question.
After her second battle with cancer, she decided not to return to work. The type of cancer she had has a 5-year survival rate of 30%. She decided to learn to relax and enjoy life: traveling, spending time with concerned and loving relatives in Korea, eating all the foods that were off-limits during her treatments. She’d wax poetic about red meat, sushi and good whiskey.
She came up to San Francisco for a visit earlier this year just before she was set to begin her third round of treatment. After the Bay Area, she planned to head north to visit friends in Oregon. I had the nagging feeling she was saying her goodbyes.
She was never a spiritual or religious person. She was also not a touchy-feely person. But, on this last trip, she seemed different, less cynical and more serene. I wish I’d recorded her speaking so I could replay that conversation and fill in the gaps in my recall. We talked about life matter-of-factly, not in soothing platitudes. She encouraged and greatly supported my efforts to change careers. I was surprised to learn she was a faithful reader of my blog. It really touched me because her opinion mattered to me.
We both agreed life is too short to waste time on things we don’t care about. It didn’t seem like she was afraid of death, she seemed to have come to terms with her potential fate. At the time, I didn’t want to spend too much energy considering her mortality.
Life is strange. It’s so often unfair. I have asked myself the question many before me have: “Why her? Why now?”
I would never truly wish death on someone, but I have to wonder why a cold-blooded, racist, white supremacist 19-year old man, who murdered nine innocent black people IN A CHURCH and who is adding no value to society, gets to stick around, but my friend who had a kind heart and meant a tremendous deal to so many people, has to go. It makes me angry.
A few friends and I are planning to gather for an informal memorial in her honor. Fittingly, it will be in Koreatown in Los Angeles, site of many good times and fond memories in our group. I think, perhaps more than most people, our friend E- would want us to focus on living the hell out of our lives. We never know when we’ll get called out of the game.
I plan to honor her by continuing to strive to lead the best, most truthful and significant life I can. I’m not always sold on the benefits of walking this earth, but I’m here and I gotta keep living.
My friend, I will miss you. I hope you are at peace wherever you are.
I’ve been in San Francisco for two and a half years and I feel I am withdrawing. I don’t think I fit in here. I spend a lot more time alone than I did in my former life in Los Angeles.
This past year has been particularly isolating as America’s longstanding simmering racial tensions bubbled up to the surface with a vengeance, ignited by Michael Brown’s murder last summer. After which, conflicting emotions of hopeless grief and building fury alternately gnawed at me.
Facebook, on which I was still somewhat active at the time, was a sickening cesspool of cruel, ignorant and outright racist commentary. Or silence. It incensed me how mute some people I followed appeared to be on the subject of police brutality and racism. And if I had to read one more disingenuous, noncommittal: “We don’t have all the evidence yet,” I was going to go mad. Y’all wait around for the evidence, others of us are already awake to what is going on and demand justice.
My isolation threatened to crush me. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something. Unfortunately, no one in my small San Francisco network seemed as activated as I was.
I found solace in “black Twitter.” That population of other tweeters united by shared cultural influences, social experiences and united by inclusion in the most disparaged racial group. People from all over the world, not just blacks in the US, with whom I could commiserate; microbloggers who so eloquently voiced the emotions many of us struggled to express; a group of people who wouldn’t try to convince each other that racism is just in our heads. I found comfort in those whose views align with my own, including my belief in the importance of standing up for what’s right.
With each tragedy black Americans suffer, the number turning to the internet for support grows larger. After the recent terrorist attack on the 9 churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, black Twitter was a virtual community in mourning. For some, it is the only space they have to somewhat safely* discuss topics which too many in the offline world try to avoid.
My youngest sister sent me a beautiful post written by a friend of hers which he’d shared on Facebook. It encapsulated the words that I, the “writer”, couldn’t find. I asked her to get his permission to tweet it. As much as his language resonated with me, I knew others would find comfort in it too.
That is my most retweeted post in my almost seven years on Twitter. Clearly it struck a chord with many. The replies touched me. To think that so many of us live significant portions of our lives in spaces where we feel isolated and misunderstood is quite distressing.
A few weeks ago, when Rachel “black by spray tan” Dolezal’s “Soul Woman” offense came to light, some of her defenders were quick to lecture remind us all that race is a “social construct.”
