Archive | February 2013

Stay Cute Mondays – Ten Crack Commandments

commandmentsEveryone has their own addiction and my addiction has always been getting a good deal. I just paid full price for a purse because my sale purse was defective. This was not a good day for me. I haven’t paid asking price for a retail item in about never. I always prized quantity over quality. This was exemplified even in childhood. My cousin and I would go to the candy store a few times a week. Each of our mothers gave us a dollar. My cousin, the spendthrift, would buy two things that always seemed to be more than a dollar. While I would rack up on multiple inexpensive items: Now or Laters, Pixie Stix, pop rings, Blow pops, Lemonheads and Bazooka Joes. And I always had money to give to my cousin so she could buy the good candy: candy bracelets, Snickers, Reese’s Cups. Those items were 55 cents a piece and so not worth it. I tried to convince her to only buy one candy bar and a bunch of small items, but she rarely did.

This continued into my adult life. I own entire outfits (okay some of these outfits just consist of dresses, which is actually my favorite kind of outfit) that cost less than my beloved luxury lip gloss. Hey, I am not tremendously cheap. That lip gloss costs between $25 and 30 dollars, depending on the brand. However, lately I feel my dealers, I mean suppliers, umm, retailers are failing me. Last Friday, I received a mailer advertising a free tote with purchase! A free tote! I worked conferences and conventions for three years: I own plenty of free totes. I own so many totes that I give them away to needy people struggling to carry multiple items.

I need these retailers to advance their efforts, if they plan to keep me on the roster. Therefore, I am issuing Ten Crack Commandments for retailers to maintain my business. You will thank me for it later. Here are the first two.

1.      Thou Shall Not Notify Me of Nonsense.

What is nonsense? About 90% of my current email comes from places where I purchased something in the past. Most of the correspondence is useless:

  • Telling me that there is new product (So)
  • Free shipping (Wow, $10 or less savings)
  • News reports about your product (Wow, Cosmo rated you a 10, now where’s my discount?)

Seriously. One evil retailer that will not be named toyed with my sanity by sending three – four emails a day reminding me that it is Christmas and kids like presents. I couldn’t shake them. I blocked them, but they kept changing their email address slightly. I did the remove me from your list button click. Finally, I just boycott them. I haven’t purchased anything from them since this unfortunate onslaught of messages.

2.      Correspondence Shall Only Include Coupons.

Yes, only real, substantial coupons, worth 30% off or more. I will make exceptions to emails and letters alerting me to sales where the entire store is 30% off or more. A sale, however, only meets this threshold at 30% and nothing lower, unless it is a luxury brand or a retailer that only has biannual sales. My skincare company does two coupons a year: one at 20% off and one for $20 off a $75 purchase. This is a big deal. This does count. Plus, retailers should understand that I am great at math. Giving me a $15 off a $75 purchase is only a 20% discount. Therefore, this doesn’t count. I will not have my time wasted with deleting your email. Just don’t send it in the first place.

Stay tuned for more.

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Loving You, Losing You

Young Whitney

Young Whitney

It’s been a year since we lost my beloved Whitney. I still remember where I was: on the couch, preparing for an ill-fated date. I tried not to be upset as I had to be engaging and entertaining. When Michael died, I took a weekend to grieve properly, absorbing video marathons, poring through photos online, wishing he was at peace. I couldn’t do that for my Whitney. Instead, I was forced to push on. This is one of those days that the rituals of being a single woman are exhausting. The fact that my date dismissed Whitney in favor of the so-called better artist of Beyonce made this date pointless in hindsight. I like Bey, but no.

I had been worried for her all winter. I saw Whitney post-filming of Sparkle and she looked puffy. I wondered if she relapsed and began a drug withdrawal protocol. Familial experience gave me the knowledge that medical withdrawals pack on the pounds. I figured she was surrounded by triggers and was concerned. Of course, that I don’t intimately know her proves my ultimate fandom. She had been filming a movie, experienced an unsatisfying tour and re-promoting herself. This is a lot of stress for a woman I rarely saw happy.

I had to be 8 years on when I discovered Whitney and instantly fell in love. First, it was the mid-80’s and young Black women were rarely seen on television. People may not remember this era but before the Cosby Show, there wasn’t a huge glut of Black female faces in culture. Black men, yes. Women, no.  My first attention revolved around Diana Ross and loving her Central Park concert film, which was shown on syndication often. However, Diana was old, well older than my mother and not particularly relatable. Then Whitney arrived, tall, gorgeous (people often forget how beautiful Whitney was as it became so secondary to her talent) and could sing SING. Not that female singers then couldn’t belt out a note. But she could stand assuredly and sing so effortlessly. Nothing short of amazing. I fell so deeply in love the moment I saw her. It would never be the same (though I just quoted a Mariah lyric there).