Yes, it is a “social construct” and that social construct makes real life more difficult than it should be for some of us. So much so that it sometimes threatens our mental and physical health, even just as observers.
Without Black Twitter, I shudder to think how far off-center I might be today. I’m grateful for the activists – accidental and otherwise, the educators, podcasters, YouTubers, influencers and entertainers, the natural comedians, writers and bloggers, and the other everyday people across the type of economic, gender, age and educational lines which might otherwise divide us, who inspire and encourage me to keep my head up even when the world seems to have sunk to it’s depths.
*Trolls who actively seek out and target black people on Twitter are a serious problem. I will cover this topic in a future post.
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“Girls! Girls!” a large, middle-aged man in a bright yellow safety vest hollered at me and my new friend from across the parking lot as we walked away from my rental car.
I turned slowly around, cocked an eyebrow and didn’t begin moving in his direction until my companion did.
“Yes?” I asked with a touch of attitude as we neared him. He’d yelled out to us like we’d done something wrong.
“Where are you girls going?”
So far I liked nothing about this encounter.
I’d arrived early to the day-long Bloggy Boot Camp conference in Temecula and befriended and picked up another early blogger in my hunt for coffee.
I stared at him for a beat wondering what the hell business it was of his where we were headed. I’m not inclined to give information about my destination to people I don’t know. Why don’t you just beckon us over to a creepy windowless white van with promises of candy?
“We’re not girls, we’re women.”
I am damn near 40 years old and my fellow blogger is a mother of two. She’s raising two little human beings. Neither of us are girls.
“We’re getting breakfast,” my new friend supplied.
The man paused, mouth agape as he gave me a curious look, “Wha….girls….uh…?”
“You can call us ladies,” I answered thinly. Ladies isn’t necessarily my favorite either, but at least it implies more respect than girls.
“Ok. This café is open. They have good food,” he gestured behind him to a store front in the strip mall.
“Ah, thank you.”
We headed toward the café. I felt kind of bad for my response toward him since it seemed like he wanted to help. But, I didn’t appreciate his tone nor how he approached us; it was disrespectful. It didn’t help that the day before, on a business call, the man I was speaking with called me “sweetheart.”
Sometimes when I find myself in situations where I feel disrespected, I turn over different scenarios in my mind imagining how circumstances might change if I were someone different.
What if I were walking with a man instead of an equally diminutive Filipina woman?
What if said man were black? And larger than Mr. Bright Vest? Would he yell at us? Would he call me “girl”?
What if we were two white men? What if we were two white men, the same age as me and my friend and wearing suits? Would he have called out to them? Would he have shouted, “Boys, boys!”
I posed these questions to my new friend as way of explaining my defensive behavior. She’d appeared a bit thrown by my caginess, probably wondering: what the hell happened to the kind, smiling stranger I just met 10 minutes ago?
“I think you’re right, I don’t think he would talk to men that way,” she acknowledged.
I may be small and I may look younger than my years, but neither of these characteristics justify yelling at me like you’re my father. I am glad I spoke up because had I not, I knew I would stew over it until I found a way to make it right with myself. Situations like this happen too much and I am not here for it.
A half hour later as we exited the parking lot to return to the conference, Mr. Bright Vest hailed us:
“Hi Ladies…I want to apologize for shouting at you earlier. That wasn’t right. It was rude and I shouldn’t have done that.”
Holy __! Did that just happen?
I smiled. “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”
“Have a nice day. Again, I’m sorry.”
I thanked him again and waved goodbye as I drove off.
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As my 40th year grows nearer, my dad insists that I need to consider buying property. To him – and many other Americans – owning a home is one of the cornerstones of success. I remember when my parents bought their first home. It was a source of pride for the whole family – a huge achievement. Owning a home was a visual representation of having “made it.”
Several of my friends are homeowners. Some owned their homes by the time they were 30. They got married, bought homes, had kids: did things “the right way.”
I have no serious urge to buy a home. I keep thinking that one day it’ll hit me. This need to “settle” in one place. I can’t even fathom putting down roots. Right now it’s just me and the cats(tm). If I want to pick up and move to another city, I can do that with more ease than I could if I had a family or owned a home.
San Francisco is unlikely to be my last home. If I have children, I know I don’t want to raise them here, for many reasons, not the least of which includes wanting to be able to afford to feed these kids after paying the rent or mortgage. Which brings me to my next point: to afford to buy a home in San Francisco I’d probably need to auction off a few organs. I’m kind of fond of my kidneys, lungs and liver.
Last winter I finally sold my car and I feel lighter without it. It’s one less thing to think about. My car battery kept dying because I couldn’t be bothered to remember to let it run periodically. Owning a home is an even greater commitment than a car.
There was a time as a kid, when I would pore over house floor plans in the Sunday paper’s real estate section. I’d scan over all the homes for sale in the rich people neighborhoods of Houston and dream of what my future home would look like one day. I’d clip photos of house facades, floor plans and design ideas that fit my fantasy and taped them into a spiral notebook.
When we moved to Houston from Georgia, my sisters and I accompanied our parents on their hunt for our second house. Sometimes we window-shopped homes way outside our budget. The show homes were the best to visit because they’re fully furnished and staged to impress. Wandering through the massive living spaces with brand new neutral-colored carpeting, expansive backyards dotted with shade trees, winding staircases leading to “your” bedroom where you picture the posters you’d put on your wall, knowing damn well your dad isn’t going to let you hang anything on the walls of their new house.
I’ve marathoned my fair share of episodes of HGTV’s House Hunters. Even though I know theshow is rigged, it doesn’t dampen the joy of nearly overdosing on real estate candy. It’s all about the fantasy, the boost of delight from playing make-believe.
Still, owning a home isn’t a priority for me. It’s one of those things I think I’ll do “someday,” just not now.
How about You? Do you / have you own(ed) a home? Do you want to own a home one day?
The first time I met my friend V’s fiancé KJ, he joined us and another friend for hiking yoga.
I knew KJ was smitten with V when I sensed how important it seemed to him that her friends like him. I took to him immediately: he’s genuine, kind, quirky funny and treats her so well. He fit in with us like an old friend.
V and KJ graduated from the same university and are even in photos together, but didn’t really know each other in college. They re-entered each others’ lives five years later when they met at a run club in Los Angeles. Few who know them were surprised when, four years after their reconnection, V and KJ announced their engagement.
To celebrate her upcoming nuptials, I joined V and nine of her college friends (she and I met at work) who drove or flew in from Los Angeles, Hawaii and Virginia for a three and a half day “roaring ’20s”-themed bachelorette party in Palm Springs.
The bridal party booked a four-bedroom mid-century home, including a heated pool and hot tub, just a few minutes from downtown Palm Springs.
Though my flight from San Francisco was only a little over an hour to Palm Springs, turbulence plagued the last 15 minutes. As I gripped both arm rests, wondering if this might be where it all ends, I scolded myself for not having made friends with the guy next to me. He might be the last person I see. I should at least know his name. I silently protested: “I’m not ready to go yet. It’s not time!” I heard a small child cry: “Mooom, I don’t like this!” Kid, we are on the same page.
Thankfully we landed without incident, other than my heart palpitations and someone’s potentially traumatized child.
The bride also flew down from San Francisco, but on a later flight. Unfortunately, after two rocky attempts to land in Palm Springs, her flight was diverted to Ontario Airport, about an hour northwest of Palm Springs. Understandably shaken, V and 12 others passengers exited the plane, opting to find their own way to their destination. Happily, she arrived that night after catching a ride with a friend – her former roommate – driving in from Los Angeles. Bachelorette party nightmare averted.
We welcomed her by hiding in the dark, pretending not to be home when she arrived.
The festivities officially kicked off the following morning with a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating aerial tram. In just over 10 minutes, the massive pod ascended more than 8500 feet above the canyon.
Riding up on the tram | Photo courtesy of PY
The bride (R) and maid of honor mock fear on the tram as it sways on the climb
We exited the tram to find the temperature dramatically lower at 25 °F, low visibility and the ground covered in fresh snow.
Mount San Jacinto State Park
Mount San Jacinto State Park
Both V and I showed up inappropriately dressed for the climate – who expects winter in the California desert in May? – so we purchased snazzy new lounge pants from the gift shop to cover our legs.