I remained truly devoted. I forgave her ridiculous wigs, which had a tendency to minimize her beauty. Maybe that is why she relied on them so heavily. I shrugged off critics that wrongly claimed her music wasn’t soulful enough. I have never been one who thought that emotion outranked vocal ability, which is probably why I was never a huge Mary J Blige fan. She was no my Whitney. I decided to dislike Diana Ross, because Whitney mentioned that she was mean to her while she was starting out. Whitney liked Aretha. I liked Aretha. I boycotted the Soul Train Awards when she was booed. Forget them, for not recognizing true talent, beauty and poise.

While exceptionally accomplished, my Whitney always possessed an edge in interviews. She always needed to defend herself against those who said that she couldn’t dance (she couldn’t, but really?), she wasn’t down (she’s from Newark, home of scary Blackness), she was manufactured (as the best singer bot ever and that sounds awesome!).  I noticed inklings that she wasn’t squeaky clean: rumors of an affair with Jermaine Jackson (Whitney always had terrible taste in men), fights in clubs, arguments at football games. I knew that’s what the record company was hiding, her rawness. Maybe the requirement to smooth those edges got to her. We will never know.

When she passed, I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry when I watched the funeral. One of my mini Twitter rants from two years ago, was the fact that I never hear Whitney songs on the radio. Yet, I hear Madonna songs and I didn’t like it. So one day, four-five months after her death, I heard two Whitney songs on two different stations while driving and I sobbed. A true, all out bawl. Goodness, my icon. The first true love of my little girl heart was gone.

I wanted such great things for her. I wished that she got away from fame and drama for a while to seek peace. I never truly abandoned her, just prayed that she got it: who she was, who she didn’t need to be. Find the safety in the knowledge

Sing Whitney

Sing Whitney

of what she could and couldn’t control. Her chaos (I completely forgot her messy her union with Bobby was until a read a rerun interview with Vibe from the mid-90’s) could easily be discarded for quiet. I still recall an interview with Oprah, while Mariah Carey gazed at her so lovingly, she admitted that she was lonely. I wanted to run around and get her somegreat friends. When I saw her that atrocious Being Bobby, I saw glimpses of her funny, fierce, phenomenal self and I hoped that those moments of her could become more frequent. I never made jokes about the substance abuse. It’s an easy vice that becomes all consuming way too quickly. What I wished for her is that she could always stand still and sing effortlessly, leaving all of the lessers behind.

The Art for Art’s Sake Edition

Last weekend, I realized that I am creative but not artsy. Ever since I was a child, my cousin and I created songs, plays, short stories. In fact, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Firestone, would spotlight my short stories on a regular basis reading them to the class because she found them hilarious. The problem with me is that I don’t live and breathe artistic expression. I have stories, scripts, and melodies floating around my head that I never put to paper. After my creative writing class in high school, I haven’t finished a short story since. Started many, but finished no. My creative writing course in college wrongly focused on poetry. I am quite a terrible poet and what should have been a forcing mechanism to get me to finally put thought to paper, failed me. Thus, I left with no wonderful collection of stories to share with the world.

Photo Courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Photo Courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

How did I come to this realization? Last weekend I went to the Festival of New Works, a series of one-act, one person plays by graduating University of Maryland MFA students. A friend of a friend of a friend (an extremely ghetto connection) wrote and starred in one play while my dance instructor choreographed the other play being presented. The plays were vastly dissimilar. The first centered on a young girl who receives visits from Krishna because he wants her to help him with an epic battle. The second served as a celebration of the life of Florynce Kennedy, a real life lawyer and feminist.

To me, the first work did not lend itself to a one person show. I loved that music accompanied the action as I believe that music should accompany even going to the bathroom. However, the fantastical tale required a great deal of imagination, which is not everyone’s strength. The play demanded that the audience 1) believe an adult as a child 2) see through a child’s eye of intricate dreams and 3) understand that all of the challenges are allegories for other things. As an imaginative only child, this was a slam dunk.