We speed-walked, lunged and jumped our way through a 1.5 mile nature walk, trying to generate heat with each movement. High in Chino Canyon we found giant pine cones fallen from towering, fragrant pine trees, lush fir trees, the homes of crayon-colored birds and chittering creatures, as our footsteps left imprints on drying powder.
V and C were roommates in college
After an outdoor barbecue lunch (burgers, pasta salad, grilled corn, summer salad and fresh fruit), it was pool time for some, while others napped to power up for our evening of dinner and dancing.
That evening, each of us dressed to the gills in our best approximation of 20’s style garb for a night on the town sure to be the bee’s knees.
“Peas and carrots. Hahahaha.”
V with her former college roommates
V with her bridesman, A
V and her maid of honor, H
Let’s get zozzled
Following an appetizing meal at The Tropicale, our group headed next door to the Miami-themed Copa Lounge, where we danced our way to sore feet.
We started the next day strong with an in-home modified Barre class led by one of the bridesmaids J, who teaches at a studio in Texas. Though we’re a pretty fit group and everyone has their preferred workout of choice (cross-fit, hot yoga, Pilates, SoulCycle, etc.) the class challenged us. We giggled through our pain. J gives good Barre.
Post Barre class and breakfast, the tenth member of the group, a 7-months pregnant TO, joined us just in time for a photo session by the pool.
A playing “pool boy” as the girls look on
Later that evening we regrouped for a three-course dinner at The Workshop Kitchen + Bar, recent winner of the James Beard award for best restaurant design.
A bachelorette party in your 30s is a different animal than that of a twenty-something. Instead of a second night out, we opted to play games (Dirty Minds, Catchphrase) and each made a commemorative scrapbook of our weekend using Instax pics we’d taken that weekend.
The night culminated with s’mores around the outdoor fire pit.
On our last morning together, we enjoyed a breakfast of waffles at the house and made friendship bracelets. It felt like being back at summer camp. The perfect bookend to a fun-packed extended weekend in Palm Springs.
Of course, we couldn’t leave the house without taking one last photo.
I felt the sting of threatening tears as I read tweet after tweet, largely authored by black faces. Individual, collective, virtual protests over the acquittal of the police officer who killed Rekia Boyd. Rekia, a 22-year old, black Chicago resident was unarmed when off-duty officer, Dante Servin, shot her in the back of the head, killing her. Rekia joins a growing list of unarmed black Americans who’ve died as a result of encounters with law enforcement. Rekia Boyd also became another hashtag: #RekiaBoyd.
As the burning tears pooled, I noticed another name repeating in my feed, another black death turned symbol of America’s continued refusal to acknowledge it’s institutional racism problem. This time it was 25-year old Freddie Gray of Baltimore, who suffered a SEVERED SPINAL CORD after an arrest, the cause of his eventual death on April 19, 2015.
Unfortunately many other names accompany theirs on the registry of lives ended by those hired to “protect and serve,” including those whose stories for whatever reason don’t get socially amplified.
All around me life goes on. The media makes a fuss over the usual news of unimportance like fashion at Coachella, Kylie Jenner “lip challenges” or which fast food establishment a Presidential candidate visits. Meanwhile, more Americans get shot by law enforcement and in some cases even pay-for-play officers, and life goes on for every else.
Why does this keep happening? And why do so few people seem to care?
I’m sick and tired of seeing black lives as hashtags.
Every hashtag inflicts another cut on my soul and dampens my faith in America’s ability to overcome it’s oppressive roots.
I’m tired of seeing people erase #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter nonsense when we routinely see examples in this county of just how much black lives DON’T SEEM TO MATTER.
It’s evident in the amount of energy some people waste in forming intellectually dishonest comments like:
“Well, why was he running from the cops?”
“If you just obey the law, you have nothing to worry about.”
“What about black on black crime?”
“Not all cops are bad.”
We all know not all cops are bad. Right now this isn’t about cops. This is about a flawed system of government-sanctioned murder. This is about people routinely abusing their power and getting away with it while dead bodies pile up.
I think we’re in the middle of a national crisis and not enough people are talking.
I’m laying low this week, turning away from media, social and otherwise. I can’t handle another hashtag.
Rest in peace to all the black lives lost in this crisis. May their families also find some relief from their suffering.
May more Americans wake up to the reality of what’s going on in our “justice” system.
My best friend in high school ended our friendship in a letter. She was a year older and in her first year of college in a different city. In the letter she listed a number of issues she had with me. Of all the words she wrote me in that two-paged front-and-back handwritten missive, I vividly remember reading: “And you’re too quiet sometimes! It’s like: talk!” The words struck me with as much force as if she’d come back to town just to punch me in my stomach.
She isn’t the last person to comment on my quietude, though thankfully others have been less hurtful about it.
Even today, nearly 20 years later, I find that sometimes when I’m with someone one on one I’m overly concerned about whether I’m talking enough to keep them entertained.
I’ve been a quieter type for as long as I can remember. As a child, some chalked it up to shyness. I assumed I must be shy since people said I was. It wasn’t until I discovered a love of performing in junior high that I realized I was far from shy.
“Oh you must be an introvert.”
Why do I have to be something? Why can’t I just be me?
You’ve probably taken one of those “are you introvert or extrovert?” quizzes. I generally fall in the center – an ambivert: not quite introverted, not quite extroverted.
Like extroverts, I often feel charged after hanging out with people whose company I enjoy. It’s being in environments I find tedious and dull that drains my energy. On the other hand, much like introverts, I tend to do my thinking internally rather than aloud to others. I form my thoughts and ideas before expressing them.
But who needs another label?
You know what sometimes happens when I tell people what I’m thinking?
One of my sisters recently told me: “Keisha, you ask these kinds of questions that my professors would ask in class that had my head hurting. They’re good questions, but it’s too early for this intellectual talk.”
I hate small talk. I love a meaty conversation and would prefer jumping into a discussion to having to answer “What do you do? How do you like it?” Gag.
That isn’t to say my brain’s always in the land of deep thoughts. Sometimes I think about things like how to incorporate “Baking soda! I got baking soda!” into regular conversation because that line cracks me up every time I hear it.
I can’t imagine what kind of writer I’d be if I didn’t spend so much time with my thoughts. I view life as a series of stories in one giant book. I weave stories in my head, the output of which you sometimes read in my blog, others I work into conversation with cinematic flair.
I spend a lot of time listening and perhaps as a byproduct, I attract talkers because they need an audience. It certainly takes the pressure off me to be a chatterbox. It’s important though to find a talker who knows when it’s their turn to listen. I find that when I do speak, people are more inclined to listen because they assume I have something to say.
There’s a less obvious way a quieter nature sometimes works in my favor. For instance, when someone incorrectly assumes that quiet equals meek and is surprised to find that I will snap back. Have you heard the phrase, “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for?” Yeah.
Occasionally someone comments on my silence – usually a person I don’t know very well – trying to cajole me into conversation. It generally has the opposite effect intended; I don’t respond well to demands to speak on command.
I’ve been described as aloof. It’s not intentional, but some take it personally as though I’m quiet because I’m silently appraising them. It’s unfortunate, because unless someone is saying douchtastic things that’s not likely the case.
I can’t explain why I’m quieter than others anymore than my cat can explain why he always chooses to vomit on my rug instead of ANY other spot on the hardwood floor. I shouldn’t have to either. We people come in all kinds. There are those who can’t seem to stop talking, those who won’t waste words and others in between and that’s okay. As the saying I just made up goes: “Accept me as I am, or kick rocks.”
How about you? Do you get told you’re too quiet or too talkative?
All the chatter about the HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology, Going Clear, got me thinking about my own experiences with a similar church I’ll call the Church of OddPhilosophies. Because I would never say anything bad about the Church of Scientology.
I was once on the run from the Church of OddPhilosophies.
Ok, so things weren’t as dramatic as that, but there did exist a time when I had to avoid the COO.
Picture it: the early ’00s, Los Angeles, California. A city of towering palm trees, near constant sunshine, and an overabundance of injectable-filled faces. A twenty-something woman full of youthful energy and naiveté dreams of a brilliant acting career.