Quite obviously, the audience preferred the second work, mainly because the protagonist is brash, smart and profane. However, I ran intoa personal quibble with this work: I am not a fan of auto/biographies. This started when I read Dreamgirl in elementary school, a book my Motown devotee mom picked up. People tend to leave out critical details about themselves or others in these works that make them more human—failings, mistakes, ill temper, etc. Mary Wilson gave a wonderful account of the music scene in the 1960’s but glossed over her unexpected pregnancy, vanity and passivity. Filmed or reenacted plays often give you set pieces and events, but rarely tell a complete story. As the completion queen, I like a beginning, middle and end. The story of Flo Kennedy recounted her childhood, her law career and her feminist radicalism (sorta) but never let me know how she earned enough to live in the Upper East Side, why she became so outspoken, etc. I recently read Olive Kitteridge, the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of stories about a single protagonist. While infuriating, the heroine, if she could be called one, reminded me of people I actually knew. Flo could easily be someone that I could see myself in on the surface but didn’t, because I didn’t get to know her just events throughout her life.

This is why historical films rarely work (see: Red Tails). You need to hit all of the events, so things move quickly, often too quickly. If the author attempts to add possible motivation for action, someone, somewhere will cry foul and let you know that the person never wore blue socks, or always said “Hey” instead of “Hi.” Thus writers have little leeway in terms of creating an interesting story. Not that the play wasn’t interesting. It was. But it didn’t give me anything to hold onto.

The reason I realized that I am not artsy delves into after the show. We hustled to dinner with the cast (of one) of the first play and friends. And the friends were artsy. Irritatingly artsy. With weird avant garde projects that seemed intrusive and wrong headed (let’s film at risk students and watch them flounder) or huh? (I’m doing a thought piece on community by inviting the audience to build a house). These people live and breathe art. The kind of art that me as an actually creative person finds annoying. I am practical. Not so practical that I don’t know what an allegory is, but practical enough that I don’t like artificiality. This highlights another struggle of mine—action movies. The crux of genre is incomprehension. Nothing that happens make sense or even has a beginning, middle and end. I am supposed to care about Bruce Willis’ dead wife that we rarely saw because it helps a complicated premise (see: Looper). This is why I avoid interactions with creative types. You never know what you are going to get and I like to let the work stand on its own.

The Overambitious Edition

Running a bit late, but here goes. I had multiple plans for this weekend, but the snow and a headache reduced my packed weekend from 5 to 2 events.

Jose James at the Howard Theater

Jose James at the Howard Theater

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Jose James at the remarkably frigid Howard Theater. Seriously, the place was freezing. People wrapped themselves in coats and scarves. Growing up in Michigan I was always taught that if you bundle up in your coat indoors, what will you do when it’s 20 degrees or more colder outdoors? Therefore, I never walk around in outerwear (a sweater or shawl only) no matter how cold it is indoors. And really, is it every 24 degrees inside like it was that day outside.

But back to the show. I admit that I am not familiar with Jose James’ music. I spent the last few years not discovering new music, but revisting old artists. This has been a great experience musically but has placed me woefully behind the curve on current non-ubiquitous artists. However, my friends love him and the concert was only $18 due to a wonderful Goldstar deal, so I was happy to purchase a ticket. I could not quite sing along, but the songs were, lacking an action verb, amazing. I actually dislike dinner concert venues, because I prefer to face the stage not look over my shoulder at the performer. Plus, the tables were too close together and we didn’t have much breathing room. But as the night wore on, I realized that the set-up worked. James approaches his jazz-infused songs quite slowly and methodically, letting his music seep into your consciousness.  Also, James has a unique ability to let his band shine and he may often stand slightly off stage as they perform. If warmer, the show with its crammed seating and intimate setting would lend itself to a throwback 50’s Harlem Jazz club, a rare occurrence in this modern time.

Changing America exhibit at National Museum of American History

Changing America exhibit at National Museum of American History

Next, that weekend, a friend invited me to a group outing to visit the Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the  March on Washington, 1963 exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Another admittance, I am not fond of history as an academic discipline. Current, last hundred years or so, history is easy. Television, newspapers and magazines capture and disseminate information (hopefully) as they happen as with the March on Washington. Prior to that the information gets fuzzy. Very fuzzy.

Think back to all of the rancor about the recent Lincoln film. History scholars were upset that the film depicts Lincoln as a great emancipator when his reasons for freeing slaves weren’t all together altruistic. Personally, I don’t care if Lincoln didn’t like or respect African-Americans as the historians claim as long as we were freed. That’s where the split materializes. People have this need for everyone to have pure hearts and actions. I don’t require heroes and heroines, just people who make the right decisions when necessary.

The saying goes that history is written by the victors. There are pockets of history that is written, stories that are written but not shared, and events that are distorted. Seeing these artifacts—Lincoln’s hat, Frederick Douglass’ letters, official records–makes history more tangible, but motives and thoughts will always be missing, especially without diaries or journals. The visit spurred an hours-long conversation about activism, race and the upcoming generation. Not that we solved the world’s problems, but critical thinking is always a great thing. And maybe that’s what history can provide.