(This young woman is me, by the way).
I’d often flip through Backstage West, an entertainment newspaper, looking for classes, seminars, casting notices and odd jobs. On one such occasion I came across an ad that looked something like this:
That’s not exactly what it said, but that’s sure how I read it! Every actor knows there’s big opportunity and money in nationally broadcast commercials. SIGN ME UP!
It wasn’t until I arrived at the Famous Centre on the eastern edge of Hollywood that I realized it was part of The Church of OddPhilosophies.
I should have turned around as soon as I made the connection.
Instead, I parked and entered the estate. I’d driven by the grounds of the Famous Centre before and thought it beautiful and quintessentially old Hollywood. Now I had the chance to see the inside! Besides, I figured other churches sometimes rent out use of their space to non-religious groups as an income generator.
A cheery young blond man ushered a group of about 30 of us hopefuls into a small room with seats arranged in rows facing the speaker.
“Hi, I am Felicia Lister, Denise’s less famous and less talented sister.” What happened to Denise?! Who is Felicia?
For the next half hour, Felicia charmed and dazzled us with motivational platitudes and positive affirmations.
“Maybe your dream is to win an Oscar one day. Your dream is RIGHT WITHIN YOUR GRASP! How badly do you want it though? Do you just talk the talk or do you WALK THE WALK? Do you want success?! Are you tired of worrying about how you’re going to pay your rent?”
Yes! Tell me how!
“I’ll tell you how! Some of our students are today’s biggest stars. We can’t name names because we respect their privacy. But, you know who they are.” Felicia winked.
Most of the actors were focused on Felicia, transfixed by her promises of glory and riches.
“We can help you achieve your dreams! Our methods are highly successful. So, if you’re serious about being serious about MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE, Chad will take you into the next room to watch a short film.”
Wait – so far, no one has mentioned anything about commercials. When is that going to happen?
I didn’t get the chance to ask as we were quickly hustled into an already dark screening room with about 20 seats. Somehow we’d lost 10 of our original number, so we all fit. I was beginning to feel trapped.
They showed us a 30-minute film that was part history of the Church of OddPhilosophies, and part propaganda documentary, including a direct sell from the church founder J. Don Buzzard.
It’s still one of the scariest films I’ve seen in my entire life.
Chad blocked my attempt to exit after the film.
“We’re almost done.” His smile slowly widened and his eyes glistened, “After this we’ll talk a bit about the program and then you can go if you’re not interested in MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.”
I now understood how I people get entangled in cults. Save me.
After the film, Chad led us into yet another room. This one grander, with a vaulted ceiling and lots of glittery gold. It was when they told us that for the program to work we’d need to sign a promise to stop taking any and all mind-altering drugs like antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and the like, that I got my ass out of there.
Holy crap. Even nutritionists tell you to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications. What the hell kinda crazy?
Oh had the tale ended there.
Unfortunately, I’d given my home phone number to the COO when I signed up for the seminar. A week later I received a call from a sugary-voiced member of the church, Mandy. Mandy wanted to know if I would like to finish my consultation and join them on the road to MAKING MY DREAMS COME TRUE.
“It’s not for me.”
Mandy protested, insistent that the COO held the keys to my future bounty, but I cut her off: “Yeah, I am not interested. Thanks, Mandy! Bye!”
In the following six months, I received monthly – sometimes bi-monthly – calls from the Church of OddPhilosophies. This, despite requesting multiple times that they remove me from their list and failing that, flat-out hanging up on them. I told my roommate to regard calls with extreme suspicion if the person on the other end asked to speak to me and sounded unnaturally happy.
It took moving to a new apartment and disconnecting my phone number to finally dodge the COO.
I haven’t heard from them since.
I still screen all my calls though. You can never be too careful.
To think, I almost didn’t write that post. However, as part of pushing through my writer’s block, I’ve realized I’ve got to stop self-censoring so much. It’s damaging to the story and to my contentedness.
I didn’t say yes immediately. I needed to confirm the legitimacy of the show and find out more about what I’d be getting into. In my research, I discovered that one of the show’s previous guests is a writer and activist I follow on Twitter, Feminista Jones, whom I respect. I figured if she did it, it was credible. I listened to a podcast of her stint on the show and got a good idea for what I might be in for with Jesse.
The producer explained that the host, Jesse, would ask me a bit about my background and then delve into questions about the thoughts expressed in my post.
I scheduled my radio début for 8:05am, April 2nd.
The morning of the show, I felt like my heart wouldn’t shut up. Boom, booom, boom at a thousand beats per minute. I forced oatmeal down my throat. It’s good for your brain, they say. I wanted all the brain boosting I could get. Family and friends sent texts of well wishes and affirmations which comforted me. Conducting the interview from the comfort of my couch helped too.
Jesse Lee Patterson is a pastor, baby boomer, and black Republican. He’s known for making controversial statements like:
“Thank God for slavery, because if not, the blacks who are here would have been stuck in Africa”1
“When black liberals say they want to have a ‘conversation’ about race, what they really mean is they want to continue blaming whitey for past racism and perceived ‘white privilege”2
“Barack Obama hates white people — especially white men. Sorry folks, but the truth will set you free!”3
So, I had my work cut out for me.
I remember only snapshots of the experience. I enjoyed the debate. I get a kick out of genuine volleying back-and-forth that doesn’t devolve into name-calling or other foolishness. Jesse did his best to contort some of my statements and paint me into corners, but I think I successfully manage to keep the conversation focused. I agreed with none of his opinions.
Halfway through the show, one of my sisters texted:
“I hate this guy.”
That was around the time Jesse asked me, “What else can white people do for black people, so that black people will finally say: ‘ok you’re not racist, you love me, you’ve given us allllll that we’ve wanted, and we appreciate it, so now we’re going to take control of our own lives’? Is there anything else that white people can do to satisfy black people?”
The discussion lasted for almost the entire hour, broken up by a few commercials. I even got to speak to some callers. One caller tried to trap me by quizzing me on the date of some vague historical event.
My mom texted: “Excuse yourself. You don’t need to be ambushed.”
Of my name, another called commented, “Huh, that’s a good one.” I’m fairly certain that wasn’t meant as a compliment. I could hear him smirking.
As the show neared its end, Jesse thanked me and asked if I would come back. We’ll see. My mom and sister are both adamant that this be a one and done.
Jesse’s approach didn’t faze me. I’ve seen enough talking head interviews and debates to have picked up a few things. Your opponent will always try to distract you with non sequiters. They will attempt to take your words and twist them into a statement so ludicrous you wonder whether your brain sent the right words to your mouth. No distractions. You just gotta stay focused on your mission!
“He’s gonna make me lose my way to Heaven; I’m so angry I’m almost cursing!” My mother didn’t like Jesse Lee Peterson one bit.
You can listen to the show below. Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Like many cities in the US, San Francisco is experiencing a wave of gentrification that some residents welcome and others deride. Often central to the debate is the Mission District, an eclectic enclave whose formerly large working- and middle-class Latino population moves further south as the gentrifiers roll in by the dozens: well-paid, largely young, white, male, and employed by tech companies. Their presence brings with it priced-out renters, long waits and lines at a growing number of trendy restaurants and cafes, and a fear of cultural and historical erasure.
The Mission’s Latino and Chicano influence is visible in the bright and elaborate murals that decorate the alleys for several blocks, tucked between the streets in a less polished section of the neighborhood. Inspired by the work of Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the Chicano Mural Movement of the ’60s and 70s, some of the artwork reflects reactions to social and political changes. Other pieces illustrate life in the Mission in the midst of the City’s growing pains.
A few weeks ago, I toured the murals with my younger sister, who was visiting from Texas. We picked up a map at Precita Eyes, a community mural center and headed for Balmy Alley, which boasts one of the largest collection of murals among the alleys.
We lingered in front of this mural. Almost every inch of paint seems to hold meaning.
We spent a bit more time with this one, as well.
A few more murals that stood out to me.
This is by no means all there is to see of San Francisco street art. You could easily spend 3-4 hours touring the alleys across the city, absorbing the messages in the work. If you ever get the chance, I recommend checking them out! Keeping it real though: it’s probably better to plan your visit for the daylight hours.
What symbolism / meaning do you see in the murals?
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